Combating Apathy one Artwork at a time

An interview with Grace Partridge the Artist, Curator & Founder of Antidote

by Yen Taylor

When I first read about what Grace Partridge was doing, I was hit with a urge to fist pump the air and yell a battle cry… that reaction you get when you come across someone who is championing the resistance to hatred and destruction. She does this through Antidote, an organisation & online platform she created which uses the storytelling power of art to create human connection & change. I think it’s often underestimated how much art and social change are linked. She puts it this way…

“As the world hunkers down into its fearful silos of opposing opinions, the voices of our artists — as optimists, truth-tellers, activists and revolutionaries — are needed more than ever.”

Through Antidote, Grace shares interviews and holds quarterly exhibitions where she brings together the creatives in visual arts, film, performing arts and literature to talk about social issues and share personal stories.
Read about Antidote, Grace and see works from the last exhibition; Anthropocene in this interview…

I sense a passion for story in your curation which makes me curious about your own story. Could you share a some of your own story, your background and what Antidote is?

My name is Gracie and I think the best word to describe myself is ‘artist’, though my paths have criss-crossed across a multiplicity of forms. My background is in musical theatre originally — I trained in singing/drama/dance from day dot and up until the end of high school. I wasn’t sure that is was the right path for me though, so I took a gap year, lived briefly in London and was fortunate enough to study at LAMDA, then came back and completed a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music at UNSW. That’s my performance and work type history though…

In terms of me as a person? I’m a self-confessed Francophile (though my French is embarrassingly poor) who trips over to Paris yearly. My parents lived there for a while and my older sister Chloë was born there, so I feel as though being a Parisienne was a stolen part of my destiny! (Kidding, but not really kidding). Alongside being a trained singer, I love music and consider it an imperative in my life. I also have a mild / moderate caffeine addiction, and as much as I love food, I wouldn’t say I’m a fantastic cook because I don’t try hard enough!

Antidote came about as I got to the pointy end of the ‘beginning-a-career-post-uni’ life. I have always had an implicit sense of needing to address social justice issues, which has manifested in a number of social outcome driven jobs and leadership positions across my life, and particularly in university societies. I noticed a long time ago that there are two streams that have existed through out my life — performance and social awareness. After volunteering and working with some leading CACD (community arts cultural development) organisations, it became clear to me that combining these two paths into a dedicated network / organisation would be a dream job so I decided to make it happen.

Antidote is a network that exists at the intersection of art and social justice — across all mediums and all forms.

No topic is off limits; nothing is taboo.

Our first year plan for Antidote is to run in quarterly themes — so as to explore a particular issue in all its complexity and details. The mainstay of the website are artist features, all culminating in one public exhibition at the end of the quarter. We’ve finished our first quarter Anthropocene and have just launched Moving Nations on Monday April 10th!

Antidote is all for combatting apathy through art. Can you explain why apathy is such an issue?

As I got older, I realised that the problem with tackling such intense and difficult issues often was not about public awareness. Far from it in fact.

I believe that existing in such a time where we are bombarded and completely de-sensitised to an over-saturated media ensures we know all that is happening, all over the world, all the time.

This kind of exposure is overwhelming, and can lead to a point of absolute hopelessness and helplessness.

I think that often, the easiest thing for us to do to protect ourselves is to turn away.

I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious and ‘holier than thou’ because I’m 100% certain it is something I have been guilty of as well. We walk past homeless people and think, “well if I give this person money I’ll have to give the next homeless person money too”. I really get that. But I came to an understanding within myself, and that was, to be okay with the life I lead, I needed to be helping in some way and I needed to be addressing issues of inequality that are prevalent both in and out of my own experience.

I do understand that there needs to be balance however… We can’t all go and live on the ground in Syria and assist in times of mass crisis, nor can we all afford to donate everything we earn to charity; in fact, that’s often not the most useful thing to support those who suffer anyway. I do believe however, that there is a point where turning our backs or intentionally diverting our attention away constitutes apathy, indifference and passivity.

In this sense, and in my opinion, combatting apathy begins with something as simple as raising someone’s awareness on an emotional level.

I know this sounds like a cop out, especially because I hate the idea of empathy — I think we’re at a time in the world where we need to work far beyond that. But, if someone reading an artist feature is inspired and touched by a piece of artwork and subsequently, an important issue somewhere in the world that they didn’t know about before- that’s a good starting place for me.

Why does art and storytelling seem to be more impactful than the news we see everyday on screens?

I feel like I touched on this above. I think that everything we see on our phones, TVs and in the media can be part of the problem — though these days, with such intense suffering in the world, maybe it is beginning to move people in to some sort of awareness? I also think a key issue here is what people are seeing and reading. If you’re indoctrinating people with rubbish TV one could be actually furthering a cause that doesn’t need any more attention *cough One Nation cough*.

I think about the ways in which art is able to affect change daily.

I should say first and foremost that I don’t delude myself into expecting it to always achieve this. My goal however — is to be creating engaging spaces where people can come together and share in a communal experience that opens up channels for conversation and connection.

Why personally are you driven to do this? I feel like this photo…

sums up what I see you doing… tell me why. It is, I think, epic and fantastic but it can’t be easy… what in your life pushed you here to draw together artists and fight this corner?

I take this as the ultimate compliment! I love Shaun Gladwell’s work and think this photograph is stunning. I also think you’re spot on — as much as this has been an amazing experience and I’ve connected with some INCREDIBLE artists — it has sometimes felt like a totally thankless job. A few times it has even felt super shallow and superficial, though this is more to do with times where I’ve had to try and sell Antidote as a product to further its reach and audience.

I know at the heart of that I am just trying to engage as many people as possible, but when you’re talking marketing / advertising / targeting it can feel not particularly aligned with your ethos. Especially when you have meetings with people who openly say that they love the vision because it’s very “in” right now.

In terms of creating Antidote…

If I’m honest, in my own life I have experienced moments of profound sadness and been at a total loss as to how to go on in a world where so much wrong is happening.

That sounds pretty clinical but I have, on a few occasions, been stuck on a thought of people who are displaced, starving, being bombed and subsequently not been able to sleep that night.

I think Antidote is absolutely a manifestation of and a coping mechanism for this.

When reflecting upon it, I think the real sense of urgency within me has only seriously emerged as an adult, as I’ve been exposed to the truth about the treatment and history of Aboriginal people in our country. It is something that makes literally no sense to me… That we can, so spitefully and evilly go about genocide then not even recognise or acknowledge that it has happened. I think about this every day.

Though my reaction to all this has been called over-sensitiveness (and to an extent I do agree with that) I do acknowledge that there’s a more balanced way of dealing with the wrongs of the world and creating Antidote has felt like that middle ground.

Interestingly, our next step as Antidote expands is to actually start running workshops in communities and exhibiting that art we make, so that’s definitely the end goal for me.

You’ve launched Antidote, and just completed your first quarter and exhibition, Anthropocene, which is a lot of work and a massive achievement. Can you share a low point, a high point and what it’s left you with personally?

I’m so pleased with how our first quarter has gone. The exhibition came together beautifully and the four artists who we exhibited were unbelievably generous — particularly Nicole Monks and Andy Mullens who worked the hard yards with me on the install.

A major highlight for me would be the community I think we’ve already begun to build. We got to do artist features on the likes of Mike Parr, Cristina Mittermeier and Stanislava Pinchuk (Miso — who I am secretly obsessed with) PLUS I found my Antidote partner Rosamund who has been amazing. She’s a writer / PR / media extraordinaire and is 150% in line with my vision — I can’t thank her enough for always meeting me half way then turning my ideas and musings into illuminating, beautiful words. I’ve also had enormous support from both my parents, my partner and a family friend Cynthia Johnson, so I will always be thankful to tell them for their constant championing and support. Above and beyond being able to reach incredible artists (and getting to fan-girl a bit there), I love that I’m able to connect with people like you, who believe in and inspire other women.

A low point would have to be in the week before the install when everything that could have gone went wrong. It was a steep learning curve though and the exhibition was a success, so at least I have that new knowledge.

Your exhibition Anthropocene, what was the impetus for the show and why did you choose the artists you did for this show?

Anthropocene was a really exciting project and actually came together very organically. I should explain a bit! Before Antidote was Antidote, it was actually going to be a month long festival called ‘Women of Grace’. While I researched and contacted people for the festival I came across work from all four artists and contacted them then. As time went on and the project evolved, the logical choice for the first exhibition was to exhibit work from women who I had already spoken with, and it happened that these four women had incredible bodies of work that complemented each other really well.

Anthropocene was our first choice for the quarter and for the exhibition because we knew had to start with something contentious — something juicy that starts conversation; something salient around the world but also something that was nuanced and could be explored with great specificity. It also worked well from a curatorial perspective that when dissecting etymologically, I was able to draw a link between ‘Anthropo’ (aka Greek for man, which subsequently posits a gendered view of humanity) and the work of the four women — then subvert it through beautiful pieces of art that explored a cross-cultural relationship to bodies, lands and our interactions with them.

Can you share some words for female artists-identifying artists about the value of their voice?

It’s sometimes hard to say this if you’re dealing with someone from the Westboro Baptist church or someone like Pauline Hanson but…. everyone’s opinions, thoughts and voices are valid and deserve to be heard…

If you believe in something, fight for it. If you see wrongdoing and want to speak out about it, fight like hell for it.

Art & Artists from Antidote’s First Exhibition Anthropocene

Kawita Vatanajyankur kawita-v.com

Thai-Australian video artist Kawita Vatanajyankur creates works that offer a powerful examination of the psychological, social and cultural ways of viewing and valuing the continuing challenges of women’s everyday labour. In her staged performances, Vatanajyankur undertakes physical experiments that playfully, often painfully, test her body’s limits — a challenge that is both unavoidably compelling and uncomfortable to watch. The alluring, luminous colours in Vatanajyankur’s work are distinctive of the artist’s aesthetic and tap into a globalized and digitally networked visual language of consumption and instant gratification.

Laura Doggett — anotherkindofgirl.com

Laura is Creative Director of Another Kind of Girl Collective, a community artist and an educator who believes in the transformative power of creative expression and storytelling in the lives of young people. She has spent much of the past twenty years creating opportunities for girls to be heard in their own voices. Through video, audio, writing, theater and visual arts, Laura has worked with girls from underserved and marginalized communities in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, the immigrant communities and inner-cities of New York City and Washington, D.C., and Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps and urban areas (work that she undertook as a Felsman Fellow in 2014), to express their experiences through various artistic approaches to storytelling. She has seen the tools of documentary arts give girls a sense of agency and power over their own stories and dreams, and is constantly thrilled to see the amazement in girls, whenever they share their artistic work with the public, as they realize the value their voices and visions carry in opening up channels of understanding, dialogue and change. She graduated from Duke University with an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts in 2013.

Nicole Monks — nicolemonks.com

Nicole Monks is a trans-disciplinary artist of Yamatji Wajarri, Dutch and English heritage. Living and practicing in Redfern, Monks is informed by her cross-cultural identity and her work takes its focus from storytelling, as a way to connect the past with the present and future. Her designs take a conceptual approach, often embedded with narratives, and aim to promote cross-cultural understanding and communication.

A designer by trade, Monks crosses artforms to work with furniture and objects, textiles, video, installation and performance. Across these varied forms of contemporary art and design, her work reflects Aboriginal philosophies of sustainability, innovation and collaboration. With adeptness and sensitivity, Monk’s practice weaves together Aboriginal history and philosophy with contemporary Western thought and resonates with a wide Australian audience.

Andy Mullens — andymullens.com

Andy Mullens is an emerging artist currently based in Canberra, Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) from the Australian National University. Using photographs, sculpture and installation Mullens creates artworks that surround the notion of cultural identity. Driven by an interest in national identity, family history and gender Mullens’ practice is informed by research into culture and heritage. Exploring her own experience of culture Mullens delves deeper into her Vietnamese identity, and examines how her relationship to both Vietnam and Australia is constantly changing. Mullens discusses the shifting negotiation of cultural identity, and realigns herself with Vietnam, her family and her inherited history.

You can visit Antidote.org.au here and read about their current exhibition or see Grace’s art here

I hope you enjoyed reading about Grace and was inspired by her hands open offering to the world. It’s good for the soul to read about people like her and the artists she works with. Good news like this combats the overwhelming negativity, fear and hatred that lately seems to be loudly beaming through our social media feeds and tv news. I connected most with Grace when she said she created Antidote as a way through these feelings herself… Perhaps there is someway that you an use your unique skill set and interests to create positive social change?

*this work was originally published in She Loves to Make

About the Author Yen Taylor
Yen Taylor is an Aussie freelance writer & illustrator living in the UK, with work in publications including Houzz, Medium & more. I cover topics including accessibility, disability, equality & mental health. I have a particular interest in issues faced by those of us who are LGBT+ & the experiences of my East/South-East Asian community in European & Western society. I like to focus on where culture, identity, creativity, activism & the potential for change, intersects with the above topics. I create spot illustrations and photography for my work as needed. | Instagram| Twitter

Yen Taylor is an Aussie freelance writer & illustrator living in the UK, accessibility, disability, equality, mental health, creativity & culture.