Sandra Bridie

Portrait of the Artist

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, From Sandra Bridie b.1949. Obscure Fictional Artist, blue paint and colour photo, 1996.

This will be a place that grants import to unrealised art amongst other things. Though based on the model of the independent artist run space, The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space will not exist as a physical venue but only through it's products ie: archive, documentation of events, and in particular a catalogue and work for each event. It will represent both my fictional artists as well as a range of artists from various disciplines; writers and musicians, visual artists and non-artists. I will invite artists to use the venue as they choose, to invent the show of their dreams . . . 1

Can you imagine this place . . .

. . . an artist run space in the late 1990's in Melbourne, a small room, possibly a factory, warehouse or shop converted for the purpose, the walls painted all white, bearing the scars of many exhibitions and exhibition openings. The gallery has a director who spends more time running the space and documenting the exhibitions than they do producing work of their own. We might say that this artist's work is the gallery itself...

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Richard Holt/Andrew Seward Actual Artists, We love you, 1996.

Sandra Bridie is one of those people who walks into a gallery and reads the catalogue before she looks at the work. Her interest is in the internal criteria established by the artist - or by a writer working on the artist's behalf - rather than judging the work in relation to external criteria. Bridie invites student, professional and "non" - artists to exhibit in her studio, The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space. The brief which Bridie provides for the potential exhibitors suggests that artists

. . . might step outside their usual mode of operation, to use foreign media, or no media, to reinvent their C.V, make meaning from potential or discarded parts of their oeuvre, and to generally make full use of the fact that by showing at The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space their work need not be limited by actuality.2

Each exhibition is documented with photographs, and sometimes video. Bridie interviews the artist in the week before their exhibition asking them to describe the work in conversation often before the actual work is fully manifest.

Bridie's work plays with narrative, the authority of the text and incorporates the dimension of the temporal. It is the product of collaboration rather than an individual, bearing more a resemblance to forms of documentary, fiction or journalism than it does to an artwork. The work requires the interaction of the viewer to re-create the image of the artist and the work from the information provided in Bridie's archive. The interaction of the viewer with the archive of will create the narrative of a place - a gallery - inhabited in turn by a number of artists who are as much creations of the viewer's imagination as they were once, and still are actual.

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Fictional Artist Space #12 Sandra Bridie b.1970, Conceptual Gesture, detail from Adjacent Space 1993, No.2

Like any work that has claims to truthfully represent actual events, Bridie's archive bears the mark of it's maker. The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space is first apprehended by the viewer or reader as a series of discrete events. The single referent is Bridie herself, in her studio-cum-gallery, as viewer, witness or interviewer. In interviews it is Bridie's interests in the artwork and the artist in general that guides her questions to specific artists. It is Bridie's vision that is represented in the documentary photographs and videos. The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space is really a portrait of the artist Sandra Bridie, her likeness described by the interactions between herself and the artists as recorded in the archive.

Prior to the establishment of The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space, Sandra Bridie was primarily known as the creator of fictional artists. For Bridie producing fictions and the artworks to illustrate them, is a process that enables her to produce art works outside universal criteria of excellence. A fictional artist's works have only to be as good as the fiction demands.

Bridie's fictions Susan Fielder: a Fictional Retrospective, Sandra Bridie Shadow of a Woman and Maurice Ponque: "Un Homme et son Monte"3 depict unsuccessful or amateur artists whose works are of a questionable aesthetic standard and who are peripheral to the art world.

Susan Fielder has a brief four year career as an artist. She begins to paint as an extension of her interest in phenomenology, hoping that a life as an artist will be an active expression of the philosophical ideas she explored in her Master's thesis. On the eve of her first solo exhibition, she abandons painting and returns to university to study medicine.

The protagonist of Shadow of a Woman paints decorative works for her own pleasure. The artist suffers a nervous breakdown under the pressure of a professional commission to produce designs for a range of homeware.

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Fictional Artist/Fictional Space #11, Andrew McQualter, Actual Artist, Diagram, 1996.

Maurice Ponque is a second rate French landscape painter whose sole subject is Monte Sainte Michel, the mountain outside the small town in which he lives. The artist begins to lose his sight. The works he produces as a result of this misfortune are hailed as avant-garde masterpieces by the art establishment.

The central figures of Ponque, Fielder and Shadow of a Woman provide an antidote to romantic critical or literary constructions of the artist . The individual who lives in the service of the desire to actualise a unique and powerful vision of the world, whose subjectivity is somehow "special". Ironically, Maurice Ponque succeeds as his vision fails and encounters failure once his vision is regained; Fielder and the protagonist of Shadow of a Woman are individuals that produce works that are a symptom of their lives rather than the product of a life lived entirely in the service of art. Fielder sees the promise of a more fulfilling life in the practise of medicine and cancer research. The tragic Sandra Bridie of Shadow of a Woman would perhaps have been better off painting entirely for her own pleasure.

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Fictional Artist/Actual Artist, Andrew Hurle Actual Artist, One place Tokyo, Japan, 1995

The theme of these fictions concerning artists' lives are success and vocation. The fictions of Ponque, Fielder and Shadow of a Woman depict the failure of artists' work and career. But on whose terms are these artist's works failures? Indeed, who said they were artists?

Bridie describes her activity on these projects as illustrating the texts produced in collaboration with writers. Such a practise makes a virtue of the criticism that much contemporary art is merely an illustration of a theoretical text and has no value as art in its own right. Bridie places the text and the artwork on equal footing. The viewer is invited to read the work and the text together and assess the value of the artist's work in the light of the information gained from the text rather than by comparison to external standards.

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Fictional Artist/Actual Artist Space #3, Peter Lambropoulos, Fictional Artist, Sue Jones - Collected Poems, 1995

In Bridie's work there is an awaremess of the success of an artist's work and career as reliant on the manufacture of critical discourse and fictions about the artist's life. The measure of success or failure is dependant on contingent and relative standards rather than external criteria of excellence.


... a small, slightly awkward space, difficult to access, these disadvantages offset by the abundant natural light and inner city location. It is a gallery showing a varied range of work by emerging artists often having their first solo show. The gallery has few visitors. Just some regulars and the friends of the artist currently exhibiting...

As a practise, Bridie's work is implicitly generous. For the artist an exhibition at The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space is an opportunity to create the show of their dreams. It is a place to make work manifest and to create the conditions for the reception of the work which would normally only exist in words.

Sandra Bridie

Sandra Bridie, Fictional Artist/Actual Artist #1, Rubie Bridie, Actual Artist, Blackfish Creek, installation view, 1995

...consider the gallery as mise en scene for the telling of many tales. Each artist, in the time that they inhabit this empty space, will build an image of themselves, their world, their practise - part fiction, part reality - a portrait of the artist...

The program of exhibitions at The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space includes exhibitions by professional, student and non-artists, a combination of people making art and exhibiting at different stages of their artistic development. Bridie's interest seems to be not so much to question the notions of failure and success, as was the major theme of her previous fictional artists, but rather to suspend the criteria of success altogether. Her model gallery is a venue for the telling of the tale behind the work4 , a chance for Bridie and the viewer of her archive to witness not only a document of an artist's work, but the construction of each artist's subjective image of themselves, as artist.

There are, for example, the stories of Andy Hurle who had a terrible time in Tokyo, Rubie Bridie- who went camping at Blackfish Creek with her cousin, Richard Holt and Andrew Seward who run an independent art space and produce work in collaboration, Peter Lambropoulos' creation of an alter ego "Sue Jones"; or even my story, the artist who wanted to write and produce artworks.

Whilst maintaining a quality of being slightly larger than life, Bridie's recent fictional artists have become more reflexive and edge closer to the condition of the actual. These fictions have central characters bearing the name Sandra Bridie, each varying in age and background. The starting point for these fictions is the question; if Sandra Bridie was born in 1970, 1963, or 1949 and went to art school at a certain time, or had these experiences, what would she do?

The exhibitions of Sandra Bridie b.1970 at the fictional gallery "Adjacent Space" highlight the critical prerogative of constructing a teleology of artistic development. In the exhibitions over the years 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, her work moves with a kamakazi pace from "art school post modernism" to a purely conceptual practise.

Sandra Bridie b.1949 is more interested in her practise in experimental film than she is in producing static images. Her photographs are metaphors for the activities of looking and representation, meditations on concerns that arise out of her film making. Images are obscured by their successive reproductions as projections and reflections or distorted by different viewing devices. The exhibition Obscure is a series of poetic metaphors for the activities of recording, reproducing and witnessing successive layerings of subjectivity.

"Interpolation" is the activity engaged in by Sandra Bridie b.1963. Her works are projections of what another artist might have done at a point in their career, but never got around to, or decided against. Interpolation #7: Stephen Bram explores some of the ethical questions that arise from a practise that blurs the discrete categories of original object and an imitation.

When the gallery ends it's two year program, the archive of The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space will consist of twenty four interviews, images from each event and a number of videos. This collection of material will create a narrative of a place, a 'model' gallery that reflects the actual in an idealised manner.

Is The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space a virtual space? The descriptive "virtual" may be applied to her work as it appears to question the mutually exclusive nature of the terms that name Bridie's project - the fictional and the actual. The result of their apparent confusion being the creation of a space of the virtual, in the sense that it explores the possibilities that exist within the real.5

Andrew McQualter.
November, 1996.

1 Bridie, S. Statement, 1994
2 ibid.
3 Susan Fielder: A Fictional Retrospective . A collaboration with Kevin Murray (curator) and Melanie Beddy (actor) exhibited at 200 Gertrude Street in Melbourne, 1991; Sandra Bridie: "Shadow of a Woman" was a collaboration with writer Judy Smallman exhibited in Autumn no.2 at Storey Hall in Melbourne, 1992. Maurice Ponque: "Un Homme et son Monte" ( "A Man and His Mountain") was a collaboration with writer Ross Bridie, exhibited at Store 5 in Melbourne, 1992.
4 Bridie, S. ibid.
5 This article is partly based on a conversation between myself and the artist on the 17th of October, 1996. A transcipt of that conversation was the text for the final show at The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space, by Sandra Bridie "The Fictional and Actual Artist's Space", November, 1996. I would like to thank Sandra Bridie for her time and her thoughts.