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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Big city big hat



Justene Williams


1970 -


In recent years Justene Williams has developed an exceptional performance practice that combines personal content, the common language of images familiar from screen and media culture, and direct references to early 20th century avant-garde performance particularly associated with Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire. As in this work, her performances are usually filmed in private in especially constructed sets within her studio.

'Big City Big Hat' 2011 shows the artist in costume, wearing a hat with bright fluoro-coloured buildings perched on it and a mask with her eyes and mouth replaced with densely-folded sheets of paper that from a flutter of triangles. The hat design refers to Picasso's 1917 costumes for the ballet 'Parade' which essentially animated the dancers even before they began to move on stage. The set includes a silver tube connecting through a wall to a large trumpet-like form, inspired by a photograph of Jean Cocteau reciting 'A wedding' at the Eiffel Tower into a type of loudspeaker. Williams herself recites during her performance, but what she is reading out are newspaper reports about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. As she finishes reading the sheets of paper she screws them up and puts them in the tube, as well as other paper balls made of screwed up media photos and pages, which roll out on the other side of the wall.

Williams also tap dances and moves frenetically through the video. Her repetitive actions may tangentially recall 1960s and 70s performance practices, but the highly constructed artifice of her costume and set is much more akin to the Dada cabarets which entertained, bamboozled and outraged their audiences after the first world war. Williams's performance deliberately emphasises misinformation and a lack of clarity as a reflection of how Julian Assange has been dealt with through a highly politicised judicial system. Her presentation of the work on disused TV monitors and pallets adds to the sense of time passing and layers of information broadcast and received, of content and technology present and then quickly superseded.




Materials used

5 channel HD DVD, colour, sound; 12 CRT televisions, 7 painted wood pallets


116.0 x 370.0 x 250.0 cm installed

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2011


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Justene Williams

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Jennifer Higgie and Joerg Heisser (Editors), Frieze, ‘Review: Justene Williams, Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney, Australia’, pg. 213, Sydney, Jun 2011-Aug 2011, 213.