Ann Newmarch. Bank Mat (detail), 1980. Courtesy of the artist.
I came to New York City to visit many women's and political groups, as well as community artists and mural groups, while on sabbatical from the South Australian School of Art. I stayed with my friend Lucy Lippard, who I met in Adelaide, CA, when she delivered the Power Lecture (around 1976). I had read Eva Cockroft's book, Toward A People's Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement (1977), and I was very lucky indeed to work on her mural in Harlem (although it was pretty dangerous!).
My time in New York was very busy, sensational, and emotional—from the Lower East Side, to Manhattan art galleries, to experiencing Lucy's disciplined life as a writer, to giving slide shows and talks about what was happening in Australia.
To be more concrete, on one occasion I saw a poor woman eating the scrapings of a cheese wrapper in the gutter whilst on my way to a University drinks, where the waiter offered the palm of his hand for me to butt out my cig . . . and he found it uncomfortable that I went into the kitchen and found a rubbish bin!! I tried to photograph murals by myself, only to turn around and find that I was surrounded by locals and people hanging off cars.
The Times Square Show was an unexpected opportunity. It was quite crazy. So many people doing so many things. I was proud of what I could pull together without any resources, since I was away from the rich materials in my own studio. I was working at ideas only, with photocopies of images and fast drawings. My work is very structured and political. The Bank Mat carpet consisted of photocopies of banknotes stuck to the floor, with blood footprints leading to the punching bag that had been installed as part of the exhibition. The carpet wasn't meant to exist past the closing date of the show.
I understood the politics of the time, and the rebellion that these young rebel artists were feeling, and I felt angry too. The TSS building was to be torn down, and then taken into possession by the rich—hence the banknote. The banks cared more for space travel than they did for the poor folks on the ground, like the woman I saw eating rotten cheese on the street.
It is interesting to think about Bank Mat again. My current series is seriously looking at the Afghanistan phenomena of "War Rugs" (and I have one myself), weaving bombs, rifles, grenades, helicopters, and tanks into the beautiful tradition of Afghanistan rugs. I think it's the saddest thing ever: the demolition of a truly beautiful culture, and the children still employed to tie the thousands of knots, to hopefully stop the tanks advancing . . . like prayer rugs.
My involvement with the TSS was rather strange. Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to Bank Mat. It was probably scrambled in the demolition of the site. It seemed every work was "of its time," meant to go down with the building. I felt very proud to be able to make temporary work in New York City, and also to catch the subway to Harlem, walk the broken glass and brave the dangers, to work with Eva Cockroft.
As told to Karli Wurzelbacher, April 3 and 4, 2012
Ann Newmarch (b. 1945, Adelaide, Australia)
Ann Newmarch has addressed political, social, and feminist issues in her prints, paintings, murals, and mixed media works since the 1960s. She is a cofounder of the Progressive Art Movement, an organization dedicated to social and political artwork aimed at educating the public; the Adelaide-based artists collective Women's Art Movement, a group active from 1976 to 1986; and the Prospect Mural Group in Prospect, Australia. In 1989 she earned the Australian government's Medal of the Order of Australia. She lectured for thirty-two years at the South Australian School of Art, Adelaide, Australia.