Anti-totalitarian vectors, 2019
For more than two decades, artist Emily Floyd has explored art, design, education and activism in public artworks, exhibitions and experimental installations that are often both playful and provocative. A selection of works from Floyd’s series Anti-totalitarian vectors, first shown at Melbourne’s Anna Schwartz Gallery in 2019, is installed on level 2 of the Heyward Library.
The title of this series refers to the political writing of internationally renowned philosopher and La Trobe alumna Ágnes Heller (1929–2019). Heller’s work has had a profound impact on the University since the late 1970s. Among many notable endeavours, she played an influential role in student organising, including encouraging the founding of the interdisciplinary journal Thesis Eleven in 1980.
In an installation that pays homage to Heller and her contemporaries, Floyd has abstracted and exaggerated punctuation marks and diacritics to create bold new forms. Two pairs of large-scale aluminium sculptures resembling over-sized books intersect with two of the library’s existing columns. Each high-gloss black and white sculpture references the cover art of a book of political philosophy. Three differently sized cast bronze sculptures are positioned in relation to these forms. Shaped like the letter ‘O’, and finished with a black patina, they are topped with stalked eyes that suggest the umlaut accent commonly used in the German language. The final component of the installation comprises twelve fragments of Ágnes Heller’s writing, framed within cartoon-like ‘stock’ thought bubbles and affixed to walls and windows. Extracted from their original context in Heller’s 1993 book, A philosophy of history in fragments, they read as spontaneous ideas.
Through this site-specific installation, Emily Floyd invites us to contemplate the power of individual and collective action in social change. In reactivating the urgent anti-totalitarian struggles of the 20th century and remembering Heller’s influential work, she signals the relevance of radical political action for our future.