CityCat Project



The Los Angeles artist Dave Hullfish Bailey (*1963) has said “if there's a one-liner about what my [site-based projects] attempt, it has to do with replacing an iconographic vision of place with an inhabited, on-the-ground geography”. The artist's collaborative CityCat Project enables us to think this ambition via an unfolding ecology of relations between producers and audiences, histories and locations, aesthetic decisions and political effects.

An ongoing collaboration between Bailey and the Brisbane Indigenous leader Sam Watson, the CityCat Project was initiated in 2003, when Bailey was commissioned to develop a public project for Brisbane. The artist's response led him to invite Watson, who is also an accomplished playwright and outspoken political activist, to site and choreograph unannounced interruptions to the routine routing of Brisbane’s popular CityCat ferries. Since the late 1990s these highly visible craft have played a key role in the redevelopment of the Brisbane River as a civic and touristic amenity.

While the momentary diversion of the CityCat ferries constitutes its central element, the project has activated multiple forms, contexts and audiences, and includes drawings, photographic, video and sculptural works, collages, field recordings, exhibitions, architectural interventions, public discussions, slide-lectures, and publications. Characterised by this proliferation and confusion of spaces, information and agency, its radically collaborative yet authorially fragmented process assumes its participants may not share common knowledges, aesthetic languages, nor political aims.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the CityCat Project has been Watson's public declaration that the river performance is a contemporary manifestation of the Dreaming that will be told, re-told, and re-enacted indefinitely into the future. Announced in the immediate aftermath of the first iteration of the river performance in December 2006, in May 2009 the performance was enacted a second time, while it was staged a third time in December 2012. Preparations for a fourth staging, to be held in early December 2016 (on the tenth anniversary of the original event), are currently underway.

Other aspects of the CityCat Project have been presented at the 'Dave Hullfish Bailey', Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2003); 'Turrbal-Jagera: The University of Queensland Art Projects 2006', University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane (2006); Lyon Biennial (2007); 'Spaces of Art', Art Gallery of New South Wales/Artspace, Sydney (2009); Pestorius Sweeney House (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014); State Library of Queensland, Brisbane (2009); Cité International des Arts, Paris (2010); Zobernig Class, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna (2010); AAANZ Conference, Adelaide (2010); Auckland Art Fair (2011); Spring 1883 Art Fair in Melbourne (2014); and 'Cross Pose’, University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane.

In addition, future activities in Morton Bay, including work in connection with Oodgeroo Nunuccal (Kath Walker) Archive at the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, are being planned.

Published writings on the CityCat Project:

Catherine Chevalier, 'Dave Hullfish Bailey, Queensland University, Brisbane, December 2006', Frog, No. 5, Paris, 2007, pp. 96–99

Rex Butler, 'Dave Hullfish Bailey', Artforum International, XLVIII, No. 1, New York, 2009, p. 314

David Pestorius, 'Dada in the post-colonial field: Dave Hullfish Bailey's CityCat Project for Brisbane', Column 4, Artspace Contemporary Art Centre, Sydney, 2009, pp. 79–84

Rex Butler, ‘The Wind in his Sails’ in Dave Hullfish Bailey: CityCat Project 2012, David Pestorius Projects, Brisbane, 2012, n.p.

Curriculum Vitae:

Sam Watson and Dave Hullfish Bailey