It is not easy to get Tracey Moffatt to talk about the secret of her success. Nonetheless, evidence of her status as Australia’s hottest visual artist abounds. In 1995, she won a prize at the Kwangju Biennial in Korea: then came invitations to biennials in Venice and São Paulo, a residency at ArtPace in San Antonio, sell out shows throughout Europe, and most recently a one-woman exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. Along with other prominent young artists working in photography and video these days, Moffatt creates images in real settings with “real people,” but the combination of artful composition and elusive referencing of cinema reconfigure that realism as an “effect of the real.” In her photographs, she returns over and over again to themes that evoke social and cultural complexities of rural Australian life, but she insists that her images aren’t just about the world she comes from or who she is.
I was actually most interested in talking to Tracey about how she does it. I had something of a hunch. Last year, during a visit I made to Sydney, Tracey invited me, along with several other friends, to her “little shack in the bush.” After an afternoon of champagne and dim sum in the garden, and a fire show by a bunch of circus performers in a graveyard, our very international troupe ended up in a 19th-century pub. There we hooked up with a local who sang us old Australian convict songs while banging on his drum—which he just happened to have under the table. Then, under the direction of Ms. Moffatt, all the guests launched into their own renditions of songs that expressed their cultural uniqueness, one by one. I remember watching as a museum director slapped his legs and chanted about the joys of life in the British Army, and realizing that only Tracey could have gotten us all to act so silly and enjoy it. She was beaming and giving orders throughout. The sign of a consummate director.