Optronic Kinetics was an art collective that emerged from the University of Sydney’s infamous Tin Sheds Art Workshop in the early 1970s. At this time, the Tin Sheds was a hotbed for radical thought, student activism and a celebrated ‘alternate art space’, where ideas about conceptual and post-object art were explored and put into practice. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the Tin Sheds gave rise to some of Australia’s most progressive and political creative practitioners.
Renowned sculptor and artist Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) was the Tin Sheds’ coordinator from 1968 to 1973, and under his guidance encouraged students from across the University’s disciplines to explore the Art Workshop’s offerings. Combined with the enthusiasm of artist, critic and theorist Donald Brook (1927-2018), a University of Sydney academic at the time, a small cohort of medical and engineering students began to investigate and experiment with electronics and movement. Initially the students had wanted to create ‘very conservative paintings’, so in response Flugelman gave them an introduction to sculpture and convinced them to push the boundaries of their own studies and skills. Flugelman and Brook believed that you did not need to master a creative discipline in order to understand it, but you had to be familiar with its ideas and processes. It was this guiding principle that brought Optronic Kinetics into being.
Spurred by the desire to amalgamate science and technology with art, the collective’s founding members included Fine Arts student Julie Ewington, now a recognised writer and curator, and electrical engineering students David Smith and Jim McDonnell. Together with Flugelman they created conceptually ambitious and humorous works such as Cubed tree, Feathered office and Flashing boob. Other works such as Electronic colour organ and Reflector employed cutting edge technological innovations and theories to bridge the perceived divide between art and science.
The collection of Optronic Kinetics’ work held at Flinders University Museum of Art (FUMA) was gifted by Emeritus Professor Donald Brook. Following his tenure at the University of Sydney, Brook was awarded the position of inaugural Chair of Visual Arts at Flinders University in 1974. Here he initiated FUMA’s Post-object and Documentation collection, now one of the most comprehensive national collections that documents conceptual art making in the 1960s and 1970s. This collection features works by acclaimed Australian and international artists such as Mike Parr, Stelarc, John Baldessari, Ulay and Marina Abramovic.
FUMA’s Post-object and Documentation collection can be viewed via the Online Collections Catalogue.