Richard Tipping is an internationally recognised poet and artist. His work primarily focuses on the interplay between concrete poetry and the large-scale physicality of sculpture and site-specific public art. His work, Alphabet soup (1978), was collected by Flinders University Museum of Art in 1979, under the auspices of the late Donald Brook (then inaugural Chair of Visual Arts at Flinders University), to develop its bourgeoning collection of international and Australian experimental art.
The photographs were acquired as part of a larger folio that documents work produced for the inaugural exhibition, Act 1: an exhibition of performance and participatory art, at the newly established Canberra School of Art. Curated by German-born, Australian artist Ingo Kleinert, who taught at the school between 1976 and 1996, the exhibition featured installation, video, performance and participatory art. Twenty-three artists from across Australia were involved, including Jill Orr, Mike Parr, Liz Honybun, Lesley Savage, Ken Unsworth and Richard and Pat Larter. Subsequent iterations (Act 2 and Act 3) were held biennially until 1982.
Presented on Ngunnawal Country/Canberra at Lake Burley Griffin, Alphabet soup comprises large-scale polystyrene letters cut in 1970s ‘groovy’ typeface forming the phrase, THE EVERLASTING STONE, activated by audience members. The phrase was the exhibition title and original signage used for Tipping’s first solo exhibition, held at the Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery in 1978. In the exhibition he engraved short poetic texts into granite and marble to explore how such hefty material might give ‘weight to words’.
In contrast, for Alphabet soup, participants held the light-weight letters, positioning them and repositioning according to Tipping’s direction to form alternative wording such as:
THE SEVERE LASTING ON
STEAL TV SEE NOTHING
SEAT LOVER STING TENSE
The playful, interactive poetry performance is followed by a subsequent event with Tipping rowing a small boat, comically full of giant letters, and releasing them onto the lake to float and drift, forming poetic arrangements led by wind and water. This seemingly ephemeral act is a sobering reminder of the current global plastic output and recent reports that plastic in oceans will outweigh fish by 2050.
Tipping has exhibited widely in Australia, the United States and Europe. His work is held in collections nationally including the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Museum of Contemporary Art; and internationally at the Museum of Modern Art, Getty Centre for the History of Art and the Humanities and the British Museum.
Collections Curator, Flinders University Museum of Art
Adelaide, Australia, 2022
© Flinders University Museum of Art
 ‘Giving weight to words’ was the bi-line for Tipping’s exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery.
born 1949, Tarntanya/Adelaide, South Australia
Alphabet Soup 1978
gelatin silver prints
20.2 x 25.0 cm (image)
Collection of Flinders University Museum of Art 1226K
© the artist, photographed by David Reid, image courtesy FUMA
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