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Distilling History

Text by John Lampard

Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig are self confessed hoarders. They are unable to return from any trip to one part of Australia or another, without backpacks full of items scoured from the nation’s Op and Tip shops.

And while historical books in particular are a favourite find, a little cider is also procured, though it is not clear if this is also found in tip shops!

In fact so familiar do Rachel and Paul sound with Australian Op shops, they could almost write a guidebook pointing out the country’s best vendors of pre-loved artifacts and curios. But what to do with all the treasures they have accumulated?

Artwork by The Contextual Villains

For Rachel and Paul, also known as The Contextual Villains, the answer was pretty simple, and in 2006 they produced a book and CD project titled “The Present History”. Made up of illustrations and photos amassed during their travels, the book and companion CD, feature the work of 25 artists and musicians.

Despite being very much an Australian production, inspiration for the idea came during a nostalgic moment, while Rachel was an artist in residence in southern India, in 2004.

Artwork by The Contextual Villains

“The basic idea was to create an adult version of a child’s talking book, while collaborating with a range of like minded artists. We have produced many zines and thought that publishing a book might not be such a huge leap,” says Paul.

After gaining funding from ArtsACT, Rachel and Paul met with some of the collaborating artists in early 2006, and began to outline the idea to them. It was as they continued to elaborate, and define their vision, that everyone began to more clearly understand what was required of them, says Paul.

Artwork by The Contextual Villains

“Initially people responded to our broad ideas with fairly random sketches, photographs, and found images and sound samples. As we started to make the initial collages and write down our ideas more eloquently, the collaboration became easier as everyone had more idea about what we wanted, and we had more idea about what we wanted from them.”

And while ensuring all 25 participants were on the same page for the duration was the biggest task, the project also presented a number of other challenges.

Writing music for the CD posed some unique difficulties for soundtrack producers, Tarquin Manek and Sam Karmel, who although experienced with motion and film work, and never produced music working only with static images.

Artwork by The Contextual Villains

Even finding creatives to work with had not been as straight-forward as envisaged. An initial search for collaborators online resulted in just one artist, Ian Francis, coming forward, and in the end Rachel and Paul turned to people they knew through existing networks based around Canberra.

“The majority of the artists involved have lived some part of their creative lives in Canberra. We knew almost all of the artists and had worked with several of them on other projects. The other artists involved were people whose work we admired and approached to be involved in the project,” says Paul.

Artwork by The Contextual Villains

And while other artists might take pleasure in seeing, and holding, their completed work in its book or CD format, bigger turned out to be better for Paul and Rachel.

“Strangely enough, one of the most satisfying moments in this project was seeing the individual pages enlarged as framed prints at the launch exhibition.”

“While each image was designed to be a part of the greater narrative, it was very satisfying seeing them as individual artworks. Enlarging the works also really brought out the small details within the works.”