Vivienne Binns OAM is a pioneer of feminist, collaborative and community-based practice in Australia. Binns’ first exhibition, at Watters Gallery in 1967, was widely criticised for its provocative and sexually explicit imagery. After the Watters exhibition, Binns embarked on a range of ephemeral, cross-disciplinary and collaborative projects that precipitated her role as a leading figure in the development of community-based practices in Australia. Her career is characterised by a succession of firsts, including as a founding member of the Sydney Women’s Art Movement in 1974, and her participation in An exhibition of homosexual and lesbian artists at Watters Gallery in 1978, the earliest undertaking of its kind in Australia.
Binns’ landmark work, Mothers’ memories, others’ memories, involved collaborating with participants at the University of New South Wales and then at Blacktown, a Western Suburb of Sydney, to record matrilineal histories at a time when women’s experiences were seldom valued or documented. Her subsequent work, Tower of Babel, continued her collaborative, feminist and community-based approach to production.
Binns returned to painting in the 1980s but remained deeply involved with community projects. Over the following years, she worked as an educator, teaching painting, drawing and art theory at Sydney University, Charles Sturt University (Albury), and The Australian National University. She developed a reputation as a generous mentor to artists including Geoff Newton, Dionisia Salas, Trevelyan Clay, Liang Luscombe and Charlie Sofo. In 2021 Binns was the recipient of the Australia Council Award for Visual Arts, in 1985 she was given the Ros Bower Memorial Award for visionary contribution to community arts and in 1983 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for Services to Art and Craft.
Vivienne Binns’ most recent work in painting and assemblage is a way of processing her prior community and feminist practice as well as an extension of her concerns in the materials and methods of surfacing in painting. Her abiding interests are the function of art making as a human activity, which occurs in all social groups, and the manifestations of this throughout these communities. This is especially visible in Binns’ use of patterning and surface treatments, which connect historical art movements to domestic or familiar imagery.
Select solo exhibitions: Vivienne Binns: on and through the Surface, co-presented by Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2022; It is what it is what it is, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2018; New Work, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, 2014; Vivienne Binns – Art and Life, Latrobe University Museum of Art, 2012; Everything New is Old Again, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2008; A Symphony of Uncertainties: In memory of Unknown Artists and Scenes of Popular Reverie, Helen Maxwell Gallery, Canberra, 2007; Vivienne Binns’ Solo Survey, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 2006; Vivienne Binns: Twenty First Century Paintings, The Cross Art Projects, Sydney, 2004.
Select group exhibitions: Living Patterns: Contemporary Australian Abstraction, QAGOMA, Brisbane, 2023; Spacingout, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2023; Queer: Stories from the NGV collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2022; Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020; Unfinished Business: Perspectives on Art & Feminism, ACCA, Melbourne, 2018; Painting, More Painting, ACCA, Melbourne, 2016; Pop to Popism, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2015; Lurid Beauty, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2015; Temperament Spectrum, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2012; Stick it!: Collage in Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2010; Cross Currents: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2007.
Though known primarily for her paintings, Binns rejects the notion that her art is concerned with medium or style. Rather, painting is for her a means through which to enact a mode of internal enquiry: a searching for or 'surfacing' of knowledge that is grounded in intuition and haptic empathy.Anneke Jaspers and Hannah Mathews in Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface, Melbourne: Monash University of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2021, p.11.