Kate Daw and Stewart Russell <em>Reverse anthem</em> 2021 (still); single-channel video. Courtesy of Stewart Russell<br/>
© Kate Daw and Stewart Russell

Kate Daw and Stewart Russell

Kate Daw
(b. 1965, Esperance, Western Australia. d. 2020, Melbourne)
Stewart Russell
(b. 1960, Scotland. Lives and works in Melbourne)

Reverse anthem, 2021, is a work by the late artist and educator Kate Daw and artist Stewart Russell, in collaboration with conductor and performer Jonathon Welch AM; artist, dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi; and director and artist Antuong Nguyen. First initiated by Daw and Russell in 2016, this is the newest iteration of a broader project by the pair that revises the Australian national anthem, holding up a mirror to its hypocrisies and inconsistencies.

Originally commissioned for RISING Festival and screened at Federation Square and on other screens around Melbourne, Reverse anthem sees Advance Australia Fair musically re-arranged, back-to-front and upside-down, in a rework of the original intended to spark debate around notions of Australian identity. Singers learned Welch’s new treatment of the anthem, with the collective of backwards-singing voices including soprano Shauntai Batzke and singers Eddie Muliaumaseali’i, Danielle Matthews and Daniel Brinsmead. The result is an eerie composition that can be heard as a provocation or lament about impossible claims made by the anthem to unite us in the present day. Standing up to ingrained inequalities in Australian society, Reverse anthem champions reconciliation through collaboration and positive action.

The artists had been working on this version of Reverse anthem for more than a year when Daw was diagnosed with cancer. She died in 2020 while the work was still in development. As Russell explains, Reverse anthem became a tribute, of a sort: ‘Naturally we’d all like to dedicate this work to her. But I know she wouldn’t approve of that gesture. In her art she chose to highlight the achievements of others, to collaborate and teach us to de-value the ego of the artist.’

Daw initiated many collaborative projects with artists in India, Scotland and Australia, with a focus on working with and platforming young women artists. In 2006, she completed her PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, where she was head of the School of Art (2017–20) and before that head of painting. Her work is held in private and public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and Artbank.

Stewart Russell’s art practice and design projects are realised through creative collaboration, co-operation and the involvement of others in their subject and delivery. Russell relocated to Melbourne from London in 2000, where he was director of London Printworks (1993–99). In Melbourne he established Spacecraft, a print studio to realise self-initiated and collaborative projects with artists, architects and fashion designers.