Transit 2002: My First Solo Exhibition

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Transit Invitation, 2002
Transit Invitation, 2002

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 8 January 2015


Transit came about because in applying for Use By, I also ended up with a spot in Canberra Contemporary Art Space’s facility in Manuka later in the year. This put me under pressure but also forced me to expand on the ideas generated by Use By. It also forced me to attempt to improve on the techniques and also the execution of my preliminary foray into art. And, although it was a satisfying experience, it was also exhausting.


The show contained 25 works a large expansion on Use By and the works were more complicated. I divided the show into three series:

1 Technology Series

Random IV + Buttons, May 2001 & August 2002, Physical Mixed Media, 27x23 cm
Random IV + Buttons, May 2001 & August 2002, Physical Mixed Media, 27×23 cm

These works were a further exploration of the large physical works of Use By, breadtags stuck onto cardboard and really the final statement on this theme.

I’d decided that the large random patterns of Use By were too bleak and decided to humanise them without detracting from the original idea of random patterns.

These random patterns were generated meticulously from The Rand Corporation’s precisely generated book of random numbers A Million Random Digits first published in 1955 (my ANU copy was 1957) with its connotation of cold war analysis of the unthinkable and the birth of the computer age.

The humanisation was achieved with the addition of tiny photographs and buttons into the blank spaces and the use of twining teabag labels (Irish Breakfast, of course).

2 Main Series

Moghul 3, October 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Moghul 3, October 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

These works were the main continuation of the ideas expressed in Use By highlighting the temporary nature of Use By dates and of cultural change. The pinnacle of these works was the very large work Life Fragments I highlighting my lifetime to date, which I’ll discuss in detail in another post.

3 Experimental Series

Moghul 2, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Moghul 2, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

These works were an exploration of other possibilities of making art following the same idea as the main series but diverging onto different pathways.

The artist statement in further information provides some more detail.

The Reviews

The reviews were again positive and useful in furthering my ideas and artistic development. I find it humbling that years afterwards Canberra people still remember these two shows and comment on them.

Review The Canberra Times 4 October, 2002

An Exhibition Rich and Rewarding

By Sasha Grishin

Pushkar Mela 3, December 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Pushkar Mela 3, December 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

Tony Stewart: Transit Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 19 Furneaux Street, Manuka, Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. Closes October 6.

One of the qualities I find particularly appealing in Tony Stewart’s exhibition is his transparency of means.

Throughout the show he repeatedly employs the form of that curiously shaped plastic tag, which has a code and a use-by date, which in our everyday life we find around the neck of plastic bags containing bread and other perishables bought at supermarkets. In the exhibition it becomes a sort of metaphor for the ephemeral “here and now”, set within our own culture, against which are juxtaposed digital images from other cultures photographed mainly by the artist from India, Pakistan and Laos.

Hill Tribe 1, August 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Hill Tribe 1, August 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

The whole thing becomes like a cinematographic montage where the artist’s private life, thoughts and experiences are shot through with these banal tags of the everyday. It is this play between the common, familiar reality and the strange and exotic which casts a web of tension over the entire exhibition. Intriguing, mysterious and captivating, yet there is no mystery concerning the means through which Stewart achieves these effects.

On one level the whole exhibition engages with the idea of diversity within a perceived commonality. The artist moves widely in time and between cultures, yet seems transfixed through technology. The stories and experiences differ but the framework remains constant. It can also be seen as a comment on the singleness of existence.

On another level, the work can be seen to comment on different realities, but these are unified or distilled through a single prism — in other words, conditioned through our own cultural prejudices.

This is a very rich and rewarding exhibition, where cutting wit is combined with an engaging intellect. The large scroll image Life Fragments I, is the real show stopper, quite brilliant in its conception and execution. Some of the works from the Experimental Series 2, especially Nos 13 and 14 are particularly effective.

While it is a much over-used expression, but this small modest show is one which should not be missed.

Review Muse magazine: Visual Art, November, 2002


By Ed Whalan

Vairumati 4, February 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Vairumati 4, February 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

Tony Stewart, Canberra Contemporary Art Space Manuka,

27 September – 6 October, 2002

Transit is Tony Stewart’s second exhibition in Canberra, following Use By at Artspace 71 earlier this year. In this exhibition the artist uses discarded plastic bread tags as the frame for his digital images. Each work is composed of an array of tags, creating powerful patterns of imagery and association of ideas that immediately engage the viewer. The distinctive use of colour and repetition draws a parallel with the pop art movement of the late-sixties, in both form and content.

The artist uses the mundane and disposable item of the plastic bread tag — discarded by the millions each day — to frame slices of a lived experience that are profound, utterly personal, exotic, mysterious or compelling. For the viewer, the fascination of sorting through a myriad of tiny jewel-like images from distant lands is continually abraded by the dominant motif — mass produced, trivial and utterly prosaic.

Lake Tabourie 4, December 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Lake Tabourie 4, December 2001, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

Transit recreates a space for a timeless commodity that is barely noticed for the simple reason that its very existence is totally subordinated to other objects of consumption. It puts us as consumers on the path to the ontological truth of a world that cannot exist without the excessiveness of production. With Stewart’s thinking of the disposable object as a frame within a frame, the sign value of the commodity is consumed while the material residue remains. The ephemeral tag has survived both artificially created needs and unfulfilled desires.

For me the most engaging piece was Life Fragments, a pictorial biography. This narrative piece contains hundreds of images arrayed upon or within bread tags and depicts transitory moments from the artist’s life, and those of his family and friends. These postcards or snapshots, range from the present to several decades back into the last century. They capture social events and landscapes across a wide range of times and places, both in colour and black and white. While personal to the artist, they are also familiar for all of us, similar to the photos held in everyone’s albums. Yet the observer of Transit is simultaneously delighted by the

content and disturbed by the social, economic and personal implications of the composition.

Ed Whalan graduated from the ANU in 1996 and is currently General Manager of PhotoAccess and a practicing photomedia visual artist.

There were also two or three other reviews in the press but they were short and added nothing to the above, other than to encourage people to attend the exhibition for which I was grateful.


I was surprised and flattered at how the reviewers of both Use By and Transit seemed to get what I was on about and were able to translate it better than I could myself. (Compare them, for example, with my Artist Statement below.) It was only my naivety that made me surprised at this, because in general serious reviewers should tend to help emerging artists to develop their art (unfortunately not all reviewers understand this). Most reviewers, however, are supportive of new artists.

Further Photos and Slides of Transit Work

The photos are on Picasa albums to return use the back arrow on your browser. The slideshows can also be used as click through carousels. You can also navigate into a slideshow or carousel in Picasa. Top left or click on photo.

Photos of Transit

For slides with captions see Slideshow of Transit Works

Alternatively, go to Galleries  and Slideshows for more instructions

Key Words: Transit, Use By, Tony Stewart, Sasha Grishin, Ed Whalan, The Rand Corporation

Further information

Laos 1, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30x21 cm
Laos 1, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 30×21 cm

Transit Catalogue

Screen shot 2016-01-08 at 12.20.15 PM

Screen shot 2016-01-08 at 12.22.34 PM

Artist’s Statement


Tony Stewart, September 2002


Twinings Pattern 4December 2001Physical Mixed Media27x23 cm
Twinings Pattern 4December 2001Physical Mixed Media27x23 cm

I’d been looking for something to use as a signifier of technological change in the late twentieth century. I’d been thinking about computer chips and the like but couldn’t find what I wanted or get the concept organised visually.

In mid-2000, at an exhibition entitled ‘Uncommon World: Aspects of Contemporary Australian Art’ at the National Gallery of Australia, I came across a series of collected objects by Peter Atkins. One of the works was a display of bread tags discarded by parents and children feeding ducks in Centennial Park. ‘Aha!’ I said. ‘Bread tags’: A brief moment of illumination. This inspired me to use the manufactured plastic tags in my own work as transitory technological icons of the late twentieth century.

During my first exhibition I found that several people have used bread tags in their art in various ways. The ‘bread tag school’, a joke shared with Allan Byrne, is a frightening possibility.


Hill Tribe 2B, August 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 36x31 cm
Hill Tribe 2B, August 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 36×31 cm

My first exhibition in April 2002 entitled Use By, in collaboration with Allan Byrne, utilised ‘Use-By-Dates’ as symbols of the disposable society. Allan focused on the personal perspective of humans standardised and regulated through life, much as objects on a production line. My perspective was more general of how deeply held beliefs and modes of living are washed away by technological change and the tides of history.

Similarly, the realities of oppression, denial of freedom, lies and manipulation equate to citizens being viewed as ‘throw away’ items of no account, to be sacrificed to ideologies that are themselves transitory.


Tags Mountain 2, February 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 41x30 cm
Tags Mountain 2, February 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 41×30 cm

TRANSIT in September 2002 deals with the concept of time. TRANSIT uses slices of time from the past, not as nostalgia, but in an attempt to define elements of experience from which learning can take place. In other words, cogent analysis and reflection on the past can be used to develop pathways to a better future.

Some of the slices in time depicted also intentionally try to tell a narrative or story.

The largest work Life fragments integrates some of the other works as smaller narratives within itself. But even the large work is only a fragment of a life; which does, however, include numerous fragments of other lives, as well.

Life fragments could also be treated as a narrative biography in the style of ‘George Orwell: A life’. If one believes the old adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, Life fragments is verbose. It is of a size similar to ‘Patrick White: A Life’ by David Marr, and even approaching that of ‘War and Peace’.

Karakorum Highway 1, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 55x45 cm
Karakorum Highway 1, July 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 55×45 cm

TRANSIT is a play on words. In Latin ‘trans’ means ‘across’. Transit means moving from A to B. It means:

n.,v. 1. The act or fact of passing across or through; passage from one place to another. 2. Conveyance from one place to another … 3. A transition or change. 4. Astron. A. the passage of a heavenly body across the meridian of a place or through the field of a telescope…

On the invitation postcard, ‘transition’ and ‘transitory’ are crossed out. The ‘transition’ aspect of TRANSIT relates to both the artist and the art. It represents the development of both and explains the experimental series. TRANSIT is a work in progress exploring the directions taken up by the artist to this point in time.

The ‘transitory’ aspect of TRANSIT relates to the ephemeral, funny-shaped plastic-tags one gets in supermarkets that are icons of technology in the late twentieth century and of my lifetime. No-one seems to know when bread tags appeared over the last twenty years or more and no-one is likely to notice particularly when they disappear, in the next ten years or so.

Transit can also indicate a ‘transect’ in time. And, alternatively, because many of the digital ages relate to travel, movement in geographical space around the world.

The Rand Corporation

Rand Corp Random pageA million Random Digits, 1955. In keeping with the Rand Corporation’s request I am directing you to their web page with PDF downloads. The introduction is interesting, if you are interested in such things. I’ve taken a screen shot of page 4 of the random numbers just to show you. It has to be close to one of the most boring books ever published, perhaps approached by Philip Zimmermann’s Pretty Good Privacy source code in hard copy, which was published to subvert US law.

Life Fragments

Life Fragments deserves more comment at a later date. Suffice it to say: Imagine a Chinese Scroll rolled out partly with fragments of one’s life contained within.

Life Fragments 1, September 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 349x79 cm
Life Fragments 1, September 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 349×79 cm

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