Richard Bell is one of the most successful contemporary artists of our time. He is a big deal in the international art world. He has achieved one of the most coveted triumphs of the modern artist, exhibiting in the Tate Modern’s grand centrepiece, the Turbine Hall.
Richard Bell does not consider himself an artist – instead he’s declared himself to be “an activist masquerading as an artist”. He makes no secret of the fact he believes he’s found the societal loophole to boldly say what so many like himself are thinking without the typical drawbacks of being an activist, chiefly being at the mercy of misguided law enforcement.
While this film is centred around Bell, this is not a film about an artist.
Through You Can Go Now, writer and director Larissa Behrendt has made one of the most unapologetic, bold and raw accounts of the treatment of indigenous people in modern Australia using the vehicle of Bell’s “activism masquerading as art” loophole.
In the opening sequences Bell is immediately endearing, humours and affable, setting the audience up in a false sense of safety and security then BAM: the viewer is confronted with the truth, an unrestrained account of Australia’s uncomfortable and appalling history.
Behrendt’s approach to story-telling is defiant and brave, paradoxically delivered in a jovial, slightly subversive yet inviting manner, much like Bell himself. Drawing on historical footage of protests, interviews with prominent Aboriginal Australians and the story of Bell’s life, You Can Go Now takes the viewer through some of the most momentous occasions in Australia’s history through a new lens. Your eyes are left wide open to everything you always knew was there but maybe you did not see as clearly before.
One does not wish to relegate a film to the school classroom, however I would consider this essential viewing for the next generation. While this film is an education, it is captivating and emotive, maybe just the right combination to shift attitudes and effect change. After all, You Can Go Now is just activism masquerading as art.
You Can Go Now will screen across Australia from 26 January 2023 (and this was no coincidence).
As part of the Adelaide Film Festival, Richard Bell’s Embassy installation will be on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia between 21-23 October.