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James Newitt

Saturday Nights  2007

single-channel digital video, colour, sound, festoon lights

10:20 minutes

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Andrew and Cathy Cameron, 2012


About the Artwork

Saturday Nights is a ten-minute film of a Saturday night dance in a country town. It was made by James Newitt with the assistance of the people of Koonya, a small regional community on Tasmania’s south coast, with contributions from historians James Parker and Peter McFie. Centred on the dancehall – once the hub of the small town – the video is both an insight into the lives of the Koonya locals and a document of the Saturday night dances that were once a regular event in the town.

Filming the preparations for the dance, as well as the dance itself, Newitt creates a portrait of the community as they interact with one another and reflect on past dances and shared histories. He has used a combination of documentary observations and scripted scenes to reveal aspects of personal histories and relationships that exist within the community, poignantly capturing feelings of camaraderie and community pride as well as interactions between older and younger members of the community. 

While not from Koonya, Newitt is a Tasmanian, and his works engage with the history of the island and its changing communities. An aspect of that history which forms an undercurrent in Saturday Nights is the traumatic memory of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, in which 35 people were killed. Port Arthur is a ten-minute drive from Koonya. Saturday Nights was commissioned as part of the Port Arthur Project, Ten Days on the Island, with the University of Tasmania. Combining facts and fiction, it explores the memories, events and experiences that bind people together.

Saturday Nights tells the story of a country dance that I facilitated at the Koonya Hall on the Tasman peninsula in early 2007. The video combines documentary observations and scripted scenes to reveal aspects of personal histories and relationships that exist within a community which has dealt with recent trauma.

James Newitt, 2008

James Newitt

– About the artist

Born 1981, Hobart. Lives and works in Hobart and Lisbon.

James’ work explores specific social and cultural relations, embracing mutability and paradox. His videos and installations investigate spaces between individual and collective identity, memory and history, fact and fiction through personal, observational and performative approaches. He works on projects that often involve extended periods of research into specific social, cultural and environmental situations and the development of ongoing relationships with individuals and communities.

Newitt has exhibited nationally and internationally. Selected solo exhibitions include Uma Espécie de Sombra/A Sort of Shadow, Lumiar Cité, Lisbon (2013); To Catch a Tiger, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart (2011); If They Fall, Rosalux, Berlin (2010); Urgent Care, Criterion Gallery, Hobart (2009); Stories of Celebration and Dissent, Rosalux, Berlin (2009); and I Notice These Little Things, How They Change, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2008).

Selected group shows include 24 Frames per Second, Carriageworks Sydney (2015); Tell Me My Truth, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art; The Space Between Us: Anne Landa Award for Video and New Media Arts, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2013); Sonic Spheres, TarraWarra Biennial, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria (2012); Iteration: Again, Hobart, Tasmania (2011); In The Balance: Art for a Changing World, MCA, Sydney (2010); What I Think About When I Think About Dancing, Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW (2009); Handle with Care: 2008 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Ten Days on the Island, Hobart (2007); Eternal Beautiful Now, Sherman Galleries, Sydney (2007); and the Next Wave Festival, Melbourne (2006).

Newitt’s work is held in numerous collections, including Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart; Artbank, Sydney; Andrew Cameron family collection; and private collections.

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