JOURNAL 46.2 art / criticism / Theory
VOLUME 46.2 2017
UNTIL 27 AUGUST 2017 | FREE Art Gallery of South Australia Vote for your favourite Have your say in the Lipman Karas People’s Choice Prize and help boost an artist’s career by awarding them $15,000. #ramsayartprize ramsay.artgallery.sa.gov.au PRESENTED BY PEOPLE’S CHOICE PRIZE
detail: Sarah Contos, Australia, born 1978, Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye, 2016, screen-print on linen, canvas and lamé, digital printed fabrics and various found fabrics, PVC, poly-fil, glass, ceramic and plastic beads, thread, artists’ gloves, 610 x 330 x 25cm; Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and STATION Gallery, Melbourne. photo: Jessica Maurer
free entry Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat 12 – 5pm www.monash.edu/muma
Artists including: Hany Armanious (AUS) Benjamin Armstrong (AUS) Damiano Bertoli (AUS) Nina Cannell (SWE) Marley Dawson (AUS) Aleksandra Domanović (SVN) Alex Dordoy (GBR) Lewis Fidock & Joshua Petherick (AUS) Mira Gojak (AUS) Guan Xiao (CHN) Yngve Holen (NOR) Alex Israel (USA) Magali Reus (NLD) Anna Uddenberg (SWE) Anicka Yi (KOR)
Anna Uddenberg, Savage #2 (quilted crutch) 2017. Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin. Photo: Gunter Lepkowski
CONTRIBUTORS Paola Anselmi is a Perth-based visual arts curator, public art coordinator and art writer. Currently a PhD candidate at the University of WA researching Western Australian photography, she is a contributor to national arts publications and has published numerous exhibition catalogue essays. A member of the Perth Centre for Photography’s exhibitions and program panel, she has also held curatorial and research roles at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Royal Perth Hospital Art Collection, The Photography Gallery, City of Fremantle Art Collection, City of Perth and the Centre for Contemporary Art Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy.
Andy Best is an Adelaide-based artist, curator and co-founding director of Downtown Art Space (2002 – 2007). Current exhibitions include Some Demonstrations at Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Giles Fielke is a writer and musician living in Melbourne. He is completing his PhD in the Art History Department of the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication and is a founding member of the Artist Film Workshop and Screening Society located in Kerr St, Fitzroy. He is preparing a collection of oral histories by experimental filmmakers in Australia.
Mary-Jean Richardson is an Adelaide-based artist and Painting Department Head at Adelaide Central School of Art.
Amelia Winata is a Melbourne-based art writer and curator. She is also the Sub-editor of un Magazine and a research assistant on the major ARC project Bauhaus Australia.
Tessa Zettel is an artist and writer collaborating with others on various forms of making, researching and sharing. Across a few continents, she is part of the transdisciplinary groups Collective Disaster, Weathering and The Librarium. Recent projects have been hosted at Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart), MUCA Roma (Mexico City) and Art Laboratory Berlin (Berlin).
editorial advisory board Claire Bishop (USA) Rex Butler (Victoria) Robert Cook (Western Australia)
Sophie Knezic is a visual artist and scholar, who works between practice and theory. Her inter-disciplinary research is conducted across art history, art theory, visual culture, Continental philosophy, literary fiction, science fiction and the post-humanities. Sophie’s critical writing on contemporary art, literature and design has been published in Frieze, Artlink, Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, Art Monthly Australasia, Australian Book Review, un Magazine and Object Magazine. Sophie is currently a Sessional Lecturer in Critical and Theoretical Studies, VCA and MCM, University of Melbourne.
Pedro de Almeida (New South Wales) Léuli Eshraghi (Kulin Nation Territory) Alexie Glass-Kantor (New South Wales) Helen Hughes (Victoria) Carol Yinghua Lu (China) Jacqueline Millner (New South Wales) Daniel Mudie Cunningham (New South Wales)
Dr Chari Larsson teaches art history and theory at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane.
Lana Lopesi is an Auckland-based critic of art and culture. Her writing has featured in several print and online publications including Art New Zealand, un Magazine and Runway. She currently writes a monthly column for Design Assembly called Graphic Matters, where she is also a Contributing Editor looking after the Aotearoa Design Thinking series. She was also the founding editor of #500words.
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Djon Mundine (New South Wales) Brigid Noone (South Australia) Maura Reilly (USA) Terry Smith (USA/Australia) Vivian Ziherl (Netherlands/Australia)
The views and/or opinions expressed in Broadsheet Journal are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the editor, staff or Board of ACE Open. Front cover image: Archie Moore, United Neytions, 2014-2017, The National: New Australian Art at Carriageworks, Sydney. Photo: Sofia Freeman/The Commerical, Courtesy The Commerical Gallery, Sydney. This magazine is produced on Titan Gloss 250gsm FSC Mix certified cover and Grange offset 120gsm PEFC certified text. Both papers are Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) and using ISO 14001 certified mills. Product is printed by an ISO 14001 certified printer using vegetable based inks.
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BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.2 CONTENTS TESSA ZETTEL Art of the (im)possible: documenta 14
CHARI LARSSON Between nationalism and globalism: folds in contemporary Australian art at The National: New Australian Art
LANA LOPESI On which the sun never sets: interview with Tina Baum: Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia
GILES FIELKE Movies in the Museum (part II): the paracinematic gaze
SOPHIE KNEZIC Performativity and pastiche: Christian Thompson’s play with the ‘mimic man’
ANDY BEST FRIZ QUADRATA: Christian Lock’s Black Works AMELIA WINATA Undoing the neutral: the sculpture as pointer
MARY-JEAN RICHARDSON Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time at the Art Gallery of South Australia
PAOLA ANSELMI Kevin Ballantine Photographs 1986-2001 and HERE&NOW17: New Photography at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, WA
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Art of the (im)possible: documenta14
he fourteenth edition of documenta opened for the first time in Athens this April, two months ahead of a second opening in its customary home of Kassel, Germany. The exhibition is subtitled ‘Learning from Athens’, and is marked as much by its dual location as by the impossible rhetoric of horizontal, cosmopolitan cultural affinity surrounding it since the outset. This is a pity because, as many critics have noted, moving outside the quiet comforts of Kassel is not a bad idea, and Athens is certainly one place that could use new kinds of attention and attentiveness. Documenta has a history of bringing forward-thinking modes of pedagogy and criticality into the art world, and the promotional text for lead-up events in Athens – gatherings of the mysterious-sounding Cooperativist Society and the Apatride Society of the Political Others – did suggest an emphasis on new forms of collectivity and self-organisation in the face of myriad institutional failures evident in Greece and elsewhere. It was disappointing therefore to see the show itself unfold as a fairly routine line-up of things piled into big galleries, supplemented by a few performative works in public spaces and outlying site-based interventions. ‘Learning’ does not appear to be among the handful of themes recurring across the various venues, let alone have functioned as an organising principle, and even Athens, as a site of transformative possibility, rather than a stand-in for abject geopolitical economics or originary classical (western) aesthetics, doesn’t get much of a look in. On the strength of this first move, we aren’t encountering here a dramatic reinvention of what the biennale-style survey show could be, informed by a rigorous and radically open engagement with the specificities of its new expanded microclimate. Though Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk remarked at the official opening press conference that after four years based in Athens, the team has learnt mainly that they have a great deal still to learn, the show does, of course, nonetheless go ahead and make some big claims. In many cases the works themselves present as neat, glib answers (or obtuse abstractions), dropped in readymade from elsewhere. Given the unevenness of Germany’s relationship to Greece in the sphere of global macroeconomic capital, and the very real material consequences of those relations for ordinary Athenians, accusations of ‘crisis tourism’ were always going to be at the pointy end of its reception. But criticisms
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from within Greece have persisted, whether in the form of flyers flung into the Sunday morning launch of Ross Birrell’s The Athens–Kassel Ride: The Transit of Hermes (2017) from a group calling itself Against Art as a Neocolonial Mechanism, and asking: ‘Who is learning from Athens and What?’ Or in reports from local artists that the approach of the team on the ground was secretive and anthropological rather than genuinely collaborative. Coinciding with the press preview, another local group, Artists Against Evictions, published an open letter in the journal Artforum on April 8 demanding an end to documenta’s silence regarding the recent eviction of artists from the social space Villa Zografou and the raid and arrest of 120 refugees in Alkiviadou squat, an escalation of last year’s bulldozing of refugee homes in Thessaloniki. It reads: ‘Now is a time for carving out a space for all, not a time of culturally archiving crisis’.1 The letter was circulated roundly on social media, but as far as I could see, barely made it onto the horizons of the roaming cloud of journalists and arts professionals whose complicity in the state-supported media circus it directly called out. While many of the letter’s concerns were indeed glossed over by the umbrella event, certain individual works did in their own way address them. Maria Eichhorn’s Building as unowned property (2017) intervenes in the legal and bureaucratic tangle of land ownership, through the artist’s attempt to transfer a house out of anyone’s actual ownership. The work exists as a collection of documents and photographs in a vitrine at the EMST (National Museum of Contemporary Art), but also presumably now as paperwork within the city’s administrative records, and as an architectural and social object on the street. Rick Lowe’s Victoria Square Project (2017-18), a kind of amorphous community drop-in centre and workshop, is another project dealing with gentrification and the effects of economic collapse that takes care to participate in what it represents. Lowe’s approach does seem somewhat at odds with the documenta on display in the major venues – the work is completely open-ended, shaped by those who choose to contribute or make use of it, with no clearly defined single outcome. Occupying a shopfront and basement in the working-class Right: Beau Dick, 20 Masks from the ‘Undersea Kingdom’ (2016-2017), installation view, EMST- National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, documenta 14 © Photo: Mathias Voelzke.
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tessa zettel neighbourhood of Victoria, local artists and residents have been invited in to conduct their own material or community-based investigations, to more or less make themselves at home, whatever that might mean. When I spoke with Lowe, also behind the emblematic Project Row Houses in Houston of the 1990s, he showed little interest in documenta’s 100-day run or official opening hours; having been open for business already since last June, his project will continue until at least April 2018, and probably beyond, with management handed over to local partners. Exhibitions of this scale have a peculiar, though often largely unrealised, capacity to interfere with or trouble the habitual rhythms of a city, to enter – in an embodied way – into a critical conversation with what is happening under the surface there. Lowe spends his late afternoons playing dominoes with the unemployed older men in the street outside (just as he did with residents in Houston); perhaps the subtlest of shifts, but one that conceivably allows for other possibilities, in their own time, to emerge. Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, now in his eighties, makes a louder disturbance in Kotzia Square, a oncebustling hub of the commercial district now hollowed out with Greece’s financial (mis)fortunes. Araeen’s block-coloured version of
documenta has a history of bringing forward-thinking modes of pedagogy and criticality into the art world a traditional Pakistani wedding tent, Shamiyaana—Food for Thought: Thought for Change (2016-17), serves up a home-cooked meal twice a day, acting as a kind of real-fiction soup kitchen where the art world elite might find themselves sharing a table with passers-by genuinely in need of a free lunch. Both these works pick up (in fairly sensitive ways) on questions running through the show around hospitality and mobility, but the politics or ethics of being simultaneously host and guest, of hosting in fact in someone else’s home, are in general not fully taken up. This ambivalence is of course further complicated by the broader, geopolitical power relations in play. Germany is the biggest contributor to the almost 300 billion euros in emergency funds patching Greece’s abysmally spiralling debt crisis, tied to years of increasingly untenable and forcibly applied austerity reforms. In January the German government announced it would soon begin sending refugees back to Greece again, following an EU recommendation to reinstate a rule, suspended in Athens since 2012 due to sheer impracticability, that asylum must be claimed in the member country of arrival. Such contradictions form a backdrop that impacts upon how we encounter the artworks, in relationship to the sites they choose to intervene in. Hiwa K’s video, Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue) (2017) follows the artist walking through Athens to Turkey, retracing the steps he took twenty years ago as a Kurdistani refugee en route
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from Iraq to his present home in Berlin. Hiwa carries with him a contraption built from multiple rear-view mirrors, balanced on the tip of his nose, re-performing the city spaces that he moves through, as strained refractions held by the anxious movements of a body still conversant in the language of the precarious in-between. Sanja Iveković’s Monument to Revolution, collective oral document (2017) similarly brings discourses of resistance into an everyday landscape, turning Avdi square in the former silk manufacturing district of Metaxourgeio into a site for political education and historical memory. Made with old bricks – collected from redeveloped industrial buildings or community spaces by international antifascist, workers’ and womens’ organisations – the work reimagines the foundations of Mies van der Rohe’s 1926 Monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as a public platform for the rights of those who fall outside infrastructures of state power. On the day I visited, you could lie with your back on the warm bricks and listen to Angela Dimitrakaki and Antonia Majaca’s collaboration with the artist, Art of the Possible: Towards an Antifascist Feminist Front. This multi-lingual ‘collective speech act’, in which women artists, theorists and activists speculate on the rise of a revolutionary anti-fascist feminist front, effectively speaks back to the rising forces of right-wing nationalism in today’s Europe; as much a problem in the economically depressed global south as in the wealthy north (the dualism repeatedly positioning Athens-Kassel in documenta’s collateral). The aural is everywhere at this documenta, though not all of it quite so charged, from Pope L’s Whispering Campaign (2016-17) interwoven throughout the city, to the sound-based performances stacking opening week. The radio project, Every Time A Ear di Soun, curated by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung is of particular note, broadcasting in Kassel, online and through shortwave radio and partner stations in other countries. The program explores auditory phenomena like sound, music and speech as ‘mediums for writing counterhegemonic histories’,2 asking how the sonic produces subjectivities and spaces. It’s a promising addition to the show on the ground, benefiting from repeated visits and wanderings. In Athens too, there has been an attempt to involve the city’s more obscure museums and extend the show out beyond what the average art tourist might access in a weekend. In this respect the exhibition guide and maps were typically anti-design, sending many (prospective) viewers around in circles or to the opposite end of town. More worrying was the literalness in how much of the work is placed: those shown in the Gennadius Library, for example, all deal explicitly with books, the Conservatoire holds most of the sound-related pieces, the Numismatic Museum (a collection of currency) is the site of a performance about money and the body, and the Epigraphic Museum peppers photographs of wall writing in India amongst their permanent collection of ancient stone tablets. This doesn’t mean that there are not strong and insightful works on offer in these venues, just that contemporary audience expectations are unchallenged. One
of the most powerful opening week performances, Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room, was a re-staging of piece devised in 1969, in which the artist uses live ambient recordings to describe the resonant frequencies of a room. Elsewhere in the building, Susan Hiller’s video The Last Silent Movie (2007-08), continues almost a decade on to invoke the worldwide shame of Indigenous language loss with crushing simplicity. In this vein, the EMST (itself the subject of an epic tale of opaque bureaucratic mismanagement and empty state coffers, opening its doors now for the first time since construction ended in 2014) presents on its ground floor a concentration of works commonly addressing money or exchange economies. Amongst them Beau Dick, a senior Indigenous artist from North-West Canada, who passed away just days before the opening, offers some remarkable sets of wearable masks including twenty from the series Undersea Kingdom (2016–17), in addition to copper shields used in potlatch ceremonies. In the opening days, a younger member of Beau’s community animated these masks to share an account of shapeshifting passage between human, animal and water spirit identities. Without casting indigeneity as some kind of inherently anticapitalist agent, these are nonetheless extraordinary objects – used to enact spirits of the forest and the sea – which complicate routine western understandings of economics and value forms. The coppers increase in value each time they are given, generating wealth through circulation rather than accumulation; some were broken by the artist at British Colombian parliaments to protest ongoing oppressions from a government serving only ‘the interests of the almighty dollar’.3 What we meet here are fragments of another cosmology, a seemingly coherent universe based on forms of knowing and being that are otherwise to our own, and to which we do not (ever) have full access. There were a lot more moments like this at the previous documenta in Kassel five years ago; projects such as Gareth Moore’s weirdly wonderful a place—near the buried canal (2011-12), the semi-wild property and temporary home of the artist on the edge of Karlsaue Park, where visitors could stay overnight, buy tamarind pods and plum juice at from a tiny kiosk and inspect the shadowy Museum of Dried Orange Peel. The work selected and shown by Beau Dick is of course not such a fiction, and in the context of ongoing colonial violence and dispossession, the stories it tells are of a completely different order. Both works however bring us somewhere recognisable but wholly changed, into a place where we might have to unlearn quite a bit before going any further. In an essay for an early edition of South as a State of Mind, the occasional journal that forms part of documenta 14’s theoretical armature, filmmaker Manthia Diawara quotes Edouard Glissant, saying how much he enjoyed passing ‘from one atmosphere to another through crossing a border’;4 that for borders to become (necessarily) permeable, we need to unlearn them as things that defend and prevent. There are multiple kinds of borders between Athens and Kassel, and you’d
hope that one of the results of this whole enterprise is that at least some of those become more permeable. Certainly there are threads leading back to German soil via the artists, many of whom have a corresponding work in both cities. Maria Eichhorn has established an ‘institute for orphaned property’ in Kassel investigating the expropriation of Europe’s Jewish population; Sanja Iveković will build the upper levels of her Monument to Revolution there; and Kassel is ostensibly the final destination for Ross Birrell’s epic horseride across Europe, though the ‘coexistence of companions’ in a process of interspecies becoming-with is rather how Birrell describes its goal. Birrell’s horse, Hermes, one of a declining breed whose remaining herds are found in Germany and Greece, is named after the Greek god of ‘commerce and theft, music and border crossings’.5 Once Hermes and his companions arrive at the other documenta, it will presumably be easier to read the sprawling dialogic event as more of a continuum. But it seems unlikely that enough has been unlearnt during this first leg for the second to take us somewhere truly new. There is already a raft of initiatives springing up in Athens to make something there of whatever is left behind; from the explicitly critical documena (Ancient Greek for ‘the perceptions that function as a given; those things believed in or hoped for’), to the Institute for the Management of Athenian Post-documenta Melancholy (IDAMM) and Learning from documenta (a research project assessing how the orientation of its gaze inflects what the institution learns and its effect on the dynamic of the city). Perhaps the best thing we could do in the meantime is take the advice of Artists Against Evictions to ‘open (our) eyes to the city and listen to the streets’,6 treating the exhibition as just one possible point of departure into a place of many atmospheres.
Endnotes 1. ‘Documenta Under Fire over Artist and Refugee Evictions’, Artforum, April 10, 2017 https://www.artforum.com/news/id=67680 (accessed May 2017) 2. ‘Every Time A Ear di Soun’, http://www.documenta14.de/en/public-radio/ (accessed May 2017). 3. Candice Hopkins, ‘Beau Dick’ in documenta 14: Daybook, Munich: Prestel Velag, 2017. 4. Manthia Diawara, ‘Edouard Glissant’s Worldmentality: An Introduction to One World in Relation’, in South as a State of Mind, Issue 6, Fall/Winter 2015. 5. Ross Birrell, ‘The Transit of Hermes’, in http://www.documenta14.de/en/ notes-and-works/12798/the-transit-of-hermes (accessed May 2017). 6. Artforum, op.cit., April 10, 2017 https://www.artforum.com/news/id=67680 (accessed May 2017).
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ART AFTER DARK THIS SALA FESTIVAL, ART AFTER DARK BRINGS ADELAIDE’S WEST END PRECINCT TO LIFE WITH ARTS AND CULTURAL EVENTS THURSDAY 10 AUGUST ArtAfterDarkWESTEND ArtAfterDarkAdl artafterdarkwestend artafterdarkwestend.com
Fly Away _ Nexus Gallery
Sohrab Rustami, Murtaza Hossaini, Ziyaghul Yahya, Farzana Noori, Asif Hossaini, Zahra Hossaini, Ezatollah Gulistani, Elyas Alavi August 10 – September 1 Tuesday – Friday, 9am – 5pm Exhibition Co-presented at Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre. Image: Elyas Alavi, from Milky Life series, 2017, Acrylic and collage on paper, 65×72cm
Between nationalism and globalism: folds in contemporary Australian art at the national: new australian art
ow does one curate a contemporary national art exhibition in the era of Trump and Brexit? The very terms, ‘contemporary’ and ‘national’ are deliberately polemical, each evoking a range of potentially conflicting artistic responses. The ‘contemporary’, by its very nature, is unwieldy, open-ended, global and decentralised. The ‘national’ is also a slippery noun, constantly in the process of being defined and redefined. In the current political and economic milieu, nationalism is framed in pejorative terms, signalling a regressive retreat to closed nation states, protectivism, and a systematic locking down of borders. The current assertion of aggressive forms of nationalism in parts of Europe is considered a by-product of a generalised negativity directed towards globalism. This dangerous strain has recently been dubbed the ‘new nationalism’ by The Economist.1 The notion that ‘Australia’ is a term that can be contained and defined has long been the subject of contestation. As I write these lines, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for an overhaul of the citizenship test, with new arrivals having to prove their commitment to ‘Australian values’. What these values are, however, remain elusive, ephemeral and transient. With nationalism’s attendant issues such as right-wing populism, nativism and anti-immigration, this exhibition is both timely and necessary. The National: New Australian Art 2017 serves as a reminder that Australia’s plurality and tolerance of difference are values that can be celebrated, and cherished. As a three-way curatorial collaboration between the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), and Carriageworks, The National inhabits the fault lines between the global and the nation. Forty-eight artists have been selected from every state and territory. Nearly half are women and thirteen are Indigenous. The first of three iterations over a six-year period, the exhibition is a bold and ambitious update to Australia’s contemporary arts landscape. With the demise of the Australian Perspecta series in 1999, a survey exhibition such as this fills a much-needed gap for Sydney audiences. The National differentiates itself in tone and tempo from Sydney’s other artistic event, the Biennale of Sydney. What emerges is a serious, considered exhibition devoted to assessing the state of Australian contemporary art. With a wealth of newly commissioned works and performances, the exhibition is self-assured and generous in spirit. The three institutions
sit both separately and apart. Each site has cultivated its own distinct look and feel, distinguished by its individual selection of emerging, mid-career and established artists. One of the most striking aspects of the exhibition, however, is the conversations between the spaces; installations such as Alex Gawronski’s Ghosts (2017) literally weave the sites together as a series of interconnected folds. Gawronski recreates an iconic architectural feature, and inserts it into another gallery space. The neoclassical vestibule of AGNSW is occupied by six large industrial columns, replicas drawn from Carriageworks’ industrial heritage. The AGNSW’s concrete grid ceiling has been installed in the exhibition passageways at the MCA. To complete the trans-institutional dialogue, Gawronski installed a three-quarter scale replica of the MCA’s art-deco entrance at Carriageworks. The National delivers an important provocation: the curators evoke the difficulty of defining Australia. Implicit here is the recognition that there is no particular advantage in searching for a ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ Australia. As the curators declare in the catalogue introduction, ‘The National is not pitched at presenting an identifiably ‘national’ (Australian) art, or at composing statements regarding national tendencies, characteristics or identities.’2 The risk is delivering an exhibition that has nothing to say. By sketching broadly and attempting to capture all, nothing is actually enunciated. What is left is a self-evacuating vanity project. The curators evoke this tension deftly and knowingly, adding their voices to an art-historical lineage that has sought to delineate Australia’s place in the world. For decades, art historians have tried to define what ‘Australian’ art is. Australia has variously been imagined as simulacrum, absent, and provincial. In 1974, art historian Terry Smith famously articulated the problem in provincial terms, lamenting Australia’s peripheral distance from the centre. Importantly, Smith identified provincialism as ‘an attitude of subservience to an externally imposed hierarchy of cultural values.’3 Provincialism is much more than the logical consequence of geographical isolation. Instead, it was better understood as an internalisation of the uneven power structures wielded from New York. Later, art critic Paul Foss memorably wrote, ‘the whole of Australia is pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people.’4 In spatial terms, Australia was imagined as the ‘other’ to Europe. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.2
If Australia is located on the periphery (Smith) or as simulacrum (Foss), one of the challenges this line of thought presents from the vantage point of 2017 is the promotion and maintenance of a metaphysical privileging of origins. The National self-consciously enters this history, providing a confident update and pointing to a distinct shift in mood and tone. Gone is the provincial problem and the deferentiality that defined Australian art practice and art criticism for decades. Australian artists have benefited from globalism and the move to the contemporary. No longer consumed with our provincial status, what emerges is a self-assured assertion of a plurality of possible histories of what Australia can or should be. In recent years, Rex Butler and A.D.S. Donaldson have encapsulated this sentiment, describing a ‘non-national’ or ‘unAustralian’ Australian art history eschewing the local and provincial, for the translocal and global. An unAustralian art history is flexible and inclusive enough to accommodate expatriates and diasporic movement.5 With these historiographic lessons in mind, The National signals an assured reimagining of contemporary Australian art beyond centreperiphery discourse. Gilles Deleuze, who famously insisted in his book The Fold that the baroque was not to be understood in ontological terms, is helpful here. Instead, the baroque was operative and iterative, endlessly creating more folds with the capacity to stretch into infinity. Like Australian art, the baroque is notoriously difficult to define. Deleuze’s reading of the baroque as a series of folds offers a productive mode for approaching Australian art history. The fold is a potent image for overcoming the dualism between origin and copy, centre and province. Conversations can shift from appropriation, which demands an origin, to the process of unfolding and refolding. Folds can point to unequal power structures, and our cruel colonial histories. History bends as it folds, and unfolds, pleats, creases and even knots in a series of exchanges. History is understood as a sequence of folded, interconnected conversations, extending ‘fold over fold, one upon the other.’6 Folds in personal history are the subject of Khaled Sabsabi’s Guerrilla (2016). Sabsabi came to Australia in 1978 with his family to escape Lebanon’s vicious civil war. The thirty-three images that comprise the series were taken by Sabsabi in 2006, who returned to Beirut in the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah War, which lasted for thirty-three days. Working in the tradition of documentary photography, Sabsabi creates a record of the visceral effects of the bombing. He takes the authority of the camera, with its indexical claims to truth, only to subvert the practice, by later painting over the photographs. What emerges is an unsettling intermingling between war photography’s conventions and the familiar intimacy of the painterly gesture. Sabsabi undermines the medium’s mythical objectivity, instead leaving a trace of his physical presence by painting over the photographs. The theme of migration and displacement is pursued by Hazara artist Khadim Ali, whose wall mural The Arrival of Demons (2017) adorns the MCA’s foyer wall. Growing up in exile in Pakistan, Ali’s image of demon-like figures draws from stories of his childhood. Ali creates a fold between these ancient stories, his own experiences as a refugee, and Australia’s border politics: the work is a thinly veiled criticism of 12
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the bipartisan hard-line approach to the treatment of refugees. The foyer wall is a transitional space, designed to facilitate visitors’ movement between the flurry of activity around Circular Quay and the MCA’s interior galleries. Despite this, the demons hover quietly in the background, as they occupy an in-between liminal space, not unlike the asylum seekers languishing in exile on Manus and Nauru. If the contemporary is determined by temporal complexity, the fold contains a temporality that is not necessarily linear or chronological. These histories unfold in time and space, creating new narrative structures and possible dialogues. The challenge of defining nationhood is directly taken up by Archie Moore’s United Neytions (2014-2017). Moore’s installation was created in direct dialogue with self-taught anthropologist R.H. Mathews, who published one of the first maps identifying a sub-set of Indigenous nations in 1900. Hanging from the ceiling of Carriageworks’ cavernous foyer, Moore’s series of twentyeight flags was designed to represent each of the twenty-eight Indigenous nations identified by Mathews in his early map-making exercises. Problematic and incomplete, Mathews’ work was later expanded by subsequent generations of anthropologists. Moore’s reinterpretation of the early anthropological maps simultaneously evacuates and parodies the symbolism of the colonial and colonising practice. At the same time, it looks self-assuredly forward to a time when the Australian flag decouples itself from the English Union Jack. Continuing her interest in revitalising lost and forgotten histories, Justene Williams created a fold in art’s history with her latest performance work, A Metal Cry (2017). Staged for the opening weekend at Carriageworks, Williams mined the unrealised legacies of the historical avantgarde. Her departure point is Italian Futurist artist Fortunato Depero’s 1916 costume designs for a performance, Misimagia. Williams’ signature theatricality and flamboyancy was in full flight, with at least twelve individual performers on set, each adorned with distinctive costumes. Musical instruments, such as accordions and chimes were incorporated into the costumes, allowing movement and sound to become completely integrated. The result was a dissonant cacophony of noise as Williams reenergised Depero’s vision of dancer-robots. One of the most powerful and enduring physical symbols of Australian nationalism is the War Memorial in Canberra. Tom Nicholson’s Comparative monument (Shellal), 2014-2017 revisits a chance World War I discovery by Australian soldiers, who accidently uncovered a Byzantine mosaic in Palestine. The Shellal Mosaic was expatriated to Australia and became a founding item in the War Memorial’s collection, where it was incorporated into the wall of the Hall of Valour. Decades later, Napier Waller was commissioned by the War Memorial to produce a complementary mosaic in the dome of the Hall of Memory, effectively creating a dialogue between the two mosaics. Taking archival photographs showing the mosaic as a series of fragments waiting to be shipped back to Australia as his point of reference, Nicholson worked with mosaicists at the Mosaic Centre in Jericho to recreate the Shellal Mosaic in transit. Nicholson’s installation at the AGNSW provocatively proposes a reverse movement, recreating the Byzantine mosaic with tiles selected from Waller’s dome and repatriating the Shellal Mosaic to its original hilltop location in Gaza.
Acutely aware of its own contribution to Australian art history, The National gave visual form to the complexity of what Australia is in 2017. At the end of The Fold, Deleuze concluded, ‘what always matters is folding, unfolding, refolding.’7 Deleuze’s observation might be reimagined in terms of contemporary Australia: difficult; contested and painful, yet simultaneously beautiful, diverse, and wonderfully optimistic.
Above: The National 2017, installation view, Carriageworks. Photo: Zan Wimberley.
Endnotes 1. See ‘Trump’s world: The new nationalism,’ The Economist, 19 Nov, 2016. http:// www.economist.com/news/leaders/21710249-his-call-put-america-first-donaldtrump-latest-recruit-dangerous 2. Anneke Jaspers et al., ‘Curatorial Introduction,’ in The National: New Australian Art, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2017: 11. 3. Terry Smith, ‘The Provincialism Problem,’ in What is Appropriation?, ed. Rex Butler, Brisbane: IMA Publishing, 2004: 131. 4. Paul Foss, ‘Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum,’ ibid: 120. 5. See, for example Rex Butler and A.D.S. Donaldson, ‘Cities within cities: Australian and New Zealand art in the 20th century’, Journal of Art Historiography, no. 4, 2011, https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/butler.pdf
6. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the baroque, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1993: 3. 7. Ibid: 158.
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on which the sun never sets: interview with tina baum: defying empire: 3rd national indigenous art triennial
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‘We defy; By existing…’
hese are the opening lines of a declaration, with which Tina Baum, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the National Gallery Australia (NGA) introduces her latest exhibition Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial. The largest Indigenous survey to be held at the NGA, this exhibition brings together thirty contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across Australia to explore the resilience of Australia’s Indigenous communities – from ‘first contact, through to the historical fight for recognition and ongoing activism in the present day.’ Despite colonial efforts to enforce assimilation through a variety of methods, Indigenous peoples worldwide have exemplified resilience: a resilience, which is also apparent within the contemporary art context. At the 57th Venice Biennale 2017, both Australia and Aotearoa are represented by Indigenous artists: Tracey Moffatt and Lisa Reihana respectively. This year’s documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel includes Aboriginal artists Dale Harding and Gordon Hookey, and for the first time three Aotearoa representatives are all Māori. And closer to home, we continue to see a suite of Indigenous exhibitions re-centring the dialogue and Indigenising the canon across Australia, the most recent being Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial.
‘An empire is partly a fiction’, is the opening line of Thomas Richards’ The Imperial Archive (1993) – a publication, which concludes that in the nineteenth century, English art and literature created fictional knowledge, which helped to build the fantasy of the empire itself. Arguably, two exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy maintain this trajectory; Australia (2013) and Oceania (to open in 2018). Both exhibitions signify an imperial nostalgia and the imagined relationship these exhibitions assert couldn’t be any further from the conversations we see appearing in Australia, where Defying Empire is more than an exhibition, it is a pledge. Left: Brenda L. Croft, shut/mouth/scream (detail), 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery.
It is fifty years on from the ‘yes’ vote of the 1967 Referendum, which allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be acknowledged as Australian citizens in the national census. But that isn’t the only significant milestone to be acknowledged this year, since it is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1992 Mabo decision, which legally recognised the connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have to the land, paving the way for Native Title.1 Issued in May 2017, the Uluru Statement called for the enshrining of a First Nations’ voice within the constitution and the forming of a makarrata commission, as a means of treaty-making between governments and Indigenous people. ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard.’ Just living within a system, which has set out to erase you, is an act of defiance. Baum and the artists in Defying Empire articulate what it means to be an Indigenous Australian living in the shadow of colonialism.2 Ahead of the exhibition opening, we asked Tina Baum some questions and here are her responses. Lana Lopesi: For many Indigenous curators, there is a tension between the Western imperial worldview of the institution and an Indigenous worldview, a way of thinking based on Indigenous frameworks and epistemologies. How has this informed your curatorial interests? Tina Baum: I have worked in museums and galleries for more 27 years in institutions across Australia. Over that time, I have learnt that it is important to remember who and what I am doing the exhibition for. As an Aboriginal Curator, it’s important to achieve a balance between all the parties involved but, for me, the Indigenous artists, communities or individuals I have worked with are always at the forefront of my mind when I have represented them in an institutional setting. I’ve found that educating institutions on other cultural ways of thinking, representation and perspectives has worked really well, and by working with Indigenous artists on how institutions work we often come to mutual agreements. For me it is primarily about the artists’ stories and their representations and providing an opportunity to show themselves how they want, wherever possible. It’s always an interesting journey combining the two but I feel that Defying Empire has shown this collaboration well.
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LL: Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, in which two amendments were made to the Australian constitution. It seems crazy that it was as recently as fifty years ago that Indigenous peoples were granted the right to be counted as Australian for the first time under that landmark referendum. I wanted to pick up on a quote from one of the artists, Yhonnie Scarce. ‘I think I’m in a position of power, I don’t usually like to use that term but compared to what my Ancestors and my grandparents had to deal with I think I’m in a really great position to talk about their history and my history.’ What does that position look like for Indigenous artists and curators fifty years on from the 1967 Referendum? Can you talk a little about the way in which artists have approached the theme of the exhibition? TB: Knowing that Indigenous artists have a strong voice that will be heard, that their voices will not be stifled or suppressed is a very powerful tool. Each of the artists in the exhibition has approached the theme in different ways – looking at different moments in time that they are connected to, whether it be directly referencing the Referendum, such as Maree Clarke with her work Made from Memory (Nan’s house), 2017, which looks at places of gathering where discussions about the Referendum would occur (like her Nan’s lounge room which is recreated in her new holographic photograph creation). Karla Dickens has also created two works in Defying Empire that look at the campaigning for the Referendum through her 2014 work Assimilated Warriors and Assimilated Warriors II, which show the unnamed warriors or campaigners for the Referendum. We also have artists looking at the history since first contact – like Julie Gough with her projections on Tasmanian massacres – through to events occurring prior to the referendum, such as Brenda L. Croft and her work Wave Hill, while [other artists consider] events and issues still being told up until today. History and issues post referendum are [also] covered and investigations into how conditions have changed since [that time], asking questions such as, are they any better, or still as bad? The personal injection of history is what makes the artists’ works in this exhibition so powerful and poignant. LL: Defying Empire is described as the ‘largest survey show of Indigenous art yet presented by the NGA.’ These landmark exhibitions are undeniably important. Autonomous exhibitions like these and autonomous spaces – such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection at the NGA – are vital parts of our arts infrastructure and much needed in more institutions across Australia and also internationally. However, something that I have been thinking about a lot lately is does the existence of these spaces negate the responsibility for non-Indigenous curators or non-Indigenous spaces to include Indigenous voices? TB: The continual presence of Indigenous art in these dedicated exhibitions and spaces has, if anything, I think inspired the nonIndigenous curators to be more inclusive. With more awareness and
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cultural understanding, I think the non-Indigenous curators have become more aware of which Indigenous artists are practising today. They are more aware of the collections and works available. I think it’s incredibly inspiring that there is more inclusivity, as Indigenous artists also fit seamlessly into the national and global arts narrative. I think we are coming to a better space, where we as Indigenous Curators can and also should start opening up the dialogue and showing works between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists too. LL: I’m interested in the positioning of curation as a practice of curing and healing, meaning that the work we do as curators, alongside colleagues in non-curatorial roles in the gallery, can alleviate past wrongdoings. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders there is a history of being collected, catalogued, and curated with no respect given to their own worldviews. How does Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial rectify some of those oversights? TB: Exhibitions can only hope to rectify the unbalanced documentation and views of Australia’s shared history. Indigenous artists have stories and perspectives to tell of our past and current issues. Voicing these stories, sharing them and making [the] general audience more aware of the Indigenous experience can only help further raise awareness and ultimately the healing of individuals and communities affected. The Referendum is a prime event that needs to be discussed, particularly the conditions Indigenous people lived under prior to the ‘yes’ vote, but also to open up discussion on how, or if, the conditions have changed for the better or worse since then too. LL: This is probably linked to the previous question, but what do you see as your responsibility to your Indigenous communities? TB: My responsibility is always to the Indigenous artists, communities and individuals I deal with. My responsibility is to do the right thing by them culturally and professionally. I want to show the world that Indigenous artists are as good as the best in the world, if not better. LL: How do you view Defying Empire in relation to other large-scale Indigenous survey exhibitions – such as the TARNANTHI Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia and Sovereignty at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art? TB: Defying Empire complements the many fantastic Indigenous curated exhibitions. We all strive to increase the Indigenous voice and presence and I think the more the better. Both TARNANTHI (curated by Nici Cumpston) and Sovereignty (curated by Paola Balla and Max Delany), as with When silence falls (curated by Cara Pinchbeck at AGNSW, 20152016) and Campbelltown Arts Centre’s 2016 exhibition With Secrecy & Despatch – curated by Tess Allas (Australia) and David Garneau (Canada) – as well as Wyndham Art Gallery’s 2015 exhibition War (curated by Maree Clarke and Megan Evans), all aim to increase
audiences’ knowledge of untold and hidden histories. By recounting and reviving these stories we can only grow further as a nation, one which needs to recognise its shared histories. These last three shows are a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous views of our histories and puts us within the global context. Defying Empire further reinforces the Indigenous voice and presence when recalling, researching and reviewing our shared histories. LL: Lastly, what are you hoping audiences will take away from Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial? TB: I hope that audiences come away more aware of the untold Indigenous histories, the hidden histories and stories told by Indigenous people and communities. I hope that the audience both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, is inspired to talk to their elders, family and communities and to research more, so that we can enrich our knowledge of our shared histories that shaped this nation.
Endnotes 1. While these legislative decisions have advanced the potential for equality, the theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week ‘Let’s Take the Next Steps’ signals that Indigenous sovereignty lies at the end of a very long journey. The RECOGNISE campaign advocates for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the constitution and the removal of racial discrimination within it. Such changes require a referendum. While this sounds like an inevitable step in recognising Indigenous sovereignty, some Indigenous leaders think that changing the constitution will absolve the government from making actual commitments to sovereignty in the form of a treaty; a treaty which has become a point of contention at the Uluru talks, with John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, claiming that: ‘The idea of a treaty is radical identity politics. In any case a country cannot have a treaty with itself.’ He insisted that the Crown represents all Australians and therefore cannot be in a treaty with another subset of Australians, meaning Indigenous Australians. However, we know this not to be the case using the Treaty of Waitangi as an example. Arguably New Zealand’s founding piece of legislation, it acknowledges Māori sovereignty and rights to land and is signed by the Crown and Tangata Whenua. 2. Colonial powers made sure there was as little room as possible for my ancestors to flourish when they imposed Western worldviews onto the Samoan archipelago. Today part of the archipelago known the Independent State of Samoa is now a post-colonial nation, while the remainder exists as an unincorporated territory of the United States. I live in diaspora in Aotearoa and I struggle at times to reconcile what it means to be an Indigenous person living within the British Commonwealth.
Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial is showing at the National Gallery of Australia from 26 May–10 September 2017. Below: Karla Dickens, Assimilated Warriors, 2014, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer.
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2017 sidney myer fund australian ceramic award. ACE Open AD
Glenn Barkley Karen Black Laith McGregor Jenny Orchard Yasmin Smith SATURDAY 17 JUNE TO SUNDAY 13 AUGUST FREE ENTRY @SAM_Shepparton #SMFACA
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Images, clockwise from top left: Laith McGregor, Jenny Orchard, Glenn Barkley, Yasmin Smith and Karen Black.
Bodies across space and time Extended to 16 July Over 60 modern and contemporary artists
versus Rodin. Book online or in person Art Gallery of South Australia artgallery.sa.gov.au
Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation and supported by Adelaide Festival
image detail: Auguste Rodin, France, 1840 – 1917, Pierre de Wissant, Monumental Nude, c.1886‑87 (Coubertin Foundry, cast 1985), Paris, bronze, 215.0 x 100.0 x 60.0cm; William Bowmore AO OBE Collection. Gift of the South Australian Government, assisted by the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 1996, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
movies in the museum, part two: The paracinematic gaze Pisa, in the 23rd year of the effort in sight of the tower and Till was hung yesterday for murder and rape with trimmings plus Cholkis
plus mythology, thought he was Zeus ram or another one
Hey Snag wots in the bibl’?
Ezra Pound, Canto 74. 170-4
ilm overflows the half-light of the cinema, the moving image becomes a vernacular form. This essay, the second of a twopart examination of the convergence of cinema with the art museums, will claim that the concept of paracinema demands reconsideration. Cinema is a way of looking, a scopic regime that permeates the very idea of historical narrative. Paracinema originated in the context of the 1970s avant-garde as expanded cinema sought to escape the standard camera/projector apparatus. Up until now paracinema has been confined to the discussion of artist-filmmakers, however, I will argue that the concept offers a way of understanding how art work now functions in the context of highly regulated spaces such as the museum, as well as the experimental programmes of the art festival. This year the Whitney Biennial, which surveys contemporary art in the United States, received somewhat more attention than usual. This was mainly because of a painting depicting the body of Emmett Till. Presented six decades after his death and based on a widely circulated photo taken at his funeral in 1955, Dana Schutz’s Open Casket caught the attention of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, becoming a scorned object signifying the ongoing crisis of racial subjugation in the US. Elsewhere in the show, Jordan Wolfson’s work, featuring eight VR headsets on a table fitted with grab bars, played a two-minute video of the artist whispering a Hebrew prayer, while beating an apparently unthreatening bystander to death with a baseball bat. The issue of what message was intended by the Biennial’s curators in their selection of Schutz’s painting – alongside works such as Wolfson’s no less – sparked intense debate across all media platforms. This outrage was elegantly summarised by artist Parker Bright’s protest, whereby he used his own body to stand in front of, and to partially obscure, Schutz’s work from
Left: AKOM150001, John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015, Three channel HD colour video installation, 7.1 sound, 48 minutes 30 seconds, © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Lisson Gallery. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.2
visitors in the museum, whilst wearing a t-shirt inscribed with the words ‘Black Death Spectacle’ across his back. Clearly both Schutz and the Whitney had misjudged the merits of a painting by a white artist whose fey expressionism was not equipped to deal with such an explosive response by those more conscious of the stakes for #BlackLivesMatter. At one point during the commotion, during a daytime television episode of The View, host Whoopi Goldberg suggested that artist Hannah Black, who had written an open letter to the Whitney’s curators asking that the painting be not only taken down but destroyed, was making demands akin to Nazi Germany’s designation of ‘degenerate art’.1 The paracinematic metaphor seems apt here, since representation had become impossibly entangled with reality. A renewed fascination with violence and authoritarianism in the context of Trump’s campaign, and the subsequent shock at his election, seem largely the result of people’s eagerness to participate in the divisive rhetoric championed by the Republican nominee. This mobilisation was achieved by the speeds at which images such as the installation shots of Open Casket, and Bright’s protest can now travel. Without the camera, it is possible that none of this would have happened. The camera produces responses much faster than words.
Paracinema ... refers to an expansion of cinema beyond the scope of its established conventions Making sense of the events surrounding this year’s Biennial, the clamour over Schutz’s painting seen in proximity to works like Wolfson’s Real Violence, is possible through the idea of paracinema. The paracinematic nature of the spectacle allows for a further examination of the peculiar festival logic of the biennial, where cinema and the artworld event have become so entwined as to become indistinguishable. * In May 1945 Ezra Pound continued to work on the composition of the Cantos by writing on toilet paper at the Disciplinary Training Centre, where he had suddenly found himself confined in the open-air cages set up by the US Army. The military prison was set up at Metato, just north of Pisa, near the Mediterranean coast. At the time of Pound’s incarceration there, the DTC was where thousands of predominantly African-American soldiers were being held and tried by the military command for offences committed while they fought, or in some cases refused to keep fighting, for the Allied victory over fascism. On his way to the cells, Pound collected a nib of Eucalyptus, which the literary scholar Richard Sieburth suggested was Pound’s ‘secret talisman’ for the duration of his confinement.2
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Pound’s abrupt repositioning to the centre of the war, and the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations USA (MTOUSA), took place swiftly after Mussolini had been captured and executed in Dongo. In Pound’s own words, the fascist dictator was ‘twice crucified’, as his body was transported from Dongo to be hung in a disgustingly triumphal display of victory in Milan along with the body of his mistress Clara Petacci. Germany had also surrendered in early May; the war was over. Pound stood accused of treason. Working as a state radio broadcaster in fascist Italy, he was distrustful of Jews, and obsessed with usurers whom he believed were exploiting the fiat system. Pound’s feverish brand of poetry allowed him to evade trial, perhaps more out of curiosity than mercy, and he was instead admitted to St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington for twelve years following his extradition to the US. ‘Eucalyptus that is for memory’. Pound would include this line in the same canto where he noted the execution of an African-American G.I. “St Louis Till”, Emmett Till’s father. A cruel fate links this story to the moment ten years later, when the fourteen year old Till was brutally murdered for looking at the wife of the Bryant Grocery and Meat Market’s proprietor, in the small town of Money, Mississippi. Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker, admitted that at the time ‘people were killed for reckless eyeball’. Wolfson’s Real Violence – at least its content inside the headsets – is for the moment only viewable if one is physically present in the Whitney Museum in New York. I have not seen Real Violence. What I have seen, however, are the documented reactions to the work via Instagram, as well as the more official documentation released for the show.3 This aspect is certainly to be understood as a part of Wolfson’s intentions for the work. Chemical jets of narcissistic pleasure are released in the body of the viewer, triggered by the disembodied observation of the artist beating a ‘non’-real person to death with a baseball bat. Sponsored by a major institution, and as a part of the Biennial, this substantiated approach to the work reveals perhaps the ‘real’ intention behind it, the paracinematic space which aims to conflate representation with the real. Wolfson, an artist who has often worked with 16mm film in the past, has created Real Violence as a private spectacle, one where mass culture takes a back seat to the privation of experience.4 But can the Whitney Biennial, including all of its artwork objects in the galleries, and not the least Schutz’s painting of Till, also be understood as paracinema? How can paracinema explain the events that took place there this year, the normalcy of the planned Biennial event as much as the spontaneous protests which followed its opening? * Paracinema is an idea first explored by the filmmaker avant-garde in the 1970s. It refers to an expansion of cinema beyond the scope of its established conventions. Tony Conrad’s Curried 7302 (1973) replaced onions with raw film stock in a recipe, which he prepared, cooked and then screened. Other films he pickled in jars, or fried. These films were
part of a response to the demands of domestic labour then emerging in the feminist critiques of the avant-garde. It was with his Yellow Movies (1973) however, where his series of white monochromes in the standard ratios of the cinema were created using simple house paint on large bolts of paper, that paracinema emerged to directly challenge the established artworld environment of the museum.5 Conrad assumed the white would discolour and yellow when subjected to a long duration. Furthermore, he sought to break with the structural analysis of film’s essentially material qualities by claiming these paintings to be very long films. Cinema, it seemed, had become a model appropriate for achieving an expression indeterminable from the temporal experience of the everyday. Virtual, simulated or otherwise infiltrated by networked communication (where the more recent acronym IRL reacts to the refusal to see the internet as a part of ‘reality’), the arrival of a dematerialised screen culture, however, was an outgrowth of cinema’s attractions and ubiquitous coveting of the gaze. These radical claims for dissolving the borders of art went mostly unnoticed, however, since they depended upon a certain sensitivity to the environment. A space for the accommodation of this work was yet to arrive. To add to this, the festivilism of the contemporary artworld environment, first noted by Peter Schjeldahl in 2002, has seemingly reached some kind of over-saturated and grotesquely wretched decadence fifteen years later. In their analysis of museum programmes and survey shows, Biennials, Triennials, and documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art, Charles Green and Anthony Gardner propose that this type of spectacle can be understood as harnessing forces in the service of neoliberalism. This condition is not, as shall be shown, specific to the Whitney. The cinema, then, may provide the best narrative for dealing with the festival from within its analysis as spectacle. With cinema, as suggested in my previous essay, there exists a sublimity always exceeding its demonstration as a coherent system, a mathematical sublime akin to the atom bomb. The cinema still has claims to be taking place in a world beyond our senses, the world of the automatic, the infra-thin as claimed for cinema by writers like Nicole Brenez thinking through Jean Epstein. Jonathan Walley defines paracinema as a term, which may also ‘refer to expanded-cinema works’ such as Conrad’s, as well as work by others from the period; Ken Jacobs’ meta-cinema and Anthony McCall’s solid light works, for instance.6 These artists understood cinema as overlflowing into everyday reality, such that they often ‘entirely abandon the elements of the film medium’ as such, gesturing instead to the cinematic nature of contemporary reality.7 Walley suggests the arrival of paracinema is first proposed in Jacobs’ 1974 interview for Film Culture. With works like Real Violence, is it not now possible to see in paracinema a larger transitional moment, whereby the cinematic gaze became a normalised regime for the contemporary aestheticisation of
the possibility of witnessing? As such has it become the invisible lens through which everyday culture is given a paradoxically distanced effect, akin to self-surveillance at the level of the social? In fact, paracinema was proposed a few years earlier by the filmmaker and theorist Hollis Frampton. In his film from 1970, Zorns Lemma, an alphabetic film experiment replaced the image of the letter R by a shot broken down into one-second pieces depicting the construction of a Tinkertoy.8 In his notes for the work this sequence is described as a ‘paracinematic metaphor’.9 Of course the notes, now in the Anthology Film Archives in New York, may have been dated from after the filming of the work, but it was clear that Frampton had also developed a keen awareness of the paracinematic nature of the everyday in his mind before Zorns Lemma’s presentation at the 8th New York Film Festival. Prior to becoming a filmmaker Frampton had spent time studying with Pound in Washington in the 1950s. Remembering Frampton after his death from cancer in 1984, Barry Goldensohn writes of a particular episode he remembered vividly. At one point Frampton had returned home from visiting Pound at St Elizabeth’s with information about the Pisan Cantos. Till, the prisoner in the Pisan Cantos, was the last in line in a gang rape by a dozen men of an Italian girl, the only black, and the only one executed. And the father of Emmett Till, the young black boy from Chicago lynched in Mississippi in the ‘50s.10
Ken Jacobs worked at the SUNY Binghamton in the Department of Cinema at Harpur College. When Frampton applied for a job there in the early 1970s, well aware of his affinities with Pound, and after viewing a screening of Frampton’s, which had concluded with his signature ‘HF’ ideogramme, Jacobs supposedly asked Frampton to respond to claims he too was a fascist.11 This public confrontation is presumably the reason why Frampton ended up teaching at SUNY Buffalo and not at Binghamton. * In an era where the current President of the USA has been on the record as boasting his ability to sexually assault women with impunity, these minor histories may seem almost quaint as a response to the contemporary crisis of representation. However, it may take a paracinematic misstep like Schutz’s painting of Till, whose mutilated body had, in fact, been displayed in an open casket at the explicit request of his grieving mother, for the meaning behind this crisis to emerge in a somewhat clearer form. Schutz’s painting, a representation of this display, and the extreme responses to it, form the potentiality of the paracinematic metaphor when extended to the very way we look at documentary images of the world. Paracinema reveals a latent potential for the possibility that other works, or artworld environments, may be seen for their cinematic
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conditions; it is an argument against the strictures of medium-specificity, which has been a somewhat over-bearing discourse disallowing a more nuanced understanding of the artwork, and especially for filmmakers in the wake of the ‘structural film’ mode as a dominant trope for works known to have undertaken the task of analysing film. Walley, citing an earlier argument by Deke Dusinbarre about the materialist dialectic in the cinema, finds paracinema occupying the interconnections of ‘expanded cinema and materialist filmmaking,’ two aspects of filmmaking that had frequently been opposed to one another.12 Branden W. Joseph notes the importance of paracinema to Conrad at the time of avant-garde films’ major crisis; its relegation in 1972 at documenta 5 in Kassel, evidenced by the apparent quarantining of other artists’ moving image works from the films to be shown in the cinema.13 It is interesting to note that this is the same artworld event that Green and Gardner suggest is the original moment for the rise of the ‘star-curator’, embodied by the figure of Harold Szeeman. Laura Mulvey’s essay, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, from the same period, highlighted the importance of the cinematic gaze at play in the uses and abuses of cinema. Perhaps it was in response to these aspects of the 1970s artworld environment witnessed at documenta that she wrote: ‘A politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint’.14 By 1975, contemporary art had already chosen its new model, the Hollywood approach for market oriented spectacle and industrial entertainment. Joan Copjec’s response to Mulvey’s influential extension of the theory of the gaze to film theory, ‘that some look always goes unreciprocated,’ only added to the rush of libidinal desire that fetishizes the work’s exclusivity in the gallery.15 This is what paracinema ultimately means: the cinema, beside itself, had become ecstatic. Frampton called his filmmaking practice an attempt at a ‘metahistory’ of film. Furthermore, statements made by these filmmaker artists at the time may reveal more than they at first had intended. In a letter cited by Joseph, a more sinister side to the motivations behind Conrad’s paracinematic work in the 1970s may be re-imagined. In a bleakly ironic turn of phrase, Conrad recalls news of the death of a friend following his return from documenta 5 in 1972 and the European tour he had undertaken with his collaborator and partner Beverly Grant. ‘These things’, the death of his friend, and the poverty they found themselves engulfed by, Conrad bleakly notes, ‘were just what we needed as a welcome back to black and violent American culture’.16 While clearly meant as a metonym for despair, Conrad’s use of the word black here is jarring. Writing more recently about the uses of black as a term embedded in the consciousness of Western representation, Fred Moten begins his analysis of the idea of blackness by noting that ‘the cultural and political discourse on black pathology has been so pervasive that it could be said to constitute the background against which all representations of blacks, blackness, or the (color) black take place’.17
Is it possible to glimpse in this montaging of modernity a potential for intersection, whereby the multitude of discursive networks in the ‘cultural space’ of the museum are brought into contact? Later in his essay Moten seems to posit blackness by following a line of argument akin to Frampton’s thesis on metahistory as attempting to negotiate a temporal dialectic, one reflected by paracinema. ‘Blackness’, Moten writes, ‘needs to be understood as operating at the nexus of the social and the ontological, the historical and the essential,’ and with this he seems also to be suggesting that the contemporary museum could be the space accommodating this necessity.18 This type of thinking frames itself against the sentiment behind the beliefs held by painters like Ad Reinhardt, who in 1967 had coolly stated that ‘in the visual arts, good works usually end up in museums where they can be protected’.19 Indeed it is here that even the white house-paint of Conrad’s Yellow Movies seems to embody the fact that when film technologies were invented, they assumed a certain standard of whiteness for lighting faces, a technical and institutionalised form of racism analysed by Richard Dyer in his 1997 text White.20 Dusinbarre, the film critic and translator, led a conversation in 1988, in which Seth Siegelaub, Daniel Buren, and Michel Claura approached this notion of the ‘art world environment’ from a different angle, through the interventions made by conceptual art. During their discussion for Art Monthly, Siegelaub claimed that ‘the nature of the art world in reference to the real world has changed’, revealing a more subtle shift which has continued to affect the work of art as an object in the wake of a conceptual understanding of the work as idea.21 From artwork to artworld, the conceptual emphasis on the environment – adopted from systems theory – meant that the centrifugal force of the work must now also recognise its centripetal influence beyond the object. This thrown aspect of the artwork is perhaps no better demonstrated in its materiality than by the synchronised and reciprocal unwinding and take-up of a film onto the reels of the projector. The wind-arms must operate in sync, and if they don’t the possibility of the two worlds created by the cinema threatens to fall apart. If this idea of the cinema suggests it as a democratic art for the ‘democratic’ century – Alain Badiou claims cinema is unsurpassable as a mass art, despite the paradox of the terms22 – the ends of fascism, and the apparent fear of the rise of a new fascism in our contemporary climate should have something to do with cinematic representation. This is a problem for thought that has persisted at least since the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the principal thinker on the legacy of fascism through the cinema. It also seems to place the idea of paracinema in the museums under a certain kind of political threat. The most common argument is that this threatened status of cinema has led to its retreat into the art museums, a space usually preserved as the last vestige of (continued page 26)
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culture prior to its historicisation – the place ‘where the good works usually end up’, as Reinhardt had claimed. * The suggestion of an evolving phenomenon of ‘cultural spaces’, following Alexander Horwath’s comments from 2005, and discussed in the first part of this essay, leads to concerns over the control of cultural memory as metahistory – who gets to decide what is represented and where? In the Biennials, Triennials, and documenta – the festivals of art – the border-mentality of where the cultural begins and ends is never more clearly at issue. In a recent exhibition in Melbourne, John Akomfrah’s 3-channel video work, The Vertigo Sea, was shown as part of CLIMARTE’s Art+Climate =Change Festival 2017. Akomfah is a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective formed in Thatcher’s England, the collective is discussed at one point by Dyer in White. In the installation of work consisting of a mix of newly shot and archival footage, we can again see the paracinematic reciprocity of the cinema outside of the medium, a demonstration of the retreat of representation into the galleries.
There is a paracinematic reference to be found here in the images of the sea, representing the liquidity and contingency of the market. When climate change becomes the framework for an art movement, however, the vicissitudes of colonisation and global displacement can be brought to bear alongside the sublime metaphor of the sea at the ends of ecocide. Yet Akomfrah’s work is perhaps more about manmade horror than it is about the ‘sublime seas’, the Emersonian idea underpinning the work. When politics becomes aesthetic, as it had under fascism, art must become political. Walter Benjamin concluded his essay on mechanical reproduction with a warning, after focusing a large part of the essay on the meaning of cinema. However, it now feels very much like our twenty-first century version of Benjamin’s equation has to be seen from an alternative point of view. When art becomes political, it seems to be symptomatic of a discernible aesthetic that is linked to fascism, one for the moment wrongly identified with the figure of Trump, or alternatively with artists like Black. Footage of the Baker atomic tests, re-played by Bruce Conner in CROSSROADS, also appear in Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea. Increasingly, it
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appears that the staging of the events depicted in Vertigo Sea are the result of decision-making made at very high levels of corporate and governmental power. A strange irony for the work’s exhibition in an Australian context is that CLIMARTE is a university-led initiative backed by the banking sector, which aims to shape the public discourse on climate change and the question of globalisation in the twenty-first century. The selection of Akomfrah’s work has been instrumentalised to show how this has happened. Namely, it is a demonstration which co-opts the artist’s identity and his work is made available as a generalisable issue, produced by our increasing familiarity with global media archives. In Vertigo Sea colonisation and mass migration across large bodies of water signify the cause, and not the effects, of capital production and the control of marginalised bodies. Akomfrah’s address to this horrific form of sublimity was first shown at the 56th Venice Biennale, and much like Richard Mosse’s The Enclave (at the 55th Venice Biennale), these multichannel installations of video create an artworld environment which endeavour to show something more than just the films’ images to their viewers. This approach to the sublime is a strategy these artists turn to for proposing the awful terror of an environment that cannot be questioned. Like a Caspar David Friedrich painting from the nineteenth century, Akomfrah’s lone figures haunt the landscapes, which engulf them, resolute and indifferent. There is a paracinematic reference to be found here in the images of the sea, representing the liquidity and contingency of the market. CLIMARTE’s position on what role art is to play in the ideological war taking place through the media is clear, and their mission statement is relatively straightforward: ‘CLIMARTE harnesses the creative power of the arts to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change.’23 While there is a suggestion here that climate change is a man-made problem, the role art must play in the representation of this issue remains to be understood as environmental. It is through the paracinematic nature of works like Akomfrah’s, that the sublimity of the sea can be used to mask how the University of Melbourne, the big banks, and other corporate interest groups might be understood as witnesses to these histories when they turn their attentions to art, in order to shape public discourse on environmental issues. Next door, the infographic installation EXIT, is no more revealing in its dazzling display of unfathomable figures equating population movements with movements of capital.24 What happens when big institutions start to tackle ‘big issues’ like climate change by pouring money into commissioning art? Artists like Akomfrah, and others like Wolfson and Schutz, start making works about violence. The paracinematic gaze suggests the way into this conflict over representation. If the regime of the visual reaches its apotheosis in the cinema, as VR, it can now only be seen as an allegory for passive
consumption. It is no wonder that the artists revolt. In Wolfson’s work, for example, there is a keen detection of the coercion placed upon the individual to act according to the demands of global finance. By arguing that ‘a counterweight to artist-centered art history is needed’, Green and Gardner have suggested that a newly initiated systems-analysis of the artworld will show that the artwork is only a part – a small-part even – of what makes up the contemporary artworld environment.25 The exhibition form is now to be seen as a ‘medium’ for people who are definitely not artists. Green and Gardner’s study speaks of ‘landmark survey shows of international contemporary art’ as the very definition of the idea of the contemporary as an artistic genre term akin to its now haggard predecessor, ‘postmodernism’.26 They are thinking in terms of global relations between metropolitan and peripheral cities, employing the ‘soft-power’ of cultural influence managed by an ambiguous new class of powerbroker, the contemporary art curator. Contemporary curators, for better or worse, are the artworld equivalent of management consultants, indeed the institutionalisation of the term ‘cultural management’ as a tertiary degree, produces curators as an industrial outcome. Furthermore, if the intervention into state policy by artists boycotting the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014 is anything to go by, these large-scale experiments in cultural management have become the battle-ground where the new fronts in the culture wars are opening. In many ways this is a good thing, but it remains to be seen what ‘neoliberalism’, as a somewhat lazy, catch-all concept that stands in for everything from government-funded corporate sponsorship to laissez-faire capital investment models, has masked in the discourse. As a nationally focused exhibition of contemporary art, the Whitney Biennial operates outside of Green and Gardner’s more global focus. It is for this reason, then, that it offers itself as an exception which proves the rule. North American exceptionalism has seemed to suggest itself as the last rule, before our dissolution into the borderless liquidity of the global market. It is interesting therefore, to take note of just what ‘form’ the global art world, this paracinematic biennialisation, is taking. At the very least the art festival appears to conclude the dream of exceptionalism championed by the US. Despite a focus on what has been occurring in other parts of the world, there are clear resonances with the contemporary realities of the Australian media and the politics that make the exhibition of Akomfrah’s work seem so vital in the context of the University of Melbourne’s city campus gallery. As recently as late last year the racist history of research-led eugenics had to be covered over by a swiftly effected change of name for the mathematics and statistics building. It also responds to the federal government’s tactic of denial and disorientation when it comes to sovereignty and accountability in the administration of a settler colonial nation.
To return to Pasolini’s notion of the emergence of a new fascism, which appeared in a short text from 1975 titled Unhappy Youths, the complexity introduced by paracinema is given its historical counterpoint. A particularly strong sense of Catholic guilt overwhelms the aging, gay poet, confessing his hopelessness through the lens of Attic tragedy. ‘What the sons were punished for’, he believed, is ‘the sins of the fathers’.27 Pasolini’s assumption to the position of father is what has allowed him to finally grasp this horrific reality. ‘As a father. As one of the fathers’, he continues, ‘one of the fathers who were responsible, first for Fascism, then for a falsely democratic clerico-Fascist régime, and who in the end have accepted the new form of power, the power of consumer goods, the final ruin, the ruins of ruins,’ means he had to accept his sins as a personal guilt without the hope of redemption.28 The ruination of the paternal order he saw in the new fascism of the Coca-Cola-loving youth which he loved, as much as he condemned them for their love of industrialised consumption, was a prophetic vision of the all-encompassing artworld environment. At one point Pasolini vividly described this new generation as he saw it in 1975: They have a light in their eyes; their features are copies of the features of automatons with nothing personal to give them character from within. The stereotype makes them treacherous. Their silence can precede a timid request for help (what help?) or can precede the thrust of a knife. They are no longer masters of their own actions; one might almost say of their own muscles.29
Pasolini’s revelation of the guilty parties, the sons, and the fathers, remind us of the failing symbolic order witnessed in the paracinematic gaze. His impassioned despair could also be used to describe Wolfson’s other recent work, Coloured Sculpture (2016), which operates alongside Real Violence and its related iteration, Black Sculpture (2017). Drawing on both the Dada and modernist avant-garde moments of Hans Bellmer and the mechanical puppets made by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Wolfson’s uncannily deadened animatronic dolls suffer the indignity of interminable collapse, which neither wound nor treat the body with anything but a functional contempt. As a pariah for Italian identity, Pasolini was murdered and his body dumped on the beach in Ostia in the same autumn Mulvey’s essay on visual pleasure was published in Screen. In Agnes Varda’s work Bord de Mer (2009), the filmic images leak into the space of the gallery. The sand installed in New York’s Blum & Poe gallery is anonymous, semiotic; it continues into the horizon of the nameless seascape projected as a film onto the gallery wall. This beach is where cinema’s entrance is endlessly memorialised. The paracinematic gaze is this cinema of the real, which overflows from the artwork’s representation into life as such.
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Effected by the twentieth-century avant-garde, it reveals a new phase in the ‘cultural spaces’ of the museum, whereby the festival becomes the everyday. In her film The Beaches of Agnès (2008), the filmmaker wanders through a temporary structure that she has constructed as a habitat covered with 35mm film images. Light pours into the empty room from outside. ‘What is cinema?’ she narrates in the voice-over; ‘Light coming from somewhere captured through images more or less dark or colourful.’
13. Branden W. Joseph, The Roh and the Cooked: Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant in Europe, with an essay by Tony Conrad, Berlin: August Verlag, 2012. 14. Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’ Screen, 16, 3 1975: 8. 15. Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994: 43. 16. Conrad’s letter to Uwe Nettlebeck, dated December 7, 1973, is cited by Branden W. Joseph, The Roh and the Cooked: Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant in Europe, with an essay by Tony Conrad, Berlin: August Verlag, 2012: 35. 17. Fred Moten, ‘The Case of Blackness,’ Criticism, Vol. 50, No. 2, Spring 2008:177. 18. Ibid: 187.
Endnotes 1. For Black’s letter, also signed by a number of others, see https://conversations.eflux.com/t/hannah-blacks-letter-to-the-whitney-biennials-curators-dana-schutzpainting-must-go/6287 accessed May 29, 2017. 2. Richard Sieburth, ‘Introduction’ to Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos, ed. and annotated by Richard Sieburth, New York: New Directions Books, 2003: ix. 3. For a discussion of the work see Alexandra Schwartz, ‘Confronting the “Shocking” Virtual-Reality artwork at the Whitney Biennial, New Yorker, March 20, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2017 from http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culturalcomment/confronting-the-shocking-virtual-reality-artwork-at-the-whitney-biennial
20. The chapter ‘The Light of The World,’ begins by recounting a pivotal scene in the Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs (1987). Richard Dyer, White: Essays on Race and Culture, New York: Routledge, 1997: 82. In a recent exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary’s Studio 3, Kate Meakin noted the most popular house paint marketed by Dulux bears the name ‘Antique White U.S.A.’ Kate Meakin, A Howl Sounds Best In A Hole, 2017. 21. Siegelaub cited in Deke Dusinbarre et al. ‘Working With Shadows, Working With Words,’ Art Monthly, no. 12, Dec. 1988-Jan. 1989: 4.
4. Wolfson’s work Dreaming of the dream of the dream (2004) is a 16mm film that is endlessly looped until the film destroys itself.
22. Alain Badiou, ‘Cinema as Philosophical Experimentation,’ Cinema, trans. Susan Spitzer, Cambridge: Polity, 2013: 208.
5. One work, Yellow Movie 2/16-26/73 (1973), is described as the material of Emulsion: Gull white flat interior latex: Magicolor No. 3011-11. Base: Studio white seamless paper, 120 x 107” (304.8 x 271.8 cm). Although it clearly also contains a painted black border.
23. See CLIMARTE.org Arts for a Safe Climate, from https://climarte.org/about/ accessed May 21, 2017.
6. Jonathan Walley, ‘Identity Crisis: Experimental Film and Artistic Expansion,’ October, 137 Summer 2011: 38 n38. 7. Ibid. 8. The shot was in fact filmed in reverse order at 12 frames per second. 9. Hollis Frampton, ‘Zorns Lemma: Script and Notations,’ On the Camera Art and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton, intro by Bruce Jenkins (ed.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009: 201. Walley also notes this early appearance of the term in his PhD thesis ‘Paracinema: Challenging Medium-Specificity and Redefining Cinema in Avant-Garde Film’, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, 2005. 10. Barry Goldensohn, ‘Memoir of Hollis Frampton, October, 32, Spring 1985: 12. 11. The apparent insinuation was that by conflating his initials into a single sign, conjoining the matching vertical lines in the letters H and F, Frampton had created an ideogram that resembled a swastika. 12. Walley, 2011: 29. This may be why the recent Whitney exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, curated by Chrissie Iles, alternatively promotes immersion rather than paracinema as central to the interpenetration of the cinema and the museum space, with different results.
19. Reinhardt cited in Moten: 195. The quote comes from a discussion between Reinhardt, musician Cecil Taylor, filmmaker and musician Michael Snow, and the artists Aldo Tambellini, Harvey Cowan, and the critics Arnold Rockman and Stu Broomer for the Arts/Canada magazine.
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24. EXIT (2008-15) was created by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgen, Mark Hansen, and Ben Rubin, in collaboration with Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Stewart Smith for the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, 2015-2016. The work was originally commissioned in 2008 by the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and was updated for COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris, 2015. 25. Charles Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennials, Triennials, and documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016: 9. 26. Ibid. 27. Pier Paolo Pasolini, ‘Unhappy Youths,’ Lutheran Letters, trans. Stuart Hood, Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1983: 12. 28. Ibid. 29. Ibid: 13.
Right: Agnès Varda, Mord de Mer, (2009),Digital HD projection, Blu-ray aspect 16:9 color/sound video projection, sand, total running time: 1 minute, looped, 96 x 120 x 115 in (243.8 x 304.8 x 292.1 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.
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performativity and pastiche: christian thompson’s play with the ‘Mimic man’
he most striking aspect of Christian Thompson’s practice is his own presence, which recurs filmed or photographed in the majority of his works. Chameleon-like in his varied incarnations, adorned with native bush flowers, whitened with make-up, garbed in sequinned outfits or posed with the glamour of a pop star, Thompson’s juxtapositions of multiple signifiers and motifs work as interventions into normative discursive frameworks. His mercurial identities operate through a mode of performativity that unsettles the unifying discourses of race, gender and sexuality. The postures and costumes in his digital videos and photographs meld references to popular culture and art history, but most persistently return to signifiers of Indigeneity, in particular his Indigenous language, Bidjara. These references, however, never remain singular or absolute, their meanings modulated through layers of pastiche that position the artist in acts of cultural identification only to confound them through theatrical forms of mimicry and burlesque. Early works such as Desert slippers (2006) and The Sixth Mile (2006) focused on traditional Bidjara rituals and placed the artist as the living conduit between contemporary and ancient practices turning on the compelling simplicity of repeated bodily gestures. Australian graffiti (2007) marked a departure from this unembellished sincerity with its more riveting play of signifiers. This photographic series featured the artist’s face as individual portraits festooned with native flowers, such as kangaroo paw and banksia, accenting the element that has remained consistent in Thompson’s work ever since: a suave mode of self-portraiture premised on a defiant indigeneity that melds authenticity and staginess in its mash-up of identity politics. The series was pivotal in underlining the predicament of identity. On the one hand, Thompson has spoken of the importance of lived experience – of growing up in Barcaldine, his matriarchal family, traditional bush food, the Bidjara language – stating; ‘Part of what I do as an artist is to always hold onto that essence of where I’m from, not to forget where I’m from.’1 (This corresponds to the persistent call for constitutional recognition of sovereignty for First Peoples.) Yet the patent theatricality of his works forestalls simplistic notions of authenticity or tribal allegiance. The recent emergence of the movement #BlackLivesMatter, with
its calls for restorative justice and its mantra ‘unapologetically black’, testifies to the continuing necessity for activism and affirmative identity to counter racial injustice. Writing in the 1980s and ‘90s after the critical insights of deconstruction elaborately theorising the fiction of the unified human subject, however, the Jamaican cultural theorist and activist Stuart Hall queried the processes of cultural identification and the very validity of identity itself as an ontological category. Aware of the quagmire of essentialism, Hall argued that identity is never singular, unified or stable but is constructed through heterogeneous, often antagonistic, discursive and ideological framings. Identity does not exist a priori but emerges through modalities of power including systems of representation that pivot on systemic exclusions. ‘This entails the radically disturbing recognition’ Hall observes, ‘that it is only through the relation to the Other, the relation to what it is not… to what has been called its constitutive outside that the “positive” meaning of any term – and thus its “identity” – can be constructed.’2 It’s axiomatic to note that in Western hegemonies the subject position of ‘Other’ has been assigned to all forms of racial, sexual and gendered practices that do not conform to narrowly defined conventions of normativity, riddled with their own multiple discriminations and disavowals. Thompson’s practice inserts itself precisely in this semantic arena, and works to tease out its biases and contradictions. The photographic triptych Black gum 1-3 (Australian graffiti) (2007) depicts the artist wearing a black hoodie, his face covered with Black Gum blossom. The frontal composition buttressed by two images in profile clearly invokes the typology of forensic photography developed in the 1880s by the French criminologist, Alphonse Bertillon, whose system of criminal identification produced a standardised photographic composite that formed the international protocol for the criminal ID, more commonly known as the mug shot. The choice of a black hoodie – culturally coded in the current era as signifying juvenile criminality – underscores this trope. The image also corresponds to the African American artist Glenn Ligon’s screen-printed Self-Portrait series (1996), which similarly adopted and mimicked the frontal and profile views of Bertillon’s typology, Ligon’s features starkly atomised through the Left: Christian Thompson, Ellipse, Polari Series, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.
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half tone printing technique. Thompson’s careful composition enacts a solidarity with the criminalised Other, but through an obscuring and garlanding of his face, simultaneously resists the surveillant dimensions of enforced identification. Thompson’s obsession with muddling straight forms of allegiance – relishing the clash of competing signs – reappears in the series Lost together (2009). The series relates to the performative strategies of predecessors like the American artist Cindy Sherman with her endlessly malleable self-portraits quoting Western art history (History Portraits, 1988-90), or the more subversive gender-bending incarnations of Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura in his Daughter of Art History portraits (commencing in 1985). Following in this vein of art historical pastiche, Lost together (2009)shows Thompson assuming a variety of personas, from tartanclad woodcutter to white-robed tree nymph, conspicuously sporting a beard or synthetic wigs in each image. In Isabella kept her dignity (2009), Thompson wears an all-white costume with a singlet emblazoned with the word ‘realness’. Given the obvious contrivance of the regalia, the signs of clichéd feminine coding – lace stockings and bottle blonde hair – there is a clear intent to undermine the declarative truth of the statement. Thompson’s white-dressed figure reappears in Hannah’s diary, (2009) with its farcical intimation of Rococo painting. While not quite replicating the composition of Fragonard’s iconically fey The Swing (1767), the coquettish tone – Thompson’s stockinged legs daintily positioned in the crook of a tree – both upholds and parodies the mannered frivolity of the eighteenth century. These kinds of mutant replications – adopted tropes of Eurocentric culture gone astray – were most famously analysed by the Indian-British postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha in his trenchant essay, ‘Of Mimicry and Man’ (1984). Part of the British Empire’s colonial civilising mission was the project of inculcating colonial subjects in the orthodoxies of the motherland; across political structures as varied as codes of dress, bureaucratic governmentality and English as the master’s tongue. The process of being Anglicised, however, introduced a disruptive dimension to the mimicking, inadvertently opening a space between mimicry and mockery. The ‘mimic man’ as Bhabha termed the figure of the colonial subject, is ‘the effect of a flawed colonial mimesis, in which to be Anglicized, is emphatically not to be English.’3 Condemned to imitative modes which he could never fully inhabit, the mimic man became a figure of doubling, reflecting himself back to the imperial order – a partial subject, a metonym for colonial desire. Bhabha pithily captured this irreducible ambiguity in the mirror phrases, ‘almost the same, but not quite’ and ‘almost the same but not white.’4 Rather than fidelity to master paradigms, mimicry inaugurates erratic interpretations and eccentric embodiments that institute a crisis in cultural authority. These kinds of textual, semantic and representational slippages are manifest in many of the images in Lost together, but the parody is particularly evident in Isaac. Sporting a blond beard and bedecked in tartan robes, Thompson lampoons colonial imitative registers, but as the figure also refers to his non-Indigenous great-grandfather, Isaac, the 32
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parody acquires an edge of homage and pathos. Similarly, the orange wig Thompson wears in I’m not going anywhere without you symbolises both the Dutch royal family and the Netherlands as a nation. The colour refers both to one of modernity’s most commercially aggressive colonial nations, yet also invokes the time Thompson spent living in Amsterdam while studying at Das Arts when he made the series – resulting in a caricature constructed from both affiliation and critique. In its partial presences and faux-resemblances, the project of mimicry, as Bhabha was acutely aware, is ultimately ambivalent, its figures at once conflictual, fantastic and fetishistic. Strategic mirrorings are deployed. If Black gum 1-3 references the black body’s subjection to surveillant typologies, then Trinity 1-3, from the Polari series (2014) is its semiotic double: mirroring its tripartite structure, yet subverting its subjugating codifications, so that the body reappears in formidable potency. Trinity 1-3 shows the artist’s face whitened and festooned with flowers worn atop the flowing strands of another blonde wig. The overt display of whiteness concealing black skin summons Bhabha’s ‘almost the same but not white’, while also incarnating the threat at mimicry’s core. A figure of perpetual doubling, caught between imitation and difference, the mimic man eventually returns the coloniser’s surveillant gaze so ‘the observer becomes the observed.’5 Thompson’s steely gaze directed squarely at the viewer embodies this inversion of scrutiny, where the signifiers of identity are recoded into something brimming with insurgency. An alluring detail in Trinity 1-3 is the wisp of white smoke that escapes from Thompson’s lips, in the manner of ectoplasm. Whiteness splits into lure and menace – spectacle, haunting and mediumship. The figure of shamanism and ritual is similarly played with in Untitled (banksia leaf) (2007). Here Thompson folds his arms across his chest, recalling the pose adopted by Barbara Eden – in her role as the genie in the 1960s American sitcom I Dream of Jeannie – as the bodily gesture preceding her casting of a spell. Thompson’s replication of this mannerism evidences a playful sense of pastiche that melds popular culture parody with more sincere invocation of Indigeneity and the restorative powers of the land and its flora. The tropes of sorcery, shamanism and mystical conjuring move in and out of veracity in alluring semiotic play. Rejecting a humanist conception of identity as unified and autonomous, the theorist Judith Butler has also argued that identity is not only produced through discursive and representational conventions, but activated performatively. In her two landmark texts, Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies That Matter (1993) Butler set her analytic terrain as the investigation of gender as a cultural construct, reiterating the deconstructive postulate that no singular subject exists anterior to its discursive acts. In Gender Trouble she definitively claimed that bodies and sexualities do not exist as pre-given entities but are actively produced through the codings of gender. These codings construct heterosexuality as normative – a ‘compulsory heterosexuality’6 as she named it – a process dependent on modes of ‘Othering’ that position
homosexuality as abject. The alleged coherence of gender and sexual categories (man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual) conceal profuse troubling discontinuities that operate within their delimitations. Deviant sexualities therefore have the force of threat, disrupting the structures of heterosexual coherence and revealing them to be ‘regulatory fictions.’7 Butler’s argument that modes of performativity, rather a notion of essence, constitute the gendered and sexualised body accords with many of Thompson’s images with their explicit forms of artifice; featuring the frequent appearance of wigs, jewellery, costumes and makeup. Thompson’s embellished and adorned body, however, embodies a manifest nonconformity in Butler’s terms. This is a body that refuses to abide the binaries of sexuality and gender. Most in evidence of this are Thompson’s multiple incarnations of the styled body in the Polari series (2014). Several images in the series display Thomson’s upper
body unclothed and whitened with makeup, his head garlanded with feathers and flowers. The normativities of gender and sexuality are rent asunder. In Echo 1, the artist’s whitened skin and ingénue posture (tilted head and guileless expression) present an aberrant pastiche of a young Bacchus or an androgynous cherub by Raphael. More spectacularly, in Ellipse Thompson wears a head wreath and wrist corsage, an out-offrame fan softly billowing his white mane. In this pose the artist stares back at the camera while flexing his biceps, but the flex is so anaemic that the effect is one of clichéd effeminacy. Coupled with the upbeat hue of the studio backdrop and the tone of airbrushed glamour, the image suggests an album cover by Lady Gaga or Beyoncé, in a commingling of affiliation and burlesque. Thompson’s mash-up of gender codes and theatricality of garb embody Below: Christian Thompson, Echo II, Polari Series, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.
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the kind of satirical cross-dressing we know as drag. In Butler’s analysis, discursive practices precede the appearance of the subject, who comes into being through the performative acts of speech. Tweaked into the visual field this acknowledges that representational practices precede the artist-subject who develops his or her voice through the interpellation of existing pictorial codes. In Thompson’s case these are art historical, popular cultural and sartorial, and his use of drag cuts across all registers. This manifests less as the donning of dresses (although his lace-stockinged legs are ostentatious in Lost together), than the deployment of headgear, makeup and wigs, which undermine any clear-cut notions of masculinity. In Bodies That Matter (1993) Butler argued for a stance she named ‘critically queer’. If every subject position is the site of competing relations of power and gender is a forcible production – an ‘assignment’ – then the critical potential of drag pivots on its exposure of gender’s truth claims and heterosexist biases. The posture of ‘queering’ confounds normative binaries in its ability to use deviant positioning as the discursive or representational basis for dissent. Queer posturing draws attention to itself as artifice and ‘will emerge as theatrical to the extent that it mimes and renders hyperbolic the discursive convention that it also reverses.’8 In other words, the exaggerated gestures of drag are crucial to its criticality. Thompson’s more recent digital videos animate these gender contestations in real-time. Silence is golden (2016) presents the artist decked in white, two red kerchiefs draped from his belt straps and strings of bells tied to his knees, jumping rhythmically and twirling a white kerchief in each hand. Here the mimic man returns, as Thompson performs the traditional English folk sequence known as Morris dancing. Thompson has a part English bloodline, with family hailing from Bampton, one of the few English towns with a longstanding tradition of Morris dancing. Now a trope of Englishness, the style originated in fifteenth-century Europe as a form of exotic dance which pandered to the taste for Moorish spectacle, with dancers blackening their faces to suggest the non-Occidental body. Quintessential Englishness is revealed as riven with exoticism. Thompson’s mimicry plays in this space of exoticism and pageantry, his curlicue gestures against a soundtrack of bells exaggerating the feyness of the dance and threatening the stability of its racial signifiers, effecting a queering of the facsimile. In the digital video Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2010), a soprano sings in Bidjara with English subtitles translating the libretto. When a young white woman sings the phrase ‘I am an old man’ – we know we are in the territory of gender trouble. Despite the absence of clothing, drag’s transgendering effect is nonetheless conveyed. As Butler noted, what is performed in drag is the sign of gender – which is not the same as the body that performs it. Further complicating the meaning of both performance and drag, Butler interprets them in light of Freud’s essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. While mourning and melancholia are reactions of grief to the loss of a loved object, the latter is marked by ambivalence with contradictory feelings and conflicts within the ego operating as a painful wound. Butler conjectures that the transgender
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performance of drag may be a form of ‘acting out’ related to unacknowledged loss. If melancholia is viewed in light of Indigenous dispossession and the histories of racial injustice, this takes on added force, obliquely speaking of the psychic wound of colonial violence. Phrases intoned by the vocalist such as, ‘This is my rightful blood song’ signify equivocally: on the one hand accentuating the recuperative aspects of tribal allegiance, but on the other – through the choice of a white female vocalist to sing these words – undercutting the authenticity of the claim. Thompson’s practice heralds forms of identification only to complicate them through displacements across racial, sexual and gendered lines intersected with art historical and popular cultural pastiche. His adoption of varied personas tacitly acknowledges heterogeneous allegiances and refuses univocal meanings. Performativity in its most enabling sense – the theatricalising of discursive conventions in order to highlight their contrivance and gesture towards alternative modalities of power – remains the touchstone. As Bhabha foresaw, the decolonial project requires the ‘rearticulation of the “sign” in which cultural identities may be inscribed.’9 Across Thompson’s doublings and mirrorings and multiple poses, what is ultimately conveyed is less a certification of Indigeneity than the irrepressible subversion of totalising hegemonies and essentialist identities. The companion piece to Gamu Mambu, a video titled Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2012), flips gender, presenting a classically trained tenor who also sings in Bidjara. At one point the tenor mellifluously warbles the line ‘That man is a stranger’. Mimic man, queer man, white man, Bidjara man – who exactly that man is, we cannot know. Monash University Museum of Art presented a major survey of the artist’s work, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy, 27 April – 8 July 2017.
Endnotes 1. Christian Thompson, ‘Christian Thompson and Hetti Perkins in Conversation, Melbourne 28 February 2017’, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy, Monash University Museum of Art, 2017: 108. 2. Stuart Hall, ‘Who Needs “Identity”?’, Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (eds), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996: 4. 3. Homi Bhabha, ‘“Of Mimicry and Man”: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’, October, Vol 28, Spring, 1984: 128. 4. Ibid: 130. 5. Ibid: 129. 6. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York and London: Routledge, 1990: 184. 7. Ibid: 185. 8. Ibid: 232. 9. Homi Bhabha, ‘The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of Agency’, The Location of Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1994: 171.
CALL FOR APPLICATIONS Contemporary Visual Artists | Writers | Photographers | Interdisciplinary arts | Makers ARTIST/ WRITER RESIDENCIES | (GRAFTd) EXHIBITIONS 2018â€“19 Expressions of interest are now open for contemporary arts practitioners | writers interested in undertaking site responsive studio residency [supported]. Or Exhibiting new work | (GRAFTd) Exhibition program. APPLICATIONS CLOSE 30 SEPTEMBER 2O17
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FRIZ QUADRATA: CHRISTIAN LOCK’S BLACK WORKS If There’s One Thing Life Can Guarantee It’s In Keeping Its Meaning a Mystery Inscription scratched into the vinyl of the Black Flag/Minutemen MinuteFlag EP
ultural changes are often subterranean, gradual and nonlinear. But their expression can also be sudden and dramatic. One such example were the protests taking place during the 19th Sydney Biennale ‘You Imagine What You Desire’ over sponsor Transfield’s work on the Manus Island detention centre – a moment that has become an important juncture for Australian contemporary art. As Ben Eltham has written, these protests led to deep retaliatory cuts across Australia Council Funding by the then Federal Arts Minister, George Brandis.1 Totalling $105 million (later reduced to $73 million), these cuts impacted broadly across Australia’s public art organisations.2 They also included a seventy per cent reduction of grants to individual artists and crafts practitioners.3 These cuts were particularly devastating for South Australian artists, and arts audiences. While State support remained constant, the loss of Federal funding made it impossible for South Australia’s two public contemporary galleries – the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) – to survive. Together, these organisations represented 114 years of exhibiting history (for 45 years the CACSA had also been the publisher of the art journal Broadsheet in its various iterations). A decision was made to merge the two organisations, and in 2016 Liz Nowell was announced as the first director of a new organisation – ACE Open. Christian Lock was selected as the first artist to show within this new, post-austerity structure.
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It was a particularly prescient choice. Lock is a South Australian artist and lecturer with a two-decade exhibiting history, whose practice has been maintained via regular CACSA, AEAF and Australia Council support. Lock was also a recent recipient of a 2013 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship – that most unlikely, generous, private travelling fund administered by the University of South Australia. Christian Lock’s Samstag Scholarship took him to New York’s Parsons School of Design in 2014 – the same year as the aforementioned 19th Sydney Biennale. While at Parsons, he was a part of the culture dealing with the infamous police violence events of that period, and the responsive #BlackLivesMatter movement. In the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, geopolitics and surfing are depicted as contradictory tendencies, brought into contact in the film as an absurdity.4 Lock’s work has always drawn from surfing and design, however through a connection to both art historical sources, and a personal cultural history, his surfing references defy any simple reading. Lock’s father was the artistic director of the surf-clothing label Golden Breed, famous for its unique strand of sci-fi/fantasy surf-wear. Loose fabric samples were common sights in the Lock household, and resin, fibreglass, and glitter stencils were available from the construction and repair of surfboards. A seminal early body of Lock’s work from the early 2000s features large brushstrokes painted on printed holographic backgrounds. An anomaly then, his unapologetic combination of abstraction and design now seems markedly contemporary. Lock’s paintings were further contained within a shell of highly polished clear resin that he called ‘liquid glass’ – the final objects resembling cars or speedboats – or as others have suggested, black opals or marbles.5 Traditional pigments (such as gamboge) or turpentine, in turn derived from tree resins, and the frozen-in-amber potential of his materials were taken to their limit in the rock-hard glazes of these early works. A later group of paintings developed Lock’s mercurial and liquiform marks through the dispersal of paint by air pressure – a type of
miniature weather event that also brought to mind workshop activity, or car detailing. Minimalist and reductive, these pieces were a type of negative painting, similar to the erasure of graffiti with water jets, which simultaneously prepares old walls for new paintings. While these earlier series referenced modern manufacturing processes in their production and materiality, Lock’s later works appear more the sites of stripped, abandoned factories, or the leftover remnants of social strife. Gradually Lock’s canvases have begun to leave their stretchers altogether, hanging over crossbars and appearing as pulleddown wallpaper, or clothing drying. The optimistic, glassy surfaces of his earlier works have instead become the sites of forced, improvised repairs. THE BLACK WORKS At ACE Open, Lock presented paintings alongside black resin-coated objects, frozen over large, grid-like steel structures. These were the direct descendants of Lock’s loose stretcher paintings – now fully active in the third dimension. Loose black monochrome paintings – hanging like enormous protest banners – were the main focus of the gallery, and referenced in the title of the exhibition. Monochromes have always been predominant in Lock’s work – his large rectangular canvases were often a hard jet-black (or, alternatively, a soft, milky-white). Just as black pigment absorbs visible light, these black flags managed to absorb all meaning. By way of a condensed list, black flags have, in history, been flown by revolutionary farmers during the German Peasant Wars, by Confederate guerrilla militias, by ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Jews, by colonial traders, by both fascists and antifascists, pirates, and surrendering naval ships. The
banner of the cruel Lord Morgoth, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion was completely black, as was the Ahmadiyya ‘Black Standard’ of the second Caliphate (said to represent the absorption of all spiritual light). The music reference in Lock’s title focused us somewhat towards antifascist movements, however protests and their burnt remnants were more generally felt. Black’s ability to negate signs also enables it to, conversely, attach itself to a wide range of associations. Its power is perhaps magnified when it makes full use of these references. An example is the flag of the Bikini Atoll, designed by its forty or so families who – under the misunderstanding that they were being given a ‘second sun’ in the 1940s – were displaced from their homes by atomic tests. The islanders designed a recognisable version of the US flag, only with one white star blackened for each of the islands they lost during the subsequent twenty-three tests. Despite claims to be a reduced artistic zero point, historical and conceptual readings have always been attached to black monochrome paintings. Malevich’s Suprematist works drew on the associative power of Russian icon paintings in their placement, whilst through puncture marks Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale of 1952 sought to unite his monochromes with the walls around them – and ultimately with all space and time. Robert Rauschenberg similarly referenced other dimensions by building outwards with paper, before later reducing his abstract reliefs with thick black paint.
Below: Christian Lock, BLACKFLAG, 2017, installation view, ACE Open. Image courtesy of the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide. Photo: Jessica Clark.
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Given the political upheavals of the last few years – the destruction of long standing political orthodoxies, of illusions of safety, and market collapses – Lock’s black works could suggest a simple act of resistance and negation. However, Lock’s black paintings frequently include touches of glitter and other subtle, iridescent effects. The canvases made during his New York period used a unique sequinned material, which allowed viewers to wipe their hands over and leave traces on their surface. American artist Quentin Morris, working during the US Civil Rights era, had shown that simply reaffirming complexity within blackness is an inherently political act – individual biography and difference being necessarily absent from race-based world-views. In an Australian context, this idea is perhaps particularly resonant – as a country made up of over 500 different Indigenous clan groups and cultures, all often signified simply as ‘black’. In Lock’s work, black is particularly connected to the aesthetics associated with punk, metal and noise bands – all of which were influences on late twentieth-century Australian surfing fashion. Although punk rejected much of mainstream culture, its black too was never inherently nihilist, or reductive. Sharing venues with Jamaican ska and dub reggae acts in London, the culture surrounding acts like The Clash featured relatively inclusive and progressive tendencies for the period. This openness extended to issues of gender and sexuality, particularly on the US West Coast – where many prominent gay musicians were pivotal in punk’s early development.6 This eventually led to the emergence of Queercore, based around acts like The Need, The Third Sex, Go! and Los Crudos. Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins has identified Punk’s sense of diversity as central to its early development, and a sense of courage and dynamism. Homocore culture was also closely connected to the beginning of the Riot Grrrl scene, through connected zines, bands and record labels like Outpunk. Fluidity, diversity and playfulness are recurrent elements in Lock’s work, communicated with a sense of muscular strength. Glitter was the weapon of choice kicked by Michael Jackson in the classic Sega game ‘Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker’, and glitter bombing is a form of protest often used against politicians who oppose same-sex marriage. It is also used for personal transformation; in addition to external makeup, it is possible today to order glitter pills online – small capsules of plastic and brass – to make human excrement shimmer (or more efficaciously, to facilitate the tracking of animals by biologists). It has been said that Australia’s national identity is portrayed with such strident machismo that it has created an inevitable and powerful alternative narrative: the desert of Mad Max must necessarily also be home to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Closer readings reveal that this is not merely a reactive phenomenon – that sexual, racial and gender difference have always been important influences within our countercultures. Likewise, ambiguity, fluidity and diversity have always been key aspects of Lock’s practice.
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The absence of colour in Lock’s practice might also be seen as a kind of utility. Stripped of any extraneous features, black in music, fashion and art means time is available to the artist for more focused action or, in Lock’s case, continual artistic production. This always-in-motion ethos is most apparent in his fabric and steel sculptures. Both in their production and in the physical movement required to view them, the body is again present in these works (the combined bodies of several people were required to produce the sculptural pieces). These resin works allow fabric to travel throughout three-dimensional space, and we are asked to imagine the possibility of change and fluidity, even within otherwise rigid, declarative objects. Ad Reinhardt once referred to his black paintings as ‘a free, unmanipulated, unmanipulatable, useless, unmarketable, irreducible, unphotographable, unreproducible, inexplicable icons’. They stood in contrast to the colourful consumer goods that were the dominant visual experience of mid twentieth-century America.’7 Pushing against the grid, Lock’s works function more like a dream or state of becoming than the perfected raised consciousness of abstract expressionism. Our own experience of black is perhaps more complex than ever before. Anish Kapoor recently purchased the sole rights to the world’s blackest pigment – Vantablack – a colour that absorbs 99.96 per cent of light. However, BLACKFLAG showed that we should not fear that blackness might ever become fully purchased by commerce. Black’s intensity has always come from negation, from those with whom the times have caught up, and whose blackness includes the power of its associations with authentic and complex cultures. This is an expanded essay from the exhibition catalogue for Christian Lock’s BLACKFLAG at ACE Open 16 March - 22 April 2017. Endnotes 1. Ben Eltham, ‘Dissent and Dissensus: Political Art in the Time of Trump’. Broadsheet Journal, 46.1, 2017: 7-10. 2. http://theconversation.com/election-factcheck-did-the-coalition-cut-105-millionfrom-australia-council-funding-59531 3. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/may/19/the70-drop-australia- council-grants-artists-funding-cuts 4. These connections are not merely fictional. Writers have also long been drawn to surfing in real life – early surfers include Agatha Christie, Jack London and Mark Twain. Two surfboards left behind during the filming of Apocalypse Now gave birth to the Filipino surfing community. 5. Wendy Walker, catalogue essay for ‘Christian Lock’ at Greenaway Art Gallery, 2007. 6. This did not last. Later co-opted by neo-Nazis, punk for a while contained hard to differentiate oppositional left and right wing groups. So subtle were their codes that, at times, groups fought amongst themselves, suspecting other members of belonging to their hated opposition. 7. R. Magill, Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull), W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.
undoing the neutral: the sculpture as pointer
n the recent three-part exhibition The National, staged across the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), a number of large-scale works stood out as non-traditional takes on sculpture. Indeed, in Australia sculpture has had a history of pushing boundaries, since around the time of the modernist shift from figuration to abstraction.1 In what follows, I will consider Emily Floyd’s Kesh Alphabet (2017) and Megan Cope’s REFORMATION Part 3 (Dubbagullee) (2017) both of which were presented at the AGNSW during The National. Although it is important to remember that these sculptures take very different themes as their starting points, it is also possible to cross-examine a history of large-scale sculptures that act as political interventions on the architecture of the site in which are installed; extending upon and critiquing hegemonic power structures inherent to the built environment. It is useful to consider how, in the 1960s and ‘70s, Australian sculpture was used a marker of and agitator for change. Although they worked in different styles and mediums, a strong social and pedagogical doctrine united the (mostly émigré) artists of the Melbourne-based Centre Five group, which was spearheaded by Julius Kane (who died not long after the group’s formation) and included Inge King, Vincas Jomantas, Clifford Last, Lenton Parr, Norma Redpath and Teisutis Zikaras. Together they formulated a five-point program – hence the group’s name – to better integrate sculpture into the Australian built environment. We should not forget that this was a moment in Australian art history when anything but painting was considered bold and when sculpture was largely figurative. In reaction to this attitude, the group insisted that sculpture was grossly underrepresented in Australia and that it should be used ‘to influence the way people experience the built environment’ by integrating it into architecture and public spaces.2 We cannot underestimate the value of the group’s social agenda: the desire to push sculpture in this direction was a recognition of the importance of architecture in the quality of people’s lives and a signal of the group’s dedication to pedagogy. Indeed, by the early 1960s every member of the group was teaching in some capacity, most at
the University of Melbourne or RMIT. And not just in the fine arts department: many also gave studio demonstrations to students in architecture departments.3 The fourth point in the collective’s five-point program was to push for ‘an art development policy similar to that in other countries based on the principle of devoting a percentage of public building costs to works of art.’4 While this ambition may not have been realised, members of the group did receive several architectural commissions. Lenton Parr produced Relief for Chemistry Building (1961– ‘62) at the Australian National University, while Inge King’s Euridice (1964-‘65) was created for the Broken Hill Propriety research laboratory in Clayton.5 Although the sculptors varied in their subject matter and choice of materials, they almost always operated on two simultaneous levels: they activated the site, while also indexing the built environment, thereby disrupting complacency. Using non-decorative, abstracted forms and industrial materials, such as steel, aluminium and concrete, the works were of such a scale that they were able to ‘enclose large spaces or […] activate its [the sculpture’s] surrounding space.’6 King’s Black Sun (1985) – a circular steel sculpture two metres in diameter with a vertical slit cut from its upper radius – is the embodiment of this strategy. The opening reveals the site beyond the sculpture, acting like a viewfinder to highlight its location on a wide median strip in Mildura. Slight disruptions to the perfection of the circle, including an uneven arc at the point of the cut-out, as well as a slight bend in the structure, provide various points of focus from which to view the sculpture’s environment. Black Sun is a prime example of the Centre Five’s approach to de-neutralising the built environment. A break with tradition, from the figurative to the abstract, and the emphasis upon integration with the environment – that is, an emphasis upon one’s surroundings over an inward-looking tradition of premodern illusionism – meant that consideration was now given to the larger ramifications of material and form, rather than simply stowing sculpture in a self-reflexive vacuum of medium specificity. The significance of integrating sculpture into architecture was to move the sculpture even further away from the pedestal, a development that BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.2
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coincided with the typically modernist agenda of building utilitarian and democratic constructions. It is well known that Inge King played a role in shaping the practice of Emily Floyd and the two were close up until King’s death in 2016. Gender and environment have always been specific considerations for Floyd, who interrogates the themes as part of her larger interest in pedagogical models. Earlier works where these themes have been particularly prominent include The Fertile Void (2009) and Temple of the Female Eunuch (2008). In Kesh Alphabet, a series of eight modular aluminium blocks installed in the Entrance Court of the AGNSW, Floyd used large-scale sculpture to draw attention to the inherent politics of architecture. The installation is based upon a fictional alphabet created by the author Ursula Le Guin and which featured in her 1985 novel Always Coming Home, a feminist work that envisions a matriarchal and environmentally sustainable society. Floyd’s enormous installation spells out the Kesh word bahne (inclusion, insight and female orgasm), which the viewer translates using a codex that accompanies the sculptures.7 A loud and colossal installation of brightly-coloured, glossy and extremely heavyset objects, Kesh Alphabet dominated the space, in a powerful celebration of the feminine. Crucially, several of the blocks extended all the way to the ceiling, slotting into the concrete grid of the gallery’s architecture and creating the illusion that they might reach infinitely through the ceiling of the building. This explicit engagement with the fabric of the building is integral to Kesh Alphabet’s reading. Thus, Floyd enacts her desire to project a feminist agenda upon the architecture of the AGNSW, which she has said is: [A] very patriarchal space: it has a colonial masculine collection. But it also represents the balance of power, where the people working here are trying to tip to the other side, trying to discover new ways to reinvigorate the history of women painters in modernity and the present […] and it’s also very much so populated by women who work here.’8
In addition, the AGNSW’s architect and all of the gallery’s directors (to date) have also been men. As a way of challenging the power structures inherent to the gallery, she riffs and builds upon the tradition of King and the Centre Five, who used sculpture to draw attention to the built environment and to challenge any preconception of architecture as neutral.9 There is also a hint of 1980s ecofeminism at play in Kesh Alphabet and, indeed, when Le Guin published Always Coming Home in 1985, the movement was at its peak, making strong claims for ‘the domination of women and the domination of nature as structurally linked’.10 One might think back to the work of Bonita Ely in the early 1980s as an exemplar of ecofeminism, in particular her infamous Murray River Punch (1980). Despite the pleasing aesthetic of Floyd’s work, there is also a certain sombreness conjured by the fact that Kesh Alphabet references Le Guin’s utopian narrative of a matriarchal and Left: Megan Cope, RE FORMATION part 3 (Dubbagullee), 2017, Sydney rock oysters, copper slag, hand cast concrete, 500x700x150cm, irreg, installation view, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Image courtesy of the artist, Melbourne and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne © Megan Cope.
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environmentally conscious Kesh people, insofar as this concept remains an ideal over three decades later. Pedagogy is also a very important element of Floyd’s work and it is widely known that King was an educator for much of her life in Melbourne. Between 1961 and 1967 King worked for the Institute of Early Childhood Development and from 1976 to 1987 she taught sculpture part-time at RMIT and, interestingly, lectured to architecture students.11 There is a left wing politic shared between King and Floyd, whereby a resistance to the norm is favoured over traditional curricula. Floyd’s pedagogy requires an exposure of the system and its flaws: this has been a common theme in her oeuvre, perhaps the typifying work of which is her 2012 This Place Will Always be Open; a public sculpture housing an open library at Monash University. Exhibited alongside screen prints of posters, pamphlets and newsletters from the Monash Labor Club – an organisation centred around radical political thought and action in the 1960s – this work expressed an alternative method of acquiring knowledge to the structure of the neo-liberal university system. Quandamooka Nation artist Megan Cope’s REFORMATION Part 3 (Dubbagullee), (2017) also gave significant consideration to the relationship of the work of art to the architecture of the space and the subsequent political comment made by this explicit link. Also a largescale sculpture, Cope’s work for The National critiqued environmental degradation, continuing with the AGNSW’s ‘eco-thread’ in their portion of the exhibition.12 REFORMATION considered the devastation of Aboriginal middens during colonisation. Composed of 12,000 concrete oyster shells piled on top of a mound of black sand and copper slag, and installed in a corner its own discrete gallery, the work gave the impression that it was spilling out through the structure’s walls. Shell middens are Indigenous monuments made up of the refuse created by the consumption of shellfish. Many are centuries or millennia old and they are important Aboriginal cultural sites. At the time of European invasion vast numbers of middens were burned by colonisers – to produce lime for mortar – and the former midden sites were subsequently built over with colonial structures. It is not by chance that the largest of Cope’s midden sculptures to date was at the AGNSW: just 1.5 kilometres across the Royal Botanic Gardens (as if to add insult to injury) is the Sydney Opera House, which is constructed on one of the largest midden sites in Australia. Indeed, the parenthesised ‘Dubbagullee’ in the work’s title made reference to the traditional name of the site on which the Sydney Opera House now stands. As touched upon previously, Cope, like Floyd, has used her sculpture to critique environmental degradation. Only, here colonialism takes the place of patriarchy (not to say, of course, that these are binary opposites). The copper slag on which Cope’s shells had been assembled represented the end point – impurities discarded as waste – of the mining process. Cope’s father is from Quandamooka Country (North Stradbroke Island), where the development of mining sites has prevented Aboriginal people
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from visiting places of cultural significance. As such, the sculpture drew upon the past and the present to trace a narrative of white desecration of Aboriginal land and, consequently, Aboriginal culture and heritage. As a sidenote, Kokatha and Nukunu artist Yhonnie Scarce, is another example of an artist whose work, also featured in The National, used sprawling sculpture to interrogate settler environmental degradation. Scarce’s Death Zephyr (2017) comprised hundreds of hand-blown, glass objects that made reference to the British nuclear tests in Maralinga in the 1950s and ‘60s and the dire effects these had upon the Aboriginal population. For Cope, it is the use of architecture as a mask for that which has been destroyed, which was the focus of REFORMATION. Kelly Greenop writes of post-colonial Australian history: What has been lacking [in the discussion of Aboriginal dispossession] is a thorough discussion of the specific role of architecture and the built environment in the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.13
Greenop has identified a lack of discussion connecting the settlerbuilt environment with the making-invisible of Aboriginal people and their culture. Building upon this statement, it is crucial to understand settler architecture as the opposite of discursive, insofar as it masks the scars left by colonisation. Having been destroyed, middens were then built upon, thereby eliminating any evidence of the primary act of destruction. Cope’s massive work attempted to reverse this injury by directly connecting the AGNSW – the epitome of European architecture – with the middens, which this architecture frequently replaced. Indeed, it has been noted that much of the lime created by burning middens remains in many structures around Sydney today and it is not a stretch to say that midden lime might have been used to build the AGNSW. REFORMATION simultaneously drew attention to site and referenced a site lost. It was a poignant reminder that architecture is far from egalitarian and that it is, in fact, inextricably connected to larger, ongoing power structures that prey on the disenfranchisement of minorities. Cope says that her sculpture ‘connects historical events and demonstrates a continuation of desecration of historical land.’14 Indeed, the notion of connecting history with ongoing hegemonic power structures is also common to Floyd’s work and, although the two artists have divergent areas of interest, both frequently critique elements of dominant postcolonial, neoliberal culture. It is befitting that large, installationstyle sculpture is the medium of choice for Floyd and Cope in the way that over half a century earlier, sculpture of a similar scale was used by the Centre Five as social critique. Building upon the tradition of that historical group, these two women use site-specificity and scale to stage an intervention in the architecture of the spaces they occupy. As such, they reveal that architecture is rarely apolitical.
Above: Emily Floyd, Kesh Alphabet, 2017, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Atelier and Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2016. Image courtesy of the artist, and Anna Schwartz © Emily Floyd.
ENDNOTES 1. For more about Australian sculpture’s shift to modernism see: Keith Broadfoot, ‘Banishing the Thing: Abstraction and Australian Sculpture’, in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, Vol 12, 2012: 107-125. 2. Jane Eckett ‘Renewed Vows: Centre Five and the post-war remarriage of Melbourne sculptors and architects’, Interspaces: Art + Architectural Exchanges from East to West conference, 20-22 August, 2010: 1-27, The University of Melbourne, http:// artinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/publications/Interspaces 3. Ibid: 14-15. 4. Centre Five exhibition pamphlet, McClelland Gallery, 11 November 1973 – 3 February 1974. 5. Eckett, op. cit: 17-18. 6. Bill Hannan, ‘Introduction’, Centre Five: Contemporary Sculpture (exh. cat.), Art Gallery of New South Wales, October 6 – October 24, 1965. 7. Anneke Jaspers, ‘Emily Floyd’, The National: New Australian Art (exh. cat.), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2017: 76-77.
the 1960s and ‘70s. A short catalogue essay from a 1960 Gallery A exhibition that King participated in alongside her husband Graham demonstrates the desire to give meaning to her work based upon gender. The essayist writes: ‘And through much of it there is a trace of the whimsical – evidence of a feeling that the way towards truth in the human situation can yield joy as well as despair. Perhaps this is because she is a woman.’ Elsewhere, it was written, ‘she has become an expert in the unfeminine art of arc welding’. See: ‘Graham and Inge King’, Gallery A catalogue no. 15, 1960 and ‘Try a Statue in the Garden’, Sydney Sunday Mirror, 10 October 1965. 10. Charis Thompson, ‘Back to Nature? Resurrecting Ecofeminism after Poststructuralist and Third-Wave Feminisms’, Isis, vol. 97, no. 3, September 2006: 505 – 512. 11. Eckett, op. cit: 14-15 12. Though Cope’s work also has an environmental element to it, any relationship to environmental feminism is absent, if only because ecofeminism lacked any sort of acknowledgment of intersectionality. Many attribute ecofeminism’s downfall to its privileging of white, middle-class feminism. For more see: Thompson, ‘Back to Nature? Resurrecting Ecofeminism after Poststructuralist and Third-Wave Feminisms’: 505 – 512.
8. Emily Floyd Discusses her work Kesh Alphabet (video), http://www.the-national.com. au/artists/emily-floyd/kesh-alphabet/, accessed 30 May 2017.
13. Kelly Greenop, ‘The Complicity of Australian Architecture in Colonisation and Beyond’, in Courting Blakness: Recalibrating Knowledge in the Sandstone University, eds. Fiona Foley, Louise Martin Chew, Fiona Nicoll, University of Queensland Press, 2015: 3239.
9. While King never claimed to be a feminist, there is, in retrospect, much evidence to show that as the only female member of Centre Five, as well as an educator in a very patriarchal system, she was not immune to the staunch gender binaries of
14. ABC Television segment on Megan Cope, The Mix, 8 April, 2017, http://www. abc.net.au/news/programs/the-mix/2017-04-08/the-mix/8428302, accessed 30 May, 2017.
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versus rodin: bodies across space and time at the Art GAllery of South Australia
or her first project as the Art Gallery of South Australia’s inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art, Leigh Robb has undertaken Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, an exhibition commemorating the centenary of Auguste Rodin’s death. Rather than curate an exhibition examining the considerable legacy of Rodin’s influence on individual art practices, Robb has used the idea of versus to create connections against, between and alongside the Art Gallery of South Australia’s sizable collection of Rodin sculptures. The Gallery acquired these in 1997 through the patronage of William Bowmore AO OBE, in conjunction with the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation and the Government of South Australia. Robb’s curatorial strategy allowed her to navigate the task of spotlighting the Gallery’s Rodin collection in keeping with the Gallery’s trans-historical curatorial mission, juxtaposing historical, modern and contemporary work to create new thematic dialogue. Robb has demonstrated great skill with an imposing display of work from 65 Australian and international contemporary artists. Rodin’s presence weighs heavily in the history of art. Known for his innovative practices that led the way to modern sculpture, Rodin embraced a desire to depict individual vitality and emotion through wrested form and surface. Counter to existing nineteenth-century polished, neo-classical approaches to the human form, Rodin’s sculptures transformed ways of seeing and thinking about the body. Further to these heroic statements, his work continues to permeate contemporary culture. For example The Kiss (1889) – not exhibited in this show – created to represent adulterous lovers condemned to Dante’s Inferno, is now a popular, anachronistic symbol of romantic passion. The Thinker (c.1880-1904) a hulking, meditating man, was a Google Doodle in 2012, and has been remade by Cody Choi from pink toilet paper and Pepto-Bismol at this year’s Venice Biennale. Such conceptual and physical transmutations speak to complex shifts in meaning and representation over time. As stated in the curatorial notes, the exhibition considers the following propositions: ‘How has the treatment of the body changed over this time? How and why have ideas and art forms shifted, and what is at stake today in the representation of the body 100 years on?’ The exhibition is organised into seven thematic galleries. Each theme has been curated around one or more of Rodin’s bronze sculptures. A
Left: Installation view Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2017.
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heady sense of anticipation and disorientation is felt upon descending into the galleries, as Xu Zhen’s monumental work Eternity, 2014-2015 looms into view. Zhen has plunged carved stone Chinese religious figures headlong into statues cast from the Parthenon. Stacked on a giant plinth and fused by their necks, this mash-up of Hellenistic and Buddhist statuary anticipates the intrepid character of Versus Rodin. Gallery 1, ‘The classical body’, acknowledges the deep influence classical sculpture had on Rodin, and its continuing effect within contemporary art. Travelling to Italy in 1876, Rodin claimed he felt liberated from academicism after studying the work of Michelangelo. The work in this room references classical forms and composition in order to question and critique contemporary values around race, gender, colonialism, consumerism, beauty and death. The pared-back palette of many of the works presented, within the dark verdigris walls, is reminiscent of an Italian Palazzo Museum. There are clever, poetic, visual and conceptual links between many of the works. A standout is Paul Pfeiffer’s photograph Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, No. 18 (2004), depicting a basketball player on court, mid-play. The artist has erased all other players, sponsorship and advertising signs. Today, much of our culture’s experience of the human body comes from viewing the competitive, global language of sport. By stripping away all identifying commercial features, we can view the spectacle of the body for its inherent strength and wonder. Pfeiffer’s work deliberately eschews any indication of the period in which it was made, resonating strongly with our contemporary viewing of the ancient marble sculpture Bowmore Artemis (c.180 AD). The display in Gallery 2, ‘The fragmented body’, resists the reductive impulse inherent in modernist sculpture and installation, and viewers are forced to manoeuvre between works exhibited on low plinths and scattered on walls. In much of Rodin’s work he embraced the unfinished, the partial, and the disembodied. These sculptures encapsulate a physical fragility and instability that connects with the provisional nature of much contemporary art. The exhibition also implies an awareness of the ways our bodies may be modified, augmented, transplanted and hybridised through science and technology. Seth Price’s unnerving, high-resolution digital image, Untitled (2015) works with this idea. Bruised or possibly dead skin appears like an illuminated medical sample, rather than a tactile, sensate organ. This image dictates a horrifying disconnection from the embodied human experience. Moving into ‘The erotic body gallery’, viewers are confronted with alarmingly red walls and plinths. This colour feels more ribald than erotic, and somewhat distracts from the multifaceted work within this cabinet-like space. Rodin’s two small wall-mounted bronzes, Iris, study with head (1891) and Flying Figure, large version (1890-91) stretch and expose themselves, through expressive, truncated translations of the female form. They are fixed to the wall at either end of a suite of drawings depicting acrobatic nude women, made from pale watercolour spills, stains, and delicate pencil articulations. Used to illustrate the 1899 book Le Jardin des supplices, (The Torture Garden), these works, together with the two sculptures, are a clear reminder of the sexualised muse, a role many women played in Rodin’s life.
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Rodin is often remembered for being predatory and exploitative of women while also acknowledging their sexuality. Interestingly, these works are positioned alongside pieces reflecting a contemporary shift in subjective, personal representations of female experience and desire, most notably by Kara Walker, Louise Bourgeois and Cecily Brown. Versus Rodin includes the work of many women, who use a variety of disciplines, materials and concepts to represent personal identity and the female form. These works would have been inconceivable in Rodin’s lifetime and demonstrate the impact feminism has had upon ideas and their expression over the last hundred years. Versus Rodin brings a tangible awareness of the spectator’s own body in space, as the design of this exhibition pushes, pulls and directs the gaze and actions of the audience. Rodin’s sculptures are rarely 1:1 human scale. A peculiar play between gigantic and miniature, fixed and mobile exists within each gallery. During a recent interview in Britain’s Telegraph, artist Phyllida Barlow described crouching down and looking up at a Rodin work, seeing how it ‘unfolds and refolds and unfolds again.’1 Gallery 4, ‘The body across space and time’ (in which Barlow’s exceptional sculpture untitled: bauhausledge 2014/15, 2015 is displayed), forces the audience into a similar position in order to view the work. Raised about 1.5 metres, the floor is intersected by two jagged paths to form three large, eccentric plinths. Sixteen sculptures are placed upon them. The plinths and walls are painted a warm grey, forming a still ground, suspending the sculptures at, and reaching above eye level. These platforms create a tension in the heaviness of the mostly vertical, metal, wood, steel, fabric, bronze and wax sculptures, generating a sense of irrational levitation. Rodin’s sculpture is perceived as a crucial link between traditional making and modernism. Through experimentation with form and assemblage, his way of using materials such as clay, marble, plaster and bronze challenged standard workshop practices. A deep connection to physical, material and conceptual experimentation is seen in Ben Leslie’s Untitled (The House of Vulture), 2016. Through the material language of home hardware and improvised making, this work playfully engages with the heroic statements and clichéd masculine tropes of modernist sculptural practices. Standing tall, it complements Thomas Houseago’s cast bronze Figure Head 1 (2013). Both these works reveal their making, sharing similar hacked and hewn surfaces that connect with Rodin’s powerful, yet vulnerable forms. Other works also impress and amuse. Ugo Rondinone’s cast-from-life, wax and bronze Nude (xxxxxxx) (2010) is an absurd contrast to another of his works, the energetic (2013), a simple figure constructed from small bluestone boulders piled upon each other. Julia Robinson’s, A sprat to catch a mackerel (2017) is a strange and whimsical fabric sculpture, which was especially commissioned for Versus Rodin. A spatial void exists in Gallery 5, ‘The emotive body’, to accommodate exhibition talks and the Australian Dance Theatre’s occasional performances. In contrast with the physical impact of moving around artworks, the emotive body is oddly cast out to the walls. Advantageously, this strategy allows the space necessary to view Felix Gonzalez Torres’ poignant Untitled (for Parkett), 1994. Another work deserving attention is Brent Harris’ The Fall (2012). These monotypes are nightmarish
Above: Installation view Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2017.
explorations of figures found through light and dark smears, wipes and lines, reminiscent of Goya and Francis Bacon, who are both included in this exhibition. Walking through to the ‘The mind and body gallery’, the viewing experience is realigned to focus upon portraiture. Triple Eye Vision (200002), a large Chris Ofili painting, features an eye beaded upon a piece of elephant dung, staring out to a gridded formation of sculptural heads and busts. Rodin’s expressive bronze portraits sit among contemporary works that focus mainly on fractured destruction. There is a stagnant energy between these works. Rodin’s portraits were arrived at through observations of physical form. Psychological states are represented through nuanced gesture, exaggerated facial features, falling locks of hair and voids that appear like eyes. Works by other artists use casts, splitting, crushing and disfiguring of the head. In this context they appear as comic one-liners compared with Rodin’s complex portrayals. An exception is Bharti Kher’s Girl Boy (2013), a reflection on blurred gender identity manifested through a magical hybrid creature. Hanging around the room are portraits that perceptively address empathy, imagination and identity. Mike Parr’s tough and relentless self-portrait, Head on a Plate (2012) is positioned expansively across one large wall, and Gillian Wearing’s four large photographs, containing the curious Me as Cahun Holding a Mask of My Face (2012) are a triumph of masquerade and performance. A muted aura fills the final gallery, ‘The Mortal body’. In this space Rodin’s sculpture of Pierre de Wissant (c.1886-87) stands alone in anguished contemplation. Created as part of a commemoration for the six Burghers of Calais who gave their lives for their country, this solitary figure is presented on ground level as Rodin envisaged. This permits careful study, with space to walk around, to observe the surface and form, and to feel the suffering expressed so eloquently. Surrounding this work are other pieces that give thoughtful consideration to mortality. Elvis Richardson’s found trophy parts melted and re-silvered are a gentle, yet
powerful prod to evaluate how, or what we might commemorate of a life lived. Dahn Vō’s elegant Untitled (2015) presents an ancient Roman sculpture on a fossilised limestone plinth from Mexico. Through collapsing culture, geography and time, Vō’s work poetically evokes contemporary concepts around art, migration and the transitory nature of existence. This is not an easy show to fully comprehend. Due to its ambitious premise, a more pared back undertaking would be difficult. Admittedly, the inclusion of so many works hindered the viewing of some individual pieces, however this scale of national and international work is rarely seen in Adelaide. To exclude work from artists such as Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Huma Bhaba, William Kentridge, Francis Upritchard and Antony Gormley would be self-defeating. Maybe some works from the AGSA’s collection could have been cut and I question why two large adjacent spaces, previously used for Magic Object and Sappers and Shrapnel, were not made available for Versus Rodin. (Storage was the reason given.) This raises two significant issues concerning the visual arts in South Australia. First, the absolute need for a new contemporary art space2 given how spatially challenged the Art Gallery of South Australia has become, and the other is the loss of Artists’ Week from the Adelaide Festival program. This was a great coming together of artists, curators, writers and academics with an international focus that is truly missed. Thankfully, Leigh Robb has managed to harness some of this energy in Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time. ENDNOTES 1. Alistair Sooke, ‘Phyllida Barlow on representing Britain at the Venice Biennale... and living in a slum’, The Telegraph, 6 May 2017, accessed 8 May 2017, http://www. telegraph.co.uk/art/artists/phyllida-barlow-struggling-sell-art-50-years-lives-slum/ 2.Announced by the SA Government on June 22, the 2017-18 state budget provides $1.9 million to AGSA for the design of Adelaide Contemporary (to be located on the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site).
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kevin ballantine photographs 1986-2001 and here&now17: new photography
n 26 September 1983, the yacht Australia II made history when it wrested the oldest sporting trophy in the world, the America’s Cup, from the United States of America. This victory ended a 132 year monopoly, and won Fremantle the right to host the prestigious international event. It was the first time I had heard of the America’s Cup. The following day it was all anyone could talk about, regurgitating word for word media headlines and prime ministerial boasts, feeding on the jingoistic euphoria of something about which we really knew nothing. These were my last few months in Australia, and I was leaving on a contrived high. I returned to Western Australia in the summer of 1986-‘87, by chance not intent, in time for the first America’s Cup not held in the USA. Like most Australians, I was excited about the transformations I anticipated, but like Ballantine found that not much changed. The state government had adopted the slogan ‘W.A. Home of the America’s Cup’; trading hours and liquor laws were extended to provide for the promised boom in tourism, and Fremantle tried hard to redevelop and re-brand itself with a European feel. The frenzied lead-up had created a level of interest that did not translate to activity. The commotion that did ensue was confused, somehow manufactured, niche and exclusive and what we were actually left with was a sense of lost expectation. It is this failed attempt to change and almost forcibly internationalise the fundamental character of a place and its people that is manifest in Cup City. People, billboards, cafes and newly built boardwalks languish in splendid isolation. The yacht race itself was an invisible competition. Ballantine captured this failure, this over-hyped, hypothetical rebirth in one of his most significant bodies of work, Cup City (1983, 1986-87). The images have a sense of absurdism about them. A photographic Waiting for Godot, where the sheer emptiness and ordinariness of the images cause the viewer to wonder if anything is actually happening, if there is any meaning in the narrative, or indeed if there is a narrative at all. The unpeopled photographs are imbued with a sense of disappointment, the relics and remnants of an event in an impassive landscape. When they do appear, the human subjects are waiting for something to happen, but their demeanour does not express anticipation or excitement.
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I was compelled to find something in the images that justified the 1980s yellow and black number plates emblazoned with WA The State of Excitement. Instead I was drawn back to the austerity of the blinding light in each photograph. The light in Ballantine’s photographs is unrelenting. It reveals, while at the same time its intensity forces the eye to turn away; it seems to imply a subversive undercurrent of meaning, an uneasiness and awkwardness, which is both hidden in and masked by the glaring light. Cup City is one of six photographic series represented in a survey of the formative and seminal work of Ballantine at Lawrence Wilson Gallery. Curated by Sarah Quin, the exhibition also includes the series Cottesloe Beach (1988), Town Pictures (1989), Protest Pictures (1986-1990), Great Eastern Highway (1989) and Beach Pictures (2000-’01). A key unofficial communicator of the Perth photographic scene, Ballantine’s early work highlighted an aspirational coming of age of a city and its culture, a place on the cusp of maturity, yet still unsophisticated and tentative. In particular, the images of Cup City (1987), Cottesloe Beach (1988) and Great Eastern Highway (1989) are not innocent documentary pictures, but critical and convincing social historical documents, capturing an underlying uncertainty and a sometimes muddled sense of ‘self ’ in all its authenticity, about what it means to be of this place. Ballantine’s interest lies in the local and the connection to ‘his’ place. The photographs are quasi-autobiographical, driven as much by the lure of the subject matter as by personal circumstance. The late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s in Perth were a time of selfdiscovery, a search for renewed self-expression and self-worth that no longer sought the historically prerequisite stamp of approval from the ‘authorities’ of the eastern shores. The oft-integrated art and music scene was quickly building a foundation, which disputed notions of dislocation, invisibility and provincialism as negative identifiers. Rather than being constrained and inhibited by these theoretical models, artists began to develop a healthy dose of self-centredness and to explore their own responses to their surroundings, their experiences in a context of self-situated knowledge.
It was a time when artists began to shape the direction of the local industry on their own terms. After PRAXIS had set some of the basic principles in the late 1970s, artist run spaces began infiltrating all areas of Perth’s urban and suburban centres. Spaces such as Gotham Studios, the Beach Studios, Jacksue Gallery, Spiral Studios, Verge Gallery and Kurb were instrumental in nurturing a fresh dialogue, which aspired to rouse, debunk and challenge outdated perceptions of place and local identity. Ballantine was part of a generation of photographers who developed out of this burgeoning Western Australian artistic scene, which included photographers Max Pam, Jeff Atkinson, Miriam Stannage, John Austin, Max Moore, and Pam Kleeman, and more recently Graham Miller, Toni Wilkinson, Rebecca Dagnell, Kate McMillan, Jacqueline Ball and Brad Rimmer. This strong core of photomedia artists represents a key chapter in the Australian photographic narrative.1 In 1975, Ballantine left Australia, travelled across Europe and subsequently settled in London. Although he had already experimented with photography while teaching in the wheat belt town of Wongan Hills, only in 1975 did he buy his first camera; a Pentax Spotmatic. His first uninterrupted body of work documented his life with his future wife Joelle between 1975 and 1976, and laid the groundwork for his personalised and self-reflexive approach to photography. By his own admission, Ballantine’s work is influenced by the great urban photographers of post-war Europe and New York, such as Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank and Josef Koudelka, as well as the work of contemporary street photographers of the 1970s. On his return to Perth in 1976, Ballantine embraced and transformed these influences and directions into a personal vision of his hometown. Great Eastern Highway (1989) presents the subject matter as both ambiguous and archetypal, with a similar receptiveness and respect for the vernacular landscape as Stephen Shore’s series Uncommon Places (1982). Ballantine’s early interest in alternative film and film culture also played a role in shaping his aesthetic. Town Pictures (1989), taken at the Perth Railway Station while commuting from work to home are darker than the other series. Although the station is generally a hub of activity, these images appear in slow motion, every action of their subjects neutralised by stillness. This focuses attention on the surroundings, a contemplative pause that highlights the discordance between location and subject. The images of Town Pictures (1989) suggest a connection to the observational qualities of Italian neorealist cinema. Having grown up on a staple diet of Bitter Rice (1949), I see Ballantine’s almost documentary styled authenticity as reminiscent of Neorealism’s scenes of mundane and quotidian activities, devoid of all self-consciousness. His work reasserts this sensibility, in order to represent the Western Australian psyche, somewhat ironically highlighting a sense of contemporary disengagement at a time of flux and change without, however, turning the narrative into an existential crisis. The Great Eastern Highway (1989) photographs are similarly spectral. The seeming monotony of urban and rural expanses, the vacuum of activity and dilapidated buildings are punctuated by the signage of lotteries and
Above: Kevin Ballantine, Town Pictures, (1989), inkjet prints on Hahnemuehle paper, 38.7 x 38.7cm, series of 14. Following page: Lydia Trethewey, On this Particular Day I was Happy About the Future, (2017) solvent wash, 82 x 111.9cm.
tourist centres, and local news of a shotgun killing. Taken on a road trip through the wheatbelt towns in midwest Western Australia, these images embody a similar detachment, albeit much more sombre than the Cup City series. In both bodies of work, each image is a potential ‘frame’ which has a kind of permutating quality, where the strength of the narrative is embedded in each distinct image, not expressly tied to a fixed progressive or chronological sequence. Protest Pictures (1986-1990) also sit comfortably within the overarching narrative and reveal more overtly Ballantine’s fascination with the thencurrent social climate. This work documents a history of local activism and engagement, a political coming of age across local and international platforms. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, local Western Australian artists (across media demarcations) effortlessly came together united by common causes. Unknowingly at the time, Ballantine captured local artist Thomas Hoareau – whose painterly thematics mirrored Ballantine’s own – in one of the protest photographs, opposing the visit to Fremantle by nuclear powered warships. Ballantine’s Cottesloe Beach (1988) and Beach Pictures (2000) are part of an Australian narrative that has been explored by numerous photographers, such as Max Dupain, Narelle Autio and Trent Parke. Cottesloe Beach comments on a time where the beach was almost a familial ‘back yard’. The beach is crowded, and while the bathers still stand relatively isolated from one another, there is a sense of communal belonging and less of the social atrophy present in other works. Taken twelve years later, the Beach Pictures series is much darker, conceptually if not aesthetically. The stillness in these later works induces foreboding. The emptiness of the ocean, the soft lapping of the water generated by the discreet movement of the swimmer, creates a sense of cinematic suspense. There are no points of reference to time and space; the entirety of the ocean and sky fill the frame and fuel a sense of impending danger.
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paola anselmi In her catalogue essay, curator Sally Quin addresses the marked shift of interest – particularly in Western Australian photography – from a metropolitan subject matter to sparsely populated and seemingly marginalised narratives; she notes Ballantine’s quasi journalistic approach to street photography. ‘Ballantine did not “set-up” his street images, rather maintaining an interest in the direct portrayal of daily life, and in the profound reality of where you are.’2 While Quin is referring to Cup City, this approach translates across almost all the work represented in the exhibition.
abstract, almost lyrical evocation of the location. Burton, Trethewey and Kaw individually explore surfaces, content, and the physical act of production, connectivity and circulation models within photo-based culture. The exhibition does, as Hopper intended ‘open up a space for new ways of thinking about photography’,3 bringing into play the many and varied experimentations that photographic artists have and will continually confront in an ongoing re-evaluation of their photographic practice with the aim of ensuring the medium remains current and relevant.
Ballantine’s frank, understated and sometimes-unflattering photographs, depict Western Australia amidst changing social times. Feelings and personal narrative are embedded in the work, but not overtly paraded as content. His work does not mock or ridicule but invites a self-reflexive, sometimes ironic gaze to ponder the beauty in the banal, the importance of the commonplace and the absurdity of the everyday.
Kevin Ballantine Photographs 1986-2001 and HERE&NOW17: New Photography were exhibited at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery in Perth, Western Australia from 29 April – 8 July 2017.
In the adjoining gallery, HERE&NOW17: New Photography curated by Chelsea Hopper brought together Jacqueline Ball, Scott Burton, Lucy Griggs, Dan McCabe, Lydia Trethewey and Georgina Kaw; six artists exploring and pushing the parameters of the photographic medium. These artists are traversing similar territory to Ballantine’s earlier works, questioning and disrupting accepted models of interpretation of self expression, photographic methodology and frameworks of assumptions, through the manipulation of the medium rather than subject matter. The photographs range from the more traditional approach, as is the case with the self-exploratory work of Ball, through to Griggs, who explores the early photographic technique of the cyanotype to create images, which defy viewers’ expectations of what constitutes a photograph. Rejecting photographic images as a testament to memory, McCabe reconstructs the images in blocks of colour in an
ENDNOTES 1.Since the 1950s, WA photographic art practice has generally been explored through a national lens or by local exemplars from a recurrent small reference pool, if at all. This has led to an interpretation of WA photography through external criteria, canons and interpretations that are often incongruous with a specificity of place and history and has overlooked the breadth and diversity of practice. The photographers cited convey counter narratives, challenge and invert dominant stories by deconstructing existing allusions, representations and preconceived histories that sit in the shadow between fact and fiction about what constitutes an Australian identity and sense of place. 2. Sally Quin, Kevin Ballantine Photographs 1986-2001, Nedlands, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, 2017: 7. 3. Chelsea Hopper, Here&Now17: New Photography, Nedlands, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, 2017.
The Drawing Exchange 7 Aug – 22 Sept 2017 A collaboration between Australia’s top* art schools
The Drawing Exchange brings together artists from around Australia to produce new works directly on the walls of Adelaide Central School of Art and the National Art School (NAS) in Sydney. Featuring more than 15 significant Australian artists, including Christopher Orchard, SALA Festival Monograph Artist for 2017 (pictured). *Adelaide Central School of Art was recently identified as second in the Australian QILT Student Experience Survey, acheiving an overall student satisfaction score of 91.2%. NAS scored 92%.
August Sunday 20 10am – 4pm
image | Christopher Orchard in action during Drawing Month (2014) at Adelaide Central School of Art. Photograph by Alycia Bennett
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LIVING ARTISTS
A 19 98â€“
A U G U S T 2 0 1 7 / S A L A F E S T I VA L . C O M / # S A L A F E S T I VA L S
Artist / Christopher Orchard, Thrown (swirl 1), 2012, charcoal on paper, 1078 x 1650mm
F E S T I VA L
Published on Jul 14, 2017
The winter issue of Broadsheet Journal features artist profiles by Sophie Knezic (Christian Thompson), Amelia Winata (Megan Cope and Emily F...