Journal 46.3 art / criticism / Theory
VOLUME 46.3 2017
IMAGE COURTESY OF SKOWHEGAN SCHOOL OF PAINTING & SCULPTURE
NEW INTERNATIONAL ARTS RESIDENCY SKOWHEGAN SCHOOL OF PAINTING & SCULPTURE An intensive nine-week residency program for emerging visual artists, established in 1946. Located on a historic 350 acre farm in rural Maine, New York State, USA, the residency brings together artists who demonstrate a commitment to artmaking and inquiry. It provides a stimulating and rigorous environment for artistic creation, interaction, and growth.
OTHER HELPMANN ACADEMY INTERNATIONAL ARTS RESIDENCIES BRITISH SCHOOL AT ROME RESIDENCY ROME, ITALY A fully funded three-month residency at Britain’s leading humanities institute. Applications now open Closing 1 December 2017 THE POTTERY WORKSHOP RESIDENCY JINGDEZHEN, CHINA SANSKRITI KENDRA RESIDENCY NEW DELHI, INDIA Applications open April 2018
Participants enjoy individual studio spaces, access to a sculpture studio, a fresco studio, a media lab, a library composed of over 10,000 volumes, over 300-acres of farmland, forests, and lakefront. The Skowhegan experience has a profound effect on the work and lives of participating artists. This opportunity is fully funded by the Helpmann Academy, including airfares.
APPLICATIONS OPEN 15 NOVEMBER 2017 FOR MORE INFO OR TO APPLY VISIT HELPMANNACADEMY.COM.AU
Empowering South Australia’s best emerging artists to realise their visions and build sustainable practices. @HelpmannAcademy helpmannacademy.com.au
Gabriel Abrantes (PRT) Barbara Cleveland (AUS) Matthew Griffin (AUS) Glenn Ligon (USA) Mary Reid Kelley (USA) Mika Rottenberg (ARG)
07.10 16.12.17 Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat 12 – 5pm Free entry www.monash.edu/muma
Mika Rottenberg, Squeeze 2010 (video still) © Mika Rottenberg. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
CONTRIBUTORS Esther Anatolitis is a writer and facilitator and is the incoming Executive Director of NAVA. She is currently Adjunct Professor in artistic practice at Federation University and has taught in the studio program at RMIT Architecture + Design. Her critical and cultural commentary is widely published, appearing in current editions of Overland, Meanjin, Assemble Papers and the Daily Review, as well as at estheranatolitis.net. Glenn Barkley is an artist, writer, curator and gardener based in Sydney and Berry NSW, Australia. Recent major exhibitions include yetmorecontemporaryart, Artspace, Sydney (2017); the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Magic Object, Art Gallery of South Australia (2016). Barkley was previously senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (2008– 14) and curator of the University of Wollongong Art Collection (1996–2007). He is co-founder and co-director of The Curators Department, Sydney and of kil.n.it experimental ceramics studio Glebe, Sydney. Rex Butler teaches art history in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University. He has recently completed Outside In: 10 Essays on UnAustralian Art with A.D.S. Donaldson.
Sera Waters is an Adelaide-based artist and writer, and lecturer at Adelaide Central School of Art. Currently she is a PhD candidate at University of South Australia supported by an Australian Government Research scholarship. Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi scholar and poet. She is a 2017 Fulbright scholar at Harvard Law School. Alison works in Indigenous feminisms and legal systems, and in related critical theory, reform and policy. Her debut book Lemons in the Chicken Wire received the 2015 State Library of Queensland black&write! Fellowship. Her next collection is blakwork – through Magabala in 2018.
Pedro de Almeida is Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. He recently curated the survey exhibition Dacchi Dang: An Omen Near and Far (2017) for 4A, and participated in Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2017 in Kolkata, India.
editorial advisory board
A.D.S. Donaldson is a practising artist who teaches at the National Art School in Sydney. With Rex Butler, he has recently written an essay for the journal Artmargins, arguing that Australian provincialism never existed.
Robert Cook (Western Australia)
Wes Hill teaches art history and visual culture in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University, Northern NSW.
Léuli Eshraghi (Kulin Nation Territory)
Sophie Knezic is a visual artist and scholar, who works between practice and theory. 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.
Helen Hughes (Victoria)
Ruth McDougall is Curator, Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. Her curatorial work includes No 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016 and Threads: Contemporary Textiles and the Social Fabric (2011). McDougall was part of the Curatorial team for the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2015), the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2012) as well as the ‘Pacific Textiles Project’ in the 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2006).
Djon Mundine (New South Wales)
CEO Editor Production Manager Advertising Manager Designer Layout Publisher Printing
Liz Nowell Wendy Walker Sarita Burnett Stephanie Lyall David Corbet Justin Chadwick ACE Open Newstyle Printing
ISSN 0819 677X © Copyright 2017, Broadsheet Journal, the authors and artists. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Print post approved PP53 1629/00022 Broadsheet JOURNAL ACE Open, Lion Arts Centre, North Terrace, Kaurna Yarta, South Australia 5000 Tel +61  8211 7505 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org • www.aceopen.art Advertising and subscription inquiries may be sent to: email@example.com
Broadsheet Journal can be viewed, cover to cover, at www.aceopen.art
Francis Plagne is a musician and writer from Melbourne. He has written texts for exhibitions at Gertrude Contemporary, Heide Museum of Modern Art, and Monash University Museum of Art. His writing on contemporary art has also been published in Discipline and unMagazine, among others, and he is a contributor to the MEMO art review blog: memoreview.net.
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
Claire Bishop (USA) Rex Butler (Victoria)
Pedro de Almeida (New South Wales)
Alexie Glass-Kantor (New South Wales)
Carol Yinghua Lu (China) Jacqueline Millner (New South Wales) Daniel Mudie Cunningham (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: Hannah Bronte, Mother Lava, (2017), digital image, 2017. From ACE Open TARNANTHI Festival exhibition Next Matriarch, 14 October - 9 December, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. 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.
Broadsheet Journal is assisted by the Government of South Australia through Arts SA and the Australian Government through the Australia Council and supported by the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory governments. ACE Open is an initiative of Contemporary SA Incorporated.
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3 CONTENTS PEDRO DE ALMEIDA Gary Carsley’s disobedient ventriloquism will have its revenge on Australia and we might not even notice it
WES HILL Claire Lambe: Something Horrific
REX BUTLER and A.D.S. DONALDSON The Field at 50
FRANCIS PLAGNE Still life with guitar: encounters with experimental music in contemporary art
ALISON WHITTAKER read anthropocene wovewake
GLENN BARKLEY ILL COMMUNICATION SOPHIE KNEZIC Sound into sound: Anri Sala’s acoustic translations
SERA WATERS Still-ness: activating the ‘still’ rhythms of generational feminism
ESTHER ANATOLITIS The politics of the local: Australia’s regional galleries
RUTH McDOUGALL Ples bilong mi (place belong me) Taloi Havini: Habitat
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
PEDRO DE ALMEIDA
Gary Carsleyâ€™s disobedient ventriloquism will have its revenge on Australia and we might not even notice it
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
began in Australia among her Xanthorrhoea glauca, already at least three centuries old judging by their height. This species of grass tree, as it is more commonly known, is native to the rocky valleys and sandy fringes of coastal New South Wales and, to a lesser extent, the south-east corner of Queensland. Such flora grows a modest single centimetre per annum with a lifespan of about 600 years. Immediately, a tangential historical calculation filled my mind — what is circumstance without happenstance? For instance, theoretically one could encounter a living specimen in Sydney that sprung from sodden earth as Richard III fell at Bosworth Field, for unlike plants, kings so wise, so young, they say, do never live long. From here, I advanced to South America where, like Darwin before me, I paused in the shadow of her towering Jubaea chilensis, Chilean wine palms that were amusingly if not memorably described by the theorist of evolution by natural selection as ‘a very ugly tree’ upon first sighting as the Beagle anchored at Concepción. Ambling through Tierra del Fuego, I made my way up to the Mediterranean to bask among her Quercus suber, or cork oaks, that like to congregate in Iberian forests. Departing this charmed clime, I found myself funnelled into a staircase and, descending it, arrived at a stupendously vibrant field of flowers. I marvelled at their stamens fringed by petals; erections, pretty if not patient, programmed by evolution to invite promiscuity from bees that might never come to pollinate as Nature had intended. Indeed, how could they, under the hermetically sealed prophylactic glasshouse dome of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay? Billed as ‘a showpiece of horticulture and garden artistry that presents the plant kingdom in a whole new way, entertaining while educating visitors with plants seldom seen in this part of the world,’ Gardens by the Bay is the jewel in the city state’s strategic rebranding from a ‘Garden City’ to a ‘City in a Garden’.1 The tourist attraction’s panoply of climate-controlled domes, multi-storey water features, elevated walkways and designer ‘Supertrees’ — their LED canopies glowing like giant torches proffered to the heavens in celestial invocation — draws an annual visitation pushing 9 million. Built on reclaimed land comprising millions of cubic tonnes of sand purchased from Singapore’s south-east Asian neighbours, the Gardens are sited in prime location facing the Straits, the narrow watery passage through which a quarter of the world’s traded goods shimmies. Despite the futuristic curves of its architectural grandeur, this green-thumbed engineering project is not especially new, representing merely one of the more recent terrestrial manifestations of the naked ambition of nation building — since it became an independent nation 52 years ago, Singapore has grown a quarter in size through land reclamation, proportionally more than any other country on earth.2 Back inside the branded Flower Dome, rather than swatting away amorous bees I was engulfed instead within a swarm of the global leisure class: hundreds of visitors speaking perhaps in as many tongues, seemingly overjoyed and bored in equal measure, snapping away on their phones, mostly selfies with the carefully tended Gardens utilised as mere backdrop. Or, more accurately given the pictorial limitations of platforms such as Instagram and its kind, the Gardens were further appropriated as digital wallpaper in front of which collective vanity paraded. As the selfies chimed #ilovesg in unison, the Singapore Tourism Board smiled in real time. It might take a misanthrope not to join them. Left: Gary Carsley, D.105 Astria Portia Montreal/Brisbane (2013), lambda monoprint, wall pins and lambda monoprint applied to IKEA Gilbert Chair. 240 x 240 x 60 cms (shown animated by Sydney artist Louise Zhang).
And yet, it might only take an artist. Something in this experience of Singapore – courtesy of a stop-over on my way to somewhere else, a convenience that underpins Lee Kuan Yew’s foundational strategy for the island’s economic growth – reminded me of the work of Australian artist Gary Carsley. But if I’m honest, I hardly needed the prompt; I was fully aware that at the very moment of my perambulatory audit of curated vegetation the artist himself was stepping off a plane at Changi.3 He was present for a meeting at the National Gallery of Singapore (NGS) to discuss the progress of a new work in development as part of the institution’s OUTBOUND series of site-specific commissions led by NGS curator Adele Tan. Carsley’s planned spatial intervention, scheduled to be unveiled next year across the surfaces and crevices of the staircase that leads from the third floor to the rooftop sculpture garden, is suitably sited in the light-filled breach that connects the two houses built to embody state power – the former Supreme Court and City Hall building – that were conjoined in 2015 for the purposes of housing culture.4 This specific context presents an opportunity for a performance of what Carsley calls his disobedient ventriloquism, a term he utilises to signal his deployment of theoretical as well as formal methodologies of ‘queering’ the image. This is for him an essential objective if art is to have any ‘capacity to be corrosive of normativity,’ and instead be able to stretch the surface tension of images to reveal the paradigmatic structures that frame them.5 City governments love to talk about so-called place-making, especially from a top down perspective. Few artists do or can, even from their customary bottom up viewpoint; fewer still with a precision of place and its historical sense that amplifies more than the sound of their own opportunistic itinerant passage through the welcoming ports of Art World Inc.6 ‘I grew up in Brisbane and there you have to be able to negotiate a position relative to Sydney and to Melbourne as well as to the rest of the world’, Carsley admits before further confessing, ‘I am (as you might imagine living as we do on the edge of Asia) interested in authorial models that are regional in origin. Really anything that originates outside the white tribal homelands is intriguing to me in the context of Australia and its evolving identity.’ This clearly applies to the conception of Carsley’s signature draguerrotypes, a teasing coinage adopted for digital photographic renderings of gardens from around the world schematised into alluring arrangements of faux wood grain swatches outputted as Lambda monoprints that he has produced since 2002. These highly constructed images are defined by Carsley’s paradoxical decision to make them at once inimitable as noneditioned material entities (as silvered copper daguerreotypes were and remain), while flaunting the practically infinite options available for their application thanks to their inherent digital reproducibility. Moreover, deferring to the artist’s endlessly inventive incantations when theorising his own practice, Carsley’s draguerrotypes can be regarded as transimages ‘that resist cohering within cisimagistic paradigms such as hybridity … [and are instead] dubitative and reject the validity of temporal binaries exemplified by the contrasting terms past and present or the dichotomy of art and craft, a schizophrenic cleft more pervasive in Australia than elsewhere.’ A close reading of the emergence of Carsley’s draguerrotypes suggests that not for nothing did his investigation begin with a quartet of garden scenes of Monticello, Virginia (designated D.1–4 in a sequence now approaching D.111 with the forthcoming NGS commission), before leaving the stately neoclassical realm of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation villa for the dense vegetation of Kurnell, Botany Bay National Park, Sydney BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
PEDRO DE ALMEIDA (D.10, 2003), among numerous other local sites.7 For all the differences between colonial American and Australian conceptions of land and liberty, Carsley’s adroit selection of gardens as sites for an aesthetics of intersectionality show themselves capable of encompassing transhistorical comparisons between, on the one hand, the ignominy of Jefferson’s declaration of unalienable rights that served no slave in his time with, on the other, the shameful sanctimonies of sovereignty that have been on plentiful display since the First Fleet sailed through the heads of Botany Bay. That’s a lot of responsibility for some decorative garden pictures to hold. But as Carsley puts it, ‘The garden has been both subject and object in my practice for more than 20 years … I’m not interested in a practice that generates images of struggle, but a practice that embodies struggle itself. I regard memory as a site of resistance … the paradox of moving forward while going back.’ Such a clear-sighted dictum is fortified by Carsley’s persistent fondling of the double-sided coin of beauty and venality, a currency he believes has held its value from the Greeks, the Church and the Royal Court until now. He summarises: Since 2009, I have been investigating the validity of Neo-medievalism as a model for interpreting globalisation as it impacts on the evolving cultural and political economy, and to consider the implications of Neo-medievalism as a framework for negotiating atemporality and anachronic time, when applied to my practice.
This philosophy is exemplified in the conception of the ambitious body of work grouped under the rubric Sciencefictive that was staged over twelve months in 2014–15 in Brisbane, Ulm, Singapore and New Jersey.8 Sciencefictive was conceived as a hortus conclusus, a Latin term meaning ‘enclosed garden’ that in late-medieval painting was employed as a setting for depictions of the Virgin Mary and motif for Immaculate Conception (as the visual metaphor would have it: enclosed garden, enclosed womb). Throughout each gallery/garden Carsley arranged a complex yet cohesive suite of component works, most prominently a series of what he calls Moongates/Stargates. These beautiful draguerrotyped renditions of scenes of parks and gardens from around the world (Pfaueninsel Park, Berlin; Chapultepec Park, Mexico City; Toohey Forest, Brisbane; among others) are framed by designs of moon gates, traditional architectural elements of Chinese gardens that act as pedestrian passageways, sourced from specific examples (correspondingly, The Moongate of the Garden of the Palace Museum, Taipei; The Moongate of the Montreal Chinese Garden; The Moongate of the Singapore Chinese Garden). Riffing on the 1994 Hollywood sci-fi film Stargate and subsequent TV series, premised on the emergence of an ancient ring-shaped device that creates a wormhole enabling travel to a similar device elsewhere in the universe, Carsley conflates the expansion of the principles of soft power (Chinese gardens have proliferated throughout the world since Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing especially) with the pliable commodification of culture (evidenced by the long tail of revenue generated by the Stargate franchise). Additionally, Sciencefictive saw each art institution treated as more than mere venue, but rather as the centre of the universe. Each gallery space in which the project was presented was conceived as a mappa 8
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mundi whereby the exhibition’s host city was encircled by Carsley’s Moongate/Stargates arranged in an order that aligned with their relative geographical distance and direction from the institution. These works were accompanied by Carsley’s long-standing appropriation of pieces of IKEA furniture as readymade sculptures. The LACK side table for instance, introduced to the world by IKEA in 1979 and by now its most iconic product priced at a ridiculously low $9.95, is transformed by a Lambda skin of imagery generated by the artist as digital pietra dura. Thus, in a single object of domestic banality Carsley extends the symbolic import of his Moongates/Stargates by contrasting the humanist tradition of hand-made mosaic inlay with the corporate fallacy of ‘democratisation’ perpetuated by a so-called economy of scale of ‘good design’ for global consumers. Broader implications of the seemingly unstoppable march of neoliberalism (merely a synonym for Neo-medievalism in Carsley’s view) may be considered within a single sculptural component of Sciencefictive, in this case his appropriation of IKEA’s PAX wardrobe. Following its previous iterations, the PAX was repurposed for The National 2017, Sydney’s fresh multi-venue biennial showcase of new Australian art. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) the wardrobe was installed flush with a wall covered by a monochromatic photographic image of New York’s Wave Hill Public Gardens, ‘renowned for its intimacy of scale and carefully cultivated serendipity.’9 Opening its doors revealed a trompe l’oeil, an effect created by lining the wardrobe’s interior with D.100 Wave Hill/A Tree Struck by Lightning (2014–17). This immediately transported viewers as if through an astria porta, to its more local namesake in the Northern Territory, best known as the scene of the Wave Hill WalkOff, a 1966 strike by Aboriginal workers for better pay and conditions. Gingerly stepping inside to take a seat upon its accompanying IKEA GILBERT chair, I was struck by the question: who can argue we don’t now find ourselves in a world, let alone a museum, that seems to all intents and purposes pre-arranged like one big IKEA showroom? As New Yorker journalist Lauren Collins observed at IKEA’s store in Hyllie, a suburb of the Swedish city of Malmö, which is maintained by the conglomerate as its ‘everyday best practice’ store: Those customers who would like to veer off the IKEA-approved route often cannot find the exit. IKEA stores have secret doors, like those in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: one can step through them and go directly from Living Rooms (which an IKEA store always starts with) to Children’s Rooms (‘Cots are our ticket to building a lifelong relationship with our core customers,’ according to an internal report) without having to look at two hundred bath mats on the way. But hidden portals are almost impossible to find: if sticky eyeballs are the metric of success on the Internet, then IKEA rules sticky feet.10
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Carsley’s character is his capacity to revel in, rather than be repelled by, superficial engagement with his transimages (at the MCA I spied him expressing genuine elation as gallery-goers, including prominent collectors, primped and posed within its interior for instant social media likes), while at the same articulating the work’s underlying structural premise in the most serious of terms:
The rise of Neo-medievalism means that how workers organise themselves to resist exploitation is no longer a question limited in its relevance to the developing world. The accelerating collapse in the value of labour relative to that of capital, linked to the processes of globalisation detailed in Thomas Friedman’s Neo-feudal vision of the Flat World is not confined to the real economy; it is present in a heightened form in the cultural economy; paradoxically, more so in the art world, than anywhere else.11
Carsley’s contribution to The National was ensconced within the MCA’s low-ceilinged second floor, a perfect site for an artist who routinely designs his wallpapered settings at the domestic scale of 240 centimetres in height, this being the legal minimum for a space to be defined a ‘Habitable Room’ under the Building Code of Australia. Entering the room one heard the baritone of a familiar voice. Into The Paper Walls Part IV – On The Wings of An Eagle (2017), the only moving image work in Carsley’s installation, was a kind of drag performance, which mashed the artist’s lipstick-painted mouth on marble busts of Cicero and Pericles that lip-synched Gough Whitlam’s 1972 election campaign opening speech. This era-defining moment, delivered in the heart of working class suburban Sydney at Blacktown Civic Centre, resoundingly ushered in massive social and cultural change following the stifling conservative grip on Australian politics and polity in the post WWII period.12 The unashamed visual humour of the performance (although it must be said that whatever spirit of camp Carsley brought to it has always been present in Gough’s showmanship) was balanced by the profundity of its pronouncements. For the 15-year-old artist at the time, poised on the cusp of his coming of age just as the nation teetered into cosmopolitanism, Whitlam’s statesmanship tantalised Carsley’s latent artistic impulses with its transcendence of the cultural cringe: ‘We have a new chance for our nation. We can recreate this nation. We have a new chance for our region. We can help recreate this region.’13 Staying with seminal public pronouncements, Carsley is fond of recalling the impact of first hearing Brisbane-born compatriot David Malouf ’s Boyer Lecture of 1998 on ABC Radio. The lecture affirmed Carsley’s perceptions of constructed landscapes as embodiments of oppression and suppression at the level of the individual and the nation. Titled A Spirit of Play: The Making of Australian Consciousness, Malouf ’s oratory rumination included a passage devoted to the idea of the Australian landscape, stressing ‘the landscape the first settlers came upon … was a product of [Aboriginal] culture, and a reflection of it, every bit as much as the landscapes of Italy or France or England.’14 Moreover, this observation advanced a more critical proposition: In a continent as large as ours, there are many kinds of landscape, and all of them typical of a particular region, no one of them more authentically Australian than another … The old idea that everywhere in Australia looks the same — the myth of the great Australian uniformity — was just that, a myth. It was meant, I think, to confirm an Australian need. The landscape was to be our model for a corresponding conformity in the body social and politic. Perhaps you need to believe in the idea of diversity before you develop an eye for it in the world about you.15
Above: Gary Carsley, Into The Paper Walls Part IV (2017), two- channel HD video, 4.38 mins, wallpaper environment. Detail (Pericles/Whitlam/Carsley). Image courtesy of the artist.
It is this predisposition toward conformity in the Australian national psyche – social, intellectual, aesthetic or otherwise – that animates Carsley’s idea of himself and of his practice as a disobedient ventriloquist. Crucially, Carsley goes further than Malouf by advancing within his practice a charge for artists to reveal, resist and finally ridicule its foundational premise, while never forgetting that subversion is not mutually exclusive with the idea of entertainment. Like the showman who is given moral licence to tease taboos and slay shibboleths by animating a doll sitting on his knee, Carsley exploits otherwise inanimate, mute and dumb playthings for ulterior motive. Such toys delight audiences with their frivolity in contradistinction to the greater demands made by the objects of artists’ labour; with a voice thrown in our direction, Carsley’s wry yet pleasing tone ensures all eyes stay on the dummy, dummy. We’d best be careful: round these parts at least, if we don’t develop a collective ear for it Gary Carsley’s disobedient ventriloquism will have its revenge on Australia and we might not even notice it.16
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Endnotes 1. See http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg 2. See Samanth Subramanian, ‘How Singapore is creating more land for itself,’ The New York Times, 20 April 2017. Subramanian cites Singaporean artist Charles Lim Yi Ying’s Sea State body of work – Singapore’s representative at the Venice Biennale 2015 – as an example of how art has responded to this phenomenon. 3. Ever since encountering John Clark’s ‘The 1968 “Euronale” of Sydney and other matters’ in these pages (Contemporary Visual Art + Culture Broadsheet, vol. 37, no. 3, 2010, Singapore Biennale special issue), I’ve wanted to steal his memorable coinage ‘perambulatory auditor’ as a deliciously droll term for what can sometimes feel like the perfunctory tabulation of the art-goer. So now I have. 4.Carsley’s research and development for this NGS commission is supported by Asialink Arts under its 2017 Residency Program. 5. All quotes from the artist are taken from conversation and correspondence with the author, July–September 2017. 6. ‘The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence … This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.’ T.S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the individual talent’ (1919) in Selected essays, London: Faber & Faber, 1932: 14. In conversation Carsley often cites this essay as formative of his own disdain for artists’ amnesiac forays into culture, thus forming an unexpected bond with the maudlin modern poet and Lloyd’s banker. Interestingly, Carsley renounced Catholicism early in life, while Eliot turned to it later in his, though the former is known to never be seen without rosary beads draped across his upper torso. 7. The first 50 draguerrotypes can be perused sequentially in gorgeous reproduction in Rafael von Uslar (ed.), Gary Carsley: Draguerrotypes, Köln: Darling Publications, 2007.
8. Gary Carsley: Sciencefictive, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, 31 May – 26 July 2014; Sciencefictive, Kunstverein, Ulm, Germany, 14 Sept –16 Nov 2014; For and Against Nature, Grey Projects, Singapore, 8 Nov 2014 – 24 Jan 2015; The Garden of Dr Confabulator, Visual Arts Centre of New Jersey, Summit, USA, 8 Feb – 31 May 2015. 9. See https://www.wavehill.org/gardens/ 10. Lauren Collins, ‘House perfect: is the IKEA ethos comfy or creepy?’ The New Yorker, 3 October 2011. 11. Carsley refers to Thomas Friedman’s The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005, a bestseller that generated thousands of column inches debating the book’s premise that the convergence of technological and political forces has led to ‘an even playing field’ that has disrupted and will continue to disrupt Western hegemony (in global commerce in particular). 12. 41 years later Carsley co-curated (with Paul Howard) the exhibition It’s Timely, presenting contemporary artists’ responses to the legacy of the two speeches Whitlam delivered in Blacktown in 1972 and 1974, for the Blacktown Arts Centre in partnership with the Whitlam Institute of the University of Western Sydney, 28 April – 28 June 2014. 13. Australian Labor Party policy speech delivered by Gough Whitlam, Blacktown Civic Centre, 13 November 1972. Full transcript available at https://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/1972-gough-whitlam 14. David Malouf, ‘A spirit of play: the making of Australian consciousness,’ Boyer Lecture, 1998. Full transcript available at http://www.abc.net.au/ radionational/programs/boyerlectures/ 15. Ibid. 16. For the record, I am all too aware that by generously peppering this text with quotes from the artist I could fairly be charged with, in effect if not affect, too easily accepting the guise of the ventriloquist’s dummy. In my defence: all writers adopt other voices precisely to arrive at their own.
The 2018 Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Art Scholarships
The University of South Australia congratulates our 2018 Samstag Scholars Julian Day (NSW) and Sasha Grbich (SA)
Julian Day, White Noise, 2016 installation view, NEW16, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Photography by Matthew Stanton.
cover versions. Mimicry and Resistance
Arthur Merric Boyd & Neil Douglas Michael Candy Maria Fernanda Cardoso Marco Fusinato Percy Grainger & Burnett Cross Yuki Kihara The Kingpins
LOUD + SOFT Frédéric Nauczyciel Soda_Jerk vs The Avalanches Super Critical Mass Christian Thompson Jemima Wyman Curator: Anna Briers
11 November 2017 to 14 January 2018
sheppartonartmuseum.com.au @SAM_Shepparton #SAMCoverVersions
Soda_Jerk & The Avalanches with Chris Hopkins & Sam Smith, The Was, 2016 still from digital video, 13:40 minutes, image courtesy and © the artists
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
CLAIRe LAMBE: Something horrific
elbourne-based artist Claire Lambe draws from film, theatre and traditional sculptural practice to create psychologically complex spaces that invite speculation on the human body as both matter and intermediary. Staging bodies abstractedly as metaphors for living and dying, feeling pain and pleasure, Lambe aligns the body with the structural considerations of making, not just art-making but making anything – humans, waste, movement, sound, light, reproductions and affects. Her most expansive exhibition yet, Mother Holding Something Horrific, at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, included four immersive installations, which intimated a shift away from the comparatively restrained forms of sculptural assemblage Lambe has favoured in the past, towards a postproduction aesthetic. Overcrowded with personal and theoretical references to psychoanalysis, the exhibition utilised windows, partitions, passageways and physical obstructions to underscore conceptual and spatial navigation, connoting the rigorous structuring of expansive thematics. Comprising work made especially for the exhibition over an eighteenmonth period, in the exhibition catalogue Lambe stated that she settled on the title Mother Holding Something Horrific after discussing it with the dancer Atlanta Eke – her occasional collaborative partner, who choreographed six multi-media dance performances in the ACCA space, featuring Eke with fellow dancer Annabelle Balharry and musician Daniel Jenatsch. Eke commented to Lambe that horror as a recognisable genre-form is at odds with the ‘invisible’ quality of actual experiences of horror.1 The relationship between visibility and invisibility, agency and Other, in psychoanalytic theory thus provides a good starting point for contemplating Lambe’s work at large, which directs its slippages of subject and object, intention and meaning, towards considerations of form and space. At once heavy and light, her work can seem laden with authorial subjectivities and yet irreverently detached, bound neither by fantasy nor by their inferences of lived reality. Given the exhibition’s psychoanalytical subtexts, it is fitting that many of the critical responses to it have fixated on the meaning of her Left: Claire Lambe, Mother Holding Something Horrific 2017, installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Image courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis.
title, as if acknowledging the centrality of language to this ‘talking cure’ discipline. On a theoretical level, the exhibition’s title invokes Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject as a confusion of primal disgust and primal desire, as well as Slavoj Žižek’s account of the absolute formlessness of (feminine) jouissance, whose revulsions assist in constituting the (masculine) subject. These are serious concerns, but as films such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Carrie (1976) and Alien (1979) demonstrate, horror – particularly abject horror – can also be unnervingly funny. The most iconic scenes of revulsion in these films induce smiles, revealing how traumatic experience might distantly direct its alleviations in the symbolic order. Mother Holding Something Horrific echoes this strange duality of abject horror, appearing as offbeat reconstructions of psychologically disrupting affects. In terms of spatial design, ACCA has rarely looked better, or been better utilised, delivering, for Artistic Director Max Delany, a muchneeded contrast to the awkwardly hung Painting. More Painting exhibition that preceded it, to mixed reviews. In the largest of the cavernous spaces, The Waterfall (2017) is as much an installation as a production set, featuring mirrored partitions with selected images taped to its structure in the manner of post-it notes, surrounded by set lights and microphones on stands that together fashioned a temporary corridor, without a distinct separation of front and back. A mixture of source material photographs and documentations of Lambe’s studio processes (dirt mounds, bodies in plastic and actors being manipulated on sets), many of the images are contrived enough to register as preliminary prints for standalone works. Overlooking it all is Lambe’s replication of Sigmund Freud’s alien-like office chair, which, ergonomically designed in 1930 by the Viennese architect Felix Augenfeld, has both feminine and phallic connotations. While it is tempting to make something of the fact that it is one of many chairs in the exhibition, Freud’s well-known quip that ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’ might apply to Lambe’s practice more generally, which layers so many references as to suggest, like Freud, that sometimes there should be a limit to how deeply one should delve beyond appearance. In being so spatially present, the installation seemed genuinely undocumentable, sitting gestalt-like in the space and filling the gallery’s high ceilings much more than one would expect. The Waterfall created constant jolts as one caught one’s own image in BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
mirrors – walking through, behind and around it, always zooming in and out of photographic details, occasionally mistaking architectural reflections for gaps in its structure. With its combination of mirrors and Freudian references, I was reminded of Mark Wallinger’s excellent exhibition at London’s Freud Museum in 2016, involving mirrored ceilings installed in Freud’s actual office space, where, incidentally, his original chair is housed. Both Lambe and Wallinger approach Freud unconventionally by way of invoking Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage, which holds that an external image of the body (reflected in a mirror, or signified to the child through the mother or primary caregiver) triggers a psychic response that gives rise to the mental representation of an ‘I’, pointing to a certain symbolic remove at the core of the human subject. As inferred by the exhibition’s title, as well as its numerous pictorial references, Lambe is particularly interested in subject formation as it relates to the maternal body. Aspects of the exhibition underscore Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, which examined the biological and psychic rite of passage whereby a child ‘casts off’ the maternal body it was once inside, turning its corporeal symbols into uncanny ‘horror’ sites of fantasy fused with prohibition.2 Photographs of a gold-painted, flaccid penis pissing and a woman in a bright-red military-looking outfit spitting water are plays on this gendering of abjection in psychoanalytic theory, while also recalling Bruce Nauman’s iconic Marcel Duchamp-inspired works Art MakeUp (1967) and Self-Portrait as a Fountain (1966). Duchamp, whose poetic slippages of visual metaphors extended to the slippages of gender, is summoned throughout the exhibition. Of course, ‘Waterfall’ is the alternative title of Duchamp’s final work Étant donnés (194666) – perhaps his most Bretonian – which, made especially for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, asks viewers to peek through a small hole in a rustic wooden door to view a naked, corpse-like female body holding up a gas lamp in the foreground of a dreamy landscape. Like Duchamp, Lambe’s interest in the poetic is generative but not instructive. In his 1957 talk, ‘The Creative Act’, Duchamp claimed that art is a gap which represents the difference between intention and realisation: ‘What art is in reality is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art, art is the gap.’3 In terms of a method for best generating this ‘gap’, Duchamp, in his notes for The Green Box (1934), conceived of ‘ironism of affirmation’ to describe his particular brand of positive distancing. In contrast to ‘negative ironism’, where, in an effort to produce laughter, two contradictory poetic significations cancel each other out, leaving a vacuum of meaning, ‘affirmative ironism’ enables multiple meanings to remain linked and ‘procreative’ – an apt word in this context.4 The title of Lambe’s The manual of instructions (2017) refers to a ring-bound book that Duchamp produced to detail the assemblage and disassemblage of Étant donnés. In Lambe’s installation, a wellworn wooden birthing stool is positioned on what looks like an upended wooden skateboard ramp that is actually a cyclorama wall, used in studio photography to fashion visual effects. On this lies a photograph of the artist giving birth, squatting naked alongside the
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same wooden stool years earlier. In one of the exhibition’s many references to the 1974 art house film Sweet Movie, a large colour photograph next to the birth-themed assemblage depicts the artist’s son covered in melted chocolate in a production studio, staring at himself in a mirror as studio assistants lurk in the background. The artist’s portrayal of her body in the grips of labour adjacent to a photograph of her slimy chocolate-covered son underlines Lambe’s obsession with abjection, particularly its capacity to be both dark and light. Her restagings of Sweet Movie are cleaned-up versions of the film’s grotesque depictions of sexuality and scatology. By way of Otto Muehl’s appearance in the film, they also allude to the legacy of Viennese Actionism – an art movement of bodily, artistic and political excess, where giving in to one’s primordial urges was considered a pathway to realising one’s ‘naturally’ anarchic, countercultural self. A pervasive use of 1970s’ aesthetics characterises Mother Holding Something Horrific, but rather than rendering such imagery nostalgically liberating, as so many artists do today, Lambe directs it instead to the Freudian couch by way of Duchamp, for whom chocolate grinders, bachelors, brides, fountains and stools provided endless conceptual linkages and in-situ prevarications, employed to confuse cause and effect, production and reception. Her work shares this ‘more than the sum of its parts’ approach that is Duchamp’s proper legacy – his ability to produce the fantastical while also intimating an art beyond fantasy. Lambe places attention not on the socio-political causes that underpin her juxtapositions, but the way they incite contradictory trains of thought and feeling. The exhibition thus renders the sexual politics of the 1970s less as a reality than an ocean from which our contemporary unconscious draws, where exploratory depictions of sexualised bodies range from the goofily innocent to the sinister. With its themes of abjection and the visual emulation of psychoanalytic theory, Lambe’s work shares its concerns with that of Mike Kelley, Sarah Lucas and Paul McCarthy. These artists followed in the postconceptual footsteps of Nauman, Ana Mendieta, Joan Jonas, Dan Graham and others, gaining art-world success in the 1990s with their location of abject and infantilistic objects within a melange of trash references and uncanny affects. In Lambe’s work we see the bawdiness of Lucas, the discipline of Kelley and the tactility of McCarthy; however, it is also more relevant to the contemporary moment than these artists, with her subtle and savvy location of a Duchampian ‘erotics of deferral’ invoking present-day issues of creative labour and art-industry fatigue. In the photographic triptych She hasn’t got much money (2017), a woman in short jeans poses next to a highly polished bronze sculpture of a flower with alien-like antennae growing from its centre – an object that adds a tone of intergalactic otherness to the mix, taking centre stage in Lambe’s sound-based installation, Ma femme au chat ouvert (2017), the title of which comes from Duchamp’s description of his final work as ‘my woman with the open pussy.’ The phrase ‘she
hasn’t got much money’ features in all three photographs, becoming progressively larger in each one, with the final work cropped to read ‘he hasn’t got much money.’ Playing on the formulaic and purposefully slapdash nature of captioned memes, the work is redolent of our age of post-creativity hype. It suggests the decline of 2000s-era slogans of ‘culture for all’, which, it has been said, became ‘perverted into a logic of the total creative imperative’, where artists, re-branded as creatives, were asked to keep apace ‘with the bubbles of real estate, stock and derivatives markets.’5 Simply put, from a contemporary perspective, money is hard to come by in this game. The economic advantages of cultural innovation in the arts are no longer seriously believed, and the populist, eager-to-please motivations of state-funded institutions have left us with a wasteland of works that validate presumptions of ethical superiority over aesthetic nuance. Mother Holding Something Horrific at once suggests a return to 1990s transgressions, as well as a progressive shift away from the identity-led didacticism and arthistorical amnesia that has dominated art in recent times – as only an artist who came of age in the 1990s could do. Of course, the origins of the optimistic populism of 2000s-era art rest most conspicuously on the emergence of the Young British Artists (YBAs). Lambe, who studied first at the Bristol College of Art and then at Goldsmiths, took a more divergent, and more interesting, path than many of her British peers. After obtaining her Bachelor degree in 1987 she worked in Japan as a contestant on a ‘Survivorstyle’ reality TV show, and subsequently lived there as a club hostess. She has also worked as a prop maker for community theatre, and for the Sydney Opera House, before completing her Masters degree in Britain and returning in 2010 to Australia, her current base, codirecting the artist-run project DEATH BE KIND with fellow artist Elvis Richardson. Like Mark Leckey – who is two years younger than Lambe, hails from the North of England and has lived outside of the UK for many years – Lambe shirks the tabloid shocks and Warhol-meets-community-art sensibility that characterised the YBAs at their height. She instead pursues an expansive and inquisitive practice, motivated as much by spatial considerations, theatrical props and poetic sculptural compositions as she is by class critique and postmodern subcultures. About as far away from a creative-industries ‘content provider’ as one can get, the abject references in Lambe’s work – the piss, shit, sex, bodily expulsions and fake corpses – are themselves treated as structural elements; as carefully considered by-products of production itself. Her tropes of otherness are captured in the grip of performing, placed in the service of re-enactment, and contextualised by stages, sets, actors and the creative labour of studio assistants, as metaphors for support. Despite her claim in the catalogue that she isn’t a good collaborator, Lambe is a compulsive one, to the extent that traces of her productive engagements can be glimpsed in much of her output, involving dancers, actors, models, musicians, designers and even her own relatives. Eke’s dance performances in the space at ACCA – a version of which served as a video piece on the floor of the gallery
– were a significant aspect of Mother Holding Something Horrific, portraying Lambe’s work as the stage that it already is. One senses that Lambe sees in Eke, Persona-like, a spontaneity that she admires but cannot emulate, the rigorous and searching qualities of her practice conflicting with Eke’s confident insularity. Although Eke’s performances appeared as ancillary elements in a larger assemblage, Lambe’s work has this unique capacity to seem structured even while showcasing the individual integrity of its varied components, suggesting a motivation far more ambiguous than identity-expression or self-diagnosis. Mike Kelley once claimed that his use of the abject functioned as a symbol of repression in the Foucauldian sense, which he mapped as existing within culture rather than outside it – shirking the liberatory tendencies that have accompanied the avant-garde’s emulation of regressive, primordial, disgusting and child-like forms.6 Lambe similarly avoids positioning the psychologies of her objects as though forces from outside, suggesting instead that they are structured through reflection. Whereas Kelley frames ‘social waste’ through taxonomic codes, Lambe aligns her detritus with the structures of performance, asking us not to contemplate what her works represent but how they become re-structured as we, the viewers, move through them.
ENDNOTES 1. Claire Lambe, Claire Lambe: Mother Holding Something Horrific, Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2017: 92. 2. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. 3. Marcel Duchamp quoted by Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1970: xxxii. 4. Marcel Duchamp, The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson, New York: De Capo Press, 1973: 30. 5. Gerald Raunig, Gene Ray and Ulf Wuggenig, ‘Introduction: On the Strange Case of “Creativity” and its Troubled Resurrection,’ in Critique of Creativity, London: Mayflybooks, 2011: 1. 6. Mike Kelley, ‘Talking Failure: Mike Kelley and Julia Sylvester’, Parkett, No. 31, 1992: 103.
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TARR AWARR A INTERNATIONAL 2017
CURATED BY VICTORIA LYNN
> DIDEM ERK > CAO FEI > TOM NICHOLSON > PATRICK POUND > CYRUS TANG
2 SEPTEMBER â€“ 12 NOVEMBER 2017 IMAGE: Didem Erk Black Thread 2016-17 (detail), installation, sewn books, wooden table, wooden chair, light, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and x-ist gallery, Istanbul
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Rd, Healesville, Victoria
T +61 (0)3 5957 3100 E firstname.lastname@example.org
REX butler and A.d.s. donaldson
The field at 50
t’s always the sign that something has not yet found its proper historical place when it keeps on having to be restaged. This is one way of seeing our repeated Gallipoli and Australia Day celebrations: that they are not so much commemorations of something whose meaning is settled, as traumas that must be continually revisited. Their annual re-enactment is not any way of remembering a past whose outcome is clear, but the renegotiation of events whose ultimate consequence is yet to be determined. They might indeed be compared to those statues of colonial heroes that open up the space for their own contestation, which would not be possible without them. It is exactly when something is no longer memorialised, no longer has statues erected in its name, that we might say its meaning is fixed and therefore able to be forgotten, taken for granted. The same might be said of artists and art exhibitions. Certain of these are seemingly continuously rehung and remounted, but this is not so much to celebrate them as because we do not know what they mean. And this despite the current regime of art museum blockbusters, where institutions wish to hold exhibitions only of well-known names so that their success is guaranteed in advance. However, what is inevitably revealed in the responses to these shows is that, despite the institutions’ best efforts, the final outcome remains open. Even the apparently most certain, the most art-historically assured, is still up for grabs. The perpetually revisited Roberts, Nolan, Williams, Heidelberg School – we would say that they are rehung every few years not because their status is assured, but because we keep on asking ourselves whether they continue to have any place in the Australian story.
And the same applies not only to artists but also to art exhibitions, which are already an attempt to intervene in history, to stop its trauma, to make sense of otherwise contingent historical events. To take perhaps the two most obvious examples, though they are in many ways opposites: Bernard Smith’s Antipodeans exhibition, held in August 1959 at the Victorian Artists Society, and John Stringer and Brian Finemore’s The Field, held in August 1968 at the newly renovated National Gallery of Victoria. The Antipodeans was restaged first as the Bryan Robertson-curated Recent Australian Painting at the Whitechapel in 1961, then as Rebel and Precursors: Aspects of Painting in Melbourne 1937-47 at the NGV in 1962, then as Angry Penguins at Heide in 1989, then as Antipodeans: Challenge
and Response in Australian Art 1955-65 at the National Gallery of Australia in 1999 and even, we are tempted to say, as Paul Taylor’s Popism at the NGV in 1982. The Field was restaged first as the Sue Cramer-curated The Field Now at Heide in 1984, then as Fieldwork: Aspects of Australian Art 1968-2002 at the NGV in 2002, then as Tackling the Field at the AGNSW in 2009, then as Returning to the Field at Sydney Non Objective and we recently heard news that the show is to be literally recreated next year as The Field Revisited to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the NGV.1 Smith’s Antipodeans, of course, was an exhibition of Melbourne figurative artists (Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, Bob Dickerson, John Perceval and Clifton Pugh) joined together in the ‘defence of the image’ under a ‘Manifesto’ written by Smith but signed by all. And perhaps the big issue in its historical reception – the reason it keeps on being discussed and rediscovered – is the apparent contradiction between Smith’s nationalism and isolationism, as manifested in the show and the counter-tendency of much of the rest of his work; for example, the global connectedness as argued for in European Vision, in which he proposes that it was the European explorers’ encounter with the people, fauna and flora of the South Pacific that effectively led to Romanticism in Europe. Indeed, in Smith’s well-known lecture on the occasion of the first restaging of the Antipodeans as Recent Australian Painting, ‘The Myth of Isolation’, he criticises the catalogue essays of both Robinson and Robert Hughes for suggesting of Australian artists that ‘the Renaissance tradition is utterly remote from them’.2 But it is this same Australian exceptionalism that Smith can also appear to be arguing for, not only with regard to the Antipodeans, but more generally in his art history. Although needless to say Australian artists have been exposed equally to modernism, it is, as he suggests in the case of William Dargie, a matter of them deciding not to engage with say Cubism. And equally in the Antipodeans, he admits that Australian artists have been exposed to international abstraction, but that they have chosen not to engage with it. Of course, this allows Smith to insist that Australian artists are not merely ‘exotic’ or ‘primitive’ – words used positively by British commentators to describe the artists in Robinson’s show, which Smith rejects. Australian artists are not in any way excluded from overseas movements and tendencies. Rather, we might say that they exclude themselves. Or perhaps to put this BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3 46.2
REX butler and A.d.s. donaldson
more subtly – and we will see this logic come back unexpectedly in Paul Taylor’s Popism – their ‘Australianness’ is manifested in their very ability to choose: they remain outside global tendencies to the very extent that they can be seen to make a conscious choice as to whether or not to participate in the art of the rest of the world. In Smith’s words from ‘The Myth of Isolation’: ‘What appears at first sight to be isolation often turns out, it seems to me, to be a process of selection and rejection’.3
The Field is generally understood to embody the other possibility for Australian art to that of the Antipodeans: not Australia’s exclusion, whether deliberate or not, from international art but its inclusion and participation in international art. However, in a similar way to the Antipodeans, The Field is continually restaged because it too represents a position that is very hard to maintain and appears self-contradictory. The original exhibition has not yet found its own place, or we have not yet found a way properly to think it. It seems to be set against the surrounding possibilities of making sense of it, so that it always falls short of itself or we always fall short of it. Like the Antipodeans, it constitutes a kind of exception to the prevailing art-historical discourses: the Antipodeans to the international and The Field to the national. To recall the specific terms of the initial reception of The Field, it was understood as the first arrival of American or Greenbergian modernism in Australia. Curator Stringer, who was about to go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York after the show, was seen as being in a position to bring the latest artistic movements to Australia in a way no one previously had. And, of course, this was alternately praised and condemned in the original reviews of the exhibition. Such advocates of Greenberg as the newly appointed Age critic Patrick McCaughey writing in Art & Australia commended the show for breaking the perceived isolationism of Australian art and putting us in touch with international tendencies: ‘What this new convention seeks is a more deliberate alignment of Australian art with the modernist tradition’.4 And against this, such defenders of Australian painting (which is inevitably understood as figurative) like Melbourne Herald critic Alan McCulloch writing in Art International criticised the show for losing our identity in a belated imitation of overseas fashion. Taking aim at what he called the ‘band-wagon jumpers’, he criticised ‘the deliberate imitation of another country’s abstract art… and art without its regional differences would be a soulless art’.5 There were subsequent efforts to mediate this alternative, to historicise it, to suggest that the choice that appeared to confront us was not the real one. For The Field Now, whose curatorial premise was to adopt a ‘“then and now” approach for an analysis of recent art’,6 artists Ian Burn and Nigel Lendon, who were both in the original The Field, wrote a catalogue text entitled ‘Purity, Style, Amnesia’, which suggested that the stark alternative between pro- and anti-Greenberg forces was not really what was at stake in the show. It was a matter neither of slavishly following, nor of completely rejecting modernist abstraction, but – and here is where they are perhaps like Smith in his own response to the first restaging of the Antipodeans show – a kind of choice by Australian artists as to how to take it up. This is Burn and Lendon on how they understand the artists responding to American modernism in The Field: ‘[Despite the lack of a home-grown avant-garde tradition], the contradictory character of art in Australia produces a “distancing” 18
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effect which mediates any stylistic or intellectual dependency.’7 Of course, Burn and Lendon were writing in 1984 at the time of Australian post-modernism, explicitly after Taylor’s Popism exhibition (which, as we say, we would want to understand as another of the restagings of the Antipodeans). In other words, what they are suggesting, in a way anachronistically, is that the artists in The Field were effectively appropriating Greenbergian modernism. Although the style comes to them complete and late, they can be seen to be selecting which aspects of it to take up to produce a particular Australian hybrid. In this sense, as we suggest, Burn and Lendon can be seen to be wanting to mediate between the stark choice that appeared to face artists at the time: either the total adoption of modernism, which would speak of our provincialism and loss of identity, or a total rejection of it, as a result of which we could reciprocally be accused of an isolationist nationalism. But it is possible – this is perhaps our position coming after the postmodernism of Taylor and what may be opened up by the restaging of the show next year – this is a false characterisation of the options facing the artists in the show, which characterisation Burn and Lendon remain within even when they attempt to go beyond it. For let us look properly again at both the artists and the works in the exhibition. Is it indeed characterised by a ‘Greenbergian abstraction’ that is argued for so strongly either for or against at the time? Would it be a matter of artists here having to ‘mediate’ a tradition understood as coming from elsewhere? Are the artists in the show even uniformly ‘Australian’ in the sense this term is usually understood? What is in fact evident about The Field from reading its catalogue is that so many of its artists were either recent immigrants, or Australianborn artists who had recently returned from overseas, or Australian and overseas-born artists who were still overseas at the time of the show. The survey was wide enough to include such immediate post-war immigrants as the Czech Paul Partos, the Hungarian Joseph Szabo, the English David Aspden, who all arrived in 1950, the Latvian Harald Noritis, who arrived in 1951, the English Michael Kitching who arrived in 1952 and the New Zealander John White, who settled here in 1953, as well as the slightly later German Udo Sellbach in 1955, the Egyptian Emanuel Raft in 1956, the English Peter Booth in 1958, the German Gunter Christmann and Welsh Alun Leach-Jones in 1959, the English Michael Nicholson in 1960, and finally James Doolin, who came from America to live for a number of years from 1965. Then there were the Australian-born artists who had recently returned from overseas, but overwhelmingly it was not from America that they came but Europe: Janet Dawson and Dick Watkins in 1961, Garrey Foulkes in 1962, Wendy Paramor in 1963, Normana Wight and Noel Dunn in 1964, Tony McGillick in 1965, Rollin Schlicht and Vernon Treweeke in 1966, Michael Johnson in 1967 and Ron RobertsonSwann and Tony Coleing the year of the show. Indeed, the only artist to repatriate from America was Sydney Ball, who returned from New York in 1965. Finally, there was the smaller group of those artists who had been born in Australia, but who were overseas at the time of the show: Ian Burn, who had left Australia for Europe in 1964 but was living in New York, and Clement Meadmore, who had been living in that city since 1963. But there was also Robert Jacks, who by the time the exhibition
opened was in Canada on his way to New York, and the Englishman Mel Ramsden, who had arrived in Australia only in 1963, but at the time of the opening was also living in New York. What in the end does this observation that so many of the artists in The Field had relationships overseas suggest? (By our calculations, there were thirteen immigrants to this country, thirteen who had recently returned from overseas and four who were still overseas at the time of the show.) Precisely that they were neither in a provincial relationship with the international nor by contrast Australian – the two possibilities that Burn and Lendon argue must frame our responses to the show – but were indeed actually international. But what else might we observe about The Field? It is the question, much debated at the time, of whether the show constituted an identifiable style. It is a question about which it is fair to say that opinion was divided, but we also suggest that whatever conclusion was drawn the proper consequences were not adequately thought through. In fact, it is true to say that, despite the almost automatic description of the show as ‘Greenbergian’, a number of the works in it already manifested that most anti-Greenbergian of art movements, Minimalism. And this Minimalism marks the end of ‘modernism’ as any kind of identifiable ‘style’ that could be imitated. Indeed, just earlier in May in the same year as the show, Greenberg had been in Australia to deliver the first Power Lecture on the topic of the ‘post-modern’, which for him is not that pastiche or appropriation by which it later became known, but rather in his own words ‘the lack of any identifiable style’. In effect, in 1968 with the rise of Minimalism and Pop, Greenberg was writing the obituary in advance for modernism and its accompanying provincialism in terms of which the show was to be seen.
artists in The Field, some sixteen could be said to work with a hard or crisp edge, even though most did not work on the easel-sized scale of the style’s Californian exponents. In this category, we would include Aspden’s Field 1 (1968) with its diagonal bars of colour cutting across the top left corner of the canvas, Peter Booth’s Untitled painting (1968) with its careful balance of triangles, squares and rectangles, Eric Shirley’s Encore (1967) with its cascading curtain of colours, and even Lendon’s Untitled structure 68-1 (1968) with its curved and layered slabs marked in clearly delineated colours. However, at the same time a certain countervailing ‘softness’, whether in relation to line, shape or especially colour, was also to be seen in the work of at least twelve of the artists. In painting it could be seen in the forms of Christmann’s Rubezahl (1967), in the squeezed shapes of Janet Dawson’s Rollascape (1968), in the blown-out edges of Paul Partos’ Orphea (1968), in the pastel surfaces of John Peart’s Corner square diagonal (1968) and in the bulging gradations of Normana Wight’s Untitled (1968), but it could also be seen in sculpture in the rounded edges of Wendy Paramor’s Luke (1967).
It is as though it incites a certain post-colonial uprising, with subsequent generations taking into account the original criticisms concerning the show.
To their credit, Burn and Lendon grasp this about The Field. Echoing a number of the more insightful commentators at the time, in ‘Purity, Style, Amnesia’ they note the presence of a number of Minimal works in the show – and we might think ourselves of Hunter’s Untitled (1968), Ramsden’s No title (1966) and of course Burn’s Mirror Piece (1967), as well as Lendon’s Slab Construction II (1968). But beyond noting the presence of Minimal Art in the show, whose conflict with Greenbergian modernism they say was barely remarked upon at the time, they furthermore go on to suggest that both of these tendencies sat side by side, ‘along with references to Constructivism, Bauhaus, 1930s abstraction and even traces of Pop Art’.8 But here we would argue that the presence of these other tendencies is barely commented upon by Burn and Lendon themselves, for they then go on immediately in their essay to recount Ramsden’s anti-formalist riposte to McCaughey. In fact, we suggest, it is just this overlooking of those other presences in the exhibition that leads to them putting forward a certain ‘distancing’ that would mediate any stylistic or intellectual dependency on overseas art movements. For to take seriously the presence of these other sources is to make us realise that Australia is not ‘distant’ from anything, that it is not and never has been a matter of any stylistic or intellectual dependency.
Another feature of the show, and its preponderance has been little commented on, is that twelve artists used shaped canvases. Typical of this tendency would be Michael Johnson’s Frontal 2 (1968), Col Jordan’s Daedalus series 6 (1968) and Tony McGillick’s Polaris (1968). And, of course, it is easy to think of all the painted and brightly coloured sculptures as paintings. As well, two artists could be said to be producing psychedelic work (Rollin Schlicht’s Dempsey (1968) and Vernon Treweeke’s Ultrascope 5 and 6, both 1968), and Michael Kitchings’ Phoenix II was kinetic. Equally, it was only Dick Watkins’ October (1967) that looked backwards to Pop art, as only Ian Burn’s Two Glass/Mirror piece (1968) and perhaps Ramsden’s No title (1966) pointed forwards towards Conceptual art. Finally and remarkably, for all the talk of abstraction, at least five artists presented landscape paintings. Sydney Ball’s sunrise Transoxiana (1968), James Doolin’s Artificial landscape 67-5 and 67-6 (both 1967) and Artificial landscape 68-1 (1968) speak for themselves. Hickey’s Untitled (1967) reminds us of either an infinity of stadia stretching further than the eye can see or barbed wire, and even his Yellow square with its volumetric shading reminds us of the kind of pressed metal sheeting that might clad any sort public space, and Leach-Jones’ earthen orbs Noumenon XX First light (1967) and Noumenon XIX Indian summer (1967) and Noritis’ Come away (1968) with its sensual play of forms reminiscent of bays and hills are also representational.
But we might at this point do what virtually no commentators on the show do and that is actually look at it in detail. In fact, the first point to be made against nearly all readings of the show is that the abstraction in it is largely not of the Greenbergian kind but more of the West Coast ‘hard edge’ abstraction identified by the critic Jules Langsner in Four Abstract Classicists at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1959. Of the forty
What is all of this to suggest? The Field in many accounts is seen to mark not so much something new as something old. If it does not actually point the way forward, it is regarded at least to mark the end of our subservience to American modernism. It is as though it incites a certain post-colonial uprising, with subsequent generations taking into account the original criticisms concerning the show. This again is one of the paradoxes of The BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.3
REX butler and A.d.s. donaldson
Field’s endless restaging, for in many regards it has been understood as an exhibition that finally allows us to leave something behind. After it, we have the end of modernist abstract painting and the beginning of post-medium ‘post-modern’ art. And along with this act of artistic liberation, a social one. The following decade of the 1970s is seen as an era of such social movements as feminism, Aboriginal Land Rights and protests against the Vietnam War. The two are understood to go together, an artistic liberation and a social liberation – and the ‘70s is often characterised as a decade in which the local scene for the first time is able to put on exhibitions of its own work, from the founding of Pinacotheca in Melbourne in 1967 and Inhibodress in Sydney in 1970 to the first Biennale of Sydney in 1973. But we for our part would want to see The Field not as anything unique but as part of a continuum, not as something that is subsequently repeated but as itself already something of a repetition. Next year’s reconstitution of the show will of course also be something of a celebration of architect Roy Grounds’ new gallery building at the NGV, as though the show and its host institution were one, but what is routinely forgotten – even deliberately repressed – is the fact that the show was also held in Sydney and is part of that city’s artistic history. In fact, we would ultimately make the point that the real meaning of the show is perhaps better understood in Sydney, where it is already a kind of restaging. For when The Field was put on there shortly after its Melbourne outing, it was just the latest in a series of group exhibitions of geometric abstract art beginning, not with Roy de Maistre’s and Roland Wakelin’s Colour in Art in 1919, sometimes said to be the first exhibition of abstract art in Australia, nor with the George Street Group’s Exhibition 1 in 1939, which has likewise been said to be the first, but with Constructive Paintings at the Macquarie Galleries in 1944. It was then followed by Abstract at the David Jones Gallery in 1948, Abstract Compositions at the Macquarie Galleries in 1951, Abstracts at the same gallery in 1954, Fifteen Australian Abstract Painters at the Bissietta Gallery in 1959 and Balson, Crowley, Fizelle, Hinder (pointing to the true hidden roots of The Field) at the AGNSW in 1966, which is the same year the abstract hothouse Central Street Gallery opened, and Sydney Ball’s, Ken Reinhard’s and Col Jordan’s Engine at Blaxland Gallery in 1967. This kind of prehistory has no comparison in Melbourne where in the thirty years prior to The Field there was not a single group exhibition devoted to abstract painting.9 And, of course, the exhibition was dominated by Sydney artists. Again, to do a little statistical analysis, by our reckoning 19 of the 40 could be said to be Sydney artists, twelve Melbourne artists (although the four artists overseas at the time, Burn, Jacks, Meadmore, Ramsden, could all be said to be from Melbourne), three Adelaide artists, and one each from Brisbane and Perth. And when The Field opened at the AGNSW in October, 1968, it fell between two important, yet little recognised exhibitions of international painting: the first the Power Bequest Exhibition opening in February 1968 on the Exhibition Floor in the circular space of the newly opened Australia Square and the second Power Bequest Exhibition at the Blaxland Gallery in July 1969. The first of these exhibitions included geometric abstract work by the Argentinians
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Martha Bota, Hugo Demarco and Luis Tomasello, the Venezuelan Carlos Cruz-Diez, the Austrian Lily Greenham, the English Jeremy Moon and Bridget Riley, the Italian Gregorio Vardanega and the Hungarian Victor Vasarely, much of which tended towards op and kinetic art reflecting the curators’ decision to buy from Galerie Denise Rene in Paris, then, as always, a centre for many South American artists. The second featured geometric abstraction by the Germans Günter Fruhtrunk, Rupprecht Geiger and Thomas Lenk, by the Dutchman Jos Manders, by Vasarely again, and by the only American bought in the Bequest’s first two years, Kenneth Noland, this time reflecting the purchasing done in conjunction with documenta 4 in 1968. And both these exhibitions were set against the remarkable and again little received exhibitions Art of the Space Age and Belvedere Op Art Exhibition, both of which toured Australia in 1968 and 1969. The first featured the work of the Germans Josef Albers, Hartmut Böhm and Wolfgang Ludwig, the Italians Getulio Alviani and Gianni Colombo, the English Peter Sedgely and Jeffrey Steele, the Swiss Karl Gerstner, the Frenchman Francois Morrelet, the Argentinian Julio le Parc, the Venezuelan Jesus-Raphaël Soto, the Spanish group Equipo 57 and again Riley, Cruz-Diez, Vardenaga, Vasarely and Boto. The second, an exhibition of graphic art, featured the work of the Americans Richard Anuszkiewicz and Ellsworth Kelly, the German Dieter Roth and again Albers, Riley, Soto and Vasarely. So it is these exhibitions dominated by European and South American artists that surround The Field in Sydney. It is they and not American artists who contextualise the public and the artistic understanding of geometric abstraction in the late 1960s. (After all, Two Decades of American Painting in 1966 was in fact dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, just as Some Recent American Art in 1973 was dominated by Minimalism and conceptual art.) We have just suggested a moment ago that The Field was part of a long-running continuum in Australian, and particularly Sydney, art. But it is a continuum that is perhaps visible only from the 1970s and The Field itself. For it is true that the decade of the ‘70s marked the end of nationalist histories of Australian art and the beginning, not of Australia’s international connections – that had always been the case – but of the widespread acknowledgement of Australia’s artistic connections with the rest of the world. It is this possibility that Burn and Lendon raise in their essay where, after recounting pro- and anti-Greenberg readings of The Field and the ‘romantic appeal of early abstraction in European traditions’ in Australia, they finally acknowledge that abstraction was already here in the form of Ralph Balson and Frank Hinder.10 It is this reading of the show that we have tried to open up here: the fact that much of the work in it was at once intensely local and absolutely universal without any question of us having to ‘mediate’ it, as though it came from somewhere else. In fact, the particular kind of abstraction we see in The Field begins everywhere all at once. It is perhaps this ‘UnAustralian’ possibility that gets lost in the Popist ‘80s when Australia is once again understood to be in a ‘distant’ relationship to its overseas sources, but from the vantage point of today it is the 1980s that appears as an interruption to a much longer international continuum rather than the ‘70s between the nationalist ‘60s and ‘80s.
ENDNOTES 1.There is also After the Field at Peter Pinson Gallery in 2009. Indeed, it’s arguable the two exhibitions were even celebrated together in Robert Lindsay’s Australian Art 1960-1986: Field to Figuration at NGV in 1986. 2. Cited in ‘The Myth of Isolation’, in Bernard Smith, Death of the Artist as Hero, Oxford University Press, 1988: 220. 3. Ibid: 223. 4. Patrick McCaughey, ‘The Significance of The Field’, Art & Australia 6(3), December 1968: 235. 5. Allan McCulloch, ‘Letter from Australia’, Art International, September 1969: 62. 6. Sue Cramer, ‘Introduction’, The Field Now, Heide, Bulleen, Victoria, 1984: 9. 7. Ian Burn and Nigel Lendon, ‘Purity, Style, Amnesia’, in Ian Burn, Dialogue: Writings in Art History, North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991: 97. Earlier they suggest that they are seeking to move between the ‘extremes’ of ‘cultural “dependency’ and cultural ‘specificity’ (95). 8. Ibid: 99. Jim Berryman’s, ‘The Rhetoric of the New: The Field and the Foundations of an Institutional Avant-Garde in Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies 38(3), 2014, although a thorough overview of the show and its reception, unfortunately shares many of the assumptions of Burn and Lendon’s essay. 9. Prior to 1968 only one group exhibition of abstract painting and sculpture had been held in Melbourne. Staged at the National Gallery of Victoria and overseen by its new director Eric Westbrook and the gallery’s ‘exhibitions officer’,
the artist Leonard French, Survey 1 opened in January, 1958. The Contemporary Art Society 1961 exhibition Non-Figurative Painting and Sculpture at the Argus Gallery did admittedly include examples of a post-impressionistic semi-abstract landscape painting by the likes of Hector Gilliland, John Olsen and Eric Smith, more of which could be seen in the Sydney 9 exhibition held at Gallery A later the same year. 10. ‘Purity, Style, Amnesia’, 1991: 100.
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STILL LIFE WITH GUITAR: ENCOUNTERS WITH EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC IN CONTEMPORARY ART
n Picasso and Truth, his deeply personal account of Picasso’s work between the two world wars, T.J. Clark makes a case for the primacy of a particular kind of spatial experience in Picasso’s art. Clark calls this ‘room-space’. At the ‘heart of the Picasso’s understanding of life’, Clark claims, ‘lay an unshakable commitment to the space of a small or middle-sized room and the little possessions laid out on its table’.1 This view of the world, he argues, gives Picasso’s art its peculiar undercurrent of gravitas: Picasso’s obsessive depiction of the bourgeois interior is an attempt to secure and monumentalise a world of domestic comforts and pleasures under threat from the disastrous historical events of the twentieth century. In a rather brilliant break with interpretative orthodoxy, Clark argues that, in this respect, Picasso joins many other great artists of the twentieth century in an attitude toward history and the modern world that finds its key note not in the embrace of the progressive potentials of modernity but in ‘regression’. Picasso’s ‘room-space’ would then be exemplary of modern art understood as a ‘long refusal, a long avoidance of catastrophe, a set of spells against an intolerable present’.2
Clark nominates the guitar as a key figure of Picasso’s domestic ‘utopia’; the guitar, he writes, ‘was the form of forms for Picasso’.3 This is borne out by looking at the works themselves: again and again throughout the Cubist and immediate post-Cubist years we find guitars (along with violins and the occasional mandolin) as central components of Picasso’s still lifes. Alongside food, drink, and newspapers, instruments figure prominently in Picasso’s repertoire of domestic comforts, evoking the pleasures of afternoons spent idly strumming. The guitar is a figure of ‘this proximity, this tactility, this coziness’.4 It is thus a melancholic figure, because it is precisely the private realm of modest pleasures represented by the guitar that, in Clark’s interpretation, Picasso sees slipping away in modernity. Picasso records the fear of this loss through the repeated invasion of these comfortable interiors by human and animal figures shockingly transfigured into monsters.5 Clark’s account of Picasso suggests the questions I would like to pose about the engagement with music – particularly the tradition
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of experimental music – in the contemporary art world. What does experimental music ‘mean’ for contemporary art? What is the mood or emotional tonality of its evocation? Does it perhaps, like Picasso’s use of the guitar, have a melancholic edge? In asking these questions, I hope to open up a particular perspective on the turn towards sound and music that, as many commentators have noted, is a distinguishing feature of international contemporary art practice of the past few years. In both Athens and Kassel, documenta 14 exemplified the ubiquity of sound and music in contemporary art and its critical and curatorial discourses.6 Sound and music were everywhere: in newly commissioned sound-based works grouped together in the Athens Conservatoire, in concerts honouring important figures of the twentieth-century experimental tradition, in displays of historical material devoted to modern and contemporary music. The latter were particularly notable for setting the tone for the presence of experimental music throughout the exhibition. Especially prominent was the work of British experimental composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981), represented in Kassel by displays of his scores and publications and in Athens by a selection of materials related to the Scratch Orchestra, the ensemble he co-founded in 1969. Cardew, who was in his twenties an assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen and a performer of the music of the European avant-garde, became in the 1960s an important figure in promoting and developing in Britain the tradition of experimental music indebted to the innovations of John Cage. An increasing unease with what he saw as the elitism and hierarchical conventions that survived in Cageian experimental music led him to form the radically unconventional Scratch Orchestra, who primarily performed ‘scratch music’, in which each individual performs a separate piece, often composed by the performers themselves. In the 1970s, Cardew adopted an increasingly hard-line Leninist position on the political function of art, pledging himself to composing only music directly in service of the revolution. Despite the absence of wall-texts, the context of other historical materials included in documenta 14 make it clear that Cardew is presented in the exhibition as one among many ‘instances of radical utopianism from
the previous century’.7 In fact, the presentation of the materials in the exhibition ensures that his work is reduced to precisely such an instance. We cannot possibly learn anything of substance about Cardew’s music or aesthetic-political thought from vitrines containing examples of his published scores and a copy of his hilariously dogmatic 1974 tract Stockhausen Serves Imperialism. Instead, the displays serve merely to point to Cardew as a figure of political and aesthetic ‘radicalism’, an embodiment of communitarian ideals allied to formal experimentation. Cardew – and, with him, the whole tradition of 1960s experimental music – acts as a historical reference point lending weight to the vague pseudo-political rhetoric of utopian critique that documenta 14 shares with many large-scale contemporary art exhibitions.8 The curators clearly intend for us to learn from Cardew, to see his inclusion in the exhibition as part of an inspirational, utopian program. But the mummified presentation of only the surface of his work results in quite a different tone. Like Picasso’s guitars, the mood here is melancholic, even nostalgic. 1960s experimental music stands in for a utopian marriage of aesthetic avant-gardism and politics that no longer seems possible – the question of its desirability is never posed – and can now only be powerlessly confined to the glass of the display case. The graphic score Treatise (1963-1967) is often considered to be Cardew’s masterpiece. Even simply by virtue of its length, it is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable works to come out of experimental music’s search for new forms of notation. Its 193 pages develop an elegant vocabulary of abstract graphic forms, numbers, and fragments of musical notation along a central ‘lifeline’, without giving any definitive explanation or key as to how the score is to be realised. This lack of instruction, Cardew wrote, was intended to protect performers from the ‘slavish practice of “doing what they are told”’.9 (It was precisely this radical openness of Treatise that Cardew was later to reject, calling the piece ‘an undefined, subjective stimulus for the interpreter… a substitute for
Above: Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion (Concert for piano and Orchestra, John Cage), detail, 2017, ink on archival facsimile of score, 64 parts, each 57.4 x 75cm (framed). Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery. Photography: Andrew Curtis.
composition’.)10 At the same time as it functions as an indefinite prompt to the performance of music, Treatise can also legitimately be viewed as visual art, as what Cardew called ‘graphic music’: ‘a graphic score that produced in the reader, without any sound, something analogous to the experience of music.’11 Treatise accordingly took pride of place in the presentation of Cardew’s work in Kassel, where the score was displayed alongside a rather kitschy adaptation for vinyl stickers on the windows of the documenta-Halle. Two recent works by Australian artists take Treatise as their starting point. In 2012, Nathan Gray produced a mock-serious ‘sequel’, Treatise 2, a parodic homage that mimics some of the formal features of Cardew’s work (the central ‘lifeline’, geometric forms, and frequent suggestion of the five lines of the musical stave), but diverts them into an unambiguously decorative direction, in which precisely ruled, geometric forms interlock into spatially ambiguous figures that play, in the manner of much post-Cubist abstraction, on the ability of line to simultaneously declare the flatness of the surface on which it sits and to gently suggest elements of spatial illusion. At times the graphic language becomes deliberately cartoonish and conjures representational forms, such as the manga-esque critter who emerges from a circle to greet us with a drooping tongue on the work’s first page, on which we also find two fingers hanging from a central vertical axis. Like the abstracted comicbook works of the Swedish pop artist Öyvind Fahlström, Gray’s Treatise 2 plays on ‘the impulse to read’ by frustrating it;12 no longer a score, and not yet a catalogue of cartoon figures, the work is nonetheless not simply an abstract drawing.
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In the same year as Treatise 2, Gray produced a sculptural ensemble (Treatise Pages 77 and 131) that translates the forms of Cardew’s score into three dimensions. One page is reconstructed on the wall, the other lies in front of it, in aerial perspective, on the floor. But Gray is not only interested in the visual aspects of Cardew’s piece. At the 2012 Tarrawarra Biennial, a version of Treatise was performed by A Scratch Ensemble – a group convened by Gray on the model of Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra – using the sculpture itself as a sound source. The same fascination found at documenta with the graphic language of the score – allied to an image of 1960s experimental music as a space of individual freedom and collective decision – informs Gray’s interest in Cardew, yet the tone with which Cardew is evoked is subtly different. Gray’s attitude toward Cardew is one of both ‘reverence and criticality’ and Treatise 2 is ‘somewhere between an homage and a piss-take’.13 In fact, Treatise 2 offers a sort of critique before the fact of documenta’s nostalgic tribute to Cardew and the utopian aspirations of the 1960s. If Cardew’s work is to enter into the contemporary art gallery, Gray’s work seems to say, it must become a parody of itself, a purely visual object to be ‘fetishised’ (or, in less loaded terms, visually enjoyed). The melancholic pointing to the utopian dimension of 1960s experimental music is retained (it is still something lost, to be referred to rather than continued in earnest), but instead of nostalgia, the tone is one of irony, making the inaccessibility of this historical ‘radicalism’ into the butt of an ambivalent joke. One year after Gray’s Treatise 2, Marco Fusinato produced the enormous Mass Black Implosion (Treatise, Cornelius Cardew), to date the largest work in this series begun in 2007. In these works, Fusinato reproduces scores by avant-garde composers14 in their entirety and at their original scale, choosing an arbitrary point on the surface of the work and ruling straight lines between this point and every symbol in the score that represents a sound. (Across the pages of Treatise, Fusinato in fact uniformly placed the point in the centre of the page.) The results are masses of lines of varying density that appear to burst forth from a single point or to disappear into it. On one level, these works are a tribute to the striking visual qualities of the reproduced scores, extending the practice of bringing such materials into the art gallery that stretches back at least to 1958, when Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg organised the first exhibition of John Cage’s scores. Understood as works of non-representational drawing, the Mass Black Implosion series can be seen within the lineage of attempts to circumvent the problem of compositional arbitrariness flung up by the end of representation. How to decide where to place the marks on a sheet of paper or a canvas when we no longer have a subject to guide us? How to avoid the feeling that arbitrary conventions or taste dictates our decision?15 Once the initial point has been decided on, the score itself dictates the rest of Fusinato’s drawing; fittingly, the results, though they cohere with the overall starkness and monochromatic palette of Fusinato’s work, also contain passages of delicate visual detail of a kind we would not usually associate with the artist – as, for example, when the density of lines approaches the effect of parallel hatching. However, it would be wrong to reduce Fusinato’s engagement with these 24
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scores to the purely visual. He imagines his pieces as ‘propositions for a new composition, in which every note is played at once’.16 Moreover, the drawn lines are determined precisely by those marks in the score that are intended to be read as instructions for making sound. Especially in the case of Treatise, his drawings engage the musical content of the score. In fact, because Cardew’s score does not fix a distinction between marks that indicate sound and those that do not, Fusinato’s act of drawing over Treatise constitutes a musical interpretation of the score analogous to what a musician must do in order to perform it; a silent performance or realisation of Cardew’s score. Thus, in a way that distinguishes Fusinato’s work from the presentation of Cardew’s work at documenta, Fusinato’s Treatise remains something living. This aspect of Fusinato’s reference to the tradition of experimental music is particularly notable, because, in many of his other works, he examines the effects of migrating subversive materials (primarily relating to historical and contemporary forms of radical leftist politics) into the gallery space and commercial art world. At times, Fusinato pushes this gesture to the point of gleeful cynicism, as in the series THIS IS NOT MY WORLD (2006-2010), in which commercial graphic design studios were commissioned to create banners featuring the titular slogan, which was originally attached to the side of a government building in Zagreb in a guerilla action by the dissident Yugoslavian ‘Group of Six’ artists. Similarly, by enlarging anarchist pamphlets and overprinting their contents (‘thereby foregrounding their visual covers and rendering their textual contents all but indecipherable’), in Noise & Capitalism (2010) Fusinato emphasises how engagement with non-art materials changes when they are brought into the gallery.17 A comparison between this series and Mass Black Implosion is instructive: although Fusinato transforms Treatise into a series of images, he does so in such a way that the score retains its legibility. In fact, we could almost say that Fusinato’s drawing itself ‘reads’ Cardew’s score. If, as Branden Joseph remarks, Fusinato’s ‘engagements with left politics and with music parallel each other’,18 it is significant that, within his work, music appears somehow more resilient to this ambiguous recontextualisation than the leftist political material Fusinato also appropriates. Fusinato is also active as a musician, using electric guitar and pedals to create dense and jarring noise works, in which unstable sonic textures skip around at extreme volume. Often performing in rock venues, Fusinato also presents this side of his work in art contexts, most remarkably in his ongoing series of durational performances Spectral Arrows, where he improvises at high volumes in art galleries for the length of their usual opening hours. At the most recent Dark Mofo festival, Fusinato presented the spectacular performance Extended Breakdown, where his guitar was accompanied by Sin Nanna (sole member of the Tasmanian black metal band Striborg) beating on amplified scrap cars with pieces of metal. While Fusinato’s visual art ‘casts a retrospective glance at moments of radical history’, Branden Joseph argues, these noise performances ‘manifest aesthetic radicality as real-time perceptual experience’.19 A degree of perceptual intensity, it seems, is possible within these musical performances that cannot be achieved within Fusinato’s visual art.
What accounts for this gap? Caleb Kelly has suggested that the current interest in sound in contemporary art can be explained by the fact that ‘sound media feels more real than visual media’, in a double sense. First, we are ‘saturated in screen culture and its outputs’ and, second, the physical nature of sound means that it is in some essential sense less mediated than visual phenomena: ‘the sound we hear is actually the real sound’.20 Leaving aside these specific arguments, I would like to adopt Kelly’s notion that part of the interest in sound in contemporary art is to do with its sense of realness. However, I would suggest a more arthistorical argument as to why this might be the case. The perceptual intensity that Joseph points to in Fusinato’s musical performances is difficult to achieve in contemporary visual art not because of any essential qualities of hearing or vision themselves, but because the overarching trend in contemporary art since the ‘anti-aesthetic’ turn of the 1960s and 1970s has been to underplay the perceptual in favor of the idea. In contemporary art, more often than not, we attend to concepts, not percepts. The object and its perceptual qualities are important not as an end in itself but as the vehicle of a concept or statement. This perceptual deficit is as much a result of viewing habits as it is of artworks themselves. That is, ‘aesthetic radicality’ seems inaccessible to visual experience, because the audience of contemporary visual art has rigorously trained itself to look through the art object to find its discursive, political context. This encourages the reduction of the physical encounter to the brief span of time necessary to decode the work. The high-volume musical performance resists this neutralisation of the perceptual encounter. Placing them in the context of contemporary art, then, we might say that the effect of Fusinato’s noise performances is, somewhat surprisingly, melancholic. They make us aware that the modernist sublime of shock – a form of deeply felt aesthetic experience of the work of art – no longer seems possible in the space of the gallery (which Fusinato’s work unrelentingly codes as the space of commerce, not of reflection). Fusinato’s guitar then, like Picasso’s, would be a figure of something lost. But another, less melancholic, reading is possible. On this reading, these performances should serve to attune to us to the importance of the aesthetic dimension of Fusinato’s seemingly ‘conceptual’ work (which he himself often describes in linguistic terms as a series of ‘propositions’). In Fusinato’s Double Infinitives (2009), for example, it is not only the idea of blowing up news images of rock-brandishing rebels and rioters, the questions around what this might ‘say’ about the circulation and reproduction of images of violence and protest, that we should attend to, but also their aesthetic force, their perceptual energy. These two dimensions of the work of art are, of course, inseparable and can ultimately be reduced to variations on the old duality of form and content, the union of which Walter Pater famously defined as that ‘condition of music’ towards which all art in non-musical forms ‘constantly aspires’.21 If contemporary art seems once again to aspire to the condition of music, it seems that is, in part, because it wishes to reassert the role of its perceptual qualities and not only its content, its mode of representation and not only what it represents, in generating intensity and meaning.
ENDNOTES 1. T.J. Clark, Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013: 17. 2. Ibid: 14. 3. Ibid: 44-45. 4. Ibid: 81. 5. See ibid: 149-190. 6. On the ubiquity of the aural at documenta 14, see Tessa Zettel, ‘Art of the (im) possible: documenta 14’, Broadsheet Journal, 46.2, 2017: 8 [6-9]. 7. See Pablo Larios, ‘documenta 14: the Athens School of Fine Art’, Frieze, April 2017, https://frieze.com/article/documenta-14-athens-school-fine-art 8. Similarly politicised reference to the history of experimental music was also found at Okwui Enwezor’s 2015 Venice Biennale (All the World’s Futures), for instance, which featured a work by Olaf Nicolai dedicated to the Italian composer Luigi Nono (Non consumiamo… [to Luigi Nono], 2015). Like Cardew, Nono distinguished himself from his contemporaries through the fiercely Marxist commitments he used his music to illustrate. Unlike Cardew, Nono never interpreted his political commitments as necessitating populist aesthetics. However, he was equally capable of taking extreme positions – see, for example, the beautiful, spare 1986-1987 composition Caminantes… Ayacucho, which Nono dedicated to the Peruvian Maoist terrorist group the Shining Path. 9. Cardew cited in John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981): A Life Unfinished, Essex: Copula, 2008: 230. 10. Cornelius Cardew, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism and other articles, London: Latimer New Dimensions, 1974: 85. 11. Cardew, cited in Tilbury, op. cit: 245. 12. See Mike Kelley’s essay on Fahlström: ‘Myth Science’, in Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995: 159. 13. Nathan Gray, email to the author, September 4 2017. 14. Apart from a work using a score by his friend Anthony Pateras, all of the composers whose work has been used are deceased. 15. On the problem of compositional arbitrariness in abstract art, see Yve-Alain Bois, ‘Kelly’s Trouvailles: Findings in France’ in Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings, 1948-1955, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Art Museum: 1999. 16. See the artist’s text on the series in Marco Fusinato, Let’s Destroy Work, Melbourne: Schwartz City, 2014: 60. 17. Branden W. Joseph, ‘A Shard in the Wound’, in Let’s Destroy Work, 199. 18. Joseph, ‘Dark Energy: Branden Joseph on the art of Marco Fusinato’, Artforum, Vol. 49, No. 6, February 2011, 199. 19. Ibid. 20. Caleb Kelly, ‘Sound (is) in the Visual Arts’, in Tarrawarra Biennial 2012: Sonic Spheres, exh. cat., Healesville: Tarrawarra Museum of Art, 2012: 12. 21. See Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, ed. Donald Hill, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980: 106-109.
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READ AND OTHER READINGS read in all our stories them read hungry – this pregnant vignette: suffer transform triumph suffer
pure authentic sourcelessly
outward neutral exhaustively
popular proprietary remorselessly
anthropocene If I am the roots – – and you are the branches, the trunk, and the leaves – then I will suck no deeper for water. You leave here with me.
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the with landscapes
natural order. no more.
to unmeet others,
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wenty sixteen could have been the year the ceramics in Australia broke into the artworld mainstream – or was it? Following international cues, which despite people’s best intentions and countless discussions about the internet and globalisation, the inevitable breakthrough moment here came a little late. Oh well it still seems to have happened. I have been approached to write an article like this, as I have found myself near the centre of this moment, which makes it easy for me to write about because I can write about myself to some extent. But I write from a position of privilege in the broadest sense of being a white man and also in terms of my relationship to the art world – from my former position as Senior Curator at the MCA Australia and its attendant social and cultural privilege. I always felt that role was not quite the right fit for me and when the paella was served up, I felt too uncomfortable to really enjoy it. Recently when visiting a big ‘C’ Contemporary Art Gallery I laughed with both shock, and sweet relief, to see the owner hiding behind a piece of wood in the back room. ‘It’s OK, I’m also glad we don’t have to talk anymore.’ In terms of my art career, my curatorial career has been of considerable benefit, which is something I freely admit. I knew, and know, a lot of people, what they did and how they fitted in. This roadmap has really helped in knowing which of my curatorial colleagues to speak to and why. I was known to commercial galleries and this allowed for easy dialogue. Importantly I had spent twenty years LOOKING at things – all kinds of things. My curatorial process was, and where I can help it still is, relatively hands on – I was always interested in the way things were made as much as why.
When I came to ceramics, I was in essence part of a much larger group of people, who came to the field attracted by its inherent hands-on processes. Like many before me I went to a hobby class and I became obsessed. I went at a time of crisis for me where the field of curating, a field in which I had invested twenty years of my life, no longer held, for a multitude of reasons, any real passion for me. The formlessness of clay, its (I’m gunna say it) primal energies, was just right at a time in which I was trying to rebuild some sense of what I wanted to do and be creatively. Now five years later and actually teaching workshops (to beginners don’t panic), I see the same needs and alertness in some of my students. I tend not to do too much with them; I think you either get it or you don’t, but sometimes just providing a space, and a permission to make, is enough.1 It’s also invigorated what I do curatorially.
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I use all this personal self-indulgence to foreground broader concerns concerning the rise of ceramics within the world(s) of ‘contemporary art’ – a term which comes with its own kinds of anthropological strata. For good or ill I am part of this rise or as Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran put it; it has been ‘co-opted into mainstream, contemporary art contexts’. My lack of traditional skills has become part of MY brand but not necessarily anyone else’s. At the same time as I began making I saw the opportunities, or lack of for makers in Sydney, where real estate is king at the expense of artists, and through the support of the City of Sydney Accommodation Grant Program in 2015 I was part of a team that opened kil-n-it experimental ceramics studio in Glebe. What I have always been surprised about though is the developing schism between those artists who, I feel, are not that much different to me although tending towards production ware with a strong AngloJapanese aesthetic. They are usually white men (hey like me!) or maybe a bit older, who for the most part have been emboldened by online platforms to just go for it. They are not anonymous – they don’t have to be; privileged, old white guys still rule the world and the debates (if you want to call them that) have for the most part centred around the Australian Ceramics Association, its journal and Facebook pages. It really kicked off with an article by self-proclaimed ‘Master Potter’ Ted Secombe, as part of the ‘Wedge’ series of articles entitled ‘Thoughts on our industry’.2 Secombe’s widely discussed, dispersed and analysed article had a number of key points, the main one being a framing of what he terms ‘kindergarten art’ style ceramics, where the emphasis is on ideas over skill. His vitriol is pitched in particular at the Shepparton Art Museum’s Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award – won in 2015 one by the aforementioned Ramesh Mario Nitheyendran. It’s hard to disagree with Secombe’s analysis. I think it pitched a group of makers (of which I would be one) – who have a belief in the haptic qualities of the medium which is not dissimilar to the way a child may approach it as a material – against another. Speaking only for myself, I consider my work child-like rather than childish. In a later article by Damon Moon3 titled ‘Slight of Hand’ (ha ha, get it?), he compares my work, and also that of Sydney artist Nell, to the works of children. I think this could be a fear of the scatological qualities of the medium upon which some of the new makers draw. Right: Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Elephant Man, 2016, earthenware, glaze, gold lustre, platinum lustre, enamel, polystyrene, MDF, cardboard, synthetic polymer paint. Installation view, Mud Men, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2016–17. Image courtesy the artist and National Gallery of Australia © the artist.
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For centuries artists have looked toward the art of children as a source material.4 I don’t feel that this, in and of itself, is the issue that Secombe kicks against. Rather it is the idea that these new makers, or the new ceramicists have somehow bypassed knowledge and training to get kudos they don’t deserve.
In recent times there has been a number of purchases in international contemporary art of ceramic-based work by Ron Nagle and Arlene Shechet, both of whom are examplars of a particular kind of de rigueur ceramics’ practice based around sculpture and formlessness, rather than function or production.
Now, for me the funny thing about this is, that in the contemporary art world, with which I am familiar (rather than the Clay World), everyone hates each other in private, without a need for it to spill over into the public realm. In the world of ceramics however, there is no holding back.
But Australian ceramics? I would imagine that room could be made for someone like Ramesh Mario Nitheyendran. He shows with the right galleries and in contemporary contexts. He makes ambitious large-scale work and has jumped the art versus craft gap, which for a young maker working in a fairly anything-goes environment hardly existed in the first place.
Secombe’s argument has a fundamental flaw at its heart, especially in taking on the SAM award. There is a problem with art prizes in general, since at their most basic, prizes demand a winner and a loser. If you win they’re OK. If you lose however, or don’t get selected, they’re shit until you go in the next one. The way they are also used as a fundamental driver of museum acquisition programs is not without its problems. In 2009, SAM changed the award to create a tighter, smaller curated exhibition selected for artist entries and I think SAM should be congratulated on changing their existing model. It is not the free-forall that it was, but rather something more equitable in terms of paying artists a fee for the making of new work. These may not be the artist everyone agrees upon but that’s why you have different judges every year. For me, the debate lies in being able to actually recognise greater problems faced by the WHOLE of the ceramics’ community and that are unique to it as an art form. These debates, although interesting and worthy discussing, feel like a distraction from what is a much larger and more problematic issue – that being the way in which artists who use ceramics, or ceramicists or crafts people or whatever term you want to use, are shown and collected within the mainstream art world. The party, which they have apparently crashed. I have chosen to concentrate here solely on Sydney, as I think the problems around the display and collecting of art more broadly are particularly complicated with three flagship institutions, MAAS, AGNSW and the MCA Australia, all collecting within similar areas. I recently took a group of students to the AGNSW to look at the way ceramics in displayed to visitors – it was I think a good lesson for them, as it demonstrated the hole that their career might fall into post-art school. I want to use the AGNSW as an example, not because I want to criticise it in particular, but I think that in Sydney, at least, a confluence of conflicting curatorial agendas has isolated contemporary ceramics. For the most part the ceramics at the AGNSW tend to be either European – a refined collection of eighteenth-century European porcelain that is permanently installed outside the AGNSW Library – or part of the Asian collection, which includes both contemporary and historical examples and assembled, I assume, due to the interest of the former director Edmund Capon.
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But for someone like Adelaide-based artist Kirsten Coelho, where would she fit? Or where in fact wouldn’t she fit? She is represented by Adrian Sassoon Gallery in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s great decorative art dealers and her work has been shown all over the world and extensively in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong. There is an Anglo-Japanese ceramics tradition in Australia – Coelho (alongside other practitioners like Peter Rushforth and Gwyn Hanssen Pigott5) is an extension of this tradition. It would fit into a collection like the AGNSW by virtue of its relationship to Asian art of this region – fused with an Australian (via the United Kingdom) aesthetic. Coelho’s work is often cited by other makers as an influence and her work has relationships not just to ceramic history, but through its gentle referencing of vernacular forms to artists, such as Robert MacPherson and Rosalie Gascoigne. Coelho has also recently been announced as one of the included artists in AGSA’s 2018 Biennial of Australian Art and maybe this will reflect a further shift that may resonate into NSW. The AGNSW has recently purchased an extensive group of works by perennial curators’ favourite Anne Dangar6 and it is important that galleries do back-buy works, where there are noticeable gaps in the collections, especially of female artists. But we only have to look at the example of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott to see where exclusion lies. Pigott is a giant of Australian art, both here and internationally. One recent trip to the UK – granted where Pigott had lived and worked for part of her career – I noticed she was one of very few, Sidney Nolan being the other high-profile Australian, with a consistent presence in museum collections. Her work extends well beyond the secular craft and clay world, although I think everyone in that world from the angriest old bloke to the newcomer agrees on its importance. She has been collected and exhibited by other Australian institutions and was the subject of a major retrospective at the NGV in 2005, so I think it’s worth pointing out that if room can’t be found for an artist of that calibre working with ceramics at the AGNSW, or for that matter the MCA, what hope has anyone else got? And furthermore, is it not easy to realise that the entire blanking out of not just a generation but generations of makers is going to lead to further backfilling in the future that is going to be costly and in some cases impossible?
It would be interesting to me for readers of this article to go back to their state galleries and museums and see what they are doing in terms of representing ceramicists, or for that matter any number of ‘marginal’ art forms. I think ceramics, which is for the most part dominated by women – not unlike textiles and fibre practice – would be under-represented in most galleries and museums. I’d love to be proven wrong. I also think you only need to see the prevalence of ceramics at the recent Sydney Contemporary Art Fair to realise that in this issue the art market seems to be leading the gallery sector. And that issue of gender is where I want to return, specifically the matter of old guys and their incessant chatter. I do believe there is room for constructive discussion that goes beyond calling something rubbish or crap or childish. As a community, we have a responsibility not to metaphorically kick in someone’s head, if it rises above the parapet. The vitriol of the old guard is laughable – once you get beyond the vitriol!7 But the problem is with those younger makers, many of them younger female artists from diverse cultures, drawn to ceramics’ heightened currency, only to be repulsed by the attitude of the people their Instagram friends warned them about. My argument has never been with my fellow makers. The argument does not lie with me – you may not like my work and that’s OK. I believe we have a much larger intellectual and curatorial argument within the art world and what clay’s part in it is, that is far more important.
Above: Kirsten Coelho, Necessity, (2016), porcelain matt white glaze, banded iron oxide, saturated iron glaze. Exhibited at ArtBasel Hong Kong with This Is No Fantasy and Dianne Tanzer Gallery. Kirsten Coelho is represented by Philip Bacon Galleries, This Is No Fantasy and Dianne Tanzer Gallery and BMGArt. Photography by Grant Hancock.
ENDNOTES 1. I recently found out that the difference between being a master doing a master class and just being a teacher or tutor was one of pay scales, so I am now a master. Or you can just put in on your website. 2. Ted Secombe, ‘Thoughts On Our Industry’, Journal of Australian Ceramics, Vol 54, No 3, Nov 2015: 80. The following issue included a text by Ramesh Mario Nitheyendran, ‘Fundamentalist Pottery vs Contemporary Art’, which countered many of the claims in Secombe’s text. Journal of Australian Ceramics, Vol 55, No1, April 2016: 52 3. Damon Moon, ‘‘Slight of Hand (sic) - Ceramics in The Magic Object: The 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art’, Journal of Australian Ceramics, Vol.55, No 2, July 2016: 44-49. It has been intriguing – and rather discombobulating – to watch via Instagram, Moon, a highly skilled practitioner, taking on some of the tropes of the ‘kindergarten art’ style. 4. In Australia you need only look at the work of Austrian Art Educator Viktor Lowenfeld, whose pioneering books of the 1930s and ‘40s were a major influence on the Angry Penguins’ group in Melbourne. 5. Rushforth does have a group of works in the collection, while Pigott has just one example, a 1962 production ware teapot, which is on permanent loan to the MAAS. 6. These works were purchased earlier this year and are not yet on AGNSW’s comprehensive online catalogue. 7. It’s also lucrative and I have sold (with pleasure) a series of works, all of which used as their source, online comments directed at me.
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SOUND INTO SOUND: ANRI SALA’S ACOUSTIC TRANSLATIONS
nri Sala’s acoustic worlds are filled with pre-existing compositions positioned in a manner akin to found objects; sonic phenomena which refer back to musical forms that are often familiar strains, becoming a platform for recomposition. In Sala’s video installations sounds are performed, re-arranged and re-sited in ways that both amplify and attenuate their originary meanings; a process described by Boris Groys as the staging of a dialectic ‘between the identical and the non-identical.’1
Such a tension between the identical and non-identical can be likened to the relation between an original and its translation. In his essay ‘On the Linguistic Aspects of Translation’ (1959), the linguist Roman Jakobson described the act of translation as the transmission and recoding of a verbal sign, in which he identified three primary modes of operation: intralingual transmission (the rewording of a word by means of another sign in the same language); interlingual transmission (the interpretation of signs by means of another language); and intersemiotic (the interpretation of signs by nonverbal sign systems). Sala’s video and sound installations demonstrate an interest in these multiple registers of translation, exhibiting a compulsion towards the interrogation of sound as a parallel to linguistic phenomena. As Sala himself has noted, ‘sound is one step away from language.’2 Sala’s sustained interest in the interlingual register of translation is most evident in the video projection Làk-kat (2004), a work developed over several iterations exploring the question of translation in relation to the Senegalese language of Wolof. The term làk-kat translates as ‘he who speaks another language from the one spoken where he lives’, yet in English also means ‘gibberish’.3 The 2004 version featured three Senegalese children filmed at dusk, instructed by an adult to enunciate the many words in Wolof that describe the colour of skin in gradations shaded from light-skinned (Xees) to dark (Ku nuul kukk). As a former French colony, Senegal bears the imprint of linguistic imperialism with French remaining its national language, yet Wolof ’s own rich array of variegated terms is dramatised in Sala’s piece; a comment on the semantic slippages inherent in the act of interlingual translation and the complexities of post-colonial identity. Such linguistic aporias were accented by a subsequent iteration of the work, Làk-kat 2.0 (British/American), 2015; a double-screen projection where a Senegalese child intoned the word tubab – a particularly ambiguous word alternately meaning ‘well done’ and ‘white man’, with its derivation from the French toubib implying other negative Left: Anri Sala, Ravel Ravel Unravel (2013), La Biennale di Venezia – 55th International Art Exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; Hauser & Wirth. Photography © Marc Domage.
connotations. A third version, Làk-kat 3.0 (Brazilian Portuguese/ Portuguese/Angolan Portuguese), 2016, filtered Wolof terms through further idiomatic translations. In its lack of univocal meanings, Làkkat and its reiterations accentuated the instabilities within the act of linguistic transposition, demonstrating fundamental limitations of the interlingual mode. Yet if we were to shift Jakobson’s linguistic schema to an acoustic register, the sonic interpretation of a notational score would correspond to the category of intersemiotic transmission, and the transposition of sound into sound to the category of intralingual transmission. These were translation modes that Jakobson admitted represented a type of synonymy, rather than absolute equivalence, where the lack of exactitude between terms permitted greater latitude for difference or interpretative licence. If intersemiotic translation corresponds to the transposition of a notational musical schema into a series of sounds, then an irreducible tension necessarily exists between the respective interpretations of composer and performer in the manner in which a musical score is translated or ‘played’; an interstice which Sala’s works similarly examine. The potential for antagonism across such an interpretive divide was the historical backdrop to one of Sala’s most acclaimed recent works, the two-channel video installation Ravel Ravel (2013) presented at the 55th Venice Biennale. Featuring two pianists, each playing Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand (1930), the work foregrounds the question of musical translation through Sala’s modification of the original composition’s tempo. Working with composer Ari Benjamin Meyers and sound engineer Olivier Goinard, Sala developed two arrangements of Ravel’s concerto that each differed through attenuations in time-scale. Designed in a manner to be played simultaneously by two pianists, the dual executions of the piece intermittently overlapped in unison before falling out of sync as the tempo for each interpretation diverged, producing a sonic effect of unity and dissonance, fugitive lines of echoes and repetitions. Ravel’s concerto was commissioned in 1929 by the early twentiethcentury Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), whose injuries sustained at the front in WW1 left him with an amputated right arm. Determined to continue his promising career as a concert pianist in Vienna, Wittgenstein decided to commission multiple piano compositions solely for the left hand from the world’s greatest living composers. In Jean Echenoz’s evocative biography of Ravel’s life, the author recounts Paul Wittgenstein’s first
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salon performance of Ravel’s commissioned work, which revealed that the pianist had taken it upon himself to make his own translation of Ravel’s composition; not simplifications for ease of playing, but rather interpretative supplements. Wittgenstein, Echenoz notes, was compelled to show his performance mastery in spite of his physical handicap, adding ‘arpeggios here, extra measures there, embroidering trills, rhythmic shimmies and other performance embellishments that no one had asked him for.’4 Listening in the audience at the inaugural performance, Ravel’s quietly escalating rage was blithely ignored by the exhilarated pianist. Ravel, seething with fury, departed. A year later Paul Wittgenstein, oblivious to the degree to which he insulted Ravel with his unauthorised musical translations, sought to visit the composer in Paris. Still smarting from what he saw as the pianist’s mutations of his work, Ravel refused Wittgenstein’s visit. Instead the composer despatched a curt note to Wittgenstein declaring that the pianist’s self-styled interpretation of his composition was tantamount to a form of counterfeiting. Wittgenstein’s defensive reply exonerated his amendments, declaring that musicians should not be slaves. Ravel’s riposte, as Echenoz recounts, was three words long: ‘Performers are slaves.’5 The conventional understanding of translation has seen it governed by a notion of fidelity to the reproduction of the original work’s meaning. Yet, in ‘The Task of the Translator’ (1923) Walter Benjamin argued that the essential substance of a literary work resided less in its content than in its expression – its unfathomable, mysterious or poetic elements. Concomitantly, for a translation to exceed mere utilitarian transmission, the translator needed to be a poet. Such a view directly contradicted Jakobson’s position, which argued that the inventive syntactic and morphological elements of language – its poetic form – carried its own autonomous signification that was in fact resistant to translation. Jakobson went so far as to assert that ‘poetry by definition is untranslatable.’6
between the two performances and, through the repetition of the same notes, to induce the impression of an echo.’9 The doubling or splitting of the concerto into two performances, less in order to fortify the rhythms of the original piece than to pull them apart, emphasised the concerto’s potential to become an echo of itself – or a form of acoustic shadow. Translatability, Benjamin argued, was an irreducible quality of certain works, yet a translation issued less from the life of an original work than its afterlife. If its ultimate objective was an adherence to the original, no translation would truly be possible. Instead Benjamin claimed ‘…in its afterlife – which could not be called that if it were not a transformation and a renewal of something living – the original undergoes a change.’10 Sala’s re-composition of tempo in Ravel’s concerto becomes the perfect emblem of Benjamin’s invocation of translation as a form of ‘afterlife’, as well as a subtle consideration of the often-unacknowledged inventiveness of the translator – albeit less from the perspective of the maverick performer, personified by Wittgenstein, than the ingenious recalibrations of the poet or artist-translator. Interlingual translation as a rendering from one musical language to another was also explored in Sala’s interpretation of the British punk band the Clash’s hit single, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ (1982). First appearing in Sala’s video Le Clash (2010), the song emanated from a music box placed inside a shoe box carried by a man wandering inside a derelict punk concert hall in Bordeaux, and a barrel organ’s rendition of the same song played by two musicians perambulating the venue. Fitted with microphones, the organ’s sounds were relayed to speakers inside the building, intermingling with the music box’s thin metallic arrangement. Like Ravel Ravel, the two renditions overlapped and diverged, moving in and out of sync, pallidly dispersing across the interior of a once lively music venue.
Benjamin, conversely, mused; ‘What can fidelity really do for the rendering of meaning?’ Fidelity in the translation of works, he answered, ‘can almost never fully reproduce the meaning they have in the original.’7 This was because a work’s poetic significance exceeded its meaning proper, and it was poetic form that was in most need of linguistic transposition. In a metaphor that was itself highly poetic, Benjamin claimed that; ‘Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing a wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in an alien one.’8
‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ was translated again in Tlatelolco Clash (2011), a video filmed in Tlatelolco Square in Mexico; an ancient Atztec site, but also the location of the Tlatelolco massacre in 1978. The Clash’s song was transposed into an organ score composed of 35 parts, each one corresponding to a sheet of perforated music. Invitees were given a sheet and instructed to walk to the designated site in Tlatelolco, where each placed their sheet into the barrel organ and turned its handle to activate the sound. As participants walked to the site over the course of a day and night in no particular order, the melodic fragments resonated out of sequence. Only at the end of the film did Sala splice the fragments into their correct melodic alignment, meaning the song’s reconstruction was formed as a coda from chronologically discontinuous filmic frames, revealing the impossible chrono-synchronicity of sound and image – as the unity of one could only function at the expense of the other.
Is it consequential that Benjamin invoked the notion of reverberation in his attempt to emphasise transformation and renewal in the act of translation? That sonic echoes might not be merely poetic metaphor, but literal acoustic phenomena that materialise the complexities of translation is embodied in Sala’s acts of subtle transposition. Ravel Ravel’s minor adjustments in tempo were designed, according to Sala, ‘to bring out the resonance of a space consecutive to the temporal lag
In his essay, ‘Des Tours de Babel’ (1985), Jacques Derrida further interrogated the practice of translation by invoking a myth narrated in the Book of Genesis according to which, after the Great Flood in the ancient land of Shinar, humanity set about erecting a tower of Babel whose looming height aspired to reach the heavens. Observing this, god laid to waste such hubristic ambition through transforming the peoples’ monolingual speech into multiple tongues, thereby confounding their
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ability to communicate. The etymology of the term babel thus refers both to this biblical origin myth and its subsequent meaning of tumult or confusion. Following Benjamin, Derrida argued that if a correspondence existed between an original work and its translation, this could not be in the order of representation, as ‘translation is neither an image nor a copy.’11 Derrida ruminated on the question of whether a work could even bear the act of translation and whether it was necessary. His own answer to this was to assert that the original requires translation (even if no translator is immediately present), because of an irreducible logic of ‘demand and desire in the very structure of the original’12 – a structure he likened to the relation of life to survival. If the original is structured by such a demand – the demand for potential prospective translation – this meant that it came into the world indebted; ‘it begins by lacking and by pleading for translation.’13 ‘If the translator neither restitutes nor copies an original, it is because the original lives on and transforms itself. The translation will truly be a moment in the growth of the original, which will complete itself in enlarging itself.’14 Translation is, in other words, a reconstitution, an opening simultaneously to the past of the original and the future of its variable translations – or mutations, as Benjamin termed the process. Such mutations as both Benjamin and Derrida saw it, however, were not simply creative inventions, but rather attempts to re-establish a foundational affinity between all languages, in their antediluvian state. Translations thus sought to extend the body of languages and develop their symbolic expansions, through a rendering that precluded the possibility of semantic closure. Translation then, would be a restorative act that re-established the a priori consonance within language – something, paradoxically only possible through the iterative structure of translation. In the Derridean schema, the truth of translation would then reside not in the representational correspondence between the original and its translation, but rather the crossing of languages that ensured their mutual growth. This process of regeneration essential to translation would be its unspoken promise, its guarantee of the survival of the original as a prolonged life. Elsewhere, Derrida would posit the original as a primary body, or first body, which the translation ‘elevates, preserves, and negates [italics mine]’.15 In one of his most recent works, Take Over (2017), Sala performed another acoustic operation that subtended these layered concepts of translation through forging an encounter between two tangentially related political anthems. La Marseillaise (1792) was composed as an anthem to rally French troops in defending their homeland and as a clarion call to social revolution, and became the French national anthem in 1795; while a subsequent French anthem, L’Internationale, written in 1871, commemorated the First International (1864) – the historic coalition uniting disparate socialist political groups in their revolutionary class struggle – and was later adopted by Stalin as the USSR’s national anthem in 1927. However, the lyrics of L’Internationale were written without a musical accompaniment and were set to the music
of the Marseillaise, before being belatedly given an original musical composition by Pierre De Geyter in 1888. Stripped of lyrics, the two compositions were imbricated by Sala by filming the pianist Clemens Hund-Göschel playing each work on a Disklavier (a computer-programmed piano), meaning that the musical score was played simultaneously by the human player and the piano’s internal programming. The filmed performances were projected on both sides of a freestanding gallery wall, each side diagonally bisected by an enormous panel of glass. The effect was one of multiple dislocations: the transposition of anthems traditionally sung en masse to a soloist rendition; from workers’ and anarchists’ amateur choirs to virtuoso recital; and the recorded moving image sundered into the virtual space of its fragmented, spectral reflection. Most dislocating of all, however, was the forceful acoustic encounter between the two musical compositions suggesting, simultaneously, an aspirational reversion to their short-lived unity and reconfiguration in a newly conjunctive form, as well as their sonic disintegration through the Hund-Göschel method of play; a gamut of gestures from the lightest touch to fists pounding the keys in blunt violence. Take Over embodied Derrida’s tenet that the act of translation does not exist to communicate a specific content across languages, so much as to re-mark the affinity between all languages; an act nonetheless, the result of strife. Through folding the discrete compositions into one another, Take Over disinterred their anterior acoustic affinity while enacting their mutual annihilation. The Tower of Babel as Derrida’s figurative trope for the act of translation did not simply herald the antecedence of an originary linguistic unity to which all such operations putatively aspired, but came to emblematise what the philosopher declared was both the necessity and impossibility of translation. Perpetually ensnared in a struggle for appropriation of the word, translation both splintered and sutured the space between the original work’s preservation and its own destruction. The Tower of Babel, he wrote, ‘exhibits an incompletion, the impossibility of finishing, of totalizing, of saturating, of completing something on the order of edification...’16 Even Jakobson, in his dryly analytic account of translation, concluded with an invocation of the Italian formula traduttore, traditore – ‘the translator is a betrayer’17– a notion corroborating Benjamin’s espousal of translation’s necessary infidelities. Fidelity to the original – ostensibly translation’s raison d’être – ultimately becomes an inverted procedure. Turning on its on its own dual denotation, as both accuracy in audio reproduction and loyalty, fidelity as a definitional term might unexpectedly expose translation’s central dilemma as one that is elucidated in the realm of sound. Sala’s multiple acoustic translations – his fidelities and infidelities – occurring in Ravel Ravel, Le Clash, Tlatelolco Clash, Take Over and the ongoing iterations of Làk-kat come to foreground this paradoxical amalgam with its overlapping logics of debt, survival, destruction and afterlife. This is, what we might say, translation’s reverberations at the forest’s edge, its mise en abyme or infinitely receding semantic horizon line.
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Anri Sala’s new work The Last Resort (2017) has been co-commissioned with international partners Esther Schipper, Berlin, and Marian Goodman, New York and Paris, as the 33rd Kaldor Public Art Project, taking place on Sydney’s Observatory Hill, 13 October – 5 November 2017.
1. Boris Groys, ‘Scenes of Limited Subjectivity’, Anri Sala: Answer Me, Margot Norton and Massimiliano Gioni, New Museum, New York, 2016: 132. 2. Anri Sala, interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in Entre chien en loup, Musee d’art moderne de la Ville, Paris, 2004, in Jessica Morgan, ‘Sound and Vision’, Anri Sala, Éditions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2012: 64. 3. See Christine Macel, ‘Odds and Evens’, Anri Sala: Answer Me, op cit: 151. 4. Jean Echenoz, Ravel: A Novel, (trans. Linda Coverdale), New York: The New Press, 2011, excerpt in Christine Macel and Anri Sala, Anri Sala: Ravel, Ravel, Unravel, Paris: Manuella Editions, 2013: 64. 5. Echenoz, Ravel: A Novel, op. cit: 67.
6. Roman Jakobson, ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation’, The Translation Studies Reader, Lawrence Venuti (ed), London & New York: Routledge, 2000: 131. 7. Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’ , Illuminations, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt (ed), London: Fontana Press, 1973: 78. 8. Ibid: 77. 9. Sala, Anri Sala: Ravel, Ravel, Unravel, Macel and Sala, op cit: 7. 10. Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’, op cit: 73. 11. Jacques Derrida, ‘Des Tours de Babel’, Jacques Derrida, (trans. Joseph F. Graham), Difference in Translation, Joseph F. Graham (ed), Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1985: 180. 12. Ibid: 182. 13. Ibid: 184. 14. Ibid: 188. 15. Jacques Derrida, ‘What is “Relevant” Translation?’, Critical Enquiry Vol. 27 No. 2, Winter 2001: 199. 16. Derrida, ‘Des Tours de Babel’ op cit: 165. 17. Jakobson, op cit: 131.
ARTIST IN RESIDENCE PROGRAM 2017–18 OCT – DEC
JAN – MAR
APR – JUN
Henry Jock Walker and friends
[GRAFTd] EXHIBITIONS 2017–18 NOV
SAUERBIER HOUSE IS A CONTEMPORARY ARTSPACE DEDICATED TO THE CREATION OF LIVING CULTURAL DIALOGUES AND LOCAL CREATIVE EXCHANGE
Ewa Skoczynska SAUERBIER HOUSE culture exchange 21 Wearing Street, Port Noarlunga | 8186 1393 Wed to Fri 10am–4pm | Sat 12noon–4pm
For more information about residencies, exhibitions and events visit www.onkaparingacity.com/sauerbierhouse
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still-ness: activating the ‘still’ rhythms of generational feminism
he feminist movement, which feminist writer bell hooks defines as one ‘to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression’,1 has been agile and responsive for generations now. Artists have long contributed their labour to this movement; their art testament to individual and collective negotiations within an ‘antifeminist world’.2 In South Australia the 2017 statewide FRAN Fest (Feminism Renewal Art Network) marks the forty-year anniversary of the pivotal 1977 The Women’s Show at Adelaide’s Experimental Art Foundation; exhibitions in multiple venues celebrate the ensuing period, which has been marked by transformational feminist art. Specific projects staged during the FRAN Fest, such as Remembering The Women’s Show at ACE Open,3 have called forth women’s marginalised histories – embedded within stories, artefacts and works of art – to contemporaneously revive these lively archives and reckon the rhythmic movements of this movement. An exhibition, which similarly draws upon under-recognised feminist archives is From There to Here, curated by Loene Furler for the South Australian School of Art Gallery (SASA). From There to Here rallies together the art of five women, who have not only endured gendered inequities over the last four decades, but have propelled feminist art in South Australia and beyond. Margaret Dodd, Loene Furler, Kay Lawrence, Ann Newmarch and Olga Sankey have sustained, maintained and propagated feminism through lifelong careers as artists, activists, teachers, mentors and more. This exhibition, though small in scale – given the scope of each artist’s forty year (plus) career – presents five chronologies, which chart their developing art practices from the 1970s to the present. While highly selective, collectively the works convey an art-based witnessing to intergenerational feminist experiences against a backdrop of shifting social and political circumstances in Australia, abroad, and through their increasingly globalised lives. Contemporary art is indebted, indeed entirely entwined, with knowledges afforded through the hard-won triumphs of the feminist movement. The many, many feminisms and freedoms which characterise contemporary art owe their development to the earlier steps taken by daring artists such as those in From There to Here. As an artist and fortunate inheritor of these ‘wins’, it is staggering to comprehend the stifling restrictions placed upon foremothers due to gender, and even more so to realise many still persist. And it is through witnessing these art-based protests that generational impasses are overcome, and intergenerational connections made. Though ‘Generational Feminism’ was a theory put out for retirement,4 it is making a comeback. For just
as it has been important to interrogate current topographies, theorists such as Iris van der Tuin have realised that looking back does not expose overly trodden ground, but rather opens up related and generative rhythmic terrains.5 As the art in this exhibition reveals though, too often these terrains teem with rhythms of ‘still-ness’; that still, for too many generations, as feminist writer Sara Ahmed has so disturbingly articulated, ‘patriarchal reasoning goes all the way down, to the letter, to the bone’.6 It permeates cultures, workplaces, homes and women themselves. There is still work to do. Scrutiny of histories through generational feminism, while embracing intergenerational communication and intersectionality, offers the possibility of uniting artists who are linked across centuries by their shared actions of calling-out power. Ben Little has argued that ‘generational difference is manipulated by governments in order to create divisions, destroy collectives and deploy blame’.7 This has fractured relationships and caused false generational divides.8 Despite being disruptive, differences or rhythmic pauses, stops and starts, do enable moments of introspection and retrospection, which eventually broaden feminism’s scope. As part of FRAN Fest, at Adelaide’s praxis ARTSPACE Eleanor Scicchitano has curated I’m a Feminist but… described as an exhibition of seven contemporary artists navigating the ‘confessional, confronting and contradictory’9 realities of being feminist in the twenty-first century. While connected through the collective movement, these artists demonstrate these are also complex personal negotiations. Thus, today, those oft-cited divisive feminist waves could be more usefully understood as the coordinated upwelling of individual feminist arms when political and cultural climates attempt to contain them. All generational waves arise from the one powerful feminist genealogical ocean. However, in keeping with the wave parlance, these are still choppy times. Exhibitions such as From There to Here make explicit that artists have inherited ongoing struggles; an exasperating generational repetition that sees women in the arts still toiling against the same relentless barrage (or their closely related descendant) as their art mothers and grandmothers. Labour is at the forefront of this inequality, specifically when it comes to the undervaluing of care and ‘love’ based roles, within home and without. Critically, as Macushla Robinson has recently and fervently argued, women still remain ensnared by a pervasive and pernicious capitalist extrication of the ‘labouring’ from caring work.10 These undervalued, unpaid and exploitative jobs, not only underpin the cultural functioning of societies, they are what the arts are predicated upon… and they are still mostly performed by women.
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Another challenge highlighted by this exhibition, and the FRAN Fest more generally, is the keeping alive of past campaigns against oppressions and discriminations for their uptake by future feminists; this demands fastidious record-keeping skills, accessible archives, willing teachers, ready beneficiaries, ever more screen adaptations of Margaret Atwood’s novels, and comparable exhibitions, which highlight how the attainment of human rights requires champions. These inherited knowledges need caretakers or there is a danger that the sole legacy will be ignorance. It is well known that Griselda Pollock made feminist reckoning her life’s work after her early realisation that she was inheriting an art historical ignorance which sidelined women artists. She diagnosed ignorance as: … an invisibility of meaning that arises from the indifference and indeed hostility of the culture to where these works come from, what they address and why they might have something to offer that realigns our understanding of the world in general.11
Gender inequality has been perpetuated by ignorance, invisibility and silence, all weapons, which have attempted to stifle art made by women and others falling outside the problematic bounds of heteronormativity. To counter this, fostering works of art driven by feminist conversations like those in From There to Here, passes along feminist knowledge and renders inheritances visible for generations to come.11 Though feminisms across generations share many conversations, it must also be said that in contrast to the 1970s, contemporary feminism occupies theoretical terrain that if not more complex, certainly feels overwhelming due to its voluminous excess. Successful postmodern and poststructuralist interrogations (via feminism, postcolonial and queer theory) have birthed new theories, notably the posthuman, new materialism and intersectionality, further undoing dichotomous distinctions and privileged perspectives to make way for an immeasurable number of feminisms,12 (empowering further rich dialogue and scholarship). And whilst in distinct ways the artists in From There to Here have partaken in postmodern linguistic and cultural deconstruction, long before contemporary feminist theories caught on, they already knew what theory tells us now; how much matter matters. We now know that materiality, just as much as language and discourse, shapes lived experience. As artists working with matter they have always known that the ‘stuff’ and rhythms of bodies, nature, their daily lives, have as much to say as words themselves. The art of From There to Here pulses with generational bodily rhythms; stitching, weaving, drawing, etching, and hand-modelling, which require careful attentiveness and the (re)making of one’s world – boldly and materially through incremental gestures. From early in her career Ann Newmarch collected, created, dissected and re-constructed printed media to protest against the propagation of restrictive gender roles, often putting herself, her body – pictorially and physically – into the work. Her numerous posters, which also passionately took up local environmental and political concerns, were central to activist art in Adelaide, which came to prominence in the 1970s with the Progressive Art Movement and Women’s Art
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Movement.13 Her use of paper, collage, photocopies, screenprinting, and other layered and reproductive methods, not only enabled speedy and widespread dissemination, but candidly addressed the plethora of paper-based media negatively shaping how women saw themselves and their bodies, at that time often relegated to home-based reproductive roles. Olga Sankey has also spent a career pushing the methods of printed media and printmaking to the point where the social and gendered ‘authority’ of language and images break down, literally. She scratches, rubs, layers, blows up, masks, peels back, cuts into – digitally and by hand – to create prints which materially transform the legibility and functionality of text and images into questions rather than normalised givens. Over decades she has used her prints to viscerally scrutinise ‘the power of words and images to shape our perception of reality’,14 especially when it comes to gendered expressions of desire. While early works took up the he said/she said language of personal ads, Sankey’s recent series materially exposes the regularly absurd gendering to be found in visual and text-based perfume advertisements; ‘extreme sauvage’15 being one ludicrous yet insidious contemporary case in point. The written word is frequently an impetus for Kay Lawrence’s tacit and time-consuming practice. Her most recent work Rant, woven over seventeen years (on and off), rewrites a vehement diary entry by her enraged teenage self into tapestry. Diaries reveal not only private inner monologues and past selves but the daily lives of women, which have long been undervalued. Across her oeuvre Lawrence’s tapestries have regularly and intensively fixed – in place and time – transitory phases, materialities and relations; notably the fallible feelings of being mother, daughter, teenager, reworked through material investigations into fabric scraps, holey vessels, and other symbols of ephemerality and mortality. Her translations of such rusted, scrawly, scrappy matter into laboured textiles, gives abundant time, toil and fibre-by-fibre deliberation to that which would otherwise wear away. It is logical that such an ‘illogical’ use of time (according to the economically rationalist expectations of labour in this increasingly fastpaced capitalist culture) drives many feminist material practices. For generations the physical and mental labour of caring, of carrying out domestic chores and organising the logistics of home have been overexploited, yet grossly under recognised.16 Time is one way of highlighting this ‘care’ and so is critiquing the outdated, yet persistent equation of femininity with domesticity. Margaret Dodd’s career-long appropriation of Holden cars into funk ceramics has put commodification, as well as the manufacture of Australian gender stereotypes at the fore. Yet while Dodd has worked across a variety of scales and media, in Adelaide’s current political landscape, it is the shrinking of these pertinent symbols into domestically-sized, handmade, glazed Holdens, which has continued to offer up a feminist challenge. Whether equipped with lipstick surfboards or bridal veil, Dodd’s Holdens teasingly hark back to domestic décor, yet have made use of their ambiguity to occupy and own a prime spot between ill-serving dichotomies. This strategy has forged less contested territory for future generations to occupy.
Yet the domestic – in scale, in colour, in clutter, and site – has also been an important subject for generations and its reinsertion into the minimalist white cube gallery is a feminist art legacy that has required continual maintenance. Since her 1968 film and early paintings, Loene Furler has reinserted the home with its endless labours – a bind for women, which begins from birth – into the long lineage of patriarchal painting as an important subject. Noticing that ‘women had been relegated to helpers/handmaidens to the male artist’,17 Furler’s ceramic and paint-based bodies of work, as well as her music, have exorcised these frustrations. Fragmented personal symbols, reflected eyes, outstretched hands and knotted rope have expressed these vexations, especially at a ‘scattered mind’,18 which is the aftereffect of juggling the diverse roles necessary for negotiating the precarious combination of being both woman and artist.
From There to Here recognises five women, who faced with inequality, have been activists, role models, and have survived as artists against the gendered odds. Their legacies mean that these odds are improving for Australian women artists today … yet these still taper off in critical areas. Statistically, Elvis Richardson’s The CoUNTess Report19 of 2014 found that women are underrepresented in the arts in Australia in two main areas: exhibiting in commercial and state galleries, and representation in art media. When looking back across generations of feminist art, it is striking how records of exhibitions – in newspapers, catalogues, art journals – are now so critical to remembering, or forgetting. Sadly but not surprisingly, exhibitions such as The Women’s Show have left little behind. Certainly, contemporary artists such as Barbara Cleveland (formally Brown Council), or projects such as the Future Feminist Archive, have confirmed these archives are in need of reinvigorating.
Above: Margaret Dodd, Hoon Holden (1977), ceramic sculpture, 18.5 x 42 x 18.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist. Photograph: Clay Glen.
Re-membering histories and legacies by revisiting and revitalising feminist art from decades ago is critical for contemporary feminism. Part of living a feminist life, Ahmed has written, means negotiating ‘how to keep coming up against histories that have become concrete, histories that have become as solid as walls.’21 Re-membered feminist histories reveal these historical walls, like all histories, to be constructions and vulnerable to dismantlement – their solidity an illusion. Yet if The Handmaid’s Tale television series,22 with its timely release at the height of unstable international and highly-gendered politics, has taught us anything, it is that new walls can be made ever so fast. With this in mind, From There to Here and FRAN Fest can be viewed as a call to action… to caring about feminist matters and to materially manifest that care for future generations to inherit, so that ‘still-ness’ might give way to a growing and intergenerational, rhythmic movement, which is shared.
In 2017 FRAN Fest took place across multiple venues in South Australia from August 24 until September 24 with a FRAN Symposium September 16-17 at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
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ENDNOTES 1. bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Cambridge MA: South End Press, 2000: 1. 2. Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, Durham: Duke University Press, 2017: 1. 3. FRAN Fest Facebook page states about Archival hub @ ACE Open: Remembering The Women’s Show: “With generational change women’s histories can often be swept aside, left on the ‘scrap-heap of history’(Susan Faludi). But with the archival turn in feminism and art these scrap-heaps become important sites of (re)discovery, revealing fragments or traces of forgotten narratives that when pierced together can disrupt established histories yielding other meanings, telling other stories. Women artists who exhibited in The Women’s Show have been invited to comb through their own ‘scrap-heaps’ and create their own archives from artefacts, objects, remnants and memories that recall The Women’s Show, the impact of feminism and their work and circumstances at the time.” 4. Any discussion of ‘generational feminism’ requires some careful manoeuvering as it had fallen into the pitfalls of categorisation, ageism, dichotomous thinking, stereotyping and pitting generation against generation. For a lengthy discussion, see: Iris van der Tuin, Generational Feminism: New Materialist Introduction to a Generative Approach, London: Lexington Books, 2015. For an Australian context see Penelope Robinson’s essay: ‘Feminism and the Generational Divide: An exploration of some of the debates’, Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, Vol 10, no 2: 2007/8. 5. Iris van der Tuin discusses ‘generational feminism’ through a new materialist lens. Of the ‘rhythmic’ she notes that ‘when feminist movement is rhythmic, it is not necessarily linear. Rhythm implies an embodied and embedded flow that rises and swells and wanes. But it must be said that nonlinear rhythmic movement does imply a pattern, so it is not without structure’. Ibid: 120. 6. Ahmed, op cit: 4. 7. Ben Little cited by Alison Winch, ‘Feminism, generation and intersectionality: Generational differences within feminism are also opportunities for dialogue’, Soundings: A journal of politics and culture, Issue 58, Winter, 2014-15: 9. 8. Further to her discussion of rhythms, Van der Tuin has written: the ‘feminist movement is, in certain contexts and at certain moments, spatio-temporarily halted by processes that go against its grain, shutting down what feminists were intending to open up out of fear of essentialism, racist, and heteronormative undertones and generational conflict’. Op cit: 120. 9. Eleanor Scicchitano, ‘I’m a Feminist but...’ catalogue essay, praxis ARTSPACE, August 31 – Sept 28, 2017, Adelaide SA.
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10. Macushla Robinson, ‘Labours of love: women’s labour as the culture sector’s invisible dark matter’, Runway: Australian Experimental Art, accessed August 2017 http://runway.org.au/labours-of-love-womens-labour-as-the-culture-sectorsinvisible-dark-matter/?platform=hootsuite 11. Griselda Pollock (ed), Generations and geographies in the visual arts: feminist readings, London: Taylor and Francis, 1996: xv. 12. Stacy Alaimo & Susan Hekman, ‘Introduction: Emerging Models of Materiality in Feminist Theory’, in Material Feminisms, eds Stacy Alaimo & Susan Hekman, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008: 1-17. 13. Julie Robinson, Ann Newmarch: the personal is political, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 1997: 10. 14. Artist quoted by Pamela Zeplin, ‘The ear, the eye, the tongue and the print: Olga Sankey and the visuality of language’, IMPRINT, vol. 44, no. 3, 2009: 21. 15. Dior’s Eau Sauvage Extrême is a cologne for men, which is a variation on the original Eau Sauvage. 16. The 2016 Australian census confirmed this is a continuing area of concern. See: Leah Ruppanner, ‘Census 2016: Women are still disadvantaged by the amount of unpaid housework they do’, The Conversation, April 11, 2017. http:// theconversation.com/census-2016-women-are-still-disadvantaged-by-the-amountof-unpaid-housework-they-do-76008 17. Quoted from Loene Furler, ‘Biographical Details’, supplied to the author by the artist, July 26 2017. 18. Ibid. 19. Elvis Richardson, ‘The Countess Report: counting gender representation during 2014 in the Australian visual arts sector’, accessed July 2017: http:// thecountessreport.com.au/ 20. The report states: ‘Commercial galleries showing 40% female artists and state museums showing 34% female artists in 2014 tell a different story – one where commerce, history and taste are more traditional and hierarchical. The closer an artist gets to money, prestige and power the more likely they are to be male. These results are not surprising as they mirror those in almost all other areas of creative production as well as in almost all spheres of power and influence.’ 21. Ahmed, op cit: 1. 22. Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale, 10-part TV series, US: Hulu productions released April 2017. Below: Olga Sankey, Lomm + Femme, 2017, Digital print on paper and polycarbonate, 56 x 160cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
09 December Curated By Kimberley Moulton and Liz Nowell
Lion Arts Centre North Terrace (West End) Kaurna Yarta Adelaide SA 5000
Paola Balla, Ali Gumillya Baker, Hannah BrontĂŤ, Miriam Charlie, Amrita Hepi, Nicole Monks and Kaylene Whiskey
Hannah Bronte, Mother Lava (2017), digital image, 2017. Courtesy the artist.
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the politics of the local: Australia’s regional galleries
he foyer of Latrobe Regional Gallery is humming with anticipation. Across the ground floor, crowds await the refurbishment’s official opening, tentatively spilling into new exhibition spaces rendered deeply provocative by internationally acclaimed Sydney artist Denis Beaubois. Upstairs, photographs by the phenomenal René Magritte are presented in newly reimagined spaces. Today’s event marks the successful end of a remarkably condensed period of collaboration by LRG Director Mark Themann with architects NAAU Studio, local builders and contractors, and local and state government. What it signifies, however, is far richer than a building re-opening: there are complex curatorial and political questions here that are familiar well beyond Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley
Across Australia, regional galleries are leading important conversations on gallery practice, taking active roles in the ethics and the politics of the local, and articulating a strongly grounded artistic leadership. More than simply the custodians of carefully guarded collections, regional galleries succeed or struggle on the strength of their ambition for fostering the Australian culture from their own unique standpoint. Increasingly international in their outlook, regional galleries seek to balance local artistic development with global artistic movements, working from a confident connection to country and sense of place. None of that is easy, of course; the realities of being responsible to a strongly invested local community both temper and inspire that work, offering city galleries some valuable insights along the way. REGIONAL EVOLUTION The contemporary gallery has regional ancestry – but we’ve come a long way since the first privately owned collections were made public in the palatial homes of regional Europe and Britain. Curation, experimentation, site-specific work, live art and socially engaged practice have since challenged those privileged positions and today the gallery is far from being an inert observer of culture. Indeed, we’ve now come full circle: tax incentives have since 1999 made artwork donation even more attractive, with TarraWarra Museum of Art emerging just a few years later as the first privately-owned public gallery in Australia. From her sweeping vantage point in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Director Victoria Lynn leads sophisticated interpretations of the extensive collection gifted by Marc and Eva Besen, as well as provocative shows such as the TarraWarra International 2017: All that is solid… Left: Installation view, 80/80: Eighty Years of SAM –The Collection, showing until February 2018. Image courtesy the artists and Shepparton Art Museum.
Once established, a regional gallery tends to be a long-term commitment. Founded in 1884, Australia’s oldest is the Art Gallery of BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.2 46.3
Ballarat, closely followed in 1886 by the Warrnambool Gallery, and then the Bendigo Art Gallery the next year. More recently, as sectorresponsive arts policy and collections’ incentives began to develop in sophistication across the 1970s and ‘80s, regional councils extended their cultural leadership by protecting and nurturing significant local collections, and many new or revamped galleries emerged, such as the Dubbo Regional Gallery and the Tweed Regional Gallery – which also encompasses the Margaret Olley Art Centre with its stunning recreation of her home studio. The Rockhampton Gallery, founded in 1967 and owned by Rockhampton Regional Council, holds one of regional Australia’s most significant modernist collections, thanks to the legacies of dedicated and adventurous local collectors. The Fremantle Arts Centre, housed in a mid-eighteenth-century convict-built former asylum and technical school, has just presented the world premiere of Ian Strange’s architecturally audacious new exhibition ISLAND. Not all regional galleries can sustain the conditions for success, of course, with spaces such as Allan’s Walk in Bendigo, or Project Contemporary Art Space in Wollongong, now no longer existing, while Wollongong City Art Gallery celebrates its fortieth anniversary next year. Artist-run spaces are bellwethers, setting out new directions in practice, site and community engagement that larger institutions won’t risk. Outside of cities, this maverick edge develops from the hyperlocal – a deep dedication to a responsiveness between practice and context that is authentic to its own artists, its own place – such as Little Milligan in Briagolong, which is the result of the decades-long life partnership between artists Deb Milligan and Colin Little, and the local collaborations they’ve nurtured along the way. Warmun Art Centre in the Kimberley, twelve hours’ drive from Darwin, has been managed by Gija elders since 1998, and its collaborative artists exhibit locally, nationally and internationally. There from the very beginning is one of their best-known: Lena Nyadbi has been commissioned to create a work for the façade and later the rooftop of the musée du quai BranlyJacques Chirac in the world’s most visited city. SITE, COMMUNITY, PLACE When regional galleries don’t engage with their communities, controversy inevitably engulfs the town, and debating the merits of imported artists against accomplished locals quickly becomes mainstream. A frequent concern among regional artists is that the local 44
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gallery – in many cases, the only gallery for dozens if not hundreds of kilometres – will begin to eschew local exhibitions in favour of touring shows, in an attempt to boost visitation by presenting familiar names. Robert Heather, Director of the New England Regional Art Museum, came to Armadale with stellar credentials earned regionally and in cities across three states. His programming framework strikes an explicit balance between dedicated exploration of the collection, presenting local artists, and drawing out new connections among the work of both. The Araluen Arts Centre’s gallery, set among seven sacred sites near Alice Springs, is the keeping place of local stories and also a presenter of national and international work, as well as hosting the annual Desert Mob exhibition of contemporary works from the region’s Aboriginalled arts centres. Regional galleries who actively engage locally are fostering more than artistic communities and audience development; they are creating the Australian culture from their own unique situation. An active relationship with local government is essential – a far more comprehensive relationship than that developed with a state or federal government funding body. Regional shires across the nation are Australia’s most significant owners of galleries and their collections, as well as their buildings and land. This makes them strongly invested in the success of those galleries, recognising their role as the bellwethers of local confidence, innovation, tourism and business development. As part of a cultural strategy study led by Northern Grampians Shire Council, the St Arnaud Street Museum project, led by the renowned Maudie Palmer AO, hosted residencies and presented new work by artists including Nathan Gray and Joanne Mott. Palmer, the founding director of Heide Museum of Modern Art and TarraWarra Museum of Art, is frequently invited to consult on new galleries, and is currently artistic adviser to McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery. Rebecca Coates’ ambitious plans for the new Shepparton Art Museum are premised on the Greater Shepparton City Council’s own $10 million investment and its dollar-match by both state and federal governments, as well as significant local philanthropy, to create a new home designed by the internationally awarded Denton Corker Marshall. ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP Both Palmer and Coates have long been outspoken on the gallery’s
unique responsibility to articulate and defend cultural value and develop community and place. As artistic leaders, regional gallery directors are moving beyond local shire conversations about inherited buildings not fit for purpose, climate control or large-scale installation. Instead, the local government relationship is a partnership on a range of strategic goals, with councils increasingly recognising that the conditions that nurture artistic practice also nurture thriving communities and economies. MAMA, the new Murray Art Museum Albury, is owned by Albury City. It champions arts experiences that are brazen, beautiful and controversial, as well as what Director Bree Pickering calls ‘art by accident,’ celebrating the discoveries that galleries facilitate both within and beyond their walls. When the Castlemaine Art Museum recently announced its imminent closure to work on strategic planning for future sustainability, the local community sprang into action with a sophisticated set of questions and approaches to governance, funding and programming, affirming the institution’s importance to the cultural life of the region. The Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, an hour’s drive from Adelaide, was founded by community leaders and now run by the Rural City of Murray Bridge with Melinda Rankin as Director. Solastalgia, an exhibition of objects evoking melancholic sensations of our changing sense of home features Lesa Farrant, Claire Brooks, Leonie Westbrook and Jo Wilmot. Beyond the white cube, cultural leadership is an active negotiation for the many regional galleries housed within buildings that also accommodate performing arts centres or libraries, including Gold Coast City Gallery, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, and the current SAM. Rather than conceiving of the gallery as a stand-alone entity, this requires a deep investment in the practicalities of the local, recognising the gallery’s shared location as a focal point for a diverse range of cultural exploration. Rob Robson, one of Australia’s most highly respected regional arts leaders, sees constructive local advocacy as an ongoing collaboration. Currently overseeing the redevelopment of the West Gippsland Arts Centre in Warragul, Robson’s past work at Greater Shepparton City Council helped create the conditions for Coates’ success today by championing an ambitious approach to public art as well as gallery practice – an approach he has maintained in commissioning the breathtaking Archaeology of Time (2016) by James Geurts, a stunning public sculpture sited next to the West Gippsland Arts Centre that tells the story of impudent European settlers destroying one of the world’s tallest trees just to measure its height.
Back at the Latrobe Regional Gallery a couple of days later, the opening of Magritte: The Revealing Image becomes one of Morwell’s biggest nights. Many have come from hours away – some happy to be back, others visiting for the first time. Rather than presenting a touring blockbuster for his gallery’s reopening, Themann’s choice of Magritte is astute. These are compositional, experimental and deeply personal images never before seen outside of Europe, taken across several decades by an artist, who never exhibited a single photograph in his lifetime. Exhibition curator Xavier Canone, Director of Brussels’ Musée de la Photographie, tells me how pleased he is that the exhibition is being presented here; a regional artist himself, Magritte delighted in knowing that his neighbours had no idea what he did for a living when he left his home each morning in his bowler hat and dustcoat. One of the most important roles of the regional gallery is to identify and recognise local artists, especially those from smaller neighbouring towns, and connect them with one another through talks, workshops and informal events. Nurturing creative careers and fostering the arts ecology is the immediate priority for all regional gallery staff – whether within their spaces or well beyond, during business hours or otherwise, and no matter what their job description – because they are part of a community, which survives on the strength of the local. Recognising their influence on the rigour of critical reflection, on the conviction that takes creative risks, and on the ethics of the public conversation, regional artists and gallerists can have an impact on social and commercial enterprise well beyond their own work, inspiring a confidence to express what’s most critical and most timely. This, of course, is the role of every cultural leader – whether in cities or in the smallest and most remote of regional towns.
Desert Mob exhibition at Alice Springs’ Araluen Art Centre (7 Sept–22 Oct 2017); Ian Strange’s ISLAND, Fremantle Arts Centre (22 July–16 Sept 2017); René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Latrobe Regional Gallery (19 Aug–19 Nov 2017; Solastalgia, Murray Bridge Regional Gallery (1 Sept–15 Oct 2017);The TarraWarra International 2017: All that is solid… at Tarrawarra Museum of Art (2 Sept–12 Nov 2017). Left: Cao Fei, Rumba II: Nomad (video still) 2015, video, 14:16 min. Courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space. Below: Ian Strange, Island, installation view, Fremantle Arts Centre, 2017. L-R: RUN, SOS, and HELP, 2015-17, archival digital prints, Image courtesy of the artist and Fremantle Arts Centre. Photography by Jessica Wyld.
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Ples bilong mi (place belong me) Taloi Havini: Habitat
ougainville-born, Sydney-based artist Taloi Havini has in recent years been propelled onto a global stage for sophisticated work engaging with the history of a small part of the Pacific with which Australia has long connections, Bougainville.1 Most recently her immersive three-channel video and sound installation Habitat was presented as a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, where Havini had just completed a six-month Pavillon Neuflize OBC residency.2
Habitat was originally commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the first iteration in 2017 of the three-part biennial series The National: New Australian Art, in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Carriageworks. Speaking recently on the curatorial rationale for the exhibition, AGNSW Curator Anneke Jaspers stated that the curatorial team was interested ‘in bringing together a group of works that would unsettle dominant narratives around the politics of place and that would also think about Australia’s relationship to the rest of the world’.3 An almost perfect, if somewhat uncomfortable response for Australia, Havini’s Habitat takes the viewer into this country’s complex history in the Pacific. Following my first full viewing of Habitat at the opening of The National, I distinctly remember a strong desire for solitude and space.4 Part of this was the need for time and silence to let the sequence of landscapes and lives I had just experienced settle. More than this however, was the feeling of needing to stop and quietly honour a space of deep loss. The gesture and image that comes most clearly to mind of that time, is a bowing of the head. It is a gesture that I found myself oftenrepeating four weeks later, as I travelled through devastatingly beautiful landscapes of Havini’s homeland, and met the people connected to it and to her. It is a gesture that returns now, as I watch the video again on a screen back in Australia.
Left: Taloi Havini, Habitat, 2017 Three-channel digital video installation, HD, colour, surround sound, 10’40 Mining plan P10/015 Bougainville Copper, 1969 wall paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Taloi Havini and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Bowen Hills, Australia. Originally commissioned for The National by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, adapted for her Pavillon Neuflize OBC residency solo exhibition, Palais de Tokyo (Paris) in 2017. Installation photographs credit: Aurélien Mole and Felicity Jenkins.
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Habitat. Landscape. Home. These three distinct words are all used to describe a particular physical environment or area but with very different emotional registers. For me Havini’s Habitat mobilises all three. HABITAT The word habitat evokes the idea of a relationship of survival within a particular environment or ecosystem. Somewhat scientific in feel, the word encapsulates a set of physical factors necessary to flourish in a particular place, such as water, earth, light and air as well as access to food and safety from predators. Throughout Habitat Havini poetically renders sequences of images of gardening and the preparation of food, revealing that in Bougainville, life continues to be tied to the harvesting of sustenance from earth, river and sea. Habitats are dynamic, changing over time. An island with a number of active volcanoes, the mainland of Bougainville, where Havini was born and where she filmed the major sequences of her video work is a landscape of fairly violent historical geological change.5 Extreme weather events come and go. Yet, even the destruction brought about by cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions pales in comparison to the changes that the history of mining has wrought for the inhabitants of this locale. Havini’s Habitat documents the impact that the Panguna copper, gold and silver mine – a subsidiary of the Australian owned Conzinc Rio Tinto, opened in 1972 by Bougainville Copper Limited – has had on the peoples of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. Sadly, this is a history about which many Australians know little, despite Australia’s strong presence as a colonial power in this part of the Pacific, when armed forces seized control from the German administration in December 1914.6 As the video begins, mesmerising footage of individuals slowly moving through forests and waterways on foot and raft, is overtaken by the sound of whirring blades from helicopters, used from the 1960s, when Bougainville was under Australian administration, to chart the region’s rich natural resources. Building with sinister intensity, this sound is accompanied by scrolling maps identifying key deposits and outlining the drastic changes to the shape of coastlines caused by the diversion of rivers for tailings by the mine. The video then shifts to an aerial perspective – over cascading yet polluted waterways, still filled with the iridescent blue of the mine’s tailings, pumped and leaching into them since the 1970s.7 With this bird’s-eye view we follow the slow path of a lone figure – Agata – across the dramatic desolate moonscapes of the nearby plains. Huge, snaking pipes, strewn across and through the Crown Prince Ranges stretch to 48
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the sea, dumping waste on the west coast, while others (not pictured) extended east to the once breathtakingly beautiful coastal village of Loholo, where copper was, during the mine’s heyday, pumped onto ships destined for distant markets. Moving through graveyards of abandoned and rusting mining infrastructure the video/camera halts in front of the horrifically majestic, scarred and weeping cliff face of the Panguna pit, once the fertile gardens of the Nasioi and Nagovis people. During the seventeen years of its operation, Panguna is estimated to have generated over 1.7 billion kina in total revenue; representing over 44% of PNG exports.8 Local land owners received 1.25% of the 5% of the mine’s profits allocated to the Bougainville Interim Provincial Government, the majority of royalties accruing to Rio Tinto (53.8%), the PNG government (19.2%) and foreign investors in Bougainville Copper Limited.9 Dissatisfied with this situation, in 1989, a small army of landowners launched formal protests and when their appeals fell on deaf ears set out to close the mine. A violent conflict erupted between this group and the mine owners, backed by the PNG Defence Force, culminating in a ten-year civil war and blockade that claimed the lives of over 10-15,000 residents of Bougainville, along with many Papua New Guinean soldiers.10 The subject of other bodies of Havini’s work, the much discussed and documented Bougainville conflict is an absent presence in Habitat, referenced only through the burnt out remains of mining infrastructure and the haunting absence of human life around this and the pit. Foregrounded in this work is the longer-term environmental impact that the mine continues to have on the lives and wellbeing of those who survived the conflict. Introducing international audiences to devastated ‘moonscapes’, to the blue tailings flowing through what were pristine rivers, and to Agata, who is observed sluicing the once mineral rich earth of her ancestral land for slivers of remnant wealth, Habitat reveals that the reality of living in the destroyed landscape, which is the legacy of the mining operations is an ongoing battle for the inhabitants of Bougainville. A daughter of the land, Havini seeks to share this local perspective. LANDSCAPE The idea of perspective and of different points of view resonates strongly throughout Habitat and at the heart of this perception is an engagement with ideas of landscape. Landscape as a concept generally describes the visible features of an area of land and its landforms. The idea is embedded in longstanding aesthetic and colonising traditions of documenting to make sense of, and therefore exert some control over a particular – and at times threatening – physical environment. Underlying the importance of landscape within Western cultures, in
particular, is the eye and the authority it has gained via linear perspective as a primary sense in the acquisition of knowledge about the world. Alongside aesthetic traditions of documentation, including painting, devices such as telescopes, microscopes, cameras, and the medium of video have over past two centuries enabled an extension of the range of vision, expanding our capacity to ‘see’ and to control.
The knowledge held and documented in these sequences resides in the feeling, vulnerable body. They are the accumulation of a lifetime of being connected to and dependant on a particular physical environment. For Havini they are also the experience of home.
In Habitat, this approach to landscape plays out through references to practices of mapping, the use of an aerial bird’s eye view and the mobilisation of video, a tool used for study and surveillance, as the medium. At key moments, Havini takes her viewer high above the landforms and waterways of Bougainville’s majestic landscapes, cocooning them in the deafening whir of chopper blades, removing any connection to the sounds, smells and textures of life on the ground. From this vantage point the terrain is laid out like a picture. With this comes the sense of objective distance supporting the assumption of positions of power and control: ‘the higher we are, the more godlike and less human our view.’11
In contrast to the words ‘habitat’ and ‘landscape’, we engage much more subjectively with the word ‘home’. Used primarily to reference a place of shelter, home brings with it ideas of protection and intimacy. In the imagination, home can take on all of the attributes of our first shelter, our mother’s womb, a profoundly internal space of succour and protection. It is a space held in memory and dreams by means of texture, smell, sound and taste.
Speaking about this work, Havini has recounted that the sound of aeroplanes and choppers carries memories of the first foreign contact for the people of Bougainville.12 Apart from the boats that brought early missionaries, this landscape was primarily approached from the air. The site of massive aerial combat and bombing during World War II, it was subsequently surveyed from the 1960-‘80s by foreign planes mapping the wealth of the island’s rich gold and copper deposits. Finally there are Havini’s own childhood memories of the Australian Iroquois military helicopters used by the PNG Defence Force to locate and kill rebel BRA fighters in dense jungle during the crisis. The distanced aerial view of a seemingly uninhabited landscape – spilled out at one’s feet – that we witness in Habitat thus re-enacts the terrifyingly inhuman nature of these earlier moments of discovery, encounter and destruction. Juxtaposed with this very colonising viewpoint are sequences of images shot on the ground, detailing the experience of moving through and occupying the landscape. It is primarily Bougainvillean women, the matrilineal owners and mothers of the land, who lead us on this journey. They draw our attention to the material reality of the ground beneath their feet. It is their hands, immersed in muddy waters that feel for small fragments of rock wealth, which slowly clean and slice fish pulled from poisoned waterways to feed hungry families. These moments defy the totalising demand of the gaze; rather they enact the tactile and aural space of the here and now. Small events: walking barefoot along an earthen forest path, the swirling movement of water, a swish of reeds parting for a raft, the weight of a knife-in-hand slicing through the thick flesh of a fish, hitting a bone, the gentle background chorus of insects and birds.
In Habitat we are returned to the home Havini lost at age nine when her family fled to Australia – where her mother was born – on the last plane to leave Bougainville as the crisis intensified. Having been brought up in the wood and brick dwellings of cities fringing the coast of Australia, what is striking about this work and the perspective that it offers is that home is not a building. Rather, home is the land of Bougainville and the complex matrix of sensations embedded in this land. Importantly it is also the hands, labour and presence of one’s female line; the grandmother, mother and aunties whose bodies not only created life, but who continue to work in and with the land to sustain it.13 The repeated images of women are the refrain that holds the diverse sequences of images in Habitat together, just as they are the connection to and protectors of Havini’s homeland. Registering this, the systematic despoilment, destruction and plunder of the land of Bougainville and its ongoing consequences that Habitat documents, and in which we as Australians are implicated, is all the more devastating. With a dignified generosity, Habitat brings to light the overlooked conflict between two homes. The land on which Havini was born and the land in which she grew to adulthood – Australia. I bow my head.
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ENDNOTES 1. In an early act of WW1, Australian armed forces arrived in Bougainville on 9 December 1914 and took control of this part of German New Guinea. A final transition to Australian administration was made in 1921, once the League of Nations Mandate was enacted. Despite a strong local desire amongst Bougainvilleans for political self-determination, Bougainville became a part of an Independent Papua New Guinea on 16 Sept. 1975. 2. Accessed 20 August 2017 http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/en/event/taloi-havini 3. Accessed August 2017 https://soundcloud.com/nava-visualarts/episode-8-thenational-art-gallery-of-new-south-wales 4.The National showed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Carriageworks, Sydney, 30 March–16 July 2017. 5. They are Numa Numa, Billy Mitchell, Taorka and Loloru volcanoes. 6. http://www.solomonencyclopaedia.net/biogs/E000032b.htm 7. Tons of overburden and tailings stored on the banks of the Kawerong or washed into the Jaba River changed its flow and poisoned its waters. DFAT, ‘Bougainville, Background notes: 1989 to Dec. 1997’. http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_ representatives_committees?url=jfadt/bougainville/bvrepindx.htm: See chapter 2, ‘History of the Bougainville Conflict’. 8. Accessed 29 July 2017 https://ramumine.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/rio-tintowalks-away-from-environmental-responsibility-for-bougainvilles-panguna-mine/ 9. In 2016 Rio Tinto divested its 53.8% share in BCL to the Papua New Guinea government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government; see above and http:// www.smh.com.au/world/billiondollar-mess-a-major-disaster-the-people-do-notdeserve-to-have-20160817-gquzli.html accessed 29 July 2017
10. Parliament of Australia, ‘Bougainville: The Peace Process and Beyond’, 27 Sep. 1999. See Chapter 2, ‘History of the Bougainville Conflict’. http://www. aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_ committees?url=jfadt/bougainville/bvrepindx.htm, 11. Ruth McDougall, ‘Taloi Havini’ in The National: 2017 New Australian Art, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks & the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney: 94-95. 12. Conversation with the author, Sept. 2016. https://soundcloud.com/navavisualarts/episode-8-the-national-art-gallery-of-new-south-wales 13. This includes Taloi’s Australian-born mother Taleo Hatukul (Marilyn) Havini, who was adopted into Bougainville in the late 1960s, lived there until 1989 and then again from 2004.
Below: Taloi Havini, Habitat, 2017 Three-channel digital video installation, HD, colour, surround sound, 10’40 Mining plan P10/015 Bougainville Copper, 1969 wall paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Taloi Havini and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Bowen Hills, Australia. Originally commissioned for The National by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, adapted for her Pavillon Neuflize OBC residency solo exhibition, Palais de Tokyo (Paris) in 2017. Installation photographs credit: Aurélien Mole and Felicity Jenkins.
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