JOURNAL 46.1 ART / CRITICISM / THEORY
VOLUME 46.1 2017
Over 60 modern and contemporary artists
Bodies across space and time 4 March — 2 July 2017
versus Rodin. Book online or in person Art Gallery of South Australia artgallery.sa.gov.au
Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation and supported by Adelaide Festival
image detail: Auguste Rodin, France, 1840 – 1917, Pierre de Wissant, Monumental Nude, c.1886-87 (Coubertin Foundry, cast 1985), Paris, bronze, 215.0 x 100.0 x 60.0cm; William Bowmore AO OBE Collection. Gift of the South Australian Government, assisted by the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 1996, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
CUR ATED BY ANNA DAVIS
18 February – 14 May 2017
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Rd, Healesville, Victoria T +61 (0)3 5957 3100 E firstname.lastname@example.org
IMAGE: Louise Hearman Untitled #727 1999, oil on masonite Collection of the artist. Image courtesy and © the artist. Photograph: Mark Ashkanasy
Exhibition organised and toured by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
CONTRIBUTORS ROBERT BAILEY is an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Art & Language International: Conceptual Art between Art Worlds, Duke University Press, 2016. DAVID CORBET is a freelance writer, curator and designer/artist, based in Sydney. Currently completing a PhD at the University of Sydney’s College of the Arts, he is director of DNA Projects, Contemporary Art, developing hybrid art projects by emerging artists, designers and photographers. Ongoing exhibition/ publishing projects include the SOUTH series and The Museum of Dissensus. His personal creative practice encompasses installation, printmaking, photo/ new media, as well as graphic, broadcast and visual identity design. HANNAH DONNELLY is a writer and the creator of Sovereign Trax. Her writing experiments with future tense, speculative fiction and Indigenous responses to climate change through stories of cultural flows and water. Sovereign Trax is an online platform promoting First Nations music through energising decolonisation conversations and community in music. She is currently working at Next Wave as an associate producer. BEN ELTHAM is a Melbourne-based writer and author. He is a lecturer at Monash University’s School of Media, Film and Journalism and covers Australian politics and culture for a range of publications. GILES FIELKE is a writer and musician living in Melbourne. He is completing his PhD in the Art History Department of the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication. He is a founding member of the Artist Film Workshop and Screening Society in Fitzroy, Victoria. He is preparing a collection of oral histories by experimental filmmakers in Australia. ALEX GAWRONSKI is a Sydney-based writer and artist, who has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. Upcoming projects include The National, Cementa Biennale, at Kandos, NSW (2017). A co-founding director of a number of independent artist spaces including KNULP, Sydney (2015-) and the Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (ICAN), (2007-2015), Gawronski has published widely in various contemporary art magazines and journals since the 1990s. He teaches in the Painting Studio, Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), at the University of Sydney and the School of Architecture, the University of Sydney. SOPHIE KNEZIC is a visual artist and scholar, who works between practice and theory. Her inter-disciplinary research is conducted across art history, art theory, visual culture, Continental philosophy, literary fiction, science fiction and the post-humanities. Sophie’s critical writing on contemporary art, literature and design has been published in Frieze, Artlink, Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, Art Monthly Australasia, Australian Book Review, Un Magazine and Object Magazine. Sophie is currently a lecturer (sessional) in Critical and Theoretical Studies, VCA and MCM, University of Melbourne.
EMMA McRAE is a Curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, where she has curated exhibitions including Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts (2016), Daniel Crooks: Phantom Ride (2016), Candice Breitz: The Character (2013), Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen (2012), Game Masters (2012), and Hollywood Remix (2009). She has also curated exhibitions and screening programs for organisations including Experimenta, Next Wave, Sydney Film Festival, and Urban Screens Melbourne, and her writing on contemporary art has been published in exhibition catalogues and publications nationally and internationally. JACQUELINE MILLNER is Associate Professor in Critical Studies at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. HANNAH PRESLEY is an Aboriginal curator based in Melbourne. Her practice focuses on the development of creative projects with Aboriginal artists. Hannah manages the Victorian Aboriginal Weaving Collective and is currently Curatorial Assistant (First Nations) for Tracey Moffatt at 57th Venice Biennale. MACUSHLA ROBINSON is an emerging theorist and Assistant Curator at the New School Art Collection in New York, where she is also completing graduate study with the assistance of the John Monash Scholarship. She has published in Broadsheet Journal, Art & Australia, Art Monthly Australasia, ArtAsiaPacific and Imprint, in addition to exhibition catalogues. EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Claire Bishop (USA) Rex Butler (Victoria) Robert Cook (Western Australia) Pedro de Almeida (New South Wales) Léuli Eshraghi (Kulin Nation Territory) Alexie Glass-Kantor (New South Wales) Helen Hughes (Victoria) Carol Yinghua Lu (China) Jacqueline Millner (New South Wales) Daniel Mudie Cunningham (New South Wales) Djon Mundine (New South Wales) Brigid Noone (South Australia) Maura Reilly (USA) Terry Smith (USA/Australia) Vivian Ziherl (Netherlands/Australia)
CEO Editor Production Manager Designer Layout Publisher Printing
Liz Nowell Wendy Walker Sarita Burnett David Corbet Justin Chadwick Contemporary SA Inc. 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 Editorial inquiries, advertising and subscriptions may be sent to the Editorial Office: BROADSHEET JOURNAL Lion Arts Centre, North Terrace (West End), South Australia 5000 Tel +61  8211 7505 • Email: email@example.com • www.cacsa.org.au
Broadsheet Journal can be viewed and downloaded, cover to cover, from www.cacsa.org.au
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1
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 Contemporary SA Inc. Front cover image: Steven Rhall, The biggest Aboriginal Artwork in Melbourne Metro, 2014. 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.
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1 CONTENTS MACUSHLA ROBINSON Foreword
BEN ELTHAM Dissent and dissensus: political art in the time of Trump
DAVID CORBET In the shadow of the wall: reflections on The Jerusalem Show VIII : Before and After Origins
HANNAH DONNELLY Field of View Sovereignty: A future tense interview with VR (Virtual Reality) curators. Based on yarns with Paola Balla and Max Delany 20 ALEX GAWRONSKI Here and Nowhere: artistic identity on social media
EMMA McRAE Beyond cinema: the actor in the gallery
GILES FIELKE Movies in the museum (PART 1): surveillance and the infra-thin
SOPHIE KNEZIC The Okayama Art Summit: a new triennale for Japan
JACQUELINE MILLNER Major Tender: curating and collaborating with care
HANNAH PRESLEY MY HORIZON: Tracey Moffat at the 57th Venice Biennale
ROBERT BAILEY Exhibiting art history and other wanderings in and out of diverse fields
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WENdy WALkEr MACUSHLA rOBINSON
WHEN ACTION IS ELOQUENCE
In an era defined by the cacophony of unrelenting media bombardment and the infiltration of discomfiting new expressions/tools (‘fake news’, ‘alternative truth’ etc) into the vernacular, a gesture of solidarity by a group of curators at New York’s Museum of Modern Art – notably unheralded by a formal statement or tweets – assumed a heightened potency. Writing in the foreword to Broadsheet Journal’s first issue for 2017, Macushla Robinson discusses MoMA’s remarkable rehang of its fifth-floor gallery to include works by artists from countries subject to Donald Trump’s travel ban. Curators worked swiftly to replace a number of the permanent collection’s most cherished paintings (Matisse, Picasso et al) with works intended to highlight embedded cross-cultural influences within the institution’s unfolding narrative of Euromodernism. Adjacent to each work, an unambiguous wall label provides context. Wendy Walker, Editor
FOREWORD: This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States. Wall text, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017.
Following the announcement of the executive order on immigration, staff at MoMA proceeded to install eight works, by Siah Armajani, Marcos Grigorian Zaha Hadid, Faramarz Pilaram, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Shirana Shahbazi, Parvis Tanavoli, and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi throughout their permanent collection display. Curatorially, this is a blatant political statement, not typical of the notoriously apolitical institution. Not that the works themselves are blatant political statements: they tend towards the abstract and have been carefully chosen to blend into, whilst sometimes offsetting, the thematic of the rooms they inhabit. Picasso’s Card Players for example, has been replaced by The Mosque, a 1964 oil painting by the Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi. It resonates with the pieces that remain around it, but tells a different story, evokes a different place. Siah Armajani’s work, which hangs above the information desk, recalls a cityscape seen from the air at night, all silver and black shards scattered in a loose geometric compo6
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sition. Architect Zaha Hadid’s painting of Hong Kong is an assembly of interlocking geometric forms which, hung between Rousseau and Munch, chimes with the surreal feel of the room and yet interrupts its Eurocentric focus and temporal logic by looking at a different city, in a different time, by an artist of non-European descent. Marcos Grigorian’s modestly scaled canvas, from his Earthworks series, is composed of mud pooled and encrusted in the centre of the image. It does not look out of place hanging alongside works by European artists Alberto Burri and Antoni Tàpies, yet in this charged political context, its relationship to place – dirt, soil, land – takes on a new resonance, as though it were a piece of earth from the place, where the artist was born, scooped up and spread across the wall. At the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum is Shirana Shahbazi’s image, a large and glossy photographic image of three billiard balls, which form an abstract composition. Alone in a room of works by Duchamp, this piece looks distinctly of our time, not of his, and thus disrupts its historical narrative, while riffing on Duchamp’s design principles. But there are other works, other histories, other stories to be told apart from those of Picasso, Matisse and Picabia. Let us imagine for a moment that the museum regularly took this kind of stand – and with more than eight works and several films (though further interventions are evidently planned). Imagine that it would not be surprising to see pieces from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen mingled with those from France, England, Germany, Russia and America. Perhaps we should also choose to trust audiences to approach galleries with their eyes (and ears and other sensory organs) open, looking for new ‘greats’. Perhaps we might dispense with the scarcity complex that dominates so many collection hangs worldwide and presume instead that visitors to a museum might be willing to sacrifice seeing just a few fabled ‘masterpieces’ to cast their gaze upon something they didn’t know existed, that they hadn’t heard of – not because these pieces aren’t as good but because they come from somewhere else. And perhaps some small portion of the millions of people who visit the museum every year would pause for a moment to think about who those people banned from America are – how rich their culture, how nuanced and individual their experiences, how human. A once-in-alifetime visit might, then, go some way towards countering the effects of xenophobic popularism. Macushla Robinson: Museum of Modern Art, February 2017
dISSENT ANd dISSENSUS: POLITICAL ArT IN THE TIME Of TrUMP IN A TIME Of LOW POLITICS, THE POLITICISATION Of ArT IS INEvITABLE
n January 2017, the Auditor-General of Australia released a report on Australia’s border detention camps in Manus Island and Nauru. Officially entitled ‘Offshore Processing Centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea: Contract Management of Garrison Support and Welfare Services’,1 the report examined the recent contracting arrangements between the Australian government and private companies providing services to the island prisons. We have always known that offshore detention was cruel and inhumane. Now came the evidence that it was utterly wasteful. As an example of government mismanagement, offshore detention achieves an epic scale. The Auditor-General’s report was a catalogue of waste and mismanagement. The report details a rushed job, with little planning. Corporate contractors had harvested billions, with barely a semblance of proper oversight. A whopping $1.1 billion in payments were made by officers, who lacked the required authorisation, while another $1.1 billion lacked any kind of authorisation at all. The contracts ‘were established in circumstances of great haste’, and ‘the department did not have a detailed view of what it wanted to purchase or the standards to apply.’ The companies lucky enough to gain the big contracts to service and manage the camps gained huge windfalls. In many cases, they didn’t even have to submit their costs to the Australian government. According to the audit, there was ‘limited evidence’ that the government bothered to check that ‘invoiced services were actually obtained’. No manifest was kept of goods received at Manus and Nauru. The top contractor named in the audit was a company named Transfield. In the five years since offshore detention was restarted by the Gillard Labor government in 2012, Transfield and its successors have received more than $2 billion of taxpayers’ money for ‘garrison support and welfare services.’
in the Pacific, was a listed company once owned and managed by Sydney’s Belgiorno-Nettis family. And that’s where the art comes in, for Transfield’s founder, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, was a driving force in the establishment of the Biennale of Sydney in 1973. The family trust company, Transfield Holdings, was a significant shareholder in Transfield Services, the industrial and engineering giant that tendered for detention profits in the Pacific. The Transfield connection was noticed by a Sydney design academic, Matthew Keim, who kicked off the boycott with a mild-mannered blog post in February 2014. ‘Profits from mandatory detention fund the Biennale,’ he pointed out. ‘Clearly, the most appropriate response to this situation is to boycott the Biennale.’ A group of artists agreed. They announced they would boycott the event. They published an open letter stating that: ‘We will not accept the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, because it is ethically indefensible and in breach of human rights.’ What followed was one of the most important moments in recent Australian cultural history. The boycott spiralled into a major controversy. The imbroglio swept up the Biennale in a febrile swirl of art, politics and commentary. The chair of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, eventually stepped down, and the festival severed its links with Transfield Services. George Brandis and Malcolm Turnbull got involved, with Brandis accusing the artists of ‘blackballing a benefactor’ and Turnbull accusing them of ‘vicious ingratitude.’ The short-term victory of the boycott was apparent by March 2014. A chairman scalped, a sponsor abandoned, and a new political edge to the Biennale was sharpened. By 2016, the Biennale was able to return to business as usual, with no boycott and no controversy, but with record crowds turning out to see art.
Australian artists will be familiar with the name Transfield. The company holds an indelible place in the nation’s contemporary art scene as the target of a boycott at the 2014 Biennale of Sydney.
The Biennale boycott played a major role in the subsequent history of Australian cultural policy. It dominated the national artworld in 2014,2 with critic Andrew Frost writing that it was ‘a year when the conflicted relationship between politics and art in Australia came into stark relief.’
Transfield Services, the contractor to Australia’s immigration gulag
The boycott set the stage for the massive cuts to the funding of the
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BEN ELTHAM Australia Council announced by former Arts Minister George Brandis in 2015. As I argued last year in When the Goal Posts Move, the Biennale boycott was a key moment in the lead up to the Brandis raid on the Australia Council.3 One interpretation is that the arts community was punished for the temerity of questioning government policy.4 The savage assault on the Australia Council’s independence has been one of the most important developments in national cultural policy in recent years, and certain parts of Australian culture are still in shock. Dozens of smaller companies have lost funding, and federal grants for artists have declined by a worrying 70 per cent in dollar terms since 2013. In an article for the ABC in 2014, writer Simon Barney posed an intriguing speculation: that the rise of political art was in fact simply one aspect of the rise of big picture themes in cultural programming. Audiences love big themes, and politics is the biggest theme of all. If so, we could be entering a golden age of political art in western industrialised nations. Nothing seems surer, if monstrously trite, than the proposition that world historical events will shape the world history of art.
Once in a while, provocations succeed. Some caveats apply, of course. The rise and fall of something as amorphous as ‘political art’ is almost impossible to accurately trace. No general survey of the theme in Australia currently exists, and the problems of definition are such to ensure a riot of differing interpretations of what constitutes ‘political’, ‘radical’, ‘thematic’ and ‘post-colonial’ cultural expression. But we can certainly spot some straws in the wind. Indigenous politics has become a rising force in Australian contemporary culture in recent years. So has the issue of borders and the people who cross them, an intertwined problem that continues to wrack the body politic of Western democracies. 2016 was notable for the rise of openly political Indigenous artists across a range of contemporary artforms. In contemporary music, one of the most important albums of the year was released by A.B. Original, a hip-hop duo, whose lyrics mix realism and polemic in healthy measure. A.B. Original’s song ‘January 26’ was voted 16 in triple j’s Hottest 100 for 2016, and the song became an informal anthem of sorts for the Change the Date movement. Another voice that rose rapidly to prominence was playwright and artist Nakkiah Lui, whose production Blaque Showgirls was one of the most talked about shows in Melbourne in 2016, and her TV series Black Comedy became an underground cult hit. Lui has become one of
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the hottest commodities on the Australian stage since Simon Stone.5 In the visual arts, the National Art School presented Vernon Ah Kee’s solo exhibition Not an animal or a plant (7 January-11 March), as part of the 2017 Sydney Festival. The show explores the history of the 1967 Referendum. A compare-and-contrast of Ah Kee’s word art and his remarkable, large drawings of faces, Ah Kee’s work focuses resolutely and unflinchingly on Australian racism. The politics of history has long loomed large in Ah Kee’s art: both in his exploration of Indigenous dispossession, and in his long-term collaboration with like-minded artists in the proppaNOW collective. 2016 was also marked by a grand retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia for Australia’s best-known experimentalist, Mike Parr. The trademark blood and guts were of course on show, but so too were Parr’s more solemn meditations on self-portraiture, language and communication. Parr is an avowed polemicist, and certainly much of his back catalogue is political (such as his various exercises in face and lip sewing). But he is also an artist, who has consistently sought to open up new spaces for aesthetic interaction, and that tells us something about the politics of art too. Not for nothing did Christopher Allen end his review of Parr’s retrospective with a sage quip about ‘experience fetishism.’6 In Brisbane, curator Vivian Ziherl presented the first iteration of her fascinating Frontier Imaginaries project, an international collaboration that spans borders and epochs and exposes the idea of the frontier to some decidedly intense scrutiny. As Andrew Frost observed upon seeing it; ‘like much contemporary art that takes on an expanded documentary aesthetic, the experience is remarkably abstract and indefinite, rather like frontier zones themselves – and the more it goes on the less you can say you know for sure.’7 One thing you could say for sure: this was a political exercise. The twin exhibitions making up Frontier Imaginaries’ Brisbane sojourn included work from overtly political Australian artists, including Juan Davila, Gordon Hookey and Tom Nicholson. Frontier Imaginaries confronts the violence of history, as felt by those at the pointy end of imperial projects. There is no doubt that the many contradictions of the contemporary artworld will complicate artistic reactions to the coming authoritarianism. And so we must inevitably turn to the seismic political earthquakes of 2016: the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, and the election of Donald Trump as US president. In such a time of low politics – a politics utterly obsessed with borders and frontiers – it’s not surprising that we’re seeing ambitious projects like Frontier Imaginaries. I have on the wall of my flat all nine of Tom Nicholson’s Anzac memorial posters, Comparative Monument (Palestine), in two groups of four and five. The posters depict various Anzac war monuments in Victoria, including several suburban examples of long memory and considerable symbolic appeal. Together, they both look back to the
Above: La Triviata/ Bad Son, 2010–2013 In Mike Parr: foreign Looking (installation view) National Gallery of Australia, 2016. Photo: Zan Wimberley.
‘secular religion’ of Anzac identified by historian Ken Inglis, and forward to a very contemporary form of post-colonialism. The conceit of Nicholson’s Anzac poster project is of an imagined monument. He envisages a new installation in the Israeli city of Bir Sab’a made up of nine Australian Anzac monuments, ‘shipped from Melbourne to Tel Aviv, and transported by truck to Bir Sab’a.’ This new Brandenburg Gate of Australian war monuments would be so large, Nicholson writes, that it would block ‘all eight lanes of traffic’ on David Hacham Boulevard. The nine monuments will all be plonked down in a great row. ‘The nine inscriptions face the same way: Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Palestine.’ I am not sure if Nicholson would agree with me, but I think his work often reveals the influence of Jacques Rancière, one of the last remaining giants of contemporary art theory. Rancière’s writings on aesthetics and politics8 have loomed large in the intellectual landscape of contemporary art theory since the 1990s, and given the very political times we now live in, it seems likely that they will continue to do so.
Rancière’s work is complex and controversial; a potted summary of his work is perhaps deliberately unfair (but then again, superficial readings have rarely deterred artists and curators from citing him in their work). The gist of Rancière’s thinking on politics and art revolves around the notion of dissensus, which can be thought of as a kind of aesthetic rebellion by the oppressed classes. Dissensus is not the seizure of the means of production, or the transfer of power by political action, but something larger and more symbolically charged. It is the creation of a new conceptual paradigm, which opens up the space of social action. As Rancière puts it, dissensus is a conflict between two sensory regimes; ‘a dispute over what is given and about the frame within which we sense something is given.’ You can see the logic of dissensus in the way that the Sydney Biennale boycott played out. By drawing attention to the uncomfortably tight embrace between disaster capitalism and the shiny pavilions of Sydney’s contemporary art world, the boycotters also called into question one of the most cherished policies of the Australian political mainstream: border protection.
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Needless to say, Nicholson’s Palestine monument project is a provocation. Such a reconstruction is of course impossible by any conceit of funding or law. If he really did attempt such a construction, he would quickly draw the attention of the Israeli authorities. But the political charge of his re-imagination remains potent. Here is the political intent of the Anzac cult turned against its historical outcome. Once in a while, provocations succeed. It took several years and a series of damaging government reports, but by January 2017 we could say, beyond reasonable doubt, that the boycotters of the 2014 Sydney Biennale were proved right. The moral cause of the boycotters has been sadly vindicated by subsequent events. The litany of human rights’ abuses in offshore detention is long and melancholy; Madeline Gleeson has best covered it in detail in her book Offshore.9 Children have been sexually abused and women raped at both camps, and there have also been several suicides. Several detainees have died of treatable medical conditions. Most notoriously, a young Iranian refugee, Reza Berati, was murdered on Manus Island while under Australian care. The bankruptcy of Australian immigration policy has been graphic, mired in misery, swathed in secrecy and awash with missing goods and phantom services. But it has also seen unexpected acts of resistance, of which the Sydney Biennale boycott is one of the most interesting. The boycott of Transfield did not end the inhumane treatment of refugees. But it did sever the link between offshore detention and the practice of art. It did result in the resignation of the chair of the Biennale, and the end of a sponsorship of the Biennale that derived from the profits of detention. As for Transfield? The boycott led directly to major sharemarket transformation. In 2014, the Belgiorno-Nettis brothers sold their entire stake in Transfield Services for a reported $90 million. Transfield then renamed itself ‘Broadspectrum’, and was eventually bought by Spanish multinational Ferrovial.10 In late 2016, Ferrovial announced it would not re-tender for contracts on Manus or Nauru.11 Ferrovial was joined in the exit by Wilson Security, another company that has faced public boycott pressure over its role in the immigration detention business. In fact, with the exit of Ferrovial from Manus and Nauru, the boycott also removed an entire corporation from the business of misery. For those wondering whether artists, by their aesthetic actions, can intervene in politics, here was a signal example. The tendency for art to get more political as times get darker is an old idea. In the famous words of Walter Benjamin, at the end of his essay on the ‘mechanical reproducibility’ of art, Fascism turned politics
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into a fetish of militarism – a ‘rendered aesthetic’ of torch parades, bombers and tanks. ‘Communism,’ he concluded gloomily, ‘responds by politicising art.’ Art in the time of Trump will surely get more political. Art represents a medium in speech, a form of resistance, and an exercise in political critique. Just as it did in the 1930s and 1940s, artists will resist and subvert the increasingly repressive political environment of their time. In an era of great political moment, the act of artistic communication must surely achieve new political importance.
ENDNOTES 1 Australian National Audit Office, Performance Audit: Offshore Processing Centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea—Contract Management of Garrison Support and Welfare Services, ANAO Report No.32 2016–17, Canberra: Australian National Audit Office, 2016. 2 Andrew Frost ‘Australian art in 2014: the year of protest, politics and power games.’ Guardian Australia, 18 December 2014., available at: https://www.theguardian.com/ artanddesign/2014/dec/18/australian-art-in-2014-the-year-of-protest-politics-andpower-games 3 Ben Eltham, When the Goal Posts Move: Patronage, power and resistance in Australian cultural policy, 2013-2016, Strawberry Hills: Currency House, 2016. 4 Matthew Westwood ‘Coalition ‘punished’ artists for Biennale boycott by cutting funding,’ The Australian, 2 August 2016, available at: :http://www.theaustralian.com. au/arts/coalition-punished-artists-for-biennale-boycott-by-cutting-funding/news-st ory/6ebf1792902f887c60fb93c1c722bc76?memtype=anonymous 5 Alexandra Spring ‘Nakkiah Lui: I don’t like the word leader, especially when used about me,’ Guardian Australia, 27 January 2015, available at: https://www. theguardian.com/stage/2015/jan/27/nakkiah-lui-i-dont-like-the-word-leaderespecially-when-used-about-me 6 Christopher Allen ‘Foreign Looking: Mike Parr at the NGA’, The Australian, 8 October 2016, available at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/foreignlooking-mike-parr-at-the-nga/news-story/3224e5db85539ecd4b4819203224318f. 7 Andrew Frost ‘Frontier Imaginaries: evolving, touring art show explores global politics and Australian history’, Guardian Australia, 31 May 2016, available at: https:// www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/31/frontier-imaginaries-evolvingtouring-art-show-explores-global-politics-and-australian-history 8 Jacques Rancière Dissensus: On politics and aesthetics, Steven Corcoran, (ed/trans.), London and New York: Continuum. 9 Madeline Gleeson, Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru, Coogee: NSW, 2016. 10 Jenny Wiggins and Michael Smith ‘Transfield Services to change name to Broadspectrum as founders sever ties’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 2015, available at: http://www.smh.com.au/business/transfield-services-to-change-nameto-broadspectrum-as-founders-sever-ties-20150924-gjum0b.html 11 Jenny Wiggins ‘Security contractors bow to activist pressure on detention centres’, Australian Financial Review, 5 September 2016, available at: http://www.afr. com/business/security-contractors-bow-to-activist-pressure-on-detention-centres20160902-gr7kwr#ixzz4YFEGGjjv
MICHAEL SCHLITZ LIGHT MEMORY, DARK GROUND 17 MARCH - 16 APRIL 2017
CONTEMPORARY ART TASMANIA
ARTIST/ WRITERS IN RESIDENCE 3 JANUARY – 1 APRIL
Rosemary Whitehead Textile artist and colour environmentalist
Margit Brünner Visual artist
4 APRIL – 1 JULY
SAUERBIER HOUSE IS A CONTEMPORARY ARTSPACE DEDICATED TO THE CREATION OF LIVING CULTURAL DIALOGUES AND LOCAL CREATIVE EXCHANGE
Freelance writer and poet
Buttergirl (aka: Kim Shanahan) Conceptual artist specialising in sculpture, drawing and installation For more information about residencies, exhibitions and events visit www.onkaparingacity.com/sauerbierhouse
SAUERBIER HOUSE culture exchange 21 Wearing Street, Port Noarlunga | 8186 1393 Wed to Fri 10am–4pm | Sat 12noon–4pm
monash university museum of art
Open Spatial Workshop: Converging in time 11 February – 8 April 2017
www.monash.edu.au/muma Telephone +61 3 9905 4217 firstname.lastname@example.org Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat 12 – 5pm
Open Spatial Workshop (Terri Bird, Bianca Hester, Scott Mitchell), Research image of 23–million-year-old Kauri log fossil, Museums Victoria Collection, P 228203, 2016. Photo: Open Spatial Workshop
Willem de Rooij, Blue to Black (120 x 550 cm, batik hand-printed fabric, 2012). Installation view, Hollandaise, Raw Material Company, Dakar, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.
2017 EXHIBITION PROGRAM
The IMA is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, and the Australia Council for the Arts, and through the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian Federal, State, and Territory Governments. The IMA is a member of Contemporary Art Organisations Australia (CAOs).
The IMA’s 2017 exhibition program has been generously supported by Australia Council for the Arts; Arts Queensland; Brisbane City Council; Creative Partnerships Australia; the Keir Foundation; Mondriaan Fund; and our Commissioners Circle and Supporters Group.
11 February–13 April 1–29 April
6 May–15 July
5 August–28 October
18 November–3 March 2018 18 November–3 March 2018
6 May–15 July
420 Brunswick Street, Brisbane, Australia | +61 (0)73 252 5750
Willem de Rooij
IN THE SHAdOW Of THE WALL: rEfLECTIONS ON THE jErUSALEM SHOW vIII: BEfOrE ANd AfTEr OrIGINS
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o begin, some research questions. How does, or how might, physical location influence the form and reading of an exhibition? How do the geopolitics of Jerusalem differ from other religiously emblematic cities, for example Rome, Istanbul or Tehran? And, to what degree does the security state shape curatorial and artistic practice, and by extension, audience access and response? If most biennials nowadays strive to forge a strong connection with place, then Qalandiya International (QI), of which The Jerusalem Show VIII – Before and After Origins (JS8) was part, does so more strongly than most. Arguably, JS8’s positioning on the fracture line that runs through that ancient city, is inextricably imbricated with any reading of its artistic content. A further question might be: why does this square kilometre so fascinate the world? Known as Al-Quds ( – القدسThe Holy Sanctuary) in Arabic, and Yerushalayim ( )ְירוּשליִםin Hebrew, the city’s name is derived from the ancient Sumerian cuneiform ‘Urusalima’, dating from around 2400 BCE, and usually construed in English as the ‘City of Peace’. Four and a half millennia on, the militarised conditions prevailing in East Jerusalem could hardly be described as peaceful, yet for international visitors to the Old City it can seem that life goes on in miraculous harmony, albeit heavily patrolled by soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). This is ground zero for the Holy Land – millions of Christian pilgrims, as well as Muslims and Jews, come to walk its ancient streets and worship at its shrines, and the three great Abrahamic faiths co-exist in an uneasy status quo, as they have done for centuries. Despite this, East Jerusalem may be the most contested urban territory on the planet – every inch of it – from public space to indi-
Left: Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal), 2014-16, glass tesserae mosaics, wooden boxes, two-channel video, dimesions variable, installation (detail) at The Jerusalem Show VIII, Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, New Gate, Jerusalem. Courtesy Qalandiya International. Photo: David Corbet.
vidual streets and dwellings. Its history, both ancient and modern, is one of conflict – occupied by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1517 (he built the famous walls), the British Mandate from 1917, Jordan from 1948, and by Israel since 1967, the ancient city is today claimed by both Israel (the whole of Jerusalem) and Palestine (East Jerusalem) as their respective capitals. These facts are doubtless well-known to readers, as are the numerous UN Security Council resolutions, and indeed rulings by Israel’s own High Court of Justice, which hold that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has been illegally occupied or annexed. Not that this makes any difference on the ground. At the time of writing, the illegality of Israeli settlements has again been affirmed by the UNSC, with only the USA abstaining, however the resolution was (like previous attempts) rejected by Israel, and incoming US President Donald Trump has vowed to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.1 Such is the loaded geopolitical context for QI – often referred to as the ‘Palestine Biennale’ – a combined initiative of sixteen separate cultural organisations, including JS8’s organiser, the Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art. QI 2016’s thematic title is This Sea is Mine, words taken from revered Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s (1941-2008) poem Mural.2 Its poster features a photo-montage, by Al Ma’mal’s director Jack Persekian, of a shining sea extending to a brooding sunset – an image of unrequited longing for renewed access to the Mediterranean, and of hope for ‘The Return’. There is no more potent idea in Palestinian consciousness, and QI’s group curatorial statement asks: Can a word carry the cure to all the ailments, both past and present, of a tragedy? For us Palestinians, ‘Return’ has become the core antithesis to our ‘Nakba’.3
JS8’s guest curator was Amsterdam-based, Australian-born Vivian Ziherl, who earlier in 2016 presented the dual component exhibition Frontier Imaginaries (FI) at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (No Longer at Ease) and QUT Art Museum (The Life of Lines). She approached JS8 as a Middle-Eastern platform for this evolving project, and her curatorial statement explains its subtitle, Before and After Origins:
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While forced Palestinian exile of 1948 may be considered the origin of Return, the category of ‘origins’ is itself questioned throughout the exhibition, contouring the relations of modernity, colonisation, property and territorial belonging. […] The exhibition ‘Before’ considers the power of narratives of origin, while the dispersed venues of ‘After’ stake a refusal of separation. Together these two parts offer a prism through which to reflect upon the ongoing project of the Return and its deep significance to the global condition.4
Ziherl may here be talking about contemporary Palestine, but her approach to this and other exhibitions is transnational, multi-temporal and multi-disciplinary – as a curator she is interested not only in the deep particularities of situated practice, but their intersections with global historical forces and contemporary anxieties. The ubiquitous separation walls, which demarcate and fragment Palestinian territory, might suggest an essentialist reading of ‘Frontier’ as impenetrable barrier, or of implacable colonial expansion. However these are just two imaginaries among many, and the idea of a permeable zone of transaction and contestation is perhaps a more useful one. Writing in e-flux journal in May 2016, the curator stressed ‘Frontier’ as a ‘Ground of Re-inscription’: The move to recover the frontier as a critical tool turns again toward the clash between enlightenment ideals such as ‘justice’ and ‘equality’ and the obdurate violence of the world those ideas must inhabit. The lens of the frontier shifts the point of view to the margins, reframing these ideals as encounters with the violence of the world they create.5
With these perspectives in mind, I approached JS8 not as an exercise in showing autonomous artworks, but as an ideas-driven experiment in exhibition form and language. This is not to suggest that individual artistic practice was subsumed into an overbearing curatorial scheme, rather that artists were themselves enabled to explore references beyond studio practice, and to enter into a kind of conversation with the curator, the viewer, and with each other. This article is not, therefore, intended as a review of individual artists and works, rather as an exploration of the problematics and strengths of this conversation, and its very specific locational constraints. Exploratory exhibition-making of this kind, while increasingly common at international biennials, is not to everyone’s liking, and JS8, like Frontier Imaginaries in Brisbane, required a little work from audiences, who were not spoon-fed information. A stripped-back, unfussy display aesthetic prevailed, extending to graphic identity, printed information and interpretive signage – the message was one of seriousness, and a refusal to indulge in facile spectacle. Having said that, there was plenty of inspiration, poetry and even whimsy to be found among extremely diverse offerings. The ‘Before’ component at Al Ma’mal’s building, a tastefully converted tile factory over two levels, was situated in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, just inside the Old City walls near the New Gate. Almost immediately, the works demanded contextual investigation. An emblematic case study is Australian Tom Nicholson’s floor installation
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(Comparative monument (Shellal), 2014–2016), which occupied a large ground-floor space, consisting of a number of mosaic panels and two separate channels of screen-based video. While certainly visually beguiling enough to sustain interest, the work’s complex resonances are appreciated only on learning that the mosaics (created with Rafat al-Khatib and Renan Barham of the Mosaic Centre, Jericho) reference a sixth-century piece discovered in 1917 by Australian (ANZAC) soldiers at Shallal near Gaza and later transported to Australia, where they were cemented into the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Nicholson’s work ‘… imagines the repatriation of the Shellal Mosaic, considering the parallel histories of dispossession that may be traced in the marking and unmarking of Palestinian and Australian lands,’ and the videos ‘… further elaborate the braided horizons of sovereignty that the mosaic traces, including fragments from conversations with the Bedouin Palestinian elder and activist Nuri al-Okb.’ Like his works for Frontier Imaginaries at QUT Art Museum, which were realised alongside Indonesian film-makers, artists and Hazara refugees, Nicholson’s interest in archaeology, monumentalisation and national identity manifests at the intersection of historical research, sociallyengaged practice and atelier-based collaboration. Space does not allow for a detailed consideration of individual works in ‘Before’ at Al Ma’mal, however the archaeological and historical were further explored through such diverse offerings as a curated survey (by George al-Ama) of Bethlehem mother-of-pearl engravings; Occupied Golan artist Wael Tarabieh’s 1996 linocut prints illustrating the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (King of Uruk, considered an early archetype for the Christian St George); a nineteenth century melkite (Arab icon) of St George by an unknown Jerusalem School painter; Australian Ryan Presley’s re-imagining of St George (Crown Land (to the ends of the earth), 2016) as an allegory of the Northern Territory Intervention; Australian Megan Cope’s eloquent ‘midden work’ of cast concrete oyster shells (RE FORMATION 1, 2016); documentation of the amulets’ collection of late-Ottoman, Jerusalemite Tawfiq Canaan, juxtaposed with video and interactive works by Christian Nyampeta (Rwanda/Netherlands), Benji Boyadigan (Palestine) and Alice Creischer (Germany). Up until a week before the opening, it was planned to present JS8’s ‘After’ component, including Australian Richard Bell’s itinerant Tent Embassy, at the newly built Youth Centre of the Shu’fat Refugee Camp, located north of the Old City, and under tight Israeli control. This had to be cancelled at short notice, and instead works and performances were situated in a series of shopfronts and empty spaces adjacent to Al Ma’mal, with Bell’s tent erected on the Foundation’s rooftop. Using the Shu’fat venue was always going to be a provocative strategy, particularly in the month of October, when security threat levels are invariably raised in the run-up to the Jewish religious holiday of Yom Kippur. It might seem reasonable to suppose that a modest exhibition of international contemporary art would not be deemed a threat. However the curator emphasised that whatever other factors were in play, the primary reason for cancellation was
security, specifically ‘invasive policing […] experienced at its extreme level in the Shu’fat Camp where residents endure frequent night-time raids; young men are removed from their houses and detained; and the charge of “security threat” can be triggered by the sharing of a Facebook post.’6 Such an environment, where the most basic logistics of artist, artwork and audience mobility are rendered perilous, presents entirely different challenges to those encountered by artists and curators elsewhere, and this is true of QI in general. Although JS8’s frontier thematics and its emphasis on Palestinian and First Nations artists might suggest work that engaged directly with the existential precarity of the Palestinian homeland, the reality is that few works demanded such a narrow reading, and Ziherl has produced an international show, which would have equivalent relevance in many places. That said, it was unfortunate that the frontline resonances of Shu’fat were lost, to say nothing of the opportunity for the camp’s marginalised young people to experience the program of artist talks, workshops and film screenings that had been planned. The condensation of JS8 into one short street certainly rendered it accessible to international visitors, but in the case of the rooftop relocation of Bell’s Embassy, it imposed a public invisibility that contradicted its intention as an agora – a meeting place for ideas, open to all. Despite this, the Tent Embassy program was, in the words of the curator, ‘enormously memorable, and […] encapsulated JS8’s approach of lateral alignments, in hosting guests from contexts that are attached and yet not proper to the Palestinian struggle and claim of return.’ She noted how Bell’s charismatic moderation quickly put participants
at ease, and how the Tent Embassy framing ‘was instructive in the immediacy that decolonising dialogues could be brought forward.’ ‘After’ was tilted towards the performative, and featured such varied participants as Johannesburg collective NGO (Nothing Gets Organised); Shu’fat-based musician and rapper Muhammad Mughrabi; the NT’s Karrabing Film Collective (Australia); Donna Kukama (South Africa) and Jumana Manna (Palestine/Germany) among many others. The installed works were equally diverse, and there was a notable presence of artists from the community of Majdal Shams in the Occupied Golan (Yasser Khanger, Randa Maddah, Shada Safadi, Aiman Halabi, Wael Tarabieh). In the catalogue, Ziherl notes that; ‘Although deeply attached to the project of Return, these artists are not part of the Palestinian national project per se. For these artists, efforts to oppose occupation are complicated by the condition of the Syrian conflict, where reunification and Syrian nationalism are no longer mobilizing claims.’ Among these, highlights included a small, cast-bronze work (A Hair Tie, 2016) by Randa Maddah and Aiman Halabi’s painted heads (inspired by Bedouin elders), which recalled Marlene Dumas’ (South Africa/Netherlands) monochrome portraits. There was much else besides, and painting was well-represented by Sawangwongse Yawnghwe (Burma); Tshibumba Kanda Matulu (Democratic Republic of Congo); and Gordon Hookey (Australia). Limited resources have meant that images and video of the month-long program of events Below: Megan Cope, RE FORMATION 1, 2016, (detail), cast concrete oysters and locally - sourced clay dirt. Commissioned by Frontier Imaginaries, with the support of Arts Queensland. Courtesy the artist and Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art. Photo: Issa Frej.
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are not yet available online, however detailed artist and curatorial notes 7 are accessible through QI’s online catalogue, published by Ibraaz. The risk in a discursive program dispersed across several pop-up venues is, as always, dilution of focus, and the curatorial statement seemed to anticipate this, saying: ‘The dispersed exhibitions of “After” […] argue that this art of connections is a deepest need of our time’; and furthermore, that ‘it stakes a claim for the refusal of separation, and a deeply held demand for ongoing connection; to families, to lands, to ways of life, and to priorities other than those that fuel ongoing colonialisms.’ These sentiments no doubt fell on receptive ears, and the works certainly rewarded careful exploration by those, who had the time and inclination. But given the difficulties of mobility, indeed of day-to-day existence for ordinary Palestinians, the question must be asked: how many of them got to see it, and what was its relevance to their lives? In response one might ask the same question of contemporary art worldwide, especially in its gestative and incubatory manifestations, before it is ‘scaled-up’ (if it ever is) to mass visibility within a mediated spectacle economy. For many young Palestinians, vibrant street art and protest graffiti may better express their daily frustration, and JS8 Palestinian artist Bisan Abu Eisheh has asserted: ‘Art in Palestine has become a luxury of the elite. My suggestion would be for institutions in Palestine to better engage locals through educational and cultural projects, in order to further involve them. People were far more involved in art, dance and music before [the Oslo Accords]. Now the level of disinterest has risen considerably.’8 Vivian Ziherl proposes her own version of these problematics: ‘What marks the “success” or “impact” of a project where public space may be physically perilous and where international media is often easier to mobilise than local footfall?’9 Elsewhere I have referenced Australian art historian Nikos Papastergiadis’s notion of ‘small gestures in specific places,’10 and I believe this phrase is appropriate to JS8, and arguably Frontier Imaginaries, despite the latter’s well-resourced, museum-based staging. Like much contemporary practice worldwide, these mainly small-scale, situated works were not seen by a large audience, relying instead on digital multipliers for their dissemination. Returning to my opening questions, it appears to me that while this exhibition would equally resonate in Berlin, Johannesburg or Mexico City, its physical site and the gathering together of artists and thinkers there, gestated networks, energies and political perspectives that far transcend its literal content as an exhibition. The fact of its happening at all generated a momentum for participants and organisations, and the growth of this potentiality is perhaps the lasting value of JS8. According to the curator, who paid tribute to the tireless efforts of artists, staff and student volunteers; ‘The flourishing of projects, collaborations and new invitations from the exhibition has been unlike anything else that I’ve come across.’ Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art and other venues, New Gate, East Jerusalem, 5 – 31 October 2016.
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ENDNOTES 1 Although Israel’s Jerusalem Law of 1980 claims East Jerusalem as part of its indivisible capital, no other country (with the exception of the USA, which has adopted various ambiguous positions under different administrations) has formally recognised this, and no international Embassy is situated in Jerusalem (some countries operate consulates there, designated as missions to Jerusalem, i.e. to neither Israel nor Palestine). UN Security Council Resolution 478, adopted on 20 August 1980 (unanimous, with the USA abstaining) is one of seven UNSC resolutions condemning Israel’s attempted annexation of East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements on Palestinian land have likewise been declared illegal by various resolutions of the UNSC, and in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, e.g. UNSC Resolution 242, adopted on November 22, 1967; Resolution 446, adopted on 22 March 1979; and more recently Resolution 2334, adopted on 23 December 2016. Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled that Israel holds the West Bank under ‘belligerent occupation’. See: David Kretzmer, ‘The law of belligerent occupation in the Supreme Court of Israel’: https:// www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/review/2012/irrc-885-kretzmer.pdf, International Review of the Red Cross 94, no. 885, Spring 2012. 2 ‘Eagles are for bards / for me / the dove’s collar / a star abandoned on the roof / and a winding alley leading to the port / This sea is mine / This sea air is mine / This quayside with my footsteps and sperm upon it…is mine / And the old bus station is mine / And my ghost and its master are mine / And the copper utensils and the verse of the throne / and the key are mine / And the door and the guards and bells are mine / The horseshoe flung over the ramparts is mine / All that was mine is mine / Paper scraps torn from the gospels are mine / Salt from the tears on the wall of the house are mine… / And my name mispronounced with its five horizontal letters / my name… is mine:’ See Middle East Research and Information Project: Mural: excerpt from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Rema Hammami and John Berger. http://www. merip.org/mer/mer248/mural (accessed Dec. 2016). 3 Al Nakba translates as ‘the catastrophe’, and refers to the period in 1947-48 when Zionist paramilitary groups and later the Israeli military forced more than 750,000 Palestinians out of their homes, part of the establishment of the state of Israel. 4 See The Jerusalem Show VIII ‘Before and After Origins’, curatorial statement and artist notes by Vivian Ziherl in QI 2016 – This Sea Is Mine – online exhibition catalogue, Beirut: Qalandiya International / Ibraaz, 2016. Note that all references are from this text unless otherwise attributed. 5 Vivian Ziherl, ‘On the Frontier, Again’, e-flux journal, no. 73, 2016. 6 Vivian Ziherl, email exchange with the author, 5 January 2017 7 Qalandiya International 2016: This Sea is Mine – online exhibition catalogue, Beirut: Qalandiya International / Ibraaz, 2016 8 See Joharah Baker, ‘Aboriginal artist’s message resonates in Palestine’, The Electronic Intifada (online): https://electronicintifada.net/content/aboriginal-artists-messageresonates-palestine/18291 (accessed December 2016). 9 Vivian Ziherl, email exchange with the author, 5 January 2017 10 Nikos Papastergiadis, ‘Spatial Aesthetics: Rethinking the Contemporary’, in Antinomies of Art and Culture : Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, ed. Terry Smith, Nancy Condee, and Okwui Enwezor, Durham: Duke University Press, 2008: 369. For my citations see: David Corbet, ‘Draft Book Chapter: Decolonizing the Global Contemporary - Latitudinal Perspectives in Australia and Latin America,’ in Mapping Connections, ed. Sarah Walsh and Fernanda Peñaloza, Sydney: University of Sydney, 2017. See also: ‘Sea of Longing - Qalandiya International 2016,’ Eyeline 86, 2017.
the struggle between what is and what was The reconciliation between memory and reality plagues the act of returning. Familiar StrangerÂ examines the third, non-existent space that plagues the returnee as they seek to retrace their memories in places that have been rebuilt or reinscribed.
é›ľä—´ă„¤ć˘Ąăš‰â›’ę˘‚ćś¸ă„¤é?‘ă”äŞ’ćť ă”?ä”°ćś¸é ¤ âššŐŻ ć“žäœŞćś¸ęŁŤćŹ°âž‚ĺ”Źĺ?…ç—Ľâ™˛âš î™ťâ™śăśˇă–ˆćś¸ ç‘žę˘‚î™ťă”äŞ’ď”’ă”?î˜”î™ťă”“âššâžâ&#x;Œéœšă•ƒă”?ĺ˝śă–ˆ äŠşçľ‘ę…žä’‰ä§´ę…žĺ€œăš€â›?ćś¸ă–‘ĺ€Żćś¸ă”?ä—´ŐŻ
ě ˘ěĄśě?şí?Žď˜“î?’í‚˛íŽžď˜“í‚Şě‚şě—˛ď˜“î‘šëŽŽď˜“î?—ě†§ď˜“ěšşí•‚í”Ś î?˘î?‚ëŻ†ěŠ˛í•‚ď˜“ëŻžíŽƒí”’ď˜“í•şëŹşěťżîŒŚë¨žëšŚď˜“í•şí—Łí”Ś ě‡Şď˜“í•łě˝šíŽžď˜“ě†šíŒ’ë§ŽîŒŚě—˛ëŞŽí”Šě˜Şď˜“í•ƒěż§îŒŞď˜“ëš˝ěťŽ ëŠŽěšşď˜“ěź™í&#x;† ëŤƒě§ż ě¤†í—Şë§Žď˜“ëŽŽî?Śí”Žď˜“íŽ”ě‚˛
apa perjuangan antara apa Rekonsiliasi antara regresi perilaku menderita memori dan realitas. Mereka yang akrab dengan asing uji upaya ketiga untuk merekonstruksi kenangan, atau untuk kembali ke tempat keuangan, ruang, masalahnya adalah tidak ada pengembalian.
â€ŤŮ…Ř§ Ů‡Ůˆ ŘľŘąŘ§Řš Ř¨ŮŠŮ† Ů…Ř§â€Ź â€ŤŘ§Ů„Ů…ŘľŘ§Ů„ŘŘŠ Ř¨ŮŠŮ† Ř§Ř§Ů„Ů†ŘŘŻŘ§Řą ŘłŮ„ŮˆŮƒ ŘŞŘšŘ§Ů†ŮŠ Ů…Ů†â€Ź â€Ť Ů…ŘˇŮ„ŘšŮŠŮ† ŘšŮ„Ů‰ Ř§ŘŽŘŞŘ¨Ř§Řą ŘŤŘ§Ů„ŘŤâ€Ź.â€ŤŘ§Ů„Ř°Ř§ŮƒŘąŘŠ ŮˆŘ§Ů„ŮˆŘ§Ů‚Řšâ€Ź â€Ť ŘŁŮˆ Ř§Ů„ŘšŮˆŘŻŘŠâ€ŹŘŒâ€ŤŮ…ŘŘ§ŮˆŮ„ŘŠ ŘŁŘŹŮ†Ř¨ŮŠŘŠ ŘĽŮ„ŘšŘ§ŘŻŘŠ Ř§Ů„Ř°ŮƒŘąŮŠŘ§ŘŞâ€Ź â€Ť ŮˆŘ§Ů„Ů…Ř´ŮƒŮ„ŘŠ Ů‡ŮŠâ€ŹŘŒâ€Ť ŮˆŘşŘąŮ ŘŠâ€ŹŘŒâ€ŤŘĽŮ„Ů‰ Ů…ŮƒŘ§Ů† Ř§Ů„Ů…Ř§Ů„ŮŠâ€Ź â€ŤŘŁŮ† Ů‡Ů†Ř§Ůƒ ŘŁŮŠ ŘąŘŻâ€Ź.
what is a conflict between what Reconciliation between the gradient behavior suffer from the memory and reality. Familiar with the third test of a foreign attempt to rebuild memories, or a return to the financial place, room, and the problem is that there is no response.
Centre for Contemporary Asian Art
Shumon Ahmed Chun Yin Rainbow Chan Bashir Makhoul Veer Munshi
07 APR â€“ 21 MAY 181-187 HAY ST. HAYMARKET SYDNEY
âžŠâ›Žĺƒ˝âžŠâ›Ž â›“ę˘‚ćś¸âąžç‘ł ĺ”?ä??é ¤âššâ›’ę˘‚ćś¸é?ˆă„¤ď•ƒă€Œé›ľä—´ă„¤ć˘Ąăš‰ŐŻ ć“ž äœŞç—Ľâ™˛ď?šĺ´ľéœšćś¸ă˘Šă•‚ă˝‚éœšę…žä’‰é›ľä—´î™ťä§´ă”? âľ‹ę†ƒčź?ă–‘ĺ€Żî™ťď‹ˇę˘‚î™ťęĄźęłżĺƒ˝ĺ°´ĺ‰ŁâżžäŽžŐŻ
ě ˘ěĄśě?şí?Žď˜“ëŞŽížƒí”Śď˜“î?’í‚˛ď˜“ěšşí•‚í”Śď˜“í˜žî?˘ ëŻ†ě•Šě„ží•‚ěźŚď˜“î?—ě†§í‘†ëŹťď˜“í‚Şě†’ď˜“í°Şěż§îŒŞď˜“ěź†ď˜“ěŠ–í&#x;† íźší ˛î‚†ě ˘ď˜“ě ˘ěĄśě?şě?Šď˜“í•şď˜“ëŹşíŁ ëŻ–í”ƒď˜“í•łě˝š ě§ˇí”Šě˜Şď˜“ě†šíŒ’ë§Ž ě¤†í—Şë§Žď˜“í”&#x;ěƒƒîŒŚížŽď˜“íŒ˜í‚ƒě‚–ě‚˛
apa konflik antara Action gradien harmoni antara memori dan realitas penderitaan. Tes ketiga adalah akrab dengan upaya asing untuk kembali memori untuk membangun kembali tempat keuangan, ruang, masalah tidak menanggapi.
â€ŤŘŁŮŠ Ř§Ů„ŘľŘąŘ§Řš Ř¨ŮŠŮ†â€Ź â€ŤŘšŮ…Ů„ Ř§Ů„ŘŞŘŻŘąŘŹ Ř§Ř§Ů„Ů†ŘłŘŹŘ§Ů… Ř¨ŮŠŮ† Ř§Ů„Ř°Ř§ŮƒŘąŘŠ ŮˆŘ§Ů‚Řšâ€Ź â€Ť Ř§Ř§Ů„ŘŽŘŞŘ¨Ř§Řą Ř§Ů„ŘŤŘ§Ů„ŘŤ Ů‡Ůˆ Ů…ŘŁŮ„ŮˆŮ Ů…Řšâ€Ź.â€ŤŘ§Ů„Ů…ŘšŘ§Ů†Ř§ŘŠâ€Ź â€ŤŘ§Ů„Ů…ŘŘ§ŮˆŘ§Ů„ŘŞ Ř§Ů„ŘŽŘ§ŘąŘŹŮŠŘŠ ŘĽŮ„ŘŮŠŘ§ŘĄ Ř°ŮƒŘąŮ‰ ŘĽŮ„ŘšŘ§ŘŻŘŠâ€Ź â€Ť Ů…ŘłŘŁŮ„ŘŠ Ř§Ů„ ŮŠŘłŘŞŘŹŮŠŘ¨â€ŹŘŒâ€Ť ŮˆŘ§Ů„Ů ŘśŘ§ŘĄâ€ŹŘŒâ€ŤŘ¨Ů†Ř§ŘĄ ŮˆŘ§Ů„Ů…Ř§Ů„ŮŠŘŠâ€Ź.
Shumon Ahmed, What I have forgotten could fill an ocean, what is not real never lived, 2013, polaroid photos, analogue telephone set, original soundtrack composed by Yusuf Khan and poetry recited by Nader Salam. Courtesy the artist and Samdani Art Foundation & Project88, Mumbai, India.
fIELd Of vIEW SOvErEIGNTy
A future tense interview with VR (Virtual Reality) curators. Based on yarns with Paola Balla and Max Delany. A settler institution looked at decolonial aesthetics, but the answer was not found. Our agency did not need to be returned. We were already holding it. Living it. Being sovereign. They just needed new ways to see how it was carried inside us. We were already the future of art sovereignty. Our works are remounted virtually and AI sovereign invigilators guide audiences through lifesized environments without boundaries. I work in the art history-coding department. Today I am sending two curatorial feeds to one virtual display. To test the tour, lenses are placed between my eyes and the pixels of the display. Immersion for audiences depends on how I can increase the field of view. One hundred degrees of Sovereignty is wide enough. Head tracking is activated as the audience virtually moves through the space. When you wear the headset, the picture in front of you shifts as you look up, down and side-to-side, or angle your head. I focus and reshape the picture for each eye to create a stereoscopic. Locking the angle of the two images to mimic how each curator views the works. Sovereignty of our collective, but distinct nations is drawn from land and waters never relinquished to the colonising entity. Each curator feed views our sovereignty/ies slightly differently; one tells of the matriarchal future and the other experiences our art from the settler body. First I program the matriarchal curator feed Q & A. The binaural input increases the sense of immersion and provides a more accessible tour. Curator Feed: What was the most important decision for Sovereignty? Sovereignty needed to have a dedicated space for women. Part of our Left: Sovereignty, 2016, (Installation view), ACCA. Photo: Andrew Curtis.
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responsibility as Aboriginal women is to keep telling the truth. In some ways we might not have the same material battles that our grandmothers did, but our motivation is still for our future. As an Aboriginal women working in a colonial space the consequences are real. There is a responsibly to elders, community and family to represent them whether you like it or not. In the words of Uncle Herb Patten, ‘think about what kind of ancestry you are going to be.’1 This idea informs my way of thinking about curatorial practice. Curator Feed: What is the context for Sovereignty? White Australia accuses us of not being able to recover from the past and present simultaneously and yet they haven’t stopped colonising us. Erasure of us from the landscape is past and present. No one has the right to tell you how to breathe. The more we talk back and assert ourselves the more resistance we actually meet. Thinking across time is very important for the exhibition. We remember to carry all the matriarchs with us in our work. This can be explained by relationality in the way Aileen Moreton-Robinson describes situating yourself in country, place and genealogy.2 This informs how we relate to other people and where we draw strength to do things the right way in western spaces. You need to have perspective and not apologise for
Sovereignty also tells us that inside us all is a deep listening space.
having what your family didn’t. Our work becomes how we embody their suffering and how you honour it. Curator Feed: What does Sovereignty look like? We create a space to see time and history in our future. Not in a chronological sense, instead we glimpse things during their time, witnessing both their destruction and survival. The Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) Banners hold a mirror up to our lived reality. The selection of William Barak’s ceremony provides another glimpse of the future. The white gaze might assume Barak was documenting ceremony for the purposes of colonial consumption, but in Sovereignty it is revered in the sense of archiving our stories for the future. Sovereignty is the way Aunties, carers and women in our community think down the family line into the future. We move away from ideas of success that emulate capitalist middle class aspirations. We want to show the truth of our lived experience now and also our connection to relationality. As an Aboriginal person you declare upfront who you are; your family or mob and different experiences of place and country that situate us. This is how we are situating our sovereignty in the exhibition.
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Curator feed: What does Sovereignty tell us? This future has a strong intersectional voice and space for matriarchal women. This voice is stored inside practices of thousands of years and lived through the work of Vicki Couzens, Bronwyn Razem, Maree Clarke and Glenda Nicholls. Perhaps without political intent, Bronwyn is passing on practice and knowledge from her mother and eel traps become an act of resistance. Sovereignty also tells us that inside us all is a deep listening space. We created a red room in the space, drawing on concepts of dadirri and deep listening. It connects to the way we listen differently when working in collaboration with white people. While there is so much we can’t explain, we can articulate why the traditional knowledge about some works can’t be given to people it doesn’t belong to. We have to tell audiences the truth because it’s not knowledge for them to have. The artists’ work speaks for itself and we begin to remove the fixation on translating Aboriginal work into settler ways. Instead we start interpreting these works for audiences by helping them find the work they connect to emotionally or feel challenged by. It’s OK not to translate what the art is saying. Curator Feed: What is our future in western art institutions? We are not going to decolonise institutions overnight. We can have shows but they are one step in a long journey. David Garneau, a Metis artist and academic, talks about us not getting stuck surviving in their space. Should an Aboriginal presence in institutions be the end goal?3 We need to push decolonisation dialogues and practice with deep selfanalysis and rigour. We should critically analyse ourselves and our roles in institutions and ask; am I pointing out a truth or am I implicated in the truth? Our work as artists and curators should interrogate this reality. What is our benefit in sharing our future with these colonial institutions? There are things to both gain and lose. Sovereignty shows our future can be dialectic. Two things can be true simultaneously and our art can be in two places at once. We open parallel worlds that seem invisible to the settler eyes. There is alchemy to making work with multiple ways of thinking and multiple knowledges. This is seen in practice of new and old formed together. The work of Yhonnie Scarce utilises a contemporary method of shaping glass, but it is still formed by ancestral practice. The powerful installation of Fall Out Baby in the exhibition can be felt close to the stomach like a full and fertile womb. Art is a place for those imagining and asserting sovereignty and that place should be free and appropriate. I can see the VR display stuttering. I need a minimum frame rate of around 60 frames per second to avoid repeating the past, or audiences can feel unwell. Now I begin to code the institutional curator feed Q & A.
Above: Sovereignty, 2016, (installation view), ACCA. Photo: Andrew Curtis.
Curator Feed: What was the process for Sovereignty? Sovereignty was a purposeful and intentional way to start our programming. We are mindful of what work needs to be done at ACCA – Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – to engage with a wider cultural context. There was a sense of unfinished business and a push to engage with cultural practices and communities in a collaborative way. Paola Balla was an integral part of the process. We developed a small advisory group with Arweet Carolyn Briggs, broadcaster Daniel Browning, curator Kimberley Moulton and artist Steaphan Paton. This was intentional and in recognition of their expertise.
Sovereignty has a strong public voice. We see sovereignty expressed as inherent to a cultural context and at the same time politically around the idea of unceded sovereignty. The digital storytelling project InDigeneity – produced with the Korin Gamadji Institute – shows young people confident, proud and articulate in addressing complex questions and multiple Indigeneities. Sovereignty becomes family, history, politics and culture. There is a wider community engagement motivation that continues around the public programs of the show. Sovereignty is a living, breathing thing, which brings people in and allows people to have emotional responses to the stories being told.
Curator Feed: How is Sovereignty articulated in the space?
Curator Feed: How does a white institution interact with Sovereignty?
Sovereignty becomes a polysonic, multi-vocal and transgenerational debate. The complexity of culture is drawn out to show dynamic voices that are both appealing and solemn. The spatial choreography of the exhibition lends itself to discursive context that is politic and political. This is present in the works of [filmmakers] Bill Onus and Bruce McGuinness, leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs during the hotbed of political activism. We see their media works Black Fire 1972 critique colonial representation in anthropology and turn the methodology onto those that used it.
From the outset we were mindful that western history and privilege play out in the gallery. We have a responsibility to establish more collaborative and collective modes of curatorial practice and to work with artists, communities and cultural groups. We needed to ensure an exhibition called Sovereignty was a platform for community and cultural expression. In a way, the curator role becomes one of metaphorically opening up the building to bring new voices in. We have a strong commitment to continuing to work on the collective model. This way of working is energising and brings new knowledge in to ACCA as an institution that is valuable for all staff; from the education team through
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to the gallery attendants. We become more engaged in our history, as a result of beginning to do things in the right ways. The virtual tour ends with the historical notes in the dulcet tones of the AI Sovereign Invigilator: Sovereignty, December 2016 – March 2017, was one of many autonomous spaces asserted within a settler white cube. Agency did not need to be returned, spaces needed to be turned inside out. Aboriginal Art is not only happening right now. Always was. Always will be.
ENDNOTES 1 Herb Patten, 3KND Radio. 2 Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Aboriginal Women and Feminism, St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2000. 3 Kimberley Moulton, ‘Sovereign art and the colonial canon; Are we lost until we are found?’ in Sovereignty exhibition catalogue, 17 Dec. 2016 – 26 March 2017, ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art), Melbourne, Australia.
Below: Yhonnie Scarce, Strontium 90, 2016. Sandblasted glass, acrylic and found hospital cribs. Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne. Photo: Andrew Curtis.
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HErE ANd NOWHErE: ArTISTIC IdENTITy ON SOCIAL MEdIA
I come from nowhere And you should go there Just try it for a while The people from nowhere always smile1 Frank Zappa
ocial media is a dominant force in contemporary art and culture. It is a network that attempts to incorporate everything into it. Its excessive extent is founded on consensus, of sharing all with all at all times. The unprecedented dominance and popularity of various forms of social media among artists, suggest they have finally escaped their traditional identity as alienated individuals. Or have they? Could it be instead that contemporary artists’ unquestioning reliance on social media has effectively alienated them from themselves? Through compulsive engagement with social media, artists increasingly treat their identities as ‘things’, images and commodities to be traded. Artists have become subjects of their own continual self-surveillance and conscious or unconscious selfmarketing. At the same time, this type of surveillance is augmented and encouraged by the constant ‘personalised’ surveillance of major corporations like Google and Facebook.2 The question raised by the contemporary ubiquity of social media as a phenomenon that is both everywhere and nowhere, is not a traditionalist one of the ‘real’ versus the ‘fake’. What really is in question is the fostering of types of instantaneous aesthetic experiences that are completely devoid, discouraging even, of the distancing necessary for art to be conceived as a philosophic-critical undertaking. Social media increasingly prefigure contemporary art as a vehicle for highly individualised selfendorsement. The artist perpetually appears for the sake of appearing and is seemingly happier for this fact. That is not to say that critical attitudes or genuinely interesting art are unrepresented in the world of social media. They clearly are. Still in the smooth nowhere land of the Internet, and especially via explicitly image-generating social media platforms like Instagram, contemporary art is frequently encountered foremost as branded merchandise or fleeting ahistorical entertainment. Except now this entertainment forever merges with glimpses of the artist’s ‘real’ life. This too is presented as a brand that the
solo artist seeks to capitalise on.3 Indeed in the instant self-generating universe of social media, the artist’s online persona, a doppelgängerlike cipher, rules supreme. Through much of modern history, artists were habitually viewed as alienated individuals par-excellence. From the late nineteenth century, the era of the peintre maudit,4 through most of the twentieth, the identity of the artist (at least in the West) came to coalesce around images of an ultra-individualist set apart from the rest of society. The artist observed society in a critical light, while frequently adopting attitudes and lifestyles distasteful to the bourgeoisie. The rise of Existentialism in the 1950s only heightened this sense of the artist as the quintessential individualist. He or she made life (and career) choices based on a perception of existence founded on radical ambivalence; when nothing was certain any longer it was up to artists to wilfully create their own identities and fortunes. Such fortunes might be aimed unapologetically at fame. More typically they were directed ‘critically’ and politically at socially resistant underground contexts. The advent of postmodernity during the late 1970s and early 1980s led to the questioning of the naturalised polarisation of mainstream and underground cultures. Postmodern discourses de-emphasised the heroic aspects of the artist’s individual struggle for recognition. Now the Self was proposed as a kind of text. The fashioning of the artist was re-imagined as partaking predominantly of stylistic and postural choices; whom to quote and how, what to wear and why. Subjective authenticity was challenged by a concept of selfhood that doubted the existence of an inner self. Instead the subject became a canvas for stylistic juxtapositions and self-conscious citations. The classic, alienated artists of modernity could be assured at least, despite their often very genuine socioeconomic precarity, of the authenticity of their alienation. In fact alienation was an indicator of authenticity in a mechanised, massmediatised world viewed intrinsically as inauthentic. In a different way, postmodern practitioners felt vindicated by their enthusiastic embrace of the traditionally inauthentic. Inauthenticity and synthetic juxtaposition were thought of, somewhat ironically, as evidence of an authentic understanding of the fundamentally ambivalent nature of selfhood on the other side of modernist idealism. Now circulation, the continual spiralling consumption of culture, outstrips both process and production in the art world as elsewhere. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1
ALEx GAWrONSkI This is true to such an extent that today ‘…production has… become mixed up with circulation to the point of being indistinguishable’.5 As a result, it is arguable that percentage-wise contemporary artists spend way more time browsing instantly accessible images of work by other artists online than they do producing their own. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that social media provide a quasi-organic platform proliferating potentially endless virtual portholes, through which to see and be seen. Online artists have the capacity to readily expose themselves, while simultaneously glimpsing the work of peers near and far. Yet in order to productively enter the immense, intensely eclectic and innately voyeuristic sphere of social media, the artist must learn its language. Fortunately social media were designed from the outset to be as accessible as possible. Their language is therefore largely intuitive. Doubly fortunate for artists, the Internet in general is heavily dependent on the language of images. Images are absolutely everywhere –– freely floating in the social media universe.6 An expressly imagist social media application like Instagram has become a very successful means of propagating an image of the contemporary artist, which blurs their professional and intimate lives. In fact, via social media, the professional dimension of the artist’s documented output is continually interpolated by momentary glimpses into their daily lives. Previously, the self-portrait was regarded as the most powerful means of focusing attention on an individual artist’s inner life or ‘soul’. The self-portrait was meant to offer a particularly revealing glimpse of the artist as they saw themselves in their own time. The value of famous self-portraits, say by Rembrandt or Van Gogh, is dependent on this notion of their capacity to draw image and viewer into a surprisingly close dialogue with one another, one that is both unique and universal.7 Perhaps, somewhat unexpectedly, the later growth of photography, to which the language of social media is thoroughly indebted, only extended this fascination with the intimate personality of the artist. Photographic self-portraiture could collapse distance between viewer and subject even further, often to discomfiting effect. This is certainly true of the self-portraiture of representative artists like Nan Goldin or Robert Mapplethorpe. Given photography’s inherent verisimilitude and comparative instantaneity it seemed even more capable of showing the ‘real’ person behind the artistic mask. From an alternate viewpoint, Andy Warhol’s statement that in the future everyone would have their fifteen minutes of fame deflected the artist’s knowing and ever-increasing dedication to expanding his own celebrity. With platforms like Instagram this fifteen minutes of fame has grown to be infinite.8 The ‘selfie’, as one of the social media’s most paradigmatic and illustrative expressions, is infinitely repeatable while simultaneously infinitely diverse. The selfie apparently shows the subject, the artist included, spontaneously in their natural habitat no matter where that habitat might be. At any moment globetrotting practitioners might be making a point of their sudden presence in Shanghai, their appearance on a beach in India at sunset, their current creative undertakings in a state-of-the-art studio in Finland, or their nonchalant strolling through the streets of Milan. The cumulative message these separate images create is one of success. The artist is successful in having the freedom to move from continent to 28
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continent, from one residency to another. They are additionally successful in being able to instantly transform such knowledge into a free-flowing pictorial narrative. This narrative is consumed on social media as if in real time. Such a situation does not discount either that the selfie-taker might believe that he or she is simply sharing a personal instant with faraway friends. The intention of the act is practically irrelevant when the medium itself dominates.9 The telescoping framework of image-focused, social media platforms structures narratives that allow both personal acquaintances and complete strangers to vicariously consume other’s ‘intimate’ moments as though they were their own. Identification occurs representationally, whereby the consumer responds to the unfolding story of a certain type of person, a person who does this or that, who goes here or there, who associates with these types of people, not those. The permutations of the artist’s capacity to produce the affect of instant access to their real lives, promotes a compelling illusion of who they are, as much as who they want to be. Warholian fame-time is magnified exponentially becoming the means by which the myth of a personality worth ‘following’ is created. When a creative persona deemed attractive or interesting enough to follow is simultaneously linked to representations of their artistic oeuvre, then that oeuvre may assume an entirely different inflection. The subject’s self-documentation ends up entwined with documentation of their creative output, both of which assume thing-like characteristics. Life is exhibited in the moment, just as much as art is. The self-promoted attractiveness of the creators ‘themselves’ is now irrevocably intertwined with the aesthetic appeal of their creations. The critical ideal of the work’s primacy over the biography of the artist becomes moot; for those entering the social media network, artist and artwork are no longer distinguishable. The artist is as much constructed as what they create. This allows practically anyone to formulate their own image of celebrity seemingly on their own terms. Instantaneity forever encourages our reading of such images as casual, unconstructed, frameless and genuine. Likewise, the contemporary artist’s virtual simulation of a level of success is tantamount to its actuality, when instantaneous representations are consumed as truth. Social media suggest a world where fantasies can come true. Simulation is now functional, not metaphoric. Concepts like success and failure have turned out to be absolutely relative. The perception of either depends on what you show and how.10 The automatic assumption that a technology like Instagram merely reiterates and documents artwork as it is made, as something of a more immediate form of a traditional website, is ultimately questionable. Because social media draws from things external to the immediate process of creation and exhibition, the artwork is now loaded with extra-artistic values. On the one hand this is an interesting phenomenon, as far as it undermines concepts of a thoroughly autonomous work of art; the art exhibited on social media can never escape its embedding in a vast universe of related, as well as entirely unrelated imagery. On the other hand, exposure to the real-life circumstances of an artwork’s production tends to add something of an ethical dimension to the work being viewed; this is the sort of work made by this sort of artist. On social media, the old idea that you can simply ignore the personality and attitudes of the artist to
focus solely on their art becomes again increasingly difficult to sustain. The imagist dimension of much social media, enabling the artistas-consumer to glide effortlessly from one image-verse to another, begins to encourage forms of art that appear as though tailored in advance for it. Formally, the sorts of images an application like Instagram favours, as an essentially graphic interface, are also unsurprisingly graphically orientated. The slicker, brighter, more immediately ‘catchy’ the nature of an image or artwork, the more instantaneously its appeal is registered.11 The more instantly appealing the image the more ‘likes’ it generates. The more ‘likes’ generated, the more potential for additional followers, for a greater audience for both you and your art. Formally, an artwork’s flatness is especially appropriate to a medium like Instagram, as the artwork is constantly brought into direct dialogue with the flatness of the screen. The screen in question is almost ubiquitously that of the so-called smart phone. The mobility of this inescapable contemporary technology means, in a similar way, that imagery exhibited on social media is frequently apprehended ‘on the run’. The viewer moves through real space at the same time as they move through the rhizomatic virtual space of the Internet. There the artwork starts to function like a target where ‘strong’ imagery dominates over ‘weak’. Artworks occupying considerable space, which rely on subtle spatial or textual effects (that might be subtle even to viewers actually present), or that incorporate complex interrelated parts, lose out to those highlighting image basics like ‘colour and design’. The designer fetish of the smart phone now folds within it the fetish of the superiorly crafted, or indifferently conceived but nonetheless, graphically striking image. Considering Instagram’s inherent bias for flatness, it is telling that it has been specifically cited negatively in relation to the rise of a recently popular tendency in contemporary painting, Zombie Formalism.12 Zombie Formalism’s young practitioners have been explicitly criticised for their frequent dependence on feigned crudeness, coupled with lusciously obvious painterly effects. Such instantly seductive aesthetic handling is particularly appreciable on social media screen space.13 Visual seduction outweighs interest in critical subtleties or testing ambiguities. Warhol’s earlier radical challenge to depth philosophy comes to the fore in the seemingly limitless, though ultimately flattened terrain of social media. The ramifications of social media impact on the constructed presence of artistic personae in art markets too. More strategic players of the social media image-game increasingly pitch their work with barely disguised career aims in mind. This means that the supposed casualness of the Instagram platform for example, can be deployed in ways that knowingly draw on the intuited naturalism of the medium, albeit in lieu of professional outcomes.14 Moreover, when images of your own work are strategically juxtaposed both with images of yourself, and artworks from a prestigious existing canon whose works bear a superficial similarity, an implicit connection is established. Such a connection, which may in fact be fairly arbitrary, starts to suggest an artist’s ‘rightful’ place in the contemporary pantheon as much as in art history.15 Of course there are degrees of the blatantly professionalised use of social media. At its basest, artistic self-promotion comes across loud and clear in all its furtive anxiety and arrogance. It may even reach the limits of utmost literality, of an artist baldly advertising
for instance that they are ‘looking for representation by a New York dealer.’ Less crass and more effective approaches insert art simultaneously within a life context and professional milieu. Nevertheless, it remains that even an apparently innocent approach like this, where everything is transparently on show, forces the very idea of art and life, to be productive and entrepreneurial. Process images appear only because they lead us to a successful finished product exhibited in a gallery or museum. Collectively these pre-images function like the trailer for a completed feature film or, more ambitiously, a ‘blockbuster’. Either way they are a further means of generating audience and market expectation.16 The artist cannily deploying social media as a self-marketing tool knows that ‘word gets around’. The currency of social media images increases exponentially, because today such imagery travels globally. The visual language of success is well rehearsed and despite global cultural differences it remains almost universally readable. Naturally, full knowledge of local cultural signifiers and hierarchies is more difficult to access. But in a world trading images like money, it is the image that precedes, even negates, understanding. What is important is affect. Affect can translate into real offers to exhibit in real galleries, which would otherwise have been unknown and/or inaccessible. Furthermore, the virtual space of social media like Instagram has begun to operate like a gallery. The social media type of gallery has very many wings and annexes. These are museological or commercial. In the latter instance, with an interface like Instagram acting as a dealerless, dealer gallery, artists may succeed in selling their work directto-the-public, thereby undercutting the gatekeeping function of the professional art dealer. While such an approach may translate into concrete financial success, it does so mainly in the absence of the symbolic and institutional value associated with established commercial galleries. Whilst making money as an artist directly from social media applications must be increasingly tempting and possible, it is likely to be disregarded by bona fide art world professionals as merely amateurish. The free-market space of contemporary capitalist democracy is still imbued with symbolic hierarchies responsible for initiating the cultural producer, via the simultaneous conjoining of cultural and actual capital. Still, big name commercial dealers all use social media sites like Instagram. Their use of it differs little from individual artists captitalising directly on its financial and promotional capabilities. Collectors on Instagram trawling the virtualised stockrooms of dealer-spaces can immediately claim work for their collections without having to physically visit the gallery. While the dealer space adds interest to an artwork’s value based on their professional expertise, the solo artist selling online collects the artwork’s full value.17 Social media platforms like Instagram can also intentionally or unintentionally, highlight the transparency of dealer/collector transactions: you like the look of an Instagrammed work held in the stockroom of a féted commercial gallery? Just post a comment. The fact that every other visitor to this site can see your naked desire for an artist’s work could be very beneficial for the dealer. When someone’s work is clearly wanted, more people are likely to want it too. And if there’s anything social media is about, it’s about being wanted. The fact that social media has become such a key means for artistic
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self-promotion may be of little concern: Instagram as a new way to promote yourself as an artist? So what. Artists have been entrepreneurial self-promoters for many decades. Besides, surely the instant global scope afforded by social media makes reaching new audiences a breeze. Isn’t this a good thing? Doesn’t your work deserve greater exposure? These functionally enabling aspects of social media come at a price though. That price is the perpetual, generally unconscious, commodification of the self. It may seem that social media in its infinite unfolding is organically occurring. Its ‘browserly’ nature however is actually directive. Social media needs you to interact with it. It is always waiting. It is eternally imploring you for your ‘content’. Without your content, in the form of posts, re-posts, comments and ‘likes’, the anonymity and automation on which social media is structurally founded would be too obscenely perceivable to be seductive.18 Viewing your life or art practice as ‘user-content’, essentially transforms living processes into dead images. This paradox manifests as the curious feeling of freedom you experience while simultaneously objectifying yourself. On social media ‘you’ are always the content on offer, to yourself as much as to others. Seeing every social media moment as a potentially productive opportunity is to enslave yourself to a vision of life, where everything you do privately and as an artist is for a reason, a reason you only appear to control. Perhaps it simply offers you a chance to emerge in order to say, ‘I am here. I am alive’. In the end, artists wholeheartedly dedicated to social media find themselves, happily perhaps but still irrevocably, in a situation where they are ever-presently nowhere. Lives and works glide by at a rapid pace in a flick-by world social by name only.19 Here nothing really sticks. Individual presence is momentary – soon to be forgotten. For some there is no issue with this. ‘It is what it is.’ But what it is to maintain a consistently acknowledged presence in the insta-world of social media, is the perpetual labour of overproduction and overexposure.20 You want to be someone, or at least to appear to be? Then you need to be that someone all the time.21 Your non-stop presence is required, it is demanded.22 The work this entails is addictive, because it is both forever illusory and endlessly promising. Who knows, maybe the next person you ‘friend’ will lead you to new unimagined opportunities? Even if we know social media is an elaborately contrived, enclosed prism, we choose to believe it isn’t because it’s fun. It’s as wildly diverse as the lifestyles and attitudes of its innumerable users. It frequently leads to unexpected places. Yet rather than the carefree horizontally democratic space it pretends to be, social media keeps our attention for a reason. It wants to keep us focused on our own likes and our own lives and our ongoing desire for their online augmentation. What would happen though if our online identities went offline?23 This would not mean turning off the Internet to assume the regressive stance of technophobic philistines. It would mean transferring the anarchic freedoms offered us virtually online to the offline world. The function of social media would no longer then be the compensatory transformation of the self into a commodifiable avatar, but the actualising of online processes in the 3D world.
ENDNOTES 1 Frank Zappa, ‘I Come From Nowhere’, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, Los Angeles: Barking Pumpkin, 1982. 2 Social media, especially Google and Facebook, covertly use ‘personalised’ tracking algorithms to direct your interests and searches in related directions – information stored by these companies and sold to third party affiliates. See José Van Dijk, The Culture of Connectivity: a Critical History of Social Media, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. Additionally ‘One should not forget that the Internet is
owned privately’. Boris Groys ‘Art on the Internet’, In the Flow, London, NY: Verso, 2016: 179. 3 ‘…[S]ocial media have transformed the notion of a “work” from a series of isolated projects to a constant broadcast of one’s artistic identity as a recognisable, unique brand’. Brad Troemel, ‘Athletic Aesthetics’, No Internet, No Art, Lunch Bytes, Amsterdam: Onomatopee 102, 2015: 120. 4 Used derogatorily to refer to post-impressionist and early modernist painters, peintre maudit (accursed painter) was a term that appeared in France in the late 19th century. 5 Hito Steyerl, ‘Too Much World: is the Internet Dead?’ The Internet Does Not Exist, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015: 20. 6 ‘…[R]eality now widely consists of images; or rather, of things, constellations, and processes formerly evident as images’, Ibid: 18. 7 In reference to a very particular person, the artist, is unique. Its capacity to touch viewers is, at least from a humanist perspective, theoretically universal. 8 ‘It is strange to think how, in spite of so many young artists now playing with digital aesthetics, it was actually Warhol who saw it coming most clearly. The massive shift from depth to surface that Warhol explained with celebrity culture and advertising has now taken hold of language itself and spread across the planet’. Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood & Anton Vidokle in The Internet Does Not Exist, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015: 9. 9 ‘…[T]he divide between artist and viewer becomes negligible when users of social media are able to more powerfully define the context (and thus meaning) of an artwork’. Brad Troemel, ‘Art After Social Media’, You Are Here, Art After the Internet, Oxford, London: Cornerhouse/ SPACE, 2014: 39. 10 ‘…[E]ven less successful posts will serve to strengthen the bond between artist and audience, giving each other a chance to reinforce the existence of the other – “I’m still here!” they say in unison’. Brad Troemel, ‘Athletic Aesthetics’, op. cit: 124. 11 Reviewing the ‘post-Internet’ 2013 group exhibition ‘Tabularium’ held at Melbourne’s Slopes gallery, Hamishi Farah and Aurelia Cuo wrote: ‘I feel like I am walking around inside an install shot. The works are beautiful; they are also cool, light, tech, premium, and optimized for the screen.’ Hamishi Farah and Aurelia Cuo, ‘Tabularium: An Exhibition with the Foresight to Plan its own Funeral’, Rhizome: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/sep/08/tabularium-slopes/ 12 ‘Zombie Formalism is a recent breed of mostly male, mostly generic abstraction mostly expressed in paint on canvas’. See Kenny Schachter, ‘Dawn of the Dead’, Monopol Magazin for Kunst und Leben, http://www.monopol-magazin.de/dawn-dead 13 Such art ‘requires nothing of you but five seconds to look (and trade for successively higher profits) before it spontaneously combusts like a proposed mission from Mission Impossible’. Ibid. 14 In the era of social media ‘an unprecedented number of artists use marketing and business strategies like mini-corporate brands to develop their online-specific personas and their output (both personal and artistic) for maximum attention and successful careers’. Brad Troemel, ‘Art After Social Media’, op. cit: 37. 15 Even nearly all ‘…undergraduate art school students have blogs to insert themselves into a historical discourse with online displays of their artwork next to that of significant artworks of the past.’ Ibid: 39. 16 Alternatively, in the image-world of social media, sheer productivity itself can be enough as ‘the artist does not need to produce any final product, any artwork; the documentation of the process of art making is already an artwork.’ Boris Groys ‘Art on the Internet’, op. cit: 180. 17 This is almost inevitably significantly less than that of work sold through professional dealer galleries. 18 Impersonally revealed then would be the ‘…unmanned computers responsible for moving fractional sums according to complicated if-then sequences programmed by quantative analysts’. Troemel, ‘Athletic Aesthetics’, op. cit: 124. 19 See Geert Lovinck. ‘ What is the Social in Social Media’, The Internet Does Not Exist, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015. 20 ‘What separates the aesthlete from the overworked intern or sweatshop worker is that the aesthletes’ labor serves themselves; it’s self-exploitation rather than exploitation at the hands of other capitalists’. Troemel, ‘Athletic Aesthetics’, op. cit: 126. 21 This applies even if that someone is a ‘character’. ‘Critically’ fictionalised social media accounts like the copiously cited and analysed Instagram account of ‘Amalia Ulman’ e.g., speaks of this imperative for constant exposure. Ulman’s online timeline proceeds through (role playing) permutations and online engendered clichés; Initially believable, but collectively weirder, these self-representations require continual updating to be kept alive. 22 Similarly committed to a perpetual online presence (albeit otherwise distinct from Ulman’s) is the semi-fictionalised Instagram account of Sydney artist (and diabetic) Giselle Stanborough, whose blooded fingertip - a ‘partial-object’ in psychoanalytical terms - does and doesn’t stand for the artist, just as her social media account does and doesn’t. The finger, the artist’s online ‘thing’, only continues to live as long she constantly manufactures new identities for it. 23 For example, ‘if copyright can be dodged and called into question, why can’t private property?’ Hito Steyerl, op. cit: 22.
BEyONd CINEMA: THE ACTOr IN THE GALLEry
n 2007 Isaac Julien’s three-screen installation Baltimore (2003) was presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). Coming to the art world from a filmmaking background, Julien brought a cinematic approach to his gallery work that was invigorating and felt like a rebirth of cinema. His editing style – distributing a single narrative across multiple screens – combined with a high degree of technical sophistication, set the work apart from other video artworks of the time. This was already six years after a major exhibition of Julien’s work had been presented at the MCA in Sydney,1 and, despite the number of artists approaching the creation of moving image installations from a similarly cinematic perspective, film installation was still an emerging form. Fast-forward a decade and thanks to the domestication of digital video technologies and the ubiquity of screens in our lives, moving image is no longer considered the interloper it once was in gallery exhibitions, and the image quality and sophistication of moving image art has improved exponentially. Artists such as Julien, or Steve McQueen, Chantal Akerman, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and Ben Rivers (to name but a few) have straddled the divide between art and cinema throughout their careers, yet confusion over the categorisation of the output of artists working between film, video and installation persists. The ‘artist’s film’ has become a popular term at film festivals and art galleries alike, and the ‘essay film’ is a category that has also recently gained traction. Both these terms – used to refer to single-channel work made for either a cinema or gallery – seem to imply that a film is a work that exists in single-screen format. Yet, the work of artists and filmmakers producing what can be described as film installations expands our understanding of what a film can be. During the last few years, there have been several significant works commissioned by Australian galleries that occupy this not-so-new, yet still somewhat transgressive territory. Last year ACMI commissioned Manifesto, a thirteen-channel installation by German artist Julian Rosefeldt – known for his film installations, which deconstruct and expose the mechanisms and artifice of film. Manifesto, a collaboration
with Cate Blanchett, draws the cinematic world into the gallery in a more complex way. Blanchett embodies thirteen different personas – including a homeless man, a school teacher, a funeral orator, a factory worker and a newsreader – each of whom delivers a speech collaged from artists’ manifestos. In compiling the scripts, Rosefeldt drew on the writings of the futurists, dadaists, and situationists, as well as individual artists, architects, choreographers and filmmakers, such as Sol LeWitt, Yvonne Rainer, Dziga Vertov and Jim Jarmusch. While famous for her film work, Blanchett is well-known for her engagement with the arts more broadly, especially in theatre; and this is not the first time she has collaborated with an artist on a moving image work. In 2008 the National Portrait Gallery commissioned Portrait of Cate Blanchett, a single-channel installation by David Rosetzky, made in collaboration with choreographer Lucy Guerin. During the past year, Blanchett has also been involved in the making of RED, a film work by Del Kathryn Barton, commissioned by the Art Gallery of South Australia. In addition to these, there was also the inaugural Ian Potter Moving Image Commission, awarded to Angelica Mesiti in 2013 for the cinematic, three-screen installation The Calling; and in 2014 the Adelaide Film Festival, Carriageworks, and the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art joined forces with several others2 to commission Hossein Valamanesh’s Char Soo, a four-screen collaborative installation with his son, filmmaker Nassiem Valamanesh. These are all ambitious projects with extremely high production values; most were shot on location, and were planned and produced according to a model that reflects a quasi-film industry mode of production. And they are not low-budget projects. Compared with a feature film, the budgets may be small, but in the art world context, these are large-scale projects that increasingly require a consortium-funding model. In the case of Manifesto, for example, ACMI was one of eight institutions to invest in the project;3 and RED is supported by no fewer than five funding bodies and multiple collectors.4 As the popularity of such funding models grows, artists are able to access the increasingly affordable technologies that allow them to produce work of cinematic quality. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1
As we know, the cinema and the gallery provide very different conditions for viewing, and audiences approach these environments with expectations conditioned by the conventions of each space. The gallery allows for greater ambiguity and films that offer open-ended propositions and provocations, rather than presenting resolved plots. While this is, of course, achievable in a cinema feature film, it is not a mainstream approach and is most often associated with directors who are likely to also produce work for the gallery environment (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Amy Gebhardt, Warwick Thornton, or Amiel CourtinWilson, for example). Presenting cinematic work within the gallery draws viewers into the mode of attentiveness and absorption that is associated with the cinema,5 yet also allows them the freedom to move and engage with more or less immersion, as they desire. For artists/ filmmakers whose feature films already challenge the conventions of the cinema, working within the gallery environment offers a space for experimentation, where they can explore the physical relationship between the viewer and the moving image, and challenge the singlescreen convention associated with film. Many artists working with film installation have used the space of the gallery to interrogate the nature of film itself and our engagement with cinema as a form. Candice Breitz, Tracey Moffatt, Douglas Gordon,
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Christian Marclay, Damiano Bertoli, Johan Grimonperez, Pierre Huyghe, Sheena Macrae, Yang Fudong, and Julian Rosefeldt are just a few of the artists, whose installation works deconstruct, critique and give new meaning to cinema culture. Candice Breitz, for example, appropriates and re-works footage from mainstream cinema to reflect on celebrity, identity and the overlap between mass-media fictions and lived reality; whereas Yang Fudong draws on cinematic influences including Jim Jarmusch, Jean-Luc Godard and Chinese cinema of the 1920s and 1930s to construct his own exquisitely-styled film installations, which reflect on aspirations and anxieties prevalent in contemporary China. For Rosefeldt and Barton, working directly with an actor such as Blanchett inevitably brings an element of the fame and celebrity culture associated with the film industry to the artwork. As has been seen through other works featuring famous actors (such as Doug Aitken’s projects with Tilda Swinton, Donald Sutherland, and Chloë Sevigny, or Isaac Julien’s Playtime featuring James Franco), the celebrity drawcard can result in increased publicity and recognition, but there is no guarantee this will translate into deeper engagement with the work for those visitors who have been attracted predominantly by the pull of star power.
In her visceral film RED, Barton has created a conceptually-driven work, in which the ‘star’ is the redback spider, whose life-cycle becomes a metaphor for feminine power. Blanchett, in the lead role, is clearly recognisable, but her ability to give herself over completely to a role serves to generate a film that succeeds through the talents of all involved rather than one individual’s star power. This is an artist’s film; it is Barton’s first foray into live action, and the sensuous visual styling of the film (which includes animated elements) contains numerous filmic references – from the Jorōgumo of Japanese anime to the work of David Lynch and Floria Sigismondi. While Barton’s previous film project (Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose, 2015, co-directed with Brendan Fletcher) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, RED’s premiere at the Art Gallery of South Australia as part of the 2017 Adelaide Festival places it immediately within a distinctly art world context. Manifesto, in contrast, positions Blanchett front and centre, boldly emphasising the filmic nature of the work and highlighting the artifice. Bringing an actor predominantly known for her film work together with the texts of artists’ manifestos becomes a powerful statement about the nature of art, film and entertainment in contemporary society. The democratisation of creativity in contemporary culture is accompanied by a media obsessed with celebrity. Blanchett’s immediate recognisability lends the work something of her own celebrity status, but the diverse personas she performs also highlight the difficulty of gaining individual traction in our media/communication saturated world. This juxtaposition underscores the strength of the declarations and demands made in the manifestos, ‘but also shows how curiously unreal it would seem if we were now to proclaim universal ideals in the form of a manifesto’ today.6 By collaborating with Blanchett on the project, Rosefeldt questions the power of art in a contemporary society saturated with entertainment options and leaving little space for either rupture or reflection. This approach might have resulted in a work that used these historical texts as nothing more than fodder for the production of yet more entertainment, but Manifesto does not fall into this trap. Rather, through humour and Blanchett’s talent for transformation, the work demonstrates the complexity in the relationship between the nature of art and the nature of humanity. The collaged texts and their constructed performances act out the human desire for revolution, and form a plea to contemporary artists and audiences to reconsider the necessary and political role art plays in society. The alternative, Manifesto seems to imply, is for our essential humanity – the life-giving passion that is the force behind the manifestos – to become lost in pretence.
Manifesto produces, through simultaneous projection, as well as through the collaging of original texts, a chorus – a babel of ideas – within which visitors can focus on each performance in the order of their choosing. The synchronisation that occurs, in tone at least, once in each cycle as the characters break into hypnotic direct address, presents these characters as ciphers for the ideas that resurface again and again in the manifestos; history collapsing into a moment. The immersion experienced within the installation is not something that could be achieved in the cinema, where immersion comes in a different form. It will be interesting to see the way in which Rosefeldt has adapted Manifesto into the single-screen feature film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year. Manifesto powerfully demonstrates that film installations have the capacity to use cinematic language together with the physical possibilities of the gallery to engender an experience that moves beyond conventional cinema presentation. An artist working with the language of cinema is, of course, nothing new. But for many moving image artists, there has long been a desire to carve out a distinct space separate from the cinema, television, and other screen-based platforms. Artists such as Rosefeldt, Julien and the many others actively working between the cinema and the gallery demonstrate the ongoing possibility for adaptation of existing forms, showing that the gallery and the cinema alike continue to be spaces for experimentation.
ENDNOTES 1 The Film Art of Isaac Julien, MCA, Sydney, 15 Feb–22 April 2001, a touring exhibition from the Center for Curatorial Studies Museum, Bard College, Annandale-onHudson, New York, curated by Amada Cruz. 2 Carriageworks, Adelaide Film Festival, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art and the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, University of Western Australia in association with Sydney Film Festival and produced by Felix Media. 3 Manifesto is co-commissioned by the ACMI – Australian Centre for the Moving Image Melbourne, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, the Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Sprengel Museum Hanover. The work is co-produced by the Burger Collection Hong Kong and the Ruhrtriennale. It was realised thanks to the generous support of the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and in cooperation with Bayerischer Rundfunk. 4 RED was produced by Angie Fielder; executive producers are Cecilia Ritchie, Art Gallery of South Australia, ARNDT Art Agency, Besen Collection (Melbourne), and Burger Collection (Hong Kong); the film was financed by AFTRS, Art Gallery of South Australia, Besen Collection (Melbourne), and Burger Collection (Hong Kong). 5 Sam Ishii-Gonzales, ‘Suspended Meaning: On Bergson and Cinematic Perception’, in World Picture, issue 7, Autumn 2012, http://www.worldpicturejournal.com/ WP_7/Ishii-Gonzales.html. 6 ‘To Give Visible Action to Words’, in Julian Rosefeldt, Manifesto, London: Koenig Books, 2016: 87.
Left: Del Kathryn Barton, RED, 2016 (film still), high resolution digital video, 15 mins. Image courtesy of the artist.
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1
MOvIES IN THE MUSEUM: SUrvEILLANCE ANd THE INfrA-THIN
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he first of this two-part essay on moving images in the museums and galleries proposes that the exhibition of photographic images produces the conditions for the surveillance of surveillance. Second-order observation such as this, is an established part of systems theory. That is, it is addressed to a technical environment, not the artwork as such. ‘The eradication of the mnemonic image,’ Devin Fore wrote recently of modernist painting, ‘yields to its endless reinscription.’1 Initially, then, we come up against a thesis as to why obliteration became an artistic strategy. With the introduction of photography, an automatic producer of mnemonic documents, comes a period of reactionary iconoclasm in the visual arts. Fore highlights cubism, yet painting’s revolt against the camera as a clinical prosthesis soon gave way to another strategy, proliferation. The effects of memory’s obliteration were akin to its abundance. Like Ireneo Funes experiencing the impossibility of forgetting as an identity, the alienation of capture produced by the shock of the shot suggests the mechanical surveillance apparatus, centred by the camera, arrived to exceed memory. The automation of mnemonic images, on film and against interference, therefore challenged the practice of remembering, and correspondingly the conditions for the artwork, as it moved into a new realm of imagined technical productions. Against the act of remembering, photography, our Funes, ensured that no longer would we ‘have the right to use this ghostly verb.’2 The detail, not thought, would prevail.
Cinema, it has been said, would be the last art to reach the mind through senses. Rather, it is the photograph – what Francois Laruelle has called ‘the first presentation of Identity’ – that confounds the senses at the level of perception.3 To survey this activity, to supervise or to keep watch as surveillance does therefore, means two different things to our senses. Producing images: something is missing and cinema is the search to find, that which is not really there. Surveillance, on the other hand, aims to find what was already there. Not since the ninth century had a crisis of representation so divided the orthodoxy. It is hard to imagine another disaster on this scale, where media literally trades places with political theology. Immediately, an image consciousness was proposed: to think where ‘the image returns in the concept’ as Andrea Pinotti suggests both Ernst Cassirer and Aby Warburg had attempted in their respective projects, was the obvious response to images taking the place of thought.4 A century later, it is now commonplace to see moving images on film and video installed as artwork in galleries and in museums. To say that both the centres and spaces dedicated to contemporary art, and museums – committed as they are to the cultural memory of the past – have become increasingly colonised by moving images, belies the serious territorial upheavals they often depict. Once the initial moment of the cinema, with its images and sounds, had come and gone, like history, the question becomes how the eradication (of film) was reinscribed as a surveillance apparatus searching for the unrepresentable. This sublime character of the cinema is rarely discussed. To that end I’d like to focus on two instances where I think this shift can be registered. The first is the recent restoration and exhibition of Bruce BROADSHEET JOURNAL 46.1
Conner’s archival film, CROSSROADS (1976) in both commercial and institutional galleries. The second is the life of Richard Mosse’s sixchannel installation, The Enclave (2013), a video edition – as opposed to a film print – now in the public collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. In the past few decades, video displays in particular have even come to dominate the spaces once reserved for plinths, for vitrines and for canvas – even for museum signage. It may be worthwhile also briefly reflecting on this displacement. Firstly, it suggests a second-order outcome for moving images, like the paint on the gallery walls after the monochrome panel, the architecture is activated by the work. For example, when the Fridericianum exhibited New York/Berlin-based artist Loretta Fahrenholz’s Two A.M. (2016), a video adaptation of Irmgard Keun’s 1937 exile novel, Nach Mitternacht (After Midnight), the 40-minute work was described by the eighteenth-century museum as a ‘post-cinematic film’. Initially, this formulation might suggest more lazy artworld jargon from an institution now dedicated to contemporary art, and the centre for documenta in Kassel, Germany, since 1955. But what would a post-cinematic film be, especially the narrative adaptation of a novel, other than the colonisation of the gallery architecture by the technologies of the cinema? Responding to these displays in the very spaces reserved for artworks, suggests surveillance as such – in part the subject of Two A.M. – is what is to be observed. As a more exclusive location for the presentation of the work, the controlled environment of the gallery as a clinical space – sensitive to what Marcel Duchamp called the infra-thin – becomes a better model for looking at looking, than a busy and market-focused film festival, for example. Perhaps ‘post-cinematic films’ allows for both, an outcome pitting the market against the museum, as will be explored further below. In Australia, the celebrated painter Del Kathryn Barton’s 15-minute film, RED (2016), starring Cate Blanchett, has just opened at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Blanchett was also the protagonist of Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto (2015), which imagined a visual incarnation for modernism’s abundance of utopias, spectacularising and in many cases trivialising historical moments as targets for brief, cinematic follies. Playing with modernism, cinema as an installation could gleefully rewrite modern arts histories from safely within rival institutional spaces, such as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). At Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne, filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson exhibited clips from a project still
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in production, presenting a solo show in the main galleries, curated under the pretence of exploring the intersection of contemporary art and documentary film. Under an awkwardly multivalent title, The American Experiment (2015), Courtin-Wilson’s signature slo-mo style effectively filled the gallery with ‘pre-cinematic film’ for the six weeks of the show. The introduction of documentary filmmaking into the galleries, forcibly intervening into the spaces for contemporary art, suggested the exploration was addressed more to cinema than to the artwork. Thus in recent years, cinematic video works have become a feature of almost every group exhibition I have seen in an institutional space.5 Perhaps it should not be so surprising; it is hardly possible to even take a photograph today without also making a video. It is telling that in his 1995 essay, ‘Marks of Indifference’, Jeff Wall identified in conceptualism’s arrival and its champion in the documentary medium – specifically the photograph – an amateur and therefore inherently universal element to its reportage capability.6 By recognising the ‘fusion, or even confusion’ resulting from the arrival of new conditions for the object of art, Wall pointed to the process of legitimation that must necessarily occur for new forms to enter institutional discourse from outside. This fusion and confusion continues today in the galleries, which struggle to contain a process that has drastically rearranged their format. Furthermore, the question is not simply one of identifying a conceptual element to the photographic process, as images on film and video appear to easily evade this kind of structural rigidity. The intrusion of the cinema into the gallery is not therefore a question of reportage and surveillance as a universal truth for photography, so much as the artworks’ attempt to survey this practice of surveillance, mirrored in the reciprocal capture of the audience in the half-light of the theatre. The remediation of a work, which in the first instance was composed of archival footage on 35mm film from the National Archives in Washington D.C., elaborates this aspect of the second-order surveillance almost too well. Conner’s film CROSSROADS, made three decades after the original footage was filmed, re-establishes images Previous page: Richard Mosse, The Enclave 2012–13, (installation view) Irish Pavilion, Venice. 16mm HD video, 39:25 © Richard Mosse, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Right: Bruce Conner, CROSSROADS (1976), (installation view), Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2015. Image: courtesy The Conner Family Trust, Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
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taken from military reconnaissance and surveillance from the air and from sea-level, during atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Restored and digitised as a high definition video in 2015, it was installed as the only work at the commercial gallery Thomas Dane in central London. The restoration by UCLA’s Film & Television Archive was apparently prepared in time for MoMA’s 2016 retrospective of Conner’s career, Bruce Conner: It’s All True (3 July – 2 October 2016). Exactly four decades after the film made by Conner, and seven decades after the atomic testing, this remarkable artistic intervention into cinema as surveillance returns at the time digital video overtook film as the standard format for the presentation of moving images. In 2015 Thomas Dane Gallery had been darkened to accommodate the 36-minute work, which was presented as a loop with credits inbetween. By doing this the gallery had become both cinema and a showroom, but showing what, exactly I wasn’t sure. Here was a film that was easily downloaded online, restored and presented at a central-London commercial gallery. As William C. Wees points out, the subject of Conner’s film was more than a bomb test; it was a mass media event, perhaps the inauguration of this mode. More than seven hundred cameras and approximately five hundred camera operators were also at the test site. Sixty-four aircraft, some of which were radio-controlled drones, carried 328 still and motion picture cameras. Some of the movie cameras were capable of filming at the incredible speeds of 8000 and 3,500 frames per second.7
In fact Jonathon Weisgall’s outrageous argument that the Operation Crossroads test was ‘the most photographed moment in history,’ is corroborated by the fact that nearly half the world’s supply of film was used by the cameras on location, ready to document the twelvesecond explosion. The apparent result of this footage is that a lot of it was not only used for films like Dr. Strangelove (1964), but is now available digitally. Wees argues that film, the sheer, quantifiable amount of film present at the event, suggests the modern form of the mathematical sublime. The Bikini Atoll testing of the bomb itself, to complete the Kantian schema, provided the dynamical sublime for the event. In contrast to those present at the explosion, we are not in danger when we watch the test in the gallery; however, the security offered to the works collaterally protects us too. The sublimity of the event is in part the subject of the work. Restored to video rather than film, the difference between the work and its connection to the filming of it nevertheless approaches some kind of similitude, suggestive of the infra-thin, in the gap between surveillance and surveillance. Furthermore, the archival footage in Conner’s film is effectively the same as footage he had purchased from the National Archive, even the cinematic effect of slow motion. All Conner added to the images of the Baker event explosion at Bikini Atoll was the soundtrack. This disjunction was a musical accompaniment by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. To listen closely – as one can do in the gallery – reveals that Conner also subtly manipulated diagetic sounds to conform with the images of the blast, and then, via the expectation of the delayed
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shockwave, expose the mediated artifice of the event. Restored to a digital edition, his 35mm film is now seen and heard in a kind of halflife, as a video prepared in collaboration with the Conner Trust. It is assumed that editions for the public and private market were also a part of the restoration, for shows such as It’s All True. The argument then, is that the availability of the work to its remediation from film to video, is an example of the infrathin logic of the artwork, which is precisely this gap, where the technical support for the work falls away. If ‘art is the gap’, the infra-thin as defined by Duchamp in his 1957 talk ‘The Creative Act’, at the boundaries of the sensible, it also suggests the sublimity of the micro – the limits of perception instrumentalised by photography, which usher in the era of machine ‘vision’ that operates beyond what is usually sensible to human perception. The gap is in between these two incommensurable spheres. The museum, then, seeks to understand this gap through the presentation of the work of surveillance, to be looked at again, to re-member these 70year old images for us – the horrific sublimity of the bomb matched by the sublimity of the media’s ubiquity. If this interaction of photo-based reportage with the abstracted space of the artwork continues to inform an infra-thin character of the artwork, this identification of the gap – ever decreasing – between the work and its performance (what the avant-garde understood as the dissolution of art into life), continues to manifest as attempts to exceed representation. Richard Mosse’s multi-channel installation The Enclave began as a series of photographic stills titled Infra (2011), then as a 16mm film, before its expansion and travelling presentation from the Venice Biennale in 2013 to other institutional spaces. The acquisition of an artist’s proof of The Enclave by the National Gallery of Victoria in 2016 – the only edition in a public collection – saw Mosse develop future plans with the gallery almost as a part of the sale.8 The curator of the work at the NGV, Simon Maidment, explained this distinction as ultimately the choice, an option, between exhibiting as an artist and pursuing the distributed models of cinema, on the terms of the categorical imperative – a work that is addressed to the very notion of community finds its audience in a zone between the gallery and the cinema. Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Mosse takes a now redundant surveillance technology and uses it to represent, and thus aestheticise, a colonial-era war largely forgotten in the west. The film stock Mosse used to film rebel units in the Congo is called infra-film, its commercial name is Aerochrome, a surveillance technology that Kodak developed for the military. The aesthetic beauty pursued in the infrared’s capture of the invisible light spectrum, suggests its visibility as an object and as a metaphor of political and ideological conflict. The conceptual component to the work gives way to an experience aiming at mnemonic excess. This overwhelming effect is precisely how the project presents in its installation, the muted post-rock soundtrack by Ben Frost accompanying images meant for isolating the enemy. If the gallery thereby becomes a cinema, it can do so only by showing the work as memorialising complicity. In the presentation and display of artwork developed as a practice in
modernity, Mosse’s work of infrared images obliterates the ‘infra’ idea of art as a technical effect. Now owned by the public, it is stored as a collection of RAW video files and directions for installation developed by the artist in collaboration with the gallery, a potential perpetuity. In this way it reinscribes the contestation and colonisation of space that is confusing, avoiding conceptual rigour, appealing to the sublimity that lies beyond representation. Against the model pursued by Matthew Barney with his 398-minute Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002), and the privative attempt to control editions of the work to ensure it is framed as exclusively for contemporary art and the museums, the real question, as Alexander Horwath put it at the time, concerns how the museum might stand against the market, without ceding to the content-on-demand model of digital service providers he could then see on the horizon.9 Instead, Horwath stated his belief that the ‘museum is a very different kind of place and space, a different kind of social practice’ to the belief in the user/consumer model then being touted as its future. ‘The museum is a critical, ethical, and political tool,’ Horwath implores, ‘which stands in direct opposition to whatever social mood or climate or ideology is hegemonic at the time.’ It does this ‘by simply reminding the visitor of previous and alternative forms of social and cultural organisation; and thereby reminding him or her that the current social and cultural climate is not the only one imaginable’.10 Two years later, Horwath was invited to screen a programme of films at Documenta 12, in 2007. He chose to look at film history from the perspective of the art world. Michael Loebenstein – the former CEO of Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive – understood Horwath’s contribution as marking what he called a ‘crossroads of various disciplines and “cultural spaces”: The cinema. The archive. The art gallery. The film festival.’11 The infra-thin, like the image, returns to thought. This is the conceptual function of the sublime. ‘To think is to forget a difference, to generalise, to abstract,’ Jorge Luis Borges writes in his 1942 story, ‘Funes, the Memorious’. The trajectory from biennale to museum is tightly managed and controlled from the outset. What works like CROSSROADS and The Enclave show us today is the surveillance of the infra-thin, what is not really there. But to aspire to art means they shed their difference. Abstracted by their transcoding they are addressed to the past, but it is important to understand what their presence in the gallery shows to us. Part two of this essay will examine this movement in more detail. Considering the recent work on the festivilisation of art by Anthony Gardner and Charles Green, the institutional control of the work will be shown to reinscribe the distributed logic of the film festival and production models for the opening of ‘cultural spaces’, returning to the museum.
ENDNOTES 1 Devin Fore, Realism After Modernism: The Rehumanisation of Art and Literature, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012: 197. 2 J.L. Borges, ‘Funes, the Memorious’ (1942), Ficciones, ed. with an introduction by Anthony Kerrigan, NY: Grove Press, 1962: 107. 3 Francois Laruelle, ‘A Science of Photography,’ The Concept of Non-Photography, Falmouth & New York: Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2011: 45. 4 Andrea Pinotti, ‘Symbolic form and symbolic formula: Cassirer and Warburg on morphology (between Goethe and Vischer),’ Cassirer Studies, I-2008: 145. 5 In fact Courtin-Wilson’s documentary portrait of Jack Charles, Bastardy (2008), was shown on a loop as a part of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s exhibition Sovereignty (17 Dec–26 March 2017). 6 Jeff Wall, ‘”Marks of Indifference”: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art’, in Reconsidering the Object of Art, 1965–1975, exh. cat., Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer (eds.), Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995: 251. 7 William C. Wees ‘Bruce Conner’s Crossroads and the Nuclear Sublime,’ INCITE Journal of Experimental Media, 2 (Spring-Fall 2010), from http://www.incite-online. net/wees2.html#1 accessed February 10, 2017. 8 A further project, Incoming, has been co-commissioned by the NGV and the Barbican and planned for exhibition this year. 9 Alexander Horwath 2005 presentation – ‘The Market vs. The Museum – are these the only options?’ In Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums, and the Digital Marketplace, Paolo Cherchi Usai, David Francis, Alexander Horwath, Michael Loebenstein (eds.), Wien: Synema, 2008: 79-82. 10 Ibid: 80. 11 ‘Curatorial Values, Two Case Studies,’ in Usai et al, op.cit: 130.
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THE OkAyAMA ArT SUMMIT: A NEW TrIENNALE fOr jAPAN
n 2016 British artist Liam Gillick, well recognised for his Conceptual sculptural practice blending rectilinear polychrome Perspex structures with an interrogation of the conditions of post-Fordist labour in neoliberal economies, was elected Artistic Director of Japan’s inaugural Okayama Art Summit. Also known as the Okayama Triennale, the event featured 31 international artists and turned on the theme of ‘development’. Nestled in the south-east of Japan’s main island of Honshu, Okayama has now become the latest host for the proliferating triennales the country has mounted since 2000 (the first being the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale).
The press materials for the Okayama Triennale explicitly acknowledged the event’s rationale as the resuscitation of the city’s tourism with a specific aim of renewing interest in the city’s historic Okayama Castle.1 The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale was launched by founding director Fram Kitagawa with a similar intent to revitalise the declining Nigata Prefecture. Extending over an area of almost 500 kilometres, Echigo-Tsumari is now technically the world’s largest international art exhibition: its 2015 instalment, themed ‘Exchange between the region and the City’, included 180 new works in addition to 200 extant works from previous years. Inaugurated in 2010, the Setouchi Triennale takes place across the twelve islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea and the ports of Takamatsu and Uno. Akin to many rural parts of Japan, the islands have seen a dramatic decline in population along with aging demographics in recent decades; with a declared aim of regional revitalisation through the convergence of art and tourism, the Setouchi Triennale echoes the objectives stated above, exemplifying assessments by critics such as Oliver Marchart that biennial-type mega-events situated in far-flung places are motivated by the need to strengthen local tourist industries and increase the profile of regional centres.2 Culture-led regeneration of Japan’s islands and rural regions was kickstarted by the billionaire philanthropist Soichiro Fukutake, former CEO and current executive advisor to Benesse Holdings, who initiated the Left: Peter Fischli and David Weiss, How to Work Better, 1991. Acrylic paint on wall. Collection of Ishikawa Foundation. Courtesy of the artists and Galerie Eva Presenhuber. © Okayama Art Summit 2016. Photo: Yasushi Ichikawa.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima – the now famous cluster of contemporary art museums on the islands of Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima, whose first museum opened in 1992. Both the Echigo-Tsumari and Setouchi Triennales depart from the convention of biennales and triennales with their focus on international art stars, setting their sights closer to home and emphasising the ‘laid back, slow paced rural atmosphere’3 of their locales. The 2016 Setouchi Triennale conspicuously focused on artists from the Southeast Asia region with the vast bulk of the participating artists hailing from Japan (161 out of a total of 233) and followed Echigo-Tsumari’s precedent of allowing many of the outdoor sculptures to remain onsite after the Triennale’s closure to continue the tourist flow. Gillick’s Okayama Art Summit cleverly positioned itself both obliquely and critically within this trend and exuded a suave, cosmopolitan air. In an introductory essay framing the Summit’s raison d’être Gillick, articulated his curatorial take on ‘development’, underscoring the term’s relation to pre- and post-production evident in the fields of cinema, advanced capitalism and strategic planning. While development corresponds with the revitalisation objectives stated above, Gillick drew out other meanings hovering around the term, including its processbased nature, futurist orientation, speculative optimism and tangential association with the pursuit of self-actualisation across a spectrum of endeavours. Intersecting Gillick’s curatorial theme of development was the reference to science fiction, in particular the notion of non-synchronous temporalities and time travel. ‘I would like to think of this exhibition’ Gillick declared, ‘as a time travel story in which each artist alters our relationship to history, the future, and our illusory sense of the present.’4 Buttressing Gillick’s position were catalogue essays by heavyweight theorists Bernard Stiegler and Fredric Jameson expounding, respectively, on the cinematic structure of consciousness and science fiction as redemptive fantasies in a world that has been irrevocably ‘narrativized’. The idea of time travel has been a staple in science fiction from the incipience of the genre in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) to the
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recent release of Arrival (2016) by the director Denis Villeneuve, based on the short fiction Story of Your Life (1998) by Ted Chiang. In these literary concoctions, protagonists are able to transport themselves light years into the future to witness radically transformed human (and nonhuman) social worlds or, more modestly aided by communicative alien heptapods, apprehend the future from the perspective of the present in a paradigmatic example of non-linear temporalities. However serendipitous the convergence of the two thematics of development and science fiction abstractly appeared to the curator, the works included in the Art Summit betrayed their somewhat awkward conjunction. The thematic of sci-fi was apparent in a handful of works, such as Katja Novitskova’s 2016 Pattern of Activation (model organism); an installation of scaled-up digital prints of C. elegans worms (a class of nematodes used in scientific experiments), which tangentially suggested the giant subterranean sandworms on the desert planet Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s sci-fi fantasy Dune (1965), or the human-terrorising worms known as ‘Graboids’ in Ron Underwood’s schlocky monster movie Tremors (1990). Similarly, Philippe Parreno’s Flickering Light (2013), a series of wallmounted tubular LED lamps, conjured the choreography of pulsating white light announcing the arrival of the UFO mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – although it remained a relatively feeble work. Ahmet Ögüt’s While Others Attack (2016), a twopart installation of bronze sculptures of humans assailed by attack dogs, implied more sinister visions of social orders of victimised citizens. The charging animals and fleeing humans suggested the über attack dog in Stephen King’s horror novel Cujo (1981), but in fact were based on actual documentary footage of historic acts of civil disobedience, such as the protests against South Africa’s apartheid regime. One of the most notorious works of 2014 was Pierre Huyghe’s Untitled (Human Mask); a widely internationally circulated nineteen-minute film of a monkey named Fuku-chan wearing a Noh mask and dressed in a girl’s tunic wandering around the empty premises of a traditional sake tavern – just north of Tokyo – where the monkey is actually employed as waiting staff. (However, given the impossibility of consent, Fukuchan’s ‘employment’ is an egregrious act of animal exploitation.) Untitled (Human Mask) screened alongside Huyghe’s Zoodram 4 – a hermit crab encased in a resin cast of Brancusi’s The Sleeping Muse (1910) – and Untilled (2012), a reclining concrete figure with a hive of bees colonising the figure’s head. Although not specifically evoking sci-fi, Huyghe’s works captured one of its key effects, as elaborated by literary theorist Darko Suvin, that of ‘cognitive estrangement’; a critical-creative reflection on reality that allows unfamiliar dimensions of normative systems or objects to emerge.5 The most spectacular example of cognitive estrangement was supplied by Ryan Gander’s Because Editorial is Costly (2016); a huge, polished stainless steel sculpture sited in an empty parking lot. With the asphalt at its base torn asunder, the piece suggested a crashed meteorite’s violent
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landing, but also theorist Mark Fisher’s observations on capitalism as the remnants of collapsed symbolic belief systems, when ‘all that is left is the consumer-spectator trudging through the ruins and the relics.’6 In typically humorous form, Gander elaborated a rambling anecdote explaining the work’s conception beyond its revamp of a sculpture by Belgian artist and De Stijl founding member Georges Vantongerloo (and yes, it did involve sci-fi). Other works more directly tackled the Summit’s ostensible thematic and critiqued the ubiquity of neoliberalist values. Angela Bulloch’s Rio Declaration – 27 Rules of Sustainable Development (2016) presented text of the 27 articles enshrined in the Declaration on Sustainable Development of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which convened at Rio in 1992. Placing the articles in English and Japanese as large schematic wall-sized texts and posters in several of the Summit’s venues, Bulloch produced an elegant, non-interventionist gesture; the neutral presentation highlighting the discrepancy between the idealism of the Conference’s socially progressive principles and their currently unrealised status. On the eve of Trump’s presidential inauguration, the president-elect’s cavalier tweets conveying his intention to increase the United States’ nuclear arsenal, while encouraging nations such as Japan and South Korea to similarly upscale; his dismissal of climate change science as a hoax invented by the Chinese to reap trade advantages; and the global trend towards isolationism and xenophobia portend an era in direct contradistinction to the cooperative principles enshrined in the Declaration.7 A notable critique of the Summit’s nested topic of self-development emerged in Simon Fujiwara’s light box and video installation Joanne (2016), on the subject Joanne Salley; the Irish model and former art teacher, who was the victim of a media smear campaign in 2011 when explicit images of her were leaked to the British tabloid press. Fujiwara’s video is an exercise in re-branding, taking the format of an empowerment video that melds fact and contrivance in its savvy slippage between constructed personas versus ‘real life’ in a mash up of advertorial/documentary modes. In part a critique of the narcissism of social media, but simultaneously reliant on such platforms for its own distribution (excerpts were released in advance of the film’s completion), Joanne perfectly captured the aspirational dimension of corporate lifestyle training and self-enhancement. The instructional dimension of self-development was wittily evoked by Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s text-based piece How to Work Better (1991); a succinct treatise on how to achieve workplace success. A list of ten axioms (‘learn to listen’, ‘know the problem’, ‘smile’) was emblazoned on the side of a commercial building on an Okayama street, the infantilising and prescriptive slogans redolent of outdated corporate management manuals – the list in fact discovered by the artists at a ceramics factory in Thailand. Equally witty was Noah Barker’s Soundtrack for Development (2016), a seven-track score for a hypothetical
film based on a delegation of cultural attachés visiting Okayama to discuss the city’s cultural and economic development. Extrapolated from a pop song commissioned from the Okayama-based musician Ju Muraoka, Barker’s audio track added a subtly comic acoustic backdrop to several venues of the Summit; the airy harmonies channelling New Age relaxation music in their soporific languor. Soundtrack for Development was the work most proximate to Gillick’s earlier propositional projects based on hypothetical workplace scenarios, Discussion Island Projected Think Tank (1997) and Applied Discussion Platform (2003). Sculptures by Gillick included in the Okayama Summit ensured fidelity to the theme with their conspicuous titles, Faceted Development (2016) and Development (2016): the former a tongue-in-cheek likeness of a generic public art monument and the latter a slick, white, outdoor mini golf course resembling a cross between a corporate branding folly and a children’s playground designed by IKEA. In spite of these highlights, many works in the Summit fell flat. Anna Blessmann and Peter Saville’s Touching Work (2016); a horizontal mattresslike sculpture in open-cell foam – extending across the floor and up the wall as an alleged invitation to physical interaction – remained stubbornly dull, while José León Cerrillo’s modular POEM works as candy-coloured, Sol leWitt-inflected architectural interventions looked much more handsome in documentary photographs than in the actual classrooms of the former Korakukan Tenjin Public School. Cameron Rowland’s Korakukan Tenjin Water Test (2016) – a water quality report delivered by the US water analysis firm National Testing Laboratories revealing EPA-actionable levels of lead in the water supply of the former School site – was pious. The true highlights of the Summit, however, were the works that reflected on histories, folklore and myth specific to the locale of Okayama. Captivating and historically rich, Yu Araki’s Wrong Revision (2016) was a multimedia installation including octopus ink and a statue of the Virgin, whose central component was a video tracing the advent of Christianity in Japan via the sixteenth-century, Spanish Jesuit priest Francis Xavier. According to legend, Xavier’s arrival was inadvertently accompanied by Satan, who later disguised himself as an octopus prompting a view of the tentacled creature as a synonym for the Devil and Xavier’s missionary journey as an ambiguous importation of both good and evil. Tatsuo Majima’s dual 2016 works 281 (clay) and 281 (video) used the media of ceramic and moving image to explore the local legend of Momotarō or ‘Peach Boy’; a heroic figure in Japanese folklore hailing from the region of Okayama, who allegedly came to earth encased in a peach (found floating in a river by a childless woman) and who subsequently became her son. Years later, Momotarō embarked on a successful quest to kill a band of ogres, bringing their treasure home as bounty and ensuring a comfortable life for his foster parents’ remaining years. The folk history of Momotarō was written by Kinnosuke Nanba,
an Okayama-born metalworker, and published in 1930. However, according to Majima, Namba’s interpretation of the folktale sought to secure Peach Boy as a local legend for Okayama against similar claims by other prefectures such as Aichi and Kagawa, arguing that the historical context of Namba’s publication – in the recession that followed the Great Depression of 1929 – meant that several regions of Japan vied to claim the folktale as an auspicious symbol of prospective regional development. Transitioning from a resource-poor island nation at the turn of the twentieth century into an industrial superpower in the postwar period, Japan embraced development with the adopted mantra (in reference to Western capitalist economies) ‘catch up… and overtake.’8 By the 1960s it had achieved the highest annual growth rates in the world. Contemporary understandings of development are now tempered by an awareness of its many drawbacks: environmental degradation, resource scarcity, increased labour precarisation, inequality and general unsustainability. Although growth-oriented policies remain the dominant paradigm in post-industrial economies, the most progressive theorists argue for a policy reversal, replaced by the aim for steady-state economic systems.9 Eschewing straightforward endorsements, Gillick’s Okayama Summit shrewdly reframed the narrative of development, approaching it with critical reflexivity, while sportingly encouraging the participating artists’ own varied assays onto the theme.
ENDNOTES 1 Built in the sixteenth century, the castle pre-dates the city proper, but having been razed to the ground by Allied Forces’ bombing raids in WWII, it was entirely reconstructed in concrete 20 years later. 2 See Oliver Marchart, ‘The Globalization of Art and the “Biennials of Resistance”: A History of Biennials from the Periphery’, CuMMA Papers #7, 2014. 3 ‘Setouchi Triennale’, Japan Guide, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5410.html. 4 Liam Gillick, ‘Development’, Development, Okayama Art Summit Executive Committee, Okayama, 2016:15. 5 See Darko Suvin, ‘On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre’, College English, Vol 34 No. 3, December 1972. 6 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Winchester and Washington: Zero Books, 2009: 4. 7 See Edward Wong, ‘Trump Has Called Climate Change a Chinese Hoax. Beijing Says It Is Anything But’, The New York Times, 18 November, 2016.8 Bert Edstrom, The Japanese and Europe: Images and Perceptions, London: Routledge, 2016: 86. 8 Bert Edstrom, The Japanese and Europe: Images and Perceptions, London: Routledge, 2016: 86. 9 See Herman Daly, Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development, Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
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MAjOr TENdEr: CUrATING ANd COLLABOrATING WITH CArE
ajor Tender is an exploration of the relationship between curating, artistic collaboration and individual art making, driven by the desire to find out how these practices and the conventional boundaries between them can change. This desire for change is in turn driven by a feminist passion to uncover the often unspoken power dynamics at the heart of these practices, and by a feminist ethical commitment to nurturing new configurations of power and relation, even if it means holding difficult ground. As such, Major Tender belongs to a broad tradition in feminist practices that seeks to question how common sense and conventional wisdoms are generated and in whose name, but also to create new knowledges through those rewired relationships. In the search for different ways of knowing, such practices honour its bodily dimensions, as Sarah Ahmed expressed it: Knowledge cannot be separated from the bodily world of feeling and sensation; knowledge is bound up with what makes us sweat, shudder, tremble, all those feelings that are actually felt on the…skin surface where we touch and are touched by the world.1
Integral to such practices is an embrace of the complexity that comes with attempting multiplicity, dispersed decision-making and an antihierarchical approach. These are ideals that rally and inspire, but they are difficult to enact. When the voices are many, they are sometimes irreconcilable; when we cannot default to recognisable structures of responsibility, sometimes no one is accountable; when the uncertainty of the new prevails, sometimes immobilising confusion sets in. To stay in this space is very demanding, especially when the structures around you remain governed by opposite values. It takes time — usually much more and more intense time than conventional structures allow for — and it takes the cultivation of intimacy and trust; that is, genuine relationship. Relationship has been a buzzword in contemporary art practice for some time now. But Major Tender ties this centrality of relationship to feminist ethics. Long before Nicolas Bourriaud came up with the curatorial rationale of ‘relational aesthetics’, American philosopher Carol Gilligan coined the term ‘the ethics of care’. The ethics of care posits that humans are inherently relational and that to be human means to be connected and interdependent. As Gilligan explains: An ethic of care is grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect. An
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ethics of care directs our attention to the need for responsiveness in relationships (paying attention, listening, responding) and to the costs of losing connection with oneself or with others.2
I see Major Tender as the attempt to embody those ethics of care: long term — if at times long distance — conversations, openness to different voices, the holding of a space of tension in a mutually respectful way, which allows for changes and shifts in one’s own position. It is particularly interesting to attempt to practise an ethics of care in the realms of artmaking and curating, which despite the emergence of social practice in recent years still largely default to author-centric models — sometimes on account of ‘efficiency’ and resources, sometimes because creative control is integral, or sometimes because alternatives are not readily imagined. Major Tender not only imagines an alternative, but experiments with putting it into practice. The artists Noone invited to work with her all have hybrid practices of their own, which explore new ways of negotiating social phenomena. That hybridity extends beyond using different artistic media, to crossing firmly into the camps of curator, educators, and project facilitators. This breadth of approach, and the openness that underpins it, was key to Noone’s choices. Gemma Weston has primarily practised as a curator and writer, but has recently returned to drawing and printmaking, her first passion and the focus of her initial training. This transition is never an easy one, not only because of the different skill and mindsets involved, but also because curatorial roles conventionally entail discriminating between artists and exerting some form of institutional authority. When a critic or curator crosses over to practise as an artist, they are well aware that they are leaving themselves vulnerable to that same discrimination and judgment. Perhaps working with another artist/curator can soften the blow: certainly the work in Major Tender attests to a playful exchange, suffused with humour. A series of collages by Weston, formally framed and installed, but depicting witty takes on art history, is extended into the gallery space by Noone’s painterly interventions, which trace the outline of iconic representation of women in art. One collage serves as a double portrait of the artists: smiley faces superimposed on Picasso’s and de Kooning’s ‘women’ reference the relative size of the artists, but also their late-night joking about the legacy of the ‘artist genius’. Working with video, performance, textiles, sculpture and installation, Kate Power is a multidisciplinary artist, who investigates the way in which people relate to one another. For Power, openness is not only a process, but a thematic focus. Their collaborative work is again framed
by a double portrait with art historical references, although here the connotations are more weighty and sincere. Noone and Power have re-imagined Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas, 1939), which depicts the artist holding hands with herself in a poignant rendering of the cultural, sexual and political cleavages that rent her life apart. The painting now has Power and Noone holding hands, the heart of the original replaced by a video embedded in the canvas, with another video representing the stomach of the second figure. The videos serve to open up the reworked painting to other temporal dimensions, to the world of intimacy and negotiation beyond, serving to contemporarise and personalise the original, but also riffing off its power as feminist icon. Salote Tawale experiments with self-performance through video, photography, objects, installation, delegated performance, and community workshops. She seeks out new ways to practise portraiture by engaging the perspectives of multiple others, in different contexts, hoping to break with the conventions of how artists of difference take charge of representing themselves. There is a delicate balance between maintaining and ceding control, whereby the negotiation forms a key part of the work. Tawale brings attunement to this process to her joint work with Noone, which was crafted over a period of three days during which the artists occupied the gallery and let their individual creative voices ping around the space. The paradox of freedom to explore within the boundaries of another’s practice has resulted in an installation that is raucous and subtle in equal measure: a compelling oscillation between large and small scale, improvised and planned work, remote and intimate conversation, and personal and public concerns. Jodie Whalen works across performance, video, installation and
sculpture. In past work, she has played with the line between artwork and everyday interaction, attempting to integrate her role as an artist with the other activities in her life, including her work as a museum educator. This offers fertile territory, in which to explore collaboration: like that of the other artists Noone selected for Major Tender, Whalen’s practice is open, radiating out from institutional boundaries and conventions. Their collaborative work comprises a face-off between two video screens that exchange affirmations written by each artist. Affirmations are at the core of self-help philosophy, intended to divert us from negative self-talk, by reminding us of our self-esteem and reasons to believe in the world. At one level infuriatingly simplistic and naïve, at another such aphorisms attest to the continual battle to selfregulate, in order to survive the lack of tenderness that surrounds us. This focus on self-care is a poignant way to explore the negotiation between individual artistic practice and community, which occurs in the work of both artists. Major Tender brings these artists and practices together in such a way that embodies the ethics of care, whereby the relations between makers and objects create a unique form of energy and animate the space with tenderness. As an experiment, it opens many exploratory pathways towards a transformation of prevailing values, which continue to govern the roles of artist, curator and community-maker.
ENDNOTES 1 Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, (2004), New York and London: Routledge, 2013: 171. 2 Interview with Carol Gilligan, 2011: http://ethicsofcare.org/carol-gilligan/.
Above: Major Tender, 2016, (installation view), CACSA. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: Grant Hancock
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My HOrIZON: TrACEy MOffATT AT THE 57TH vENICE BIENNALE MY HORIZON is very open and can be read in many ways, the horizon line can represent the far and distant future or the unobtainable. There are times in life when we all can see what is ‘coming over the horizon’. This is when we make a move. Or we do nothing and just wait for whatever it is to arrive.1 Tracey Moffatt, 2016 In 2017, Tracey Moffatt will be the first Aboriginal solo artist to represent Australia at the 57th Venice Biennale. MY HORIZON, curated by Natalie King is an exhibition of new work in the form of large-scale installation of still photography and moving-image film. In May 2016 I began working alongside Natalie King, as Curatorial Assistant (First Nations). This has been a valuable experience, allowing me to gain firsthand insight into the complexity of delivering a major international exhibition and a substantial accompanying publication. I have compiled a chronology of Moffatt’s life and career for inclusion in the first major publication on Tracey Moffatt in ten years (to be published by Thames & Hudson), which will accompany the exhibition in Venice. It is rare to be given both the time and resources to research a single artist, let alone an artist you have admired from a young age. During my secondary school years in the 1990s, I frequently visited the Albury Art Gallery (now Murray Art Museum Albury) to see Tracey’s iconic series ‘Something More’ hanging on their walls. The work was created during a residency at the Albury Regional Art Gallery and and was subsequently presented as her first solo exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1989. Gael Newton has noted that Something More was the first acquisition by a major arts institution of the work of an Aboriginal photographer.2 Moffatt had an early appreciation for photography. In 1982 she completed a visual communications degree that exposed her to a number of creative influences, such as the avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren, which are still relevant to her work today. Like many Aboriginal artists, in the course of her work in the Australian film industry – assisting on documentaries, but also undertaking her own creative projects – she undertook a number of community-based projects. In 1988 she wrote and directed the experimental documentary Moodeitj Yorgas (Solid Women) for the Western Australian Women’s Advisory Council to the Premier. Even at this early stage in her career, Moffatt was already blurring the margins of what was expected, through manipulation of her medium and passionate experimentation. This compelling and curious documentary features Sally Morgan and Tanya Corbett, amongst others, talking about their experiences as Aboriginal women. Moffatt takes creative risks by mixing up the audio and visuals of the film, resulting in out-of-sync interviews that in effect challenge the audience to pay attention. As an Aboriginal woman, I found the documentary very moving – it was one of the most exciting finds during 46
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my research. Almost thirty years later, it is still a powerful record of the strength and ingenuity of Aboriginal women in Australia. Passionate about Indigenous issues and women’s rights, Moffatt was an active protester throughout the 1980s. In 1987, Moffatt was arrested in London for an impromptu solo protest motivated by the use of the Aboriginal flag for a First Fleet re-enactment, making it into a local paper with an accompanying image of the artist, defiantly being dragged away by the police (television images of the arrest were broadcast in the United Kingdom, Australia and beyond). Although she had travelled internationally for exhibitions, her first major artist residency outside of Australia was in 1995 at Artpace in San Antonio Texas, where she created the series GUAPA (Goodlooking). The final photographs depict glamazon women in skates re-enacting scenes from the roller derby. The series is printed in black and white on colour photographic paper, creating a warm feminine hue, whilst still being a document of strength, beauty and heroism. During her time in Texas, Moffatt was continually mistaken for a Latino woman and possibly found a sense of freedom in this new identity. Moffatt’s conscious choice to cast people of colour in her work, including herself, is her strength, as it ensures her work is crafted for a global community, where there are no boundaries; there is only commonality. In 1998 Moffatt boldly addressed the limitations she felt within the Australian art scene and made the move to New York, taking the ultimate leap to pursue her artistic career. I wanted to be read as an artist … and I could only do it by getting out of this country; by not being confined to the basement of an art museum where they’re showing Aboriginal art.3
Her global sensibility is embodied in Plantation (2010), a series of photogravures presented as a set of diptychs. The location of the images is elusive, as it channels a variety of settings including the plantation landscapes of Cuba, America’s deep South, as well as the cane farms of Far North Queensland. The central ‘character’ is an old weatherboard house, an unyielding presence against the violence and threat of fire and shadowy visitors. Rich with storytelling and well versed in both melancholia and humour, Moffatt’s artwork is informed by the human experience, in which her cultural identity is an abiding link. Though it may not be explicit, her identity is a recognisable theme, particularly in her most recent series, Spirit Landscapes (2013), which was developed on her return from New York in 2010. A six-part series, which includes photographic works and a moving-image component, it is a collection of colourful and thoughtprovoking works, which analyse Moffatt’s relationship with Country, spirituality and the supernatural, offering personal insights – both historical and current – into her connection to place. A part of this series, Suburban Landscapes is a work of personal memory, in which Moffatt reveals the place of her youth; in Picturesque Cherbourg
in which Moffatt reveals the place of her youth; in Picturesque Cherbourg we see the Government-established mission, where Moffatt’s family were relocated in the 1920s. The series is a depiction of Aboriginal connection to Country generated through consideration of different aspects of Moffatt’s life. As I Lay Back On My Ancestral Land is a poignant expression of this connection, a proud acknowledgement of her Aboriginality, where Moffatt’s own body is displayed in a series of bold colours tattooed with reflections of the clouds overhead. It was the pull of nature and land that drove me back here… I really am Indigenous to here, there is no denying the powerful ‘pull’ of ‘country’.5
In 2017, the Australia Council is acknowledging the significance of Australia’s first solo Aboriginal artist at the Venice Biennale, by offering artists and curators the opportunity to attend and support the exhibition. For the first time, more than half of the volunteer attendants and team leaders invigilating in the Australian pavilion will be Indigenous. Australia’s participation in the Venice Biennale began in 1954, and since then 34 contemporary visual artists have exhibited, but it wasn’t until 1990 with the iconic Rover Thomas and Trevor Nickolls that Aboriginal artists represented our country at this prestigious event. In 1997, leading curators Brenda L Croft, Hetti Perkins and Victoria Lynn presented Fluent featuring the work of three distinguished artists; Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Yvonne Koolmatrie and Judy Watson and in 2009 Vernon Ah Kee participated in the group show Once Removed. At the most recent iteration in 2015, the celebrated Tjanpi Weavers from Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) lands collaborated with Fiona Hall on works commissioned by Natalie King and Djon Mundine for the TarraWarra Biennial 2014: Whisper in My Mask. A First Nations Curators Program is also in development, inviting emerging curators from across Australia to participate in an exchange program in Venice and to spend time visiting each country’s artistic offerings at the Vernissage, the official opening of the Biennale. Witnessing the intensity of Moffatt’s focus and commitment to her creative process, her dedication to creating a new body of work has been a source of inspiration, as has working with Natalie King and
Above: As I lay back on my Ancestral Land, 2013, From the series ‘Spirit Landscapes’, digital print, 128 × 187cm, Edition of 8. Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery, Sydney.
Commissioner Naomi Milgrom.6 The opportunity to research an artist of Moffatt’s calibre, especially from this unique viewpoint, has offered me insights into the many and layered connections throughout her career. It is hard to ignore the sense of pride in seeing an Aboriginal woman assert herself on a global platform and forge her own path. She has continually worked outside of what was expected and her body of work stands alone as a reflection of her many influences and as a document of the time. It is a magnificent illustration of how to engage with the global community and I am honoured to have been a part of the development of MY HORIZON.
ENDNOTES 1 Australia Council announcement of Tracey Moffatt’s 2017 Venice Biennale exhibition, media release, 8 Dec. 2015. 2 See Gael Newton in Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002. http://artsearch. nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=148563<http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail. cfm?IRN=148563> 3 The issue in question was??? 4 Rebecca Harkin-Cross, ‘Tracey Moffatt’s Free Spirit’, The Saturday Paper, 13 Dec. 2014. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/culture/art/2014/12/13/tracey-moffattsfree-spirit/14183892001355 <https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/culture/ art/2014/12/13/tracey-moffatts-free-spirit/14183892001355> 5 Interview transcript between 2013 Australia Council Visual Arts Award recipient Tracey Moffatt and graduate art students Eileen Abood and Sancintya Simpson, 16 April 2013 http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/arts-in-daily-life/artist-stories/interviewwith-2013-australia-council-visual-arts-award-recipient-tracey-moffatt/ <http:// www.australiacouncil.gov.au/arts-in-daily-life/artist-stories/interview-with-2013australia-council-visual-arts-award-recipient-tracey-moffatt/> 6 I am very grateful to Natalie King and Naomi Milgrom AO for their warmth and encouragement.
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ExHIBITING ArT HISTOry ANd OTHEr WANdErINGS IN ANd OUT Of dIvErSE fIELdS Recently, my colleague Todd Stewart and I organised an exhibition related to fieldwork that we have been conducting over the past few years in the deserts of the western United States. Todd is a photographer, and both fieldwork and exhibitions are ordinary parts of his practice. As an art historian who usually works indoors rather than outdoors and who usually publishes or lectures rather than exhibits the results of my work, these activities have often felt extraordinary. When Todd first suggested that I put art to the side and get out of the office, the museum, the gallery, the library, the archive, the seminar room, and the lecture hall, I leapt at the chance because I knew that going to the desert would take me beyond some conventions to which my discipline unnecessarily adheres.1 Two in particular have come to the forefront as particularly arbitrary: first, the idea that the art historianâ€™s job is to analyse what falls under the de facto conception of art that art-historical consensus proffers; second, the idea that the results of that analysis must appear in some form of essay or talk. Without discounting that job or those formats, both of which retain value, I have begun to explore widened opportunities for art history that come with a turn away from art in the familiar sense and a turn toward presenting the work that results in equally unfamiliar ways. In other words, doing art history differently, that is, as a fieldworker concerned with an expanded conception of art, which encompasses all meaningfully formed matter, has been reciprocally facilitated by pursuing a different mode of presentation for art history: the exhibition. Together, these two activities have revealed to me how limber intellectual pursuits are and how adaptable the activities that human beings undertake can be. Erratic Fieldwork: Doing Art and Art History in the Anthropocene, which was on display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma, is the first major result of the fieldwork and exhibiting that Todd and I have undertaken together.2 In the long and narrow Ellen and Richard L. Sandor Gallery, we installed two main elements, running along the length of the space: first, four tables aligned sequentially, lengthwise, and medially on the floor, each covered with a similarly arranged assortment of items, and, second, an uncharacteristic amount of related text on the wall, also in four parts, with each part corresponding
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to one of the tables. (A third element, a scroll containing hundreds of photographs documenting our travel with students, hung on an artificial wall that delimited the back of the exhibition space.) The materials on the tables were drawn from an enormous archive we are assembling that includes photographs made by Todd and others, texts I and others wrote, audio and video recordings captured in the field (a selection of which our colleague Brent Goddard edited together for Erratic Fieldwork), touristic ephemera collected as we travel, and research materials we have consulted alongside a plethora of found objects, which range from clichĂŠd items like a tumbleweed to less expected curiosities, such as a dirty, mint-flavored athletic mouth guard picked up from the open expanse of the desert floor. Altogether, the materials presented on the tables suggest the full panoply of human activity in the desert, which ranges from agriculture to athletics, military training to New Age spirituality, scientific research to casino gambling â€“ and photography to art history. Within this diverse array, certain items are more recognisably related to art history, including a number of my fieldwork notebooks, which are opened to pages filled with handwritten observations and reflections, passages quoted from readings, as well as the occasional drawing; piles of marked-up manuscripts for a book in progress; indecipherable field notes scribbled on hotel stationery; and more formalised and typeset texts that reflect on art history, nature, fieldwork, and knowledge. These items may not be the usual fare for inclusion in a museum exhibition, but presented within a heterogeneous mixture alongside images and objects that might belong in one, art history finds its place in a greater amalgamation, suffusing it with its distinctive properties in the process of being shown. To accompany this selection of archival material in Erratic Fieldwork and to provide another point of entry for art history into the exhibition, Todd and I made a second selection, this time from a set of metadata that we produce when we are not in the field. Unwieldy like the archive, it is nevertheless replete with potentially meaningful statements about the items that comprise it. These statements range from basic quantifiable facts involving colour or size to looser and more poetic qualities that objects possess, or concepts and moods that they suggest.
When I am working on this metadata, what I do derives from methods of looking, analysis, interpretation, and contextualisation characteristic of art history, all of which are brought to bear upon items – like that nasty mouth guard or one of my field notes – which otherwise fall outside the scope of art-historical inquiry but, when studied arthistorically, can impart important insights about the vast diversity of human undertakings that take place in the desert and leave marks upon it. In Erratic Fieldwork, we displayed a selection from this metadata set on the wall in vinyl lettering, so that it could be consulted relative to the archival items and further open them up to inquiry (and be opened up by those very items in turn). This, then, is another way for art history to take shape in an exhibition, as the discipline’s characteristic activities of visual analysis are configured through acts of installation and reception. To facilitate this process in Erratic Fieldwork, our recently graduated student Katelynn Knick developed a colour-coded index, which visitors could use to cross-reference the more than100 archival items we displayed with the 400+ pieces of metadata we chose to accompany them.3 By tracking a material like ‘basalt,’ a quality like ‘greenish,’ a concept like ‘measurement,’ a mood like ‘thirsty,’ or a tag like ‘atomic history’ across the archive and metadata set, the number of physical objects and immaterial ideas actually and potentially on display compound rapidly before viewers’ eyes and in their minds. Comprehensive understanding becomes less possible to sustain, but the ability to gain one’s bearings amidst complexity, by using the sorts of reasoning typical of art history grows more robust. Structuring this immersive zone for looking, reading, and thinking without resolution – a terrain for cognitive wandering – recreates within the space of the gallery the scale and nuance of the field, thereby enabling all so inclined to produce in a museum space the sort of worldly know-how that Todd and I acquire while working outdoors. The work we presented in Erratic Fieldwork derived from visiting a number of artrelated sites, including Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, but much more of it came from time spent at socially and culturally problematic sites, such as the man-made and ecologically toxic Salton Sea in southern California, the SpaceShipTwo crash site in the Mojave Desert, the ubiquitous ghost towns across the west, where mines or railroads have come and gone, an abandoned brothel situated at the junction of two deserted Nevada highways, or the side of Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park, where in 1964, a graduate student cut down a bristlecone pine tree only to discover that it might have been the oldest living thing on the planet. (Todd and I recently made and exhibited a smaller piece entitled Prometheus/114 derived from our work on this tree.) At each of these locations, the human arts, broadly construed, go astray and become unruly. Studying their traces in the field or transposed into the museum provides occasions to assess our activities as human beings and to come to deeper understanding of what our doing does. That study, enacted in accordance with its own lessons, is the enduring and open-ended task of our work as fieldworkers and exhibitors. The interdisciplinary blend of scholarship and creative activity presented in Erratic Fieldwork aims for a certain self-reflexivity, where the practices of art history and photography are concerned. It was important to me, for instance, that the exhibition not be reducible to language, which is the art historian’s privileged medium. When not attached to exhibitions as curators, art historians tend to become involved in them as catalogue essayists. In both cases, they create
Above: Todd Stewart, Robert Bailey, & others, Erratic Fieldwork: Doing Art and Art History in the Anthropocene, 2016, (installation view), Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman, Oklahoma, USA. Photo: Todd Stewart
syntactical meaning from artworks on view that they did not make. I wanted to set this convention aside to focus on making an exhibition of my own work in collaboration with others. This, I hoped, would resituate art history within a continuum of exhibited activities, rather than a device for the framing of exhibited images and objects that then absents itself from that continuum. One hoped-for result of this shift would be a reconsideration of art history as a conveyor of knowledge. The process of moving around the gallery to take in the groupings of items we displayed, results in at least some art-historical knowledge that cannot be tidily packaged as communicable content to be expressed in a text such as this one. This is so because some of the knowledge acquirable in an exhibition is not the highly transmissible know-that variety of knowledge – theses, evidence, conclusions – that tends to be prioritised in a scholarly text; it is of the ingrained know-how variety – skills, methods, approaches – that comes only with working experience and cultivated familiarity. Pursuing the sort of know-how that the field makes available – a know-how that involves ways of looking and seeing, observing and describing, documenting and representing, interpreting and historicising, moving and remaining, and much more – requires an encounter with conditions like those that I found in the field, which brought me beyond the language I ordinarily use to do art history. I could not replicate those conditions in words alone, hence my turn toward exhibiting art history, with its capacity to constitute the sort of space that while I worked in the desert, had enabled me to explore art history’s disciplinary malleability. If there is a consistently art-historical project running throughout Erratic Fieldwork, then it overlaps at every point with a distinct but equally consistent photographic project (to say nothing of other projects potentially contained within it). Todd was, like me, considering the ongoing relevance of his own practice, and the installation format similarly suited him in this process. If I was looking for ways to develop art-historical fieldwork, which would ask an audience to see art history as well as read it and thus to have an unusual experience, then Todd
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was asking that same audience not only to see, but also to read his photographs, which often explore interconnections of place, history, and adversity, by experiencing them not only as singular images but also as participants in a syntax governed by a grammar. In his books about Japanese American internment camps and the environmentally devastated town of Picher, Oklahoma, Todd’s work often shares space with other photographer’s images, with text of various kinds, with maps and additional cartographic figures, or with information of other sorts.4 Erratic Fieldwork enabled these discursive components to become incorporated into the space of an exhibition, where framed photographs tend otherwise to be wall-mounted with only minimal context given through other mediums, such as the language of a straightforward wall text.5 By presenting his images unframed, loose, sometimes stacked, in archival boxes, horizontally, and on tables, they came to merge democratically with the rest of our installation, informing and being informed by their surroundings in equal measure. From discussions with Todd about our work, I have sharpened my approach to doing art history against his own reassessment of his practice. Where I have begun to consider art history as a set of methods not necessarily tethered to a prevailing conception of art, Todd has started thinking about photography as a way of seeing that does not rely upon the production of an actual photograph. He views photography as temporal and indexical in distinctive ways that structure modes of observation and representation. These modes are photographic in character and they can – but need not – lead to the making of the image that we call a photograph. Producing a line drawing with a GPS device, as Todd often does while working in the field, is photographic; so too is picking up and pocketing a stone as a keepsake — or writing observations down in a notebook, as I do. However, this point of overlap between our reassessments belies the crucial difference between what Todd and I are each doing. Where he is concerned about the ongoing relevance of photography at a time when photographs are so ubiquitous as to become banal, I am trying to suggest that art history, far from a marginal discipline within the humanities, is of much broader relevance than we typically believe it to be. So, if art history could suffuse the entirety of Erratic Fieldwork, because each object in it summoned up skills associated with the practice of the discipline, then photography also could be tracked across the entirety of the show but precisely by jettisoning overreliance on the photograph, in favour of the photographic characteristics that can be found in all things (which in turn redeems actual photographs by specifying their value more pointedly). Each item and each piece of metadata we displayed involved observing and making a selection that results in a sign possessed of a real relation to its referent, meaning that our exhibition can be entirely construed to satisfy this sense of the photographic, even if it is no more reducible to the photographic image than it is to the art-historical word. In other words, Erratic Fieldwork served us and hopefully served its visitors as a space in which to assess and reassess practices. I would like to conclude with a note about the word ‘anthropocene’, which is contained in Erratic Fieldwork’s subtitle and has until now escaped mention. At the moment, this term is a buzzword, and its descriptive
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acuity is questionable, particularly for the arts and humanities, which have adopted it without always including the rigour and patience requisite of the totalising reassessments that it entails. However, the word remains most useful, for it speaks to two enduring phenomena, with which we are all increasingly confronted: all human practices have unpredictable consequences, and we have a poor understanding of the effects of our activities. Going out into the field to do art history and working with a photographer to present the results of that fieldwork in an exhibition are practices that endeavour to understand human activities in their diversity and complexity, whether we are in the desert or anywhere else that we bring our practices to bear upon the planet. I did not become a photographer when notebooks and observations that I produced were exhibited in a museum where art would ordinarily be shown, just as Todd did not become an art historian when his pictures became constituents of the discourse that we configured there. Instead, we each wandered from our practices to recover them elsewhere, coming to know our competencies better in so doing. In our time, acquiring that sort of know-how, which enables us to understand our intrinsic erraticism, will help us to improve our ability to wander both mentally and on foot, skills that only seem to become increasingly crucial components of our lives. The exhibition Erratic Fieldwork: Doing Art and Art History in the Anthropocene ran from April 22–May 15, 2016 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma, USA.
ENDNOTES 1 I would be remiss were I not to mention a few predecessors in the practice of arthistorical fieldwork focused on nature. John C. Van Dyke, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901; P. Reyner Banham, Scenes in America Deserta, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1989; and Lucy R. Lippard, Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, New York: The New Press, 2014 are three outstanding books by art historians about the American desert with respective foci on landscape, the built environment, and land use. 2 I would like to acknowledge support Todd and I have received from the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the School of Art and Art History at the University of Oklahoma, and the OU Humanities Forum. 3 On the use of indexing in art, see Charles Harrison, Essays on Art & Language, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001: 63-81. 4 See Todd Stewart, Placing Memory: A Photographic Exploration of Japanese American Internment Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008 and Todd Stewart and Alison Fields, Picher, Oklahoma: Catastrophe, Memory, Trauma, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 5 An important precedent for this approach is Allan Sekula’s work between exhibition and publication. For relevant examples of and discussion, see especially Allan Sekula, Fish Story, Rotterdam & Düsseldorf: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and Richter Verlag, 1995 and Allan Sekula, Ship of Fools/The Dockers’ Museum, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2015.
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Broadsheet Journal’s Autumn issue considers art in the age of Trump, including New York MoMA’s swift response, and Ben Eltham on political a...
Published on Mar 16, 2017
Broadsheet Journal’s Autumn issue considers art in the age of Trump, including New York MoMA’s swift response, and Ben Eltham on political a...