CONTEMPORARY ART FROM SOUTH AUSTRALIA A M ATA – T J A L A A R T S • K AT E B R E A K E Y • K I M B U C K • J A M E S D A R L I N G & L E S L E Y F O R W O O D • W E N DY F A I R C L O U G H • S T E WA R T M AC F A R L A N E • IAN NORTH • ANNALISE REES • CHRIS DE ROSA • YHONNIE SC ARCE • PA U L S L O A N • T J A N P I D E S E R T W E AV E R S • A N G E L A VA L A M A N E S H • H O S S E I N VA L A M A N E S H • A M Y J OY WAT S O N
21 June – 8 September 2013 • Free admission
ART GALLERY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA N O R T H T E R R A C E , A D E L A I D E artgallery.sa.gov.au/heartland PRESENTING PARTNER
Contributors Donald Brook: an initiator of the Ten Sheds Workshop at Sydney University in 1969; co-founder of the Experimental Art Foundation in 1974; author of numerous publications on art theory, history and cultural evolution including The Awful Truth About What Art Is (Artlink, Adelaide, 2008); Emeritus Professor of Visual Arts, Flinders University Alan Cruickshank: Editor Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet and Exectuive Director Contemporary Art Centre of SA since 2000; Adelaide-based artist, curator, writer and publisher 19802000 with works collected by the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of SA, Art Gallery of WA, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris and the Polaroid Collection, USA; Pier 2/3 Exhibition Manager Biennale of Sydney: The Everyday 1998; Assistant Curator Graham Nash Collection and Curatorial Assistance, Los Angeles 1988; Artists Week Committee member 1984-89; has spent the past two decades plus establishing cultural partnerships with greater Asia and the Middle East Pedro de Almeida: Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney; previously Program Coordinator, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney; curatorial projects include Excavation: The Armory Exhibition 2012, Armory Gallery, Sydney Olympic Park; Felicia: South Australia 1973-1978 (2013), Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney; has written for Art & Australia, Art Monthly Australia, Artist Profile among others; recent recipient of Australia Council for the Arts Skills and Arts Development Grant to undertake curatorial research and development in Australia and internationally in 2013, including in Chongqing, Chengdu, Beijing, Mexico City and New York City Reem Fekri: Brisbane-based Masters graduate from Kings College in London; previously worked for Art Dubai as a media coordinator and editor of their online journal for five years; currently a freelance writer with a specialist knowledge in contemporary art and cultural regeneration projects in the MENASA region Blair French: Executive Director, Artspace Visual Arts Centre, Sydney; curatorial convenor 6th (20102012) and curator 7th (2013) SCAPE Public Art Christchurch Biennials; recent curatorial projects at Artspace include Nothing Like Performance (2011) and Everything Falls Apart (2012, with Mark Feary); recent writings include contributions to the books Perform Repeat Record: Live Art in History (eds, A. Jones & A. Heathfield, 2012) and Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 (eds, G. Arnold & K. Henry, 2012) Richard Grayson: London-based artist, curator and writer; recent exhibitions include His Master’s Voice, HMKV Dortmund 2013, Rebirth and Apocalypse: 2012 Kiev Biennale, The Magpie Index, Matts Gallery London, 2012, Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age: 2010 Sydney Biennale, The Golden Space City of God, Kunst Museum, Thurgau, Switzerland, 2010 and Matts Gallery 2009; in 2010 the De La Warr Pavilion presented a five year retrospective of his work; curatorial projects include Revolver, Matts Gallery 2013 (with Robin Klassnik), Polytechnic, Raven Row, London 2010, A Secret Service: art concealment compulsion, Hayward Gallery Touring 2006; artistic director 2002 Sydney Biennale: The World May Be Fantastic and a founder member of the Basement Group 1979-84 Newcastle upon Tyne Tim Horton: Adelaide-based nationally recognised thinker on design, innovation and governance practice; as Australia’s first Commissioner for Integrated Design, has unique experience in providing independent advice to government across design, planning and development in local, state and national policy, programs and projects; an architect with experience spanning the public and private sector in Australia and internationally; has held positions as state President and National Director of the Australian Institute of Architects, and advised the Australian Government as a member of the editorial board for the Australian Urban Design Protocol and the Built Environment Industry Innovation Council; holds Board position on the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network Lee Weng Choy: Singapore-based art critic; from 2000 to 2009, he was the Artistic Co-Director of The Substation arts centre, Singapore; currently serves on the academic advisory board of the Asia Art Archive (AAA), Hong Kong, and is president of the Singapore Section of the International Association of Art Critics; managing editor of the web-anthology, Comparative Contemporaries, presented in collaboration with AAA: http://comparative.aaa.org.hk
c o n t e m p o r a r y v i s u a l a r t + c u lt u r e b ro a d s h e e T Editor Assistant Editor Advertising Manager Publisher Design
Alan Cruickshank Wendy Walker Matt Huppatz Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia Inc. Alan Cruickshank, Nasim Nasr
ISSN 0819 677X © Copyright 2013, Broadsheet, the authors and artists. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Broadsheet is published quarterly by the Contemporary Art Centre of SA Inc. print post approved PP53 1629/00022 The Contemporary Art Centre of SA is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments Editorial inquiries, advertising and subscriptions may be sent to the Editorial Office: Broadsheet 14 Porter Street Parkside South Australia 5063 Tel +61  8272 2682 Fax +61  8373 4286 Email: email@example.com www.cacsa.org.au Subscriptions: Contact the Administrator, Contemporary Art Centre of SA—firstname.lastname@example.org The views and/or opinions expressed in Broadsheet are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the editor, staff or Board of the CACSA
Editorial Advisory Board International:
RICHARD GRAYSON UK Artist, lecturer and writer, London BORIS KREMER UK Curator, translator and writer, London ASTRID MANIA Germany Editor, writer and curator, Berlin CHRISTOPHER MOORE Czech Republic Writer, Prague; Editor-in-Chief, Randian online VASIF KORTUN Turkey Director SALT, Istanbul JULIE UPMEYER Turkey Artist, Initiator, Caravansarai, Istanbul RANJIT HOSKOTE India Curator, writer, Mumbai COLIN CHINNERY China Artist, writer and curator, Beijing BILJANA CIRIC China Independent curator, Shanghai JOHN BATTEN Hong Kong Curator, art critic, writer PATRICK FLORES Philippines Professor Dept Art Studies University of Philippines, Manila SUE HAJDU Vietnam Artist, writer, Ho Chi Minh City
Jacqueline Millner: Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) and lectures in Critical Studies at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; has published widely on contemporary art in leading journals and magazines, as well as in catalogues for national and international galleries and museums. Her book on Australian contemporary art, Conceptual Beauty, was published in 2010 by Artspace Visual Arts Centre, Sydney. Her latest book, Australian Artists in the Museum co-authored with Dr Jennifer Barrett, is due for release by UK Press Ashgate later this year
RAY LANGENBACH Malaysia Artist, curator, writer, lecturer and critic, Kuala Lumpur
Nick Mitzevich: Director, Art Gallery of South Australia since 2010; previously director of UQ Art Museum, Brisbane (2007-10) and the Newcastle Regional Gallery (2001-07)
TONY GODFREY Singapore Gallery director, writer
Jim Moss: Lecturer, history and theory of art and design, School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia; his academic interests in the field of visual culture are broad, encompassing a range of historical and genre studies, with a particular interest in the evolution of photographic imagery; has authored numerous essays on topics on the above fields including catalogue essays and critiques of exhibited art works, films, videos, and associated aspects of visual culture; recent work includes monographs on two prominent South Australian based artists, George Popperwell and Mark Kimber (both 2012) Melanie Oliver: Director, The Physics Room, Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand; recent curatorial projects include ‘Watermarking’, Liverpool Biennial 2012 (with Laura Preston); Justene Williams and Sean Grattan, St Paul St Gallery, 2012; Social Interface, RAMP Gallery, Waikato, 2012; and Talking Pictures, Artspace, Sydney, 2011 Lisa Slade: Project Curator, Art Gallery of South Australia; with Nici Cumpston she is the curator of the exhibition Heartland: contemporary art from South Australia; lectures in the postgraduate art history program, University of Adelaide in collaboration with AGSA Cathy Speck: Professor of Art History, coordinator of Postgraduate Programs in Art History and Curatorial and Museum Studies, University of Adelaide/Art Gallery of South Australia, and a member of the Adelaide Critics Circle Wendy Walker: Adelaide-based author, freelance curator and editor who has written extensively on contemporary art for numerous exhibition catalogues, art journals and other publications; from 2005-06 was the inaugural Samstag writer-in-residence at the University of South Australia; the Adelaide art critic for The Australian newspaper
volume 42.2 JUNE 2013
LEE WENG CHOY Singapore Writer and critic EUGENE TAN Singapore Director Special Projects, Singapore Economic Development Board
GOENAWAN MOHAMAD Indonesia Essayist, journalist, poet and cultural critic, Jakarta NATASHA CONLAND New Zealand Curator Contemporary Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tämaki, Auckland
ROBERT COOK Perth Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia RUSSELL STORER Brisbane Curatorial Manager, Asian & Pacific Art, Queensland Art Gallery REX BUTLER Brisbane Writer, editor and senior lecturer, University of Queensland BLAIR FRENCH Sydney Curator, writer, editor and Executive Director, Artspace ADAM GECZY Sydney Artist, lecturer and writer CHARLES GREEN Melbourne Artist, curator, art critic and historian; Associate Professor, University of Melbourne IAN NORTH Adelaide Artist, writer and Adjunct Professor, School of Art, University of South Australia
c o n t e m p o r a r y v i s u a l a r t + c u lt u r e b ro a d s h e e T
volume 42.2 JUNE 2013
COVER: Ian North, The Wave, 2004 Oil on linen, 73.0 x 170.0 cm Ed and Sue Tweddell Fund for South Australian Contemporary Art, 2009 Collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Photo courtesy the artist
Today’s vocation of artistic production in a world oscillating between crisis and opportunity Blair French, Hou Hanru
Present and Unread: Simryn Gill’s Where to draw the line Lee Weng Choy
COMMUNITY, POLITICS AND MIGRATION: ISABEL AND ALFREDO AQUILIZAN Reem Fekri
IN SPITE OF COLONISATION: YHONNIE SCARCE Lisa Slade 101
The more global one is, the more local one desires to become Angelica Mesiti: Being World Jacqueline Millner
EVERYTHING AND NOTHING: KHALED SABSABI Pedro de Almeida
Makeshift’s Kauri-oke challenges socially engaged practice: looking forward towards new forms of social imagining, dwelling and remembering Melanie Oliver
New models of knowledge, uncharted areas and hidden narratives: Adelaide International back to the future? Or arrival of the present? Richard Grayson, Alan Cruickshank
Exposing the underbelly of society—the political, psychological and the personal: Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art Nick Mitzevich, Alan Cruickshank, Wendy Walker
Eyeless in Gaza: << That all artists are equal is a proposition which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent >> Alan Cruickshank
Adelaide: an ecology of big builds and small moves Tim Horton
The corporeal and spiritual connection that we have with place Heartland : emotion, spirit, resilience and originality Lisa Slade, Alan Cruickshank, Wendy Walker
the samstag effect Catherine Speck
A new New Deal: greater emphasis on issues artistic could be sutured into the socio-economic fabric of the State Jim Moss
Home truths: the idea of art as an experimental enterprise Donald Brook
26 JUNE - 11 AUGUST 2013
Richard Bell Imagining Victory
43–51 Cowper Wharf Road Woolloomooloo NSW 2011 Sydney Australia www.artspace.org.au
T +61 2 9356 0555 email@example.com Office 10am–6pm, Mon–Fri Gallery 11am–5pm, Tues–Sun
Image: Richard Bell, Scratch an Aussie, 2008, still from HD video, courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Artspace is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments. Artspace is assisted by the New South Wales Government through Arts NSW and by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Artspace is a member of CAOs (Contemporary Art Organisations Australia).
MONASH UNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF ART PRESENTS
Simon Starling In Speculum
18 July – 21 September 2013 Monash University Museum of Art 5 October – 30 November 2013 Institute of Modern Art Simon Starling In Speculum is a joint project by Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and City Gallery Wellington. Ground Floor, Building F Monash University, Caulfield Campus 900 Dandenong Road Caulfield East VIC 3145 Australia
22 February – 18 May 2014 City Gallery Wellington www.monash.edu.au/muma Telephone +61 3 9905 4217 firstname.lastname@example.org Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat 12 – 5pm
Simon Starling Speculum 2013 (work in progress) courtesy the artist
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SEPTEMBER – 20 OCTO 7 : N O I T I B I BER · A XH E · M RTIST 7P , R E TALK B M E S: 7 T P E S SEP 6 TE ING
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M A 1 1 ER, B M
BOLA TAGIC I,
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Campbelltown arts Centre is a Cultural faCility of Campbelltown City CounCil and is assisted by the new south wales Government throuGh arts nsw. Pan-O-VisiOn by samuel tupou, silksCreen on pvC, 40Cm round, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and miChael reid sydney.
ONE ART GALLERY ROAD
L I S A H IL LI,
LA N E E R AU
R B , R DE
A R G TT
in conjunction with The Qantas Foundation Encouragement of Australian Art Award
Manifest 1 Roy ANANDA the devourer
26 APRIL–26 MAY
Manifest 2 Sue KNEEBONE dark manners
7 JUNE–14 JULY
The MANIFEST series focuses on the recent work of South Australian artists who have been awarded the Qantas Foundation Encouragement of Australian Art Award: Roy Ananda winner 2010 Sue Kneebone winner 2011
Top: Roy Ananda, The abomination of abominations, 2012 Photo courtesy of the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery+Projects, Melbourne Below: Sue Kneebone, Bush Craft, 2013 Photo courtesy the artist
CONTEMPORARY ART CENTRE OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA 14 PORTER STREET PARKSIDE SOUTH AUSTRALIA 5063 Tel +61  82 72 26 82 Fax +61  83 73 42 86 www.cacsa.org.au
the contemporary art centre of sa is assisted by the commonwealth government through the australia council, it arts funding and advisory body, and the south australian government through arts sa and health promotions sa. the contemporary art centre of sa is supported by the visual arts and craft strategy, an initiative of the australian, state and territory governments
Hollow in tHe PaPer AmAndA dAvies dAvid HAines And Joyce Hinterding PAt BrAssington FionA Lee And mAriA KundA teAcHing And LeArning cinemA curAted By Bec stevens under tHe 2013 cAst curAtoriAL mentorsHiP ProgrAm
12 JuLy – 18 August 2013 Image: Amanda Davies, Bleak exercise to grasp the infra-thin (detail), 2013, oil on linen, 45cm x 35cm
in searcH of tHe marvellous PAt BrAssington 31 August – 6 octoBer 2013 Image: Pat Brassington from In search of the marvellous, 2013, digital print, dimensions variable
ANNELANDAAWARD for video and new media arts 2013
24 April - 21 June
8 July - 30 August
MODES OF IMPACT
TIM HANDFIELD: PLENTY
Selections from the Ateneo Art Gallery Collection of Video Art
IMAGE: Maria Taniguchi, Untitled (Celestail Motors) 2011. Video Still. Single-channel HD video. Collection Ateneo Art Gallery.
LUMA | La Trobe University Museum of Art La Trobe University, Melbourne, Campus Kingsbury Dr, Bundoora, 3086 T: +61 3 9479 2111 W: latrobe.edu.au/luma Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 10am - 5pm
IMAGES L: Maria Taniguchi, Untitled (Celestial Motors) (detail) 2011. Video Still, Single-channel HD video. Collection Ateneo Art Gallery R: Tim Hnadfield, Untitled (Plenty) (detail) 2013. Collection of the Artist
22 JUNE – 18 AUGUST
22 JULY – 18 AUGUST
An Improvised Sound Project Sponsors
Pica Salon 2013 Sponsors
Crystal Palace 27 July - 29 September Morgan Allender, Troy-Anthony Baylis, Domenico de Clario, Siamak Fallah, Lisa Gorton, Julie Henderson, Brigid Noone, Lee Salomone and Sera Waters â€œin conversationâ€? with objects and art works from South Australian museums and archives. Curated by Lisa Harms with Nic Brown, Flinders University Art Museum Collections Manager. Domenico de Clario, yellow ectoplasm (store room), 2013, performance/ installation in Flinders University Art Museum store, Bedford Park, South Australia. Photography: Lisa Harms
Flinders University City Gallery State Library of South Australia, North Tce, Adelaide Tuesday - Friday 11 - 4, Saturday & Sunday 12 - 4 T (08) 8207 7055 E email@example.com
w w w. f l i n d e r s . e d u . a u / a r t m u s e u m
Image: Deb Prior, Theobromine (detail), 2012 Self-portrait as Anatomical Venus Exquisite disgust & desire: crafting the body in contemporary art practice. 3 - 19 July 2013
ASH KEATING 19 June – 28 July
DENNIS CARTER, PETER WILLIAMS 19 June – 14 July
DONNA FEARNE 17 July – 11 August
ANDREW SOUTHALL 31 July – 8 September La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre 121 View Street Bendigo, VIC, 3550 +61 3 5441 8724 latrobe.edu.au/vacentre
La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre Trobe University Visual Arts Centre 121LaView Street, Bendigo, VIC, 3550 T: 121 03View 5441Street 8724 VIC, 3550 E: Bendigo, firstname.lastname@example.org 3 5441 8724 W:+61 latrobe.edu.au/vac latrobe.edu.au/vacentre Gallery hours: Tue – Fri 10am-5pm. Weekends 12-5pm
Image: Ash Keating, video still from West Park Proposition, 2012, Three channel synchronised HD digital video, 16:9, PAL colour, stereo sound, 2 minutes 14 seconds. Edition of 5 + 1ap. Courtesy of the artist and Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne.
VCA School of Art
Live your art Applications are now open for all visual art degrees at the VCA. The School of Art offers undergraduate, graduate coursework and research higher degrees in Drawing and Printmedia, Painting, Photography, and Sculpture and Spatial Practice.
Our programs include: Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) (Visual Art) Graduate Certificate in Visual Art Master of Contemporary Art Master of Fine Arts (Visual Art) by Research
Visit us on Open Day, Sunday 18th August 2013 Visit vca.unimelb.edu.au/art for details
Fred Fowler, Master of Contemporary Art
As a student you will be guided by some of Australia’s most progressive art educators and respected artists within a creative learning environment.
Black Square 100 Years
14 June to 13 July, 2013
Australia: Iakovos Amperidis, Daniel Boyd, Marya Elimelakh, Nicholas Folland, Alex Gawronski, Shane Haseman Biljana Jancic, Michelle Nikou, Justene Williams; New Zealand: et al., Sean Kerr, Dane Mitchell; Slovenia: IRWIN LAIBACH. Facilitated by Iakovos Amperidis and Alex Gawronski. Image: unattributed photograph depicting Kazimir Malevich’s third wife Natalia Manchenko in front of his tomb in Nemtschinowka Cemetery, Moscow, Russia (date unknown).
Artists’ Talks: Friday 14 June, 1pm.
lion arts centre north terrace adelaide south australia www.aeaf.org.au | email@example.com | +61-(0)8 82117505 open free to the public 11am–5pm tues to fri & 2–5pm sat
The basic project of art isâ€Śto close the gap between you and everything that is not you Robert Hughes
S T u dy a rT h i S To ry with the arT GaLLEry oF SouTh auSTraLia
2013 mid-year postgraduate courses: Curatorial and Museum Studies, Modern Australian Art and Indigenous Art online courses: Australian Art and European Art Scan to watch video
For more information visit www.arthistory.adelaide.edu.au, phone 08 8313 5746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Installation view Deep Space: New acquisitions from the Australian contemporary art collection featuring Gemma Smith, Boulder #6 (radiant), 2010; South Australian Government Grant 2010, Art Gallery of South Australia.
a p p ly now!
COuNtRy aRts sa
2014 Breaking Ground
Visual artist professional Development award
visual arts touring prog r a m
2013 City of Whyalla art prize
$25,000 major prize
W h at â€™ s touring? Our Mob 2012: on tour Walkway Gallery, Bordertown 8/6/13 - 7/7/13 Riddoch art Gallery, Mount Gambier 13/7/13 - 8/9/13
Breaking Ground 2013: aleksandra antic, Echo artspace Gallery (adelaide Festival Centre) 3/7/13 - 25/8/13
tough(er) love: art from Eyre peninsula WEstaRt Gallery, Ceduna 4/7/13 - 2/8/13 Ceduna District health service 1/7/13 - 15/8/13 port lincoln Civic hall Galleries 24/8/13 - 6/10/13
Designing Craft/ Crafting Design: 40 years of JamFactory Barossa Regional Gallery, tanunda 5/7/13 - 17/8/13 Western plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, NsW 1/9/13 - 17/11/13
Full spectrum port lincoln Civic hall Galleries 1/8/13 - 17/8/13 streaky Bay Visitor Information Centre Gallery 30/8/13 - 11/10/13
aleksandra antic, Aporos #2 (White Noise) (detail), screenprint on paper, 2200 x 1950 mm.
THE HERBERT MAYER COLLECTION OF CARROLUP ARTWORK
FOR THE CONTEMPORARY ART CENTRE OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA VENUE
Barry Loo, On the Alert c1949. The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork, Curtin University Art Collection.
JOHN CURTIN GALLERY 2 AUGUST - 6 OCTOBER This exhibition celebrates the return to Australia of the recently rediscovered collection of more than 100 artworks by Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generations from the Carrolup Native Settlement, 1945-1951. In a spirit of international collaboration, The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork was recently transferred from Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, USA to the Curtin University Art Collection, Perth. Open Monday - Friday 11am - 5pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 - 4pm For more information phone +61 8 9266 4155, email email@example.com or visit www.johncurtingallery.curtin.edu.au
CRICOS Provider Code 00301J CU-JCG-0044/BRAND CUJCG0039 Curtin University is a trademark of Curtin University of Technology
CUJCG0039-HP(115x280) Stolen Generation col press.indd 1
5/24/13 3:56 PM
fremantle arts centre
helen maudsley michaela gleave jacob ogden smith tanya lee take 12
Join the Art & Heritage Collections mailing list to keep your finger on the cultural pulse of the University of Adelaide To register for electronic invitations email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 8313 3086
curating and collaborating researching and documenting engaging the community
june 8-july 21
stimulating events enhancing university experience supporting university values
personal space tanya lee, 2013 photo: mathew c saville
as/1003 broadsheet 05/04
ADELAIDE FLOWER HOUSE
Art Stretchers offers South Australian artists an unparalleled combination of range, service and experience. A broad range of mediums is available including Art Spectrum oils (artistsâ€™ and student quality), watercolours, gouache, pastels, primers, mediums, papers, stretchers (and stretching service), linens and canvasses. We also stock sable, bristle and acrylic brushes and easels. Reliable technical advice is available. All Art Spectrum products are Australian made and of the finest materials. Parking is not a problem!
Art Stretchers Co P/L 161 Morphett Street, Cnr. Waymouth St., opposite Light Square. Adelaide. 5000. SA. Open Mon - Fri, 8.30am - 5.00pm and Saturday 9.00am - 12.00pm. Telephone: (08) 8212 2711 Fax: (08) 8231 7190.
43 unley road parkside sa 5063 tel: 08 8373 4800 www.adelaideflowerhouse.com.au
AN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION CO-CONVENED & CO-CURATED BY ANN ELIAS & NICHOLAS TSOUTAS PRESENTED BY SYDNEY COLLEGE OF THE ARTS, THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN IOWA & THE UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND
Rich in history, aesthetic possibilities, political suggestion, and metaphor, camouflage also expresses the spirit of contemporary life. The conference and exhibition address camouflage in relation to four themes • Surveillance: war, defence, militaries, & conflict • Communities: society, the everyday, government, & identity • Aesthetics: art, architecture, film, & popular culture • Animals: human and non-human beings, nature, evolution, pattern, & optics KEYNOTE SPEAKERS Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar at University of Northern Iowa • Hsuan Hsu, Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Davis
SPEAKERS Paul Brock & Jack Hasenpusch, Edward Colless, Ann Elias, Ross Gibson, Pam Hansford, Ian Howard, Bernd HŸppauf, Michael Ling & Tom Steen, Ian McLean, Jacqueline Millner, Jonnie Morris, Nikos Papastergiadis, Tanya Peterson, Linda Tyler, Ben Wadham
INFORMATION & BOOKINGS SYDNEY COLLEGE OF THE ARTS
EXHIBITION ARTISTS Robyn Backen, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Debra Dawes, Sarah Goffman, Shaun Gladwell, Alex Gawronski, Emma Hack, Ian Howard, Jan Howlin, Justene Williams
8 - 11 August 2013 Sydney College of the Arts Rozelle Campus Balmain Road Rozelle
SURVEILLANCE • COMMUNITIES • AESTHETICS & ANIMALS
IMAGE: DEBRA DAWES (AUSTRALIA, B.1955), COMPLETE?, 2010, OIL ON LINEN, 275 X 330 CM, ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, CONTEMPORARY COLLECTION BENEFACTORS 2011. PHOTO: AGNSW. © DEBRA DAWES.
While Broadsheet has presented in recent years a singular focus on major events and their impact upon regional contemporary art practice and cultural environments, such as the Biennale of Sydney, the Asia Pacific Triennial, the Singapore Biennale, SCAPE Biennial and the Adelaide Festival visual arts programs, this issue follows a slightly different path, in response to divergent developments in the national and domestic arenas. Given the paucity of Australian artist representation in international events over the past decade, this year sees a seismic leap in numbers exhibiting in major international biennales. Accordingly, volume 42.2 is introduced by a discussion between Blair French and Hou Hanru, curator of the 2013 Auckland Triennial: If you were to live hereâ€Ś, with texts on Auckland Triennial exhibiting Australian artists Angelica Mesiti and Makeshift; followed by texts on Sharjah Biennial exhibiting artists Isabel+Alfredo Aquilizan and Khaled Sabsabi (which also included Angelica Mesiti); Yhonnie Scarce, in Personal Structures: Time, Place, Existence, a collateral event of the 55th Venice Biennale; and Simryn Gill, the Australian representative at the Australian Pavilion in this yearâ€™s Venice Biennale. But the primary focus of this issue is a timely scrutiny of the South Australian visual arts landscape and the small comparison this offers with these national-international developments. While the latter is discernibly improving the domestic is seemingly stagnating if not regressing, subjected to a decade of policy artfulness that is determining a tsunami-like shift adverse to both the historical presenters and their artists.
91 c o n t e mpor a ry v i s u a l a r t + c ult ur e broa d s h e e t 4 2 . 2 2 013
Today’s vocation of artistic production in a world oscillating between crisis and opportunity
BLAIR FRENCH WITH HOU HANRU This year sees the fifth iteration of the Auckland Triennial, initiated and managed by Auckland Art Gallery. Curated by Hou Hanru, If you were to live here… runs 10 May–11 August across a range of venues including Auckland Art Gallery, Artspace, Auckland War Memorial Museum, The Film Archive, Fresh Gallery Otara, St Paul St Gallery (Auckland University of Technology), George Fraser Gallery (University of Auckland), Gus Fisher Gallery (University of Auckland) and Silo 6 (Waterfront Auckland). The Triennial brings together a range of international artists such as Yto Barrada, Emory Douglas, Claire Fontaine, Claire Healy and Shaun Cordeiro, Ho Tzu Nyen, Ryoji Ikeda, Michael Lin, Angelica Mesiti, Anri Sala and Shahzia Sikander with a number of New Zealand participants including Tahi Moore, Peter Robinson and Waye Youle. Central to the whole project, and based at Auckland Art Gallery, is ‘The Lab’, a joint project between the architecture and spatial design faculties of AUT University, The University of Auckland and UNITEC. Within this framework and working alongside students, local academics, designers and architects including Andrew Barrie, Teddy Cruz, Sarosh Mulla, Albert Refiti and Kathy Waghorn are developing a series of two to three week-long interdisciplinary design projects. Hou Hanru is a curator with a significant international reputation, his many projects including The Spectacle of the Everyday, Biennale de Lyon (2009); Not Only Possible, But Also Necessary– Optimism in the Age of Global Wars, 10th Istanbul Biennial (2007); Beyond, 2nd Guangzhou Triennale, Guangzhou, (2004–06); Z.O.U.–Zone Of Urgency, Venice Biennale (2003) and the 4th Gwangju Biennale (2002). Born in Guangzhou, and educated in the Central Academy of Fine Arts he was until recently the Director of Exhibitions & Public Programs and Chair of Exhibition Studies & Museology at the San Francisco Art Institute in the USA. Hou Hanru spoke to Blair French a month in advance of the opening of If you were to live here…
Page 90: Ian North, The Wave (detail), 2004 Photo courtesy the artist Above: Ho Tzu Nyen, The Cloud of Unknowing (video still detail), 2011 Photo courtesy the artist Page 93: Zhou Tao, Nanshi Tou (South Stone), 2011 Photo courtesy the artist and Kadist Art Foundation, Paris
Blair French: Let’s start with the idea that you’ve floated early on in talking about the Auckland Triennial, that the biennial or triennial as a form or occasion is as much a site for intellectual and social interaction as it is for aesthetic construction. This thinking is clearly manifest in some of your earlier exhibition projects. Could offer some introduction to this new project through this framework? Hou Hanru: This project is certainly an articulation of ideas that I’ve been working on for quite some time. I have always thought that the curatorial or creative process isn’t best involved in the production of representational forms—the finished art object or work—but in the identifying, writing or shaping of a particular cultural context for artists to react to or produce particular kinds of ideas and projects within. On one hand these projects respond to the context. On the other hand there is also a way in which the participation of a public can contribute to the final form and meaning of the work. The exhibition is a meeting place. What makes contemporary art really contemporary is not only dealing with topics related to present day life and working in new forms of aesthetic expression, but working with the presence of the immediate, and challenging the traditional distinction between producers and consumers. This means creating a zone for activity in-between these two roles, a zone in which they interact and reinvent themselves. This is enabled by the model of the biennial or triennial—something like a festival—that allows you to operate outside the traditional boundaries of the art institution or museum. By this I mean not simply the architectural location and form of the museum, but its whole discursive system that defines contemporary art and communicates this definition to a public. The biennial or triennial provides a larger space to work beyond established systems.
The emergence of biennials and triennials is closely related to a key geopolitical change of our time whereby cities seek to somehow place themselves as cultural centres on a global map. This happens for a variety of reasons, but with the crucial outcome of enabling us to imagine the experience or reinvent in every place the definitions of urban and social space. BLAIR FRENCH: Can we consider this further along two lines of thought? First, as you talk about creating contexts of artists and public to encounter each other and work within, I am also interested in your identification of specific existing conditions or situations you’ve encountered in Auckland that might be generating quite distinct contexts in advance of any curatorial engagement. Second, in considering your comment regarding the manner in which cities look to insert themselves into the cultural geography of a globalised world, I am wondering what you’ve found most interesting to date about Auckland in this regard? HOU HANRU: I begin all my projects by researching context, so I’ve been travelling to Auckland and other parts of New Zealand over the past two years. I started trying to work against a certain type of cliché about what New Zealand or what Auckland might be. Traditionally, New Zealand is a place thought of as emerging globally yet remote, on the peripheries of both the West and the Asia-Pacific region. It still remains somehow mysterious and really far away. Yet when I am in Auckland I am aware of so much happening that operates counter to this cliché—there is an interesting tension within the collective unconsciousness that tries to preserve a certain type of independence from the rest of the world. This interesting situation is both typical and unique. There is an obsession with how New Zealand can be part of the global world economically, politically and also with migrant communities. Yet there is a kind of collective consciousness —or unconsciousness—that has very much been integrated into its politics identifying with what is different or particular about New Zealand. This difference is based on the history of negotiation between the Maori people and Great Britain as the colonial power, particularly how the Maori have positioned themselves within this process, so that this difference incorporates symbols of resistance, in turn integrated into the detail of everyday life, including how a city is built. With this in mind I’m particularly interested in how people live in Auckland, and in developing the Triennial that doesn’t simply look to bring in artists to show their best work, but to create a context in which the artist from both outside and inside can live here, not only physically but also culturally. A crucial concern is how new spatial forms might be generated from the tensions and context of the place, including its architectural history and how this plays a role in influencing contemporary art production. This title “If you were to live here…” on one hand asks how we can make sense of cultural and artistic production within this context, and on the other really questions the definition of the Triennial as an institutional format, whether and how this format can act as a living process through which to generate new spatial structures. BLAIR FRENCH: I am interested in this idea of the event as a meeting place, or of an opportunity to construct a meeting place. Like so many cities globally, Auckland is constantly being transformed by that passage of people to and through it—people in effect asking that same question of themselves, how are we to live here? You alluded to the particular colonial/ post-colonial history of place, which is of course interestingly complicated and enlivened in Auckland by its massive Pacific populations and sense of being the global city of the South Pacific. This is turn has of course been inflected more recently by increased migration from other regions, in particular Asia. In terms of population it is by no means a large global city. But it’s a dispersed city, spread over a significant area and a disparate natural geography, although centred obviously on a very narrow strip of land between two seas. It is a place of arrival and a staging post, a port, within long journeys. I’m interested in how you are expanding the Triennial not just beyond the expected institutions of the collecting museum, the academy, the contemporary art space but geographically, including the downtown Auckland waterfront and also Fresh Gallery in Otara in South Auckland.
HOU HANRU: As much as possible I’ve tried to understand the city not simply through its centre but through the larger map, to look at how the larger city is physically structured and how that structure evolved historically, including the movement and settlement of different communities generating different kinds of districts. I am interested in how these areas can be identified with particular cultural backgrounds. This is why I proposed developing the Triennial as a kind of constellation that somehow responds to the formation of this urban network. So, while we might consider how the recent development of the waterfront is a clear symbol of a mainstream imagination of Auckland as a globalised city, the so-called global city of the South Pacific—that’s the easiest, most typical kind of neo-liberal imagination—when you look at the historical part of the city, it is very much defined by the intellectual and cultural institutions and their positioning. I am thinking of the Auckland Art Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology and so on. Then there is also a traditional institution like the Auckland War Memorial Museum that effectively symbolises the ideology of colonial descent. And a range of suburban areas, some significantly populated by Maori, Pacific Island or/ and Asian communities. After some research I identified a few places and possible partners beyond the city centre, but due to limitations on the scale of the overall project we could only work with one and I decided on Fresh Gallery, a gallery clearly so important for its work with and within Pacific Island communities. I find its location at the centre of a very popular market that’s highly important. This makes it truly a meeting point for all kinds of social phenomena, a place central to issues related to a kind of urbanisation or suburbanisation and a site at which artistic production and the real lives of people not typically concerned with art production can come together. This meeting is extremely important in the sense I was talking about, of living in a place being more than being located somewhere, but involving notions of inhabiting, penetrating, engaging and integrating into a context as well as alternative modes of economic activities. Somehow, by working with Fresh Gallery there may be a way for artists and for myself to understand how the Triennial can make sense in a changing social context, a way overlooked by museum and institutional events. We are really trying to identify a singular context that reflects local concerns and questions while it presents globally meaningful questions. Artists from overseas will be working with local artists and communities to develop projects specifically conceived for the site. Just as interesting is the fact that this is taking place during a period when Fresh Gallery is being renovated within an overall upgrade of the market place—all of which runs the risk of becoming gentrified. This is a real risk and one we are not avoiding. In fact, we are trying to highlight this issue as a topic for public discussion. There is some inspiring activity such as graffiti art and street music, so the question becomes how can this activity remain visible within such renovation and associated organisation of the space? BLAIR FRENCH: Let’s talk about The Lab. It is being described as the engine of the Triennial, the intellectual core; the brain. It is intended as a flexible structure that’s simultaneously research, event and exhibition-based. This discursive fluidity is interestingly located within the most tradition of venues—the collection-based civic art museum. HOU HANRU: This was deliberately designed. I did test out this possibility on previous projects, in particular the 2005 Guangzhou Triennial where we worked as team—myself, with Hans Ulrich Obrist and a local curator Guo Xiaoyan from the host Guangdong Museum of Art, to create a laboratory called the Delta Lab, or D Lab. Working with the concept of Pearl River Delta, where Guangzhou is situated, as a laboratory of China’s laboratory of modernisation, a unique example of global-local interaction in search of a singular and effective model of development, we took over the central exhibition hall in the museum for eighteen months, turning it into a laboratory for research projects, performances and discussions. We also had artists in residency who produced projects for the exhibition. We even ended up having a museum built—the Times Museum designed by Rem Koolhaas and Alain Fouraux—as a form of outcome of the Lab, which we called “realisation of the real”.
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This time in Auckland I think it’s particularly interesting. The museum (Auckland Art Gallery) is a much more professional and established institution. But it is also less flexible because it is a public museum run by the city. I think it is the right place to articulate working processes and the notion of a Triennial as a site of production because of the contrast between this established structure and the sense of possibility and potential for evolution that we try to bring in as a way to deconstruct a highly regulated system. In this way it becomes the central point of the Triennial, and the starting point from which it radiates out and in a physical sense, as the Auckland Art Gallery is physically located between the University of Auckland and the AUT. This physical relationship relates to the history of the city itself, how it was built as a colonial settlement and a centre of administration. And in a way the art museum or gallery is an ideological symbol of this administrational structure of the city. I really think it’s the perfect place to locate The Lab. I tried to dedicate the biggest space possible in the gallery for The Lab as usually when you do an exhibition the largest spaces are dedicated to the largest artworks—here the largest artwork is the laboratory or factory of ideas. It’s a machine, a brain and also a public platform for encounters very different to those expected by visitors coming to see an exhibition. BLAIR FRENCH: So could you describe some of the specific research projects that are going to be run within The Lab? HOU HANRU: I have been working with a team brought together from different faculties of design and architecture at University of Auckland, the AUT and also Unitech. These are a generation of people with great international networks and a global outlook, but also in some cases specialists in local architecture and urbanism, such as Maori and Pacific architecture. I proposed that we look at five key current issues or questions pertinent within New Zealand. The first is simply the idea or question of what ‘home’ can be and what inhabiting a place can mean. The second involves the relationship between or the moving back and forth across rural and urban contexts. Another is very much related to examining the historical foundation of the city, especially the influence of Maori and Asia-
Pacific cultures upon its making, the multi-cultural dimensions of the city. The fourth relates to ‘emergency’, as of course this work has been taking place following the Christchurch earthquakes, which created a form of national trauma. As you know I visited Christchurch to look at the situation and came to realise that in addition to this trauma there’s a perpetually present sense of New Zealand as being vulnerable or unstable, made by fault-lines and volcanos, a kind of fantasy of the end of the world. Also because of the earthquake and the emergency situation people need to invent other forms of architecture, and of managing urban life. I learned much from this research. Of course, this is also an international issue, not just in regard to the 2011 event in Japan but more broadly. Emergency situations are no longer exceptions in our global experience but have become a part of normality. Finally, the last issue I have been looking into is the so-called informal economy. How does an informal economy generate a kind of selforganising architecture, for such architecture forms are a major component of cities globally? As urban theorist Mark Davis states, sixty to seventy percent of urban areas in global cities are actually slums. BLAIR FRENCH: Thinking about the work of this laboratory in particular, it would appear that the Triennial is being developed with a longer view, that is, to seeding processes, networks, relationships etc. that might potentially develop beyond the period of the exhibition itself. HOU HANRU: I hope something like this will be the case. Even, for example, in the manner that so far as I’ve been lead to believe this is the first time that all these organisations and institutions have worked together in this way. It’s not just a case of working together to realise a shared project but coming together and talking about how to work together—hopefully this can generate longer-term dialogue in various forms. It doesn’t have to be a continuation of the same format but some ongoing relationship between them is extremely important in creating certain situations for artists to work with, and particular contexts that motivate artists to respond to key questions in active manners. This finally is why I have tried to bring as many artists as possible to Auckland on residencies and to create new site-specific works for the Triennial.
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Present and unread: Simryn Gill’s Where to draw the line Lee Weng Choy “can we be ironic”. Typewritten on a plain sheet of paper and centred on the page, with no spaces between the words, the question, albeit without the mark, is repeated four times—not in a single row, but one right on top of the other, and again, without any breaks between either words or lines. In the first instance, “can” is typed in red ink, with the rest in black; in the second, it is “we” that is in red; for the third, it is “be”; then it is “ironic”. Back in the day when we still used typewriters to write school assignments we did not have to think of fonts. Now, it is not just designers and typesetters who are aware of names like Courier, Palatino and Helvetica; we all are. Oh, how one remembers with ineluctably nostalgic fondness, those lovely clacking sounds. But dig a bit deeper into memory, and you are struck by a small recognition: when was the last time you thought about spools of typewriter ribbon, with the black ink upper half and the lower red? Trying to recall the mechanics of it all, I got caught up with a reminiscence of how you had to press the shift key with some force, physically shifting
the basket of typebars. With the separate shift lock key you had to wait, even if it was just a fraction of a second, for that click to lock. But what I should have been searching for in my mind was that lever you had to flick in order to change the ribbon strike from black to red. Writing with machines was once so material. It is now much less so. We used to literally cut and paste fragments of paper. Today, writing is almost immediately cerebral and cybernetic. It is about the screen and not the page—certainly not about ink or a sheet of wood pulp.1 The subject of this essay is an artwork I have not actually seen. Simryn Gill’s Where to draw the line (2011-12) was first exhibited at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel in 2012. The premise of the piece is straightforward enough: the artist wrote a series of long texts on five themes, after which she worked closely with an editor to finalise them; she then asked a typist to set the entire contents onto nine scrolls of paper without any spaces between words, letters, punctuation or lines. The display is
also rather straightforward: the nine scrolls (on ‘Women’, ‘Work’, ‘Snake’, ‘House’, ‘Copycat’, ‘House’, ‘Snake’, ‘Work’ and ‘Women’ respectively) are placed right next to one another, and the whole thing (105 by 189 centimetres) is encased in a simple white frame hung on the wall. At least that is what I can tell from looking at pictures of it online, from having read some reports and after speaking with the artist. And from what I can tell, it is a difficult thing to read—it is like a text that is hiding in plain sight. Yet I imagine that as you come close to it, certain words will pop out at you, and then you cannot resist scrutinising it, discerning sense from the strings of letters, constructing sentences—though, sure enough, after a while you will give up trying to read. Still absorbed by it all, you will step back, and instead attempt to apprehend the whole thing as some kind of textual tapestry —something seemingly solid and weighty, even if it is only ink and paper —present and unread. I hesitate to write about art that I have not seen ‘in the flesh’. Yet I do think it is acceptable for someone familiar with Gill’s body of work to speculate a little on Where to draw the line. This essay is written in anticipation of the moment when I finally do confront the thing. And it is as if I were preparing myself by trying to recall certain objects and images made by Gill that I saw a number of years ago. What is it about rummaging through memories that seems like the right approach to Where to draw the line? That sheet of paper containing the four repetitions of the phrase “can we be ironic” was a gift from Gill, although it is currently not in my possession. I cannot remember exactly when she made it or gave it to me; my guess is sometime in the mid-1990s. In the last decade, I have moved house a few times and the item has found its way to a friend’s home, along with some other things that I keep meaning to retrieve. It has been framed, but has not fared too well in the tropical climate; a few spots of mould have appeared on it. A piece of paper, aging and increasingly fragile—we know from Marcel Proust that something slight can trigger many thoughts. But surely, in imprinting these four words four times, Gill is not being earnest or sentimental. Sincere perhaps, but then impossibly sincere. If we are not quite laughing at a joke she has told, we are, together with the author, smiling at how terminally old-fashioned it is. A carefully crafted tone is conveyed, in the play of message and medium, and the evocation of contexts and unconscious subtexts. Is it an artwork? I really cannot say. Let us just say it is a gift from Simryn. (Speaking of which, the exchange of gifts—in fact, the process of gift-making—is central to Gill’s ongoing series Pearls which she began in 1999. To make a set of Pearls, the artist chooses a book owned by a friend or acquaintance, or, more often, asks them to choose a book for her; the choice is carefully deliberated upon, because each set of Pearls is highly personalised. Gill then tears its pages apart and reconstructs the strips of paper as beads, which she strings into a necklace. Then she gives the Pearls back to the book’s owner, and often the owners give the artist, in return, a photograph taken of them wearing their Pearls.)2 I have this conceit that “can we be ironic” could function like a motto for Gill—and that the piece of paper with those four words could be, for me at any rate, the key to understanding that larger work, Where to draw the line. It could even be the key to all of Gill’s works, but then I am not being entirely serious when I say this. One thing I do know: even though that piece of paper with the words “can we be ironic” is not presently at hand, it is something I feel I have lived with; it has been recessed with old remembrances. That, I would speculate, is one of the things at stake when one stands in front of Where to draw the line—feeling the presence of distance and memory.
Page 94: Simryn Gill, Half Moon Shine (Australian Pavilion installation view), 2013 Page 95: Simryn Gill, Untitled (Super 8mm still), 2004 Above: Simryn Gill, Where to draw the line (detail), 2011-12 Photos courtesy the artist, BREENSPACE, Sydney; Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai and Tracy Williams Ltd, New York, USA
Local Ginger was an ephemeral installation that Gill created in her backyard in Singapore in 1994. The artist had come to the island city-State after spending a number of years in Adelaide, Australia; before that she had lived in Kuala Lumpur. After a few years in Singapore, Gill and her family relocated to Australia—though this time to Sydney where she still lives, dividing her time between there and her hometown, Port Dickson, in Malaysia. For Local Ginger, Gill tore strips from pages of novels and stuck them together to make longer strips, fixing them onto the tree in her yard in such a way that they resembled parasitic plants or epiphytes. On the leaves of the ginger plants next to the house she engraved passages from Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady (1880-81)—letter by letter with some old movable metal type she had found. She also ink-stamped words onto dried leaves, which were collected from under a tree across the yard and then scattered back on the same spot. Curator Russell Storer has noted that these works were inspired by the plants that “latched onto and grew out of trees around the city, a form of natural grafting endemic” to the tropics, and that they “register the way in which the artist entered into the place where she found herself, making small transformations of her surroundings as a means of understanding and building connections with her new environment”.3 The passages Gill chose from Portrait of a Lady were of parlour conversations, reflecting the intricacies of domestic adaptations. The cold European interiors of James’ nineteenth century contrasted with the tropical outdoors of Local Ginger, conceived over a hundred years later. At first one could make out the texts on the lush, textured greens, but their condition degraded quickly, so wounded were the leaves by the imprinting of James’ words. Both Local Ginger and that piece of paper with the words “can we be ironic” evoke or illustrate a chain of indexical connections. Indeed, the relationship between text and texture in Local Ginger could be considered an indexical one, based upon a direct bond between the sign and its object. With your typical paperback novel there is no material link between the words on the page and the world it conjures, but with Local Ginger the meaning lies in the transformation of material support (leaves) into printed matter (passages from Portrait of a Lady). Other indexes that Local Ginger brings to mind include the connections between art and place, or between artist and home, art and nature, nature and culture—I could go on. The classic index in art is, of course, the one that links work and artist: the signature. When the typewriter became the dominant mode of writing, it brought about a mechanical separation, and we lamented the loss of corporeal and sensorial attachment between our words and our hands. With the advent of the computer word processor, we now look back at the typewriter and miss its physicality and the intimacy we had with the written page. That piece of paper with the words “can we be ironic” teases us with this desire for the lost index, but it registers nostalgic distance not through sentiment but humour. Moreover, it also raises the question of whether a gift is an index of true feelings of the person who bestows the object. By coupling irony and sincerity together, “can we be ironic” makes one feel that the latter is impossible without a little bit of the former. Local Ginger eventually led to Forest (1996-98), a major work for which Gill made strips from books, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and inserted them into various sites (a Chinese towkay mansion4, a seaside bungalow, a British colonial garden), and then worked with a photographer to capture each installation in a single black-and-white picture. The photographs were taken with a large depth of field and have been presented in a couple of incarnations, including a series of sixteen low-contrast gelatin silver prints (120 x 95 centimetres each). The images ask for a long, slow read, even if the fragments of printed pages within each scene are not always legible. In returning to Forest, it is not just my memory that serves me here, but a few texts about the series, including a fifteen-year-old article of mine.5 There I argued that Gill’s engagement lies in the grammar of things, in how the positioning and proliferation of terms makes possible as well as undermines that which moors meaning. At the time, I did not pair the words “irony” and “sincerity”, but what I wrote back then foregrounds what I have just said here about that coupling: a way of maintaining the tension between location and metaphor; of speaking from a place but not about one; of drawing from one’s life, as all artists do, but without trying to make symbolic capital of it. In a more recent article, art
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historian Kevin Chua expounded upon the artist’s insights into how colonial history has marked the subject matter of her photographs. His expositions traverse widely, from medieval forests and the literature of Joseph Conrad to the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s; both his essay and Gill’s artwork are replete with citations and graftings of multiple sources, themes and historical contexts. To imagine the forest is to conjure dense woods, but also to conceive of a clearing apart from the vegetation, and Chua’s essay captures this tension: Gill seems to be calling into question the moment of scale itself—our prelinguistic apprehension of the world around us. We waver between an intense absorption in these strange text-landscapes and a need to withdraw from them, to take in the larger, encompassing view... Our entry into these photographs becomes, in turn, a perceptual dance between remembering and forgetting, coming and going. A dialectic between grammatical scale and metaphorical size.6
Gill’s artistic gestures, from a gift of words to the transplantation of texts, may be playful and metaphorically expansive, but they are always grounded in the personal care with which she handles her materials and sources. In this itinerary I have offered—leading from the piece of paper with the words “can we be ironic”, to Local Ginger and Forest, then back to the future when I finally encounter Where to draw the line—Gill’s work reminds us of the pleasures and agitations of indexical contact, as she explores the signs of the past and their hold on us. Notes 1 I remember listening to a podcast that argued that the typewriter would eventually become a short interlude in the long history of writing. Incidentally, Mark Twain noted in his autobiography that he was perhaps “the first person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature”. See http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/yankee/cymach4.html (last accessed on 12 March 2013) for a reproduction of a Remington typewriter advertisement that quotes Twain’s autobiography, citing an excerpt from Harper’s Weekly (18 March 1905). Today almost every writer uses a computer, although we still have a long way to go before our use of the word processor surpasses the typewriter’s century 2
Grammar operates through a constraining force towards order, but metaphor makes meaning through open-ended and multiplying associations. As I envisage it, to read Where to draw the line is to experience the straining of grammar, though the metaphorical powers of the piece depend precisely on the fact that these are not simply random words but carefully constructed sentences and paragraphs. Size and scale are not the same, of course, as the latter is always a relative measure. In the case of Where to draw the line, one could argue that the work is large in size yet remains intimate in scale, perhaps even on the order of something as diminutive as a gift of paper with the words “can we be ironic”. However, to think on this—and to ask, what happens to the light-hearted interchange of irony and sincerity found in the smaller item when it is projected onto the larger scale of Where to draw the line?—makes one wonder what the measure of intimacy is.
See Simryn Gill, Pearls, London: Raking Leaves, 2008
3 Russell Storer, ‘Simryn Gill: Gathering’, in Simryn Gill (exhibition catalogue), Sydney and Cologne: Museum of Contemporary Art and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2008: 51 4 Deriving from both Malay and Chinese sources, towkay is a colloquial word used in both Malaysia and Singapore that means “big boss” and refers to someone of Chinese ethnicity 5 See my article ‘Local Coconuts: Simryn Gill and the Politics of Identity’, Art Asia Pacific 16, 1997: 56-63 6
Kevin Chua, ‘Simryn Gill and Migration’s Capital’, Art Journal Vol. 61 No. 4, 2002: 9, 21
This essay was first published in Afterall 33 (2013); reprinted with permission. Simryn Gill, Here art grows on trees, Australian Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, 1 June–24 November, 2013
Pages 98-99: Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan, Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings (installation details), 2009 Photos courtesy the artists and Sharjah Art Foundation
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Community, politics and migration Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan Reem Fekri While considering this artist couple’s work, many words come to mind —displacement, migration, multiculturalism, social challenges, family and adaptation. Through collecting, archiving and memory, the Aquilizans’ precise and meticulous installations often result in massive structures, usually replicating man-made shapes and systems. Husband and wife duo, Maria Isabel Aquilizan and Alfredo Juan Aquilizan currently live and work in Brisbane, Australia, having migrated from the Philippines in 2006. Their work conceptualises through ideas of change and identity often in collaboration with local communities. Recurrently concerned with displacement, accumulating memory, redefining their identity and relocation through journey, works are created using everyday objects, such as clothing, slippers, toys and pillows—the mundane and the ordinary, the regular and the uneventful—serving the purpose for everyday human life. These used objects of the ordinary have a sense of history behind them—yet without being presented within the installations we would look past them, thus creating a dialogue between object and viewer. Collecting and exchanging these items between the artist and the communities, communicates a collaborative framework—perhaps an integral part to the conceptualisation of the installations themselves. It is debatable how this work would differ if all readymade objects were new and store bought. The elegant aesthetic of used, old, crumpled and broken creates a history and collection of memory—various lives and experiences are transferable between object, artist and community. The Aquilizans become occupied with a process informed by acquisition and presentation from their own personal experiences.
Their work comes into consideration at an interesting time within a socio-political context—where migration laws in Australia are becoming increasingly tight and the rise of discrimination has become prevalent within many spheres from government debate, mainstream media to social media. Can we consider their work differently to that of ten years ago? Can we question whether the difficulties of discrimination lend themselves to these notions? Alfredo suggests that it does, indirectly, but not consciously—and perhaps even coincidentally, as their work deals with the concerns of everyday life as foreigners. In their Project Another Country they assert that they are left in a vaguely intermittent space, a middle— whereby a migrant has left their homeland and has to call their current place of residence “home”. The artists can equate (through their hybrid identity ties from Filipino roots to Australian immigrants) with boat-people, as well as all migrants (which they consider most people), yet, they reiterate that their work is concerned with aesthetic contemplation, and immigration is a referential issue that concerns them, seemingly a by-product. For example, with the conceptualisation of their Project Be-Longing, they began their community-based works which engaged people to participate in a situation created by them. The community participation adds another dimension to the work, where the engagement and involvement become the work itself—the end aesthetic is just coincidence. They suggest that their work becomes relational with reference to a Southeast Asian tradition—essentially, looking at the situation as an outsider. This concept is what fuelled their Mabini Project.
The artists recently showed during the ‘Arab Cultural Spring’—a mass of events that took place in the Gulf States just a few months ago, during which the Sharjah Biennial 11 featured the Aquilizians’ The Mabini Project: 100 Paintings. The project is located within the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum and includes a variety of traditional landscape paintings of various dimensions occupying blank wallspace. Mabini (an area in Manila, commonly known as a tourist hub) art is traditionally known for producing slightly kitsch paintings sold by commercial galleries, resulting in mass productions of simplistic and lowbrow aesthetics. By catering to the tourist market, these paintings have an underlying relationship with the artists. Returning to their homeland, now as tourists, these artworks perhaps offer a sense of displacement to the couple, requiring them to view their homeland from a different perspective. The artists, however, did not create the works themselves. Instead they commissioned a Mabini artist to create thousands of landscapes, further forming a relationship between community and artwork. Different dialogues are created by the relationship between the artist and their commissioner/gallery dealer and it is questionable how this installation would be viewed if the Aquilizans had created the works themselves —though the commissioning evolves a sense of pilgrimage, as these works travel across the globe featuring in key biennials and fairs, following a type of migration, a view very particular to their work. This minimalist installation is a response to the notion of collecting and archiving a particular kind of art, from a particular area, collected by a particular group. Via this installation, the Aquilizans show that it is through social and cultural exchanges such as this that the aims of the artwork are achieved. The notion of collaboration that is so prominent within the contextualisation of The Mabini Project creates a platform for discussion regarding memory and in some instances, nostalgia. So to speak, the process of production of the artwork goes beyond the realms of operations. Alfredo asserts; “With my status as a migrant, I began to see the landscape in a different way, as a tourist in my own homeland, with feelings of displacement, I also found ways to acknowledge and affirm myself that I still ‘belong’. I set to use the Mabini paintings for my works—landscape paintings that are familiar items of my memory and that also evoke landscapes of my childhood.”1 So what happens when the work is viewed in the Middle East, a part of the world with an ever-increasing Filipino migrant-worker community? In the last thirty years, a culture of migration has emerged and thousands of Filipinos leave their homeland is search of work overseas—over eight million live and work in over two hundred countries.2 Acting as key contributors to the economy of those countries, migrant workers further provide to their own economy, yet at a distance—as Alfredo puts it, “to a country so politicised that has generated a collective sense of discontentment and exasperation”.3 The Filipino worker community in the Middle East often suffers from poor working and living conditions and discrimination, lack of workers’ rights, low (and often unpaid) wages. Like all communities, Filipinos tend to congregate as “kabayan” (family, fellow brother or sister) social spheres4, often discussing particular issues, reminiscing about their homeland—and although it seems somewhat hackneyed to discuss these issues of migration, these issues effect how the Aquilizan’s work is approached within the context of the UAE. Their installation is cleverly placed within a region where a large percentage of the population is processing similar feelings of migration and memory. For the Sharjah Biennial a large scale mural was cut up into various sizes, perhaps an unacknowledged ode to the migrant community in the UAE—where the “longing of homeland will always be on the horizon but always hazy, a longing that creates a fragmented vision of a distant home. As the work reflects the notion of longing and belonging, the once familiar landscapes can only be worked out, make send and comprehended through the memory of home and its landscapes”.5 In his essay ‘Contemporary Art and its Western Perception’ David Clarke suggests that there is a need to address the meaning of various artistic practices in the local context that it was made, in which it plays a culturally specific role. In this instance, we consider the Aquilizans’ practice through an East-Asian perspective. He argues that this is not to say that art can only have meaning at its origin, nor that within the context of making is the only way of throwing light onto an artwork. He emphasises the term
“local” not as an attempt to “deny the existence of forces of globalisation in cultural nor in other spheres of life. The conception of the local being proposed here does not imagine the space of residual culture as yet untouched by globalisation, but sees the local as a relatively distinct context within which the forces of globalisation are mediated and even in some sense resisted”.6 He further suggests that they are an integral part of the local, and that it is chosen and fabricated, rather than being found or given. The Sharjah Biennial with its subtitle of Re:Emerging–Towards a New Cultural Cartography holds The Mabini Project closely within its aims of a deeper engagement with various communities. Curated by Yoko Hasegawa, it proposed a new approach to the Western domination of biennales and art fairs, and addressed a new framework towards the relationship between the West and different parts of the world. Hasegawa addressed “notions of complexity and diversity of cultures and societies, spatial and political relations, notions of new forms of contact, dialogue and exchange; and production through art and architectural practices of new ways of knowing, thinking and feeling”.7 The Aquilizans’ project, undoubtedly, does not just address the idea of geography or politics but further questions art and its productions, the audiences it envelops and how we, as viewers absorb it. As the world becomes more ‘global’ we begin to look at not only the aesthetics of art, but also where it has come from and its discourse with audiences. As The Mabini Project is carried around the world, it reshapes itself, aesthetically and conceptually, through different engagements, space, process, methods and audiences. The Aquilizans explore various ideas by utilising the strategies of these paintings in their works, using them as installation, animation and reconfiguring them into different structures. They argue that during this process of ‘remaking’, issues simultaneously become unaddressed and addressed, ideas that allow the artists to restructure their impressions of markets, sites and conceptual processes. The project that was presented by the Aquilizans is indeed spectacular—not just aesthetically but conceptually and spatially. In its surroundings and in this particular context, as an audience we are able to look objectively at the hybrid identity of Filipino/Australian artists, in the settings of a Middle Eastern biennial, curated (by a Japanese curator) within the framework of a diversity of cultures, creating amongst the public, a platform for discussion and exchange. It brings upon us a larger set of questions—how important is collaboration, particularly within a multicultural setting that implicates socio-political issues and ties? As the world begins to see an influx of migration on all scales, will art continue to address notions of displacement and identity, or will this become a thing of the past? The Aquilizians’ work contributes a subtle sentimental ode to their ideas of belonging and the past. It is questionable whether there is something that ‘non-foreigners’ can learn from their work, or are we all essentially migrants temporarily existing in our current spaces. Through considering their work, we end up questioning ourselves—our identity and relationship with the cultures that surround and engulf us, raising a platform for discussion, exchange and collaboration between cultures. Notes 1 Online interview with the artists during April 2013 2 Statistics on Filipinos’ International Migration: Issues and Steps Towards Harmonizing the Data by Jeremaiah M. Opiniano; http://www.nscb.gov.ph/ncs/10thNCS/papers/contributed%20papers/ cps-03/cps03-04.pdf <http://www.nscb.gov.ph/ncs/10thNCS/papers/contributed%2520papers/ cps-a03/cps03-04.pdf; accessed 27.4.2013 3
Online interview op. cit
As a result of discussions with Filipino-migrant workers in the UAE, 20 April, 2013
Online interview op. cit
David Clarke, ‘Contemporary Art and its Western Perception’, Third Text Asia, 2008: 43
http://universes-in-universe.org/eng./bien/sharjah_biennial/2013/curatorial_concept accessed 29.4.2013
Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan participated in the Sharjah Biennial 11 Re:Emerging–Towards a New Cultural Cartography, 13 March–13 May, 2013, Sharjah, UAE
In spite of colonisation Yhonnie Scarce
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LISA SLADE Every indigenous person living, breathing, walking, working, sleeping, loving, dying today, has a personal history replete with two centuries of colonisation, filtering down through communities, families, land and time. Those of us whose ancestors were relocated, dispersed, governed, defined, constrained search through the records: the broken words and promises; the fractured languages; the trampled, eroded, hewn, concreted lands; the shrinking, evaporating, polluted lifeways and waterholes, for elemental connections, arteries, heartbeats.1 Yhonnie (pronounced you-ah-nee) Scarce was born in Woomera—arguably one of the country’s most contested sites. Appropriated from the Aboriginal word for spear thrower, the name of the area was chosen as an apt descriptor for what was to become a weapons’ research facility and defence area. Established in 1947, the land appropriated extended from South Australia to the West Australian coast, an area twice the size of Tasmania. Woomera is also known to many as a site of incarceration for asylum seekers—proffering an uncanny parallel with Scarce’s investigation of the containment of Aboriginal people, including her own family members. Scarce descends from the Kokatha people from the Lake Eyre region to the north of Woomera, and from the Nukunu people from the south on the Eyre Peninsula. Her itinerant upbringing, part of the indigenous diaspora that has impacted on every generation since contact, has resulted in her living in Hobart, Melbourne, Alice Springs and Adelaide and while she is now based in Melbourne, home is South Australia. Scarce is the first Aboriginal student to have graduated with a major in glass from the University of South Australia. For Scarce the medium of glass, prized for its artisanal associations (particularly in South Australia with its impressive lineage of glass artists), becomes her arsenal. Glass—as window, lens, mirror and vessel—is her armory. Her honours year in 2004 saw Scarce research the forced removal of Aboriginal people from country, and works produced during this period include Oppression, Repression (Family Portrait) now in the National Gallery of Victoria collection. This work positions Scarce’s own family history (implicated through photography and found objects—in this instance pickling jars) within a national picture of deceit and dysfunction. Adorning each jar is a specimen of endemic fruit, each blown in transparent white glass. In 2007 the Art Gallery of South Australia acquired What they wanted, a solemn installation of fifteen obsidian coloured hand blown glass figures, each hung by a white cord, in the form of a cross. This work has in recent years been installed in conversation with the AGSA’s colonial art collection in the Elder Wing of Australian Art, in proximity to the display of paintings by Robert Dowling and Benjamin Duterrau depicting Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The hanging figures in What they wanted make explicit reference to the recurring tragedy of black deaths in custody and to the role of the church and mission in colonial invasion. (Scarce prizes a rare photograph of her great great grandfather holding her great grandmother photographed outside the Lutheran church and mission at Koonibba near Ceduna on the Great Australian Bight.) The title of this work, What they wanted, was recently revisited by Scarce as the title for the work undertaken as part of her residency at the KlugeRuhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia in the USA in September 2012. The use and re-use of this title represents return fire on our history of political buck passing and the pandemic denial of the treatment of Aboriginal Australians. The “they” in the title employs a type of reverse
anthropology—a return of the gaze that enables a counter ‘othering’. Her return to this title signals to audiences the baneful and relentless vestiges of colonisation. In her most recent work, Scarce’s figuration, represented through found photographs, objects and hand blown forms, has been refined into a strong visual signature where vitreous bodies have taken on the resemblance of indigenous plants. Selecting plants that bear edible fruit such as the bush banana or silky pear (Marsdenia australis) and desert or long yam (Ipomoea costata), Scarce recreates these forms in opaque and lustred glass. They become synecdoche for the Aboriginal bodies that have been, in Brenda Croft’s words above, “relocated, dispersed, governed, defined, constrained”. The fruit that Scarce selects is found in arid, inland parts of the country—in other words—in Scarce’s own country. The desert yam, gathered by Aboriginal people for millennia as a staple form of sustenance, is a recurring form in the major installation titled Burial Ground, made for Deadly: In-between Heaven and Hell staged at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute as a part of the 2012 Adelaide Festival. In this installation, Scarce employed the potent strategy of mass accumulation —two hundred and twenty four hand blown yams, representing every year of settlement since 1788, read like a scar on the transparent surface. Scarce employs blunt historical data to counter the mythologies of the past. The plinth, along with offering a silent platform for viewing the glass forms, suggests a mortuary slab or medical barouche. This architecture of grief and loss—where the plinth becomes funerary pillar—and her use of repetitive, minimalist gestures, connects Scarce’s work with memorials including Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Scarce eschews the seductive naturalism of glass (exemplified historically by nineteenth century glass artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, for example) in favour of a memorialising and ritual minimalism, one used didactically in the Holocaust museums that Scarce visited on a research trip in 2008. To contemplate Burial Ground, which was acquired by the Art Gallery with its numerical coda (a black body for each year of invasion) is to recognise the dearth of memorials that acknowledge our violent past. (There are exceptions to this amnesia and they include the public work of Fiona Foley and The Aboriginal Memorial, two hundred hollow log coffins/ lorrkon, marking two hundred years of colonisation made by forty three artists from Ramingining in Arnhem Land and facilitated by Aboriginal curator Djon Mundine, for the 1988 Biennale of Sydney. The Aboriginal Memorial, now stands as a sentry at the new entrance to the National Gallery of Australia.2) In The Cultivation of Whiteness, made for the Art Gallery of South Australia’s exhibition of contemporary art from South Australia, Heartland, blown glass forms in the form of the bush banana or silky pear are installed within laboratory flasks. Scarce’s title is drawn from Warwick Anderson’s 2002 account of this nation’s racial agenda3—one that underpinned the University of Adelaide’s testing on Aboriginal Australians living in the remote regions of South Australia. Not too long ago, in the name of science and nation, Scarce’s relatives were subjected to medical scrutiny in the belief that colour could be bred out and whiteness cultivated. In these works the blown form of the desert fruit, also employed in the precursory work Not willing to suffocate, carries the power and the burden, of the body and the land. The vitreous forms made for scientific use reference the pseudoscience of phrenology and the racial mania that incarcerated Aboriginal people. This hybridising of hand blown ‘native’ glass and introduced glassware alludes to the practices of miscegenation that lead ultimately to today’s “Stolen Generations”. Furthermore, by containing the plant forms within the found scientific glassware, the reality of the containment of
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Aboriginal people is underscored—a containment experienced in medicine, anthropology, history and museology. Scarce’s work can be seen to perform a caesura or rupture in the broader context of Aboriginal art. Her work is frequently cited as breaking with tradition and her use of glass is seen as a deviation from more widely experienced urban art forms and also from desert painting traditions. Scarce’s work however springs from a lineage —one of dispossession and resistance—and while Billie Holiday’s lament Strange Fruit has been frequently invoked by, or in reference to, Aboriginal artists, (Brenda Croft, Fiona Foley, Vernon Ah Kee and Julie Dowling) in Scarce’s oeuvre it finds eerie apprehension; Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.4 Scarce’s strange fruit are full of anguish, heartbreak and beauty; her abiding interest in endemic plants and bush foods offers a kinship with the painting and sculptural practices of artists, particularly women, living in desert communities. Comparisons can be drawn, for example, with the reiterative mark making and recurrent subject matter of Pintupi painter, Yakultji Napangati, who frequently depicts a site known as Yunala, the name given to a rock hole and soakage west of Kiwirrkura in the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. Yunala is also the name given to the bush banana, evoking the rich associations endemic in Aboriginal culture. This multivalence can be found in Scarce’s practice too. Her gathering occurs not in the desert but in the glass-making studio, where sand is transmogrified in extreme heat and under duress. Scarce collects molten glass from the furnace to form bush foods—for nourishment and recovery. These acts of gathering, like those of her ancestors, involve risk, danger and generosity.
Blood on the Wattle is the title of Scarce’s work made for Personal Structures: Time, Place, Existence #2, an official satellite project of the 2013 Venice Biennale.5 In this work, the acrylic transparent plinth or barouche found in Burial Ground is inverted to become a coffin, one that contains three hundred yams blown in dark glass. Each hand blown yam is formed by breath and fire, with the artist gathering glass in the searing furnace. Through the repetition of the brittle, ambiguous bodies within the casket, Scarce conjures the relentless impact of colonisation and the litany of abuses suffered by Aboriginal people. Her insistence on the title of Bruce Elder’s publication,6 which chronicles the massacres and maltreatment of Australian Aborigines since 1788 as the title for her own work, underscores that this mass grave is far from aesthetic ‘fabulism’. Blood on the Wattle will be exhibited inside the Palazzo Bembo on the grand canal—in a city that has its own history of colonisation and conquest—one where glass plays a major part. Venice, and its celebrated glass blowing island of Murano know that glass can be deadly. Notes 1 Brenda Croft,‘Missing’ written for the exhibition Shards, featuring work by Nici Cumpston, Yhonnie Scarce and Judy Watson, SASA Gallery, University of South Australia 2008. Croft’s invocation speaks to the resilience and struggle for repatriation that fuels the practice of many contemporary Aboriginal artists 2
Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002
Performed by Billie Holiday, written by Abel Meeropol in 1937
Initiated in 2002 by the artist Rene Rietmeyer, this year’s Personal Structures is curated by Dutch curators Karlyn De Jongh and Sarah Gold
Bruce Elder, Blood on the Wattle: massacres and maltreatment of Australian Aborigines since 1788, Sydney: Child & Associates, 1988
Yhonnie Scarce participated in Personal Structures, Palazzo Bembo, 55th Venice Biennale, 1 June–24 November 2013
Pages 102-03: Yhonnie Scarce, Blood on the Wattle (installation details), 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and dianne tanzer gallery + projects, Melbourne
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<<The more global one is, the more local one desires to become1>> Angelica Mesiti: Being World JACQUELINE MILLNER In the age of globalisation, how do we retain agency? How do we practice integrity? How do we protect cultural diversity? Can art play a meaningful role in any of this? These are big questions that preoccupy many of those who dream of a cultural politics apposite to our times, including thinkers du jour Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Ranciere. Nancy, for instance, argues that globalisation “un-worlds” us: it exhausts the world of meaning by subsuming it into the Western logic and thereby induces a profound nihilism; “everything takes place as if the world affected and permeated itself with a death drive that soon would have nothing else to destroy than the world itself”.2 And yet, argues Nancy, getting to this degree zero is necessary for us to re-consider the meaning of the world. It is thanks to the phenomenon of globalisation that the being of the world appears, that the status of the world is transformed from an object of thought that we can have a meaning about, to the place of being and a totality of meaning. Right now, Nancy urges, “we must ask anew what the world wants of us, and what we want of it, everywhere, in all senses, urbi et orbi, all over the world and for the whole world, without (the) capital of the world but with the richness of the world”.3 “To think [the world]”, Nancy adds, “is to think this factuality, which implies not referring it to a meaning capable of appropriating it, but to placing in it, in its truth as a fact, all possible meaning”.4 So, if the world, essentially, is not the representation of a universe (cosmos) nor that of a here below (a humiliated word, if not condemned by Christianity), but the excess —beyond any representation of an ethos or of a habitus —of a stance by which the world stands by itself, configures itself, and exposes itself in itself, relates to itself without referring to any given principle or to any determined end, then one must address the principle of such an absence of principle directly.5 To do this demands not that we signify the world, or assign it a proper sense, but that we involve ourselves completely with the world: “it is the extremely concrete and determined task—a task that can only be a struggle—of posing the following question to each gesture, each conduct, each habitus and each ethos: How do you engage the world?”6 Nancy calls on us to “make worlds”, non-totalising and immanent, through our everyday being in the world.7 We may take some cue about how this “making worlds” might be practiced from Jacques Ranciere’s views about the role of aesthetics. Ranciere maintains that artworks help shape the social world, that “the way we create art is intimately bound up with fundamental forms of intelligibility, with material signs and images which describe ways of being, seeing and doing. Art, then, plays a key role in articulating the distribution of the sensible which governs any given social order”.8 To underline the importance of aesthetics to politics, Ranciere famously said that, “The real must be fictionalised in order to be thought”9, and indeed to be re-thought.
The big questions that concern Nancy and Ranciere are also at the heart of Angelica Mesiti’s work. With a background in video and performance, including formative years as a member of The Kingpins, a four-woman group notorious for their humorous gender-bending interventions, Mesiti has crafted an artistic approach that brings together the cinematic and community to powerful effect. Gone are the group’s low production values and broad strokes, the anti-aesthetics and popular cultural references. Instead, what has emerged is a refined and profoundly emotive audio-visual language that is grounded in the lived experience of actual individuals rather than based on representations. It is the presence of different intelligences that makes her work so powerful: combining aesthetic erudition and empathy, Mesiti renders these palpable without ever overdetermining or appropriating them, nor remaining a mere chronicler on the other hand. Arguably, the work that marks a significant turn in Mesiti’s practice is The Begin–Again (2010), a joint project between the artist and the community of the southern Sydney suburb of Hurstville, auspiced by the local council and coordinated by the Museum of Contemporary Art. Mesiti worked for several months with local residents, spending time with and eventually filming them as they partook of various community-based recreational activities, such as ballroom dancing, singing, and car pimping. The final cuts—four videos and one kinetic installation—were then installed over two evenings in open spaces in the central shopping strip, from bus depot to civic plaza to rooftop car park. The public, a combination of art crowd and locals, including the protagonists featured in the various works, attended in droves: the Hurstville mall was abuzz not for the usual reason of consumption, but on account of more complex and less instrumental factors. The Begin–Again is significant not only to the development of Mesiti’s practice, but also because it offers a compelling model of ‘community art’, a way of connecting art and community in generative ways: community is, unsurprisingly, another central focus of Nancy’s in his attempts to reactivate the political in contemporary times.10 Community arts emerged in the 1970s amid the tumult of the “end of modernism” and the associated explosion of new art forms, and amid movements of social emancipation, exploring the potential for art to be genuinely empowering at a grass roots level. However, as British author Justin Lewis surmises, [Community arts] has failed to make art and culture more accessible to most people. Far from challenging or storming the citadels, it has remained a harmless and irrelevant skirmishing on the sidelines… Perhaps most importantly, the community arts movement has let the elitist aesthetics of the dominant subsidised culture off the hook. Most community artists were opposed to this cultural elitism, and yet, by forming a separate entity, “the community arts”, they allowed themselves to be appropriated by it.11 Despite myriad attempts, how to effectively reconcile so-called “elitist aesthetics” with authentic community engagement and participation remains a conundrum for many artists who position their practice as political and potentially transformative. One contemporary approach to community art is that forged by New York-based performance ensemble Nature Theatre of Oklahoma12, which takes all-comers so long as they turn up on the single day of inscriptions. According to its founders, the group;
… has been devoted to making the work we don’t know how to make, putting ourselves in impossible situations, and working from out of our own ignorance and unease. We strive to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room. We use the readymade material around us, found space, overheard speech, and observed gesture, and through extreme formal manipulation… we effect in our work a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.13 Nature Theatre neither de-skill the artist nor professionalise the community, but rather embrace both the limits of their expertise, and different types of knowledge. It is through their “formal manipulation”—that is, aesthetic interpretation—of found material that the company seeks to intervene in perceptions of everyday reality. Mesiti works in a related but distinct way. At one level, the work could be said to have many authors, everyday people performing their sometimes-extraordinary talents. But at another level, Mesiti’s artistic agency, her “formal manipulation” of the “readymade material” that she observes in the real world, is never in doubt: the high production cinematic aesthetics—she works with professional cinematographers and producers14—is now a hallmark of her practice. Such an approach evades the problems around cultural value that have dogged community arts (as noted above), while also facilitating a particular kind of cultural citizenship: participation together with self-styling and cultural value.15
In The Begin-Again we can see the origins of Mesiti’s most successful work to date, the four channel video installation Citizens Band (2012) that has been selected for several exhibitions nationally and internationally. The title clearly signals the artist’s concern with the politics of community; it also tips its hat to a peer communication technology that emerged in the 1970s and became a symbol of counter-cultural people power, namely CB (Citizen’s Band) radio. The installation features four street musicians. Mesiti has captured each individual performance in full, using minimal camerawork and editing in respectful deference to the music and musician. Lois Geraldine Zongo slaps the surface of the water in a Parisian public pool, finding an astounding range of tones and pitches in a virtuosic percussive display that she has transported from the rivers of her native Cameroon. As she slips back into the water, the image fades and the next screen lights up with the melancholy song of Algerian Mohammed Lamourie, accompanied by his much-mended Casio keyboard inside a carriage of the Paris metro. As passengers board and alight, Lamourie observes only his own private rhythm, the music piercing this everyday ritual with loss and longing. The next image takes us half way across the globe to the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown and the sounds of Mongolian throat-singer Bukhchuluun Ganburged vibrating outside the 7/11, while on the final screen we see a solitary Brisbane taxi driver, Sudan-born Asim Goreshi, eyes closed, head swaying gently as his crystal-like whistling cuts through the night. Each performance radiates as pure being. Old worlds, ancient traditions that pass from mouth to ear, from hand to hand, are woven into new realities, and both are rendered accessible to us, the viewers, by the artist’s gentle touch. Mesiti has created a work of great beauty: Citizens Band is deeply moving and enlivens us to worlds beyond the immediacy
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of our own, everyday subjectivity. Rather than feel exhausted, the world feels abundant. How does one’s conduct, gestures, ethos, engage the world? These questions appear to also underlie Mesiti’s work for the Auckland Triennial this year, Prepared piano for movers (Haussman). Here the artist filmed not practicing but accidental musicians in the guise of two piano removalists hired to heft a baby grand up the six flights of a Haussmann spiral staircase in central Paris. By preparing the piano, Mesiti transformed every swing and jerk of their bodies into a musical performance, and amplified the inherent grace and creativity of their everyday labour. Mesiti looks set to continue this exploration of everyday creativity in the face of globalisation and its evocation of pure being in her next large project, the inaugural Ian Potter-ACMI commission, with a work based on the whistled languages still used in certain remote communties, where landscape has demanded the development of complex, long range communication techniques. The Calling is to be exhibited in 2014. Mesiti’s work is an ongoing improvisation around some of the big questions—agency, integrity, cultural difference and the role of art—that preoccupy those artists and thinkers hoping to emerge from the exhausted zeitgeist of globalisation. In her recent work, Mesiti has managed to create a unique story-telling style that relies less on words than on sound and rhythm, less on image than on texture and movement, one that locates political agency less in the professional artist than in everyday creativity. Notes 1 Hou Hanru, ‘If you were to live here…’, 5th Auckland Triennial (exhibition catalogue), Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery, 2013: 12 2
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Creation of the World or Globalization, Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (trans.) Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007: 34
The 2009 Venice Biennale curated by Daniel Birnbaum was subtitled ‘Making Worlds’
Ian James, The New French Philosophy, London: Polity Press, 2012: 131
Jacques Ranciere, The Politics of Aesthetics, London and New York: Continuum, 2006: 38
See for instance The Inoperative Community, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991
11 Justin Lewis, Art, Culture and Enterprise: The Politics of Art and the Cultural Industries, London: Routledge, 1990: 243 12 Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, is named after the theatre company in Franz Kafka’s Amerika which promises employment for everyone with the single criterion that they turn up by the midnight deadline for registration: “Anyone who wants to be an artist, step forward! We are the theatre that has a place for everyone, everyone in his place! If you decide to join us, we congratulate you here and now! But hurry, be sure not to miss the midnight deadline! We shut down at midnight, never to reopen!”: http://www.oktheater.org/; last accessed 4 June, 2013 13
Nature Theatre of Oklahoma website: http://www.oktheater.org/; last accessed 4 June, 2013
In the case of The Begin-Again and Citizen’s Band, this has been Bonnie Elliott and Bridget Ikin
See Rimi Khan, ‘Reconstructing Community-based Arts: Cultural Value and the Neoliberal Citizen’, PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2011, for an interesting discussion of different manifestations of community arts in contemporary Australia
Angelica Mesiti particiapted in both 5th Auckland Triennial: ‘If you were to live here…’, 10 May–11 August 2013 and Sharjah Biennial 11–Re:emerge Towards a New Cultural Cartography, 13 March–13 May 2013
Pages 104-06: Angelica Mesiti, Citizens Band (production stills), 2012 Photos courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery
Everything and nothing Khaled Sabsabi Pedro de Almeida There are few Australian artists who have displayed such convincing evidence of undergoing a profound and genuine process of artistic, personal and spiritual maturation in recent years as Khaled Sabsabi. I say this from the perspective of a close friend, professional colleague, admirer of the work and admirer of the man, positions and relationships that have been developed in reverse consecutive order since first meeting Sabsabi at Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2008 on the occasion of the launch of Ai Weiwei’s Under Construction. A hugely impressive survey exhibition of one of the world’s pre-eminent figures in contemporary art, it was presented—not without considerable surprise and envy among art world insiders—at a young, developing arts centre in Sydney’s western suburbs, the go-to region, where Sabsabi’s family and my own had settled, like so many other immigrants to this country, in the days when hip hop mattered most and the street seemed a better canvas for self-expression than anything approximating a white cube.1 It’s utterly platitudinous to state that Sydney’s west is as culturally rich an urban social landscape as any other in the world, as endless demographic statistics and bureaucratic government reports will testify with more accuracy, but far less sensitivity than a simple walk down the street or talk with a neighbour. However, even today, more than a decade on from the prescient-minded State government arts’ policies
that did so much to develop the arts in the region, its stories are most often told without the amplification of the culture industry on a national let alone international platform, this perhaps in spite of its superior diversity of voices. Having the world’s most hyped artist in town on that extraordinary night in May—an immensely significant period in Ai Weiwei’s personal trajectory following his audacious Fairytale project at documenta 12, before the unveiling and subsequent disowning of his contribution to the ‘Birds Nest’ Beijing National Stadium, and just days before the tragic earthquake disaster in Sichuan province that would later prompt the artist’s most direct confrontations with Chinese authorities—only heightened the sense of the trite truth behind the proverb, “a prophet is not recognised in his own land”. Well, it seemed like that to my relatively naïve eyes at the time. I had been in the job as a curatorial assistant at Campbelltown for a week and was soaking it all up, sponge-like, both wet and green. Surrounded by one hundred of the suitcases used by the participants in Fairytale, a work that saw 1,001 Chinese farmers, street vendors, students, office workers and the unemployed travel from China to Kassel, Sabsabi was kind enough to introduce himself to me amongst the din of the crowd spilling out into the centre’s Japanese Garden. I bummed a John Player Special and listened.
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The past five years have been a thoroughly commanding period of superlative creative output for Sabsabi. The principal credentials are these: he has presented work at festivals and group exhibitions in Brazil, Germany, Poland and numerous group exhibitions in Australia; was awarded the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship (2010), enabling travel to Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus for a fruitful period of new experiences, research and the creation of material for new work; he was the recipient of the 61st Blake Prize for his work Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement (2010), the first work depicting or concerned with Islam to be awarded Australia’s long-standing prize for religious art; in 2012 he presented three multimedia works in the 18th Biennale of Sydney, a large-scale video installation at Artspace, Sydney, and works in The Floating Eye Inter City Pavilion as part of the 9th Shanghai Biennale; and most recently, was included in the Sharjah Biennial 11 (2013). But it’s not bullet points in the CV that confer significance alone. Where many of his contemporaries are seemingly selfsatisfied in exploring shallow waters further limited in their navigation by their relatively myopic frames of cultural reference, taking as their concerns or absurdly ominous sounding “interrogations” narrow subjects of social, historical or aesthetic inquiry, Sabsabi has continued to dive into deeper depths of the human experience, pursuing a very personal yet paradoxically resounding universal invocation of truth.
I often get the sense that for Sabsabi the terrestrial, tangible and transitory world as it manifests itself in his recent works is at once everything and nothing: he seems to declare, “what you see is what you get”, but then “virtue has a veil, vice a mask”. For someone whose very presence in Australia is inseparably bound up with the vicissitudes of political failure, religious conflict and civil war experienced first-hand in his native land of Lebanon, Sabsabi is remarkably sage in his engagement with weighty historical and contemporary subjects in his art, resisting the superficial irritant that others only too cleverly scratch in order to be heard today but forgotten tomorrow. He recognises and accepts that lived experience trumps ideology in a full measure of things. Essentially, as someone who came to visual art relatively later in life after a focus on music—specifically hip hop and DJing, as wonderfully energetic archival footage revealed by a simple search on YouTube will attest—I suspect that he might share, but for different reasons and in a vastly different context, the central inner drive of the artist as hauntingly expressed by the modern Persian writer Sadegh Hedayat, who confessed: If I have now made up my mind to write it is only in order to reveal myself to my shadow, that shadow which at this very moment is stretched across the wall in the attitude of one devouring with insatiable appetite each word I write… I must make myself known to him.2
The darkness of that shadow, of course, is relative to the quality and clarity of the artist’s vision; not for nothing did Hedayat take his own life in sombre post-war Paris in 1951, following decades of social isolation tempered by a soul-destroying appetite for opiates. For Sabsabi, by profound contrast, the social platform has always been his natural habitat in art and in life, as his prolific body of work over the past decade reveals to those with an inclination to engage with it as openly and honestly as one can across cultural difference. Yet this does not make life peachy, as the conflict and violence depicted in some of his works clearly demonstrates. This, in tandem with his significant professional capacities and achievements in the broader community cultural development sector and more recently, curatorial projects for Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre where he is employed, positions Sabsabi as an artist who routinely and fluidly draws on the experiences of the communities around him for his art. Indeed, the work presented in the Sharjah Biennial 11 in the United Arab Emirates, Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement (2011), originates from a Sydney suburb situated between the artist’s home and place of work. This three-channel video work with accompanying table, prayer book and incense that gently infuses the gallery depicts a zikr ceremony of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order by local faithful in an Australian Scouts hall in suburban Sydney. And yet, put that way, it’s a Google Maps idea of community engagement, of which there is a disconcerting variety of projects that seemingly wholeheartedly pursue brownie points, which come with ‘outreach’ projects that facilitate bureaucratic check-boxing. As two nouns and a verb that conjoin a spiritual order in existence for more than a millennia and an otherwise banal suburban
context with a methodology of artistic practice, Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement is much more than the sum of its parts. One of the primary aspects that distinguishes this work from that of many of his Australian peers is its profoundly unelaborated earnestness: forget outreach, look inwards and embrace strangers as one’s family of man, which is to say, to embrace Allah. In a stridently majority secular Australian art world this places a heavy demand on audiences. Ask yourself, how many artists in Australia today take as their subject this kind of deeply personal and yet universal spiritual questioning, whilst at the same time producing works that are highly sophisticated within the formal language of the medium, producing wonderment, veneration and revelation in equal parts from sound and image in a genuinely distinctively clear-eyed methodological approach? I think it not an overstatement to say that given time Sabsabi may well prove a touchstone in Australian art not dissimilar to that formerly embodied across the Tasman by New Zealand’s great modern painter Colin McCahon, sharing a preternatural ability to conjoin religious and aesthetic enquiry in works of exceptional and forceful impression. Sabsabi’s publicly exhibited work of the past five years has, I would posit, stood for three central themes: the vanity and hubris of the white noise of political theatre as a necessarily separate social sphere to a faith in a shared humanity; the indispensable meditative qualities of stillness that the acceptance of the transitory world of the everyday has on our self-knowledge; and the central transfigurative power of ceremony. The latter theme is particularly present in Naqshbandi, but also in the earlier work Biripi (2006) that was presented as part of the Biennale of Sydney’s Cockatoo Island contingent of works in 2012, as well as corner (2012). Biripi comprises a wash of sound and image abstracted by a palette of saturated reds, glowing yellows and shifting shadows that combined has the rolling, percussive propulsion to drive the viewer to the metaphysical, almost
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hallucinatory ceremony by the Aboriginal language group of that name from New South Wales’ central coast. Interestingly, for all the wallpaper thin articulations of the previous Biennale’s curatorial premise of “All our Relations”—as non-committal a statement of social relations as one might find—Biripi actually represented an instance of an unusual engagement between differing spiritual contexts for Australian art. Sabsabi’s corner, moreover, collapses geographical and thereby geopolitical boundaries in the same fashion: two distinct but related multi-media installations first presented at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and at Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, as part of the three-year project Edge of Elsewhere in 2012, which each presented invocations of religious ceremony, communion and sacrifice in the artist’s home city of Tripoli in Lebanon and the northern village of Danke, both equidistant from each other as 4A is from Campbelltown.3 Recent works MUSH (2003-12), Airland (2010-12) and Syria (2004-12) form a triumvirate, which extols the alienating virtue of the camera’s eye that redeems itself by standing in for the artist as an extrasensory organ inherently dispassionate in its recordings. Airland for instance, which was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of the Biennale of Sydney last year, presents a gridded strip across adjoining gallery walls of hyper-saturated images of suburban homes under clouds with almost imperceptible motion synched to ambient sounds of a breeze. The work’s strength lies in poetic intimation, packing a grounded, weighty experience of the world and the underlying spiritual substance beneath the surface of things into shifting, airy, incorporeal imagery. The opportunity to present at Sharjah was a direct outcome of the impressiveness of these previous works. During the period of last year’s Biennale of Sydney Sabsabi met with Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art and curator of the then forthcoming Sharjah Biennial 11, as he did in Brisbane a few months later with H.E. Sheika Hoor Al-Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, who attended the launch of Sabsabi’s solo exhibition at Milani Gallery the night preceding the opening of the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial. Recounting these meetings, Sabsabi speaks of his admiration for both women that seems more than the platitudes expected of an artist towards curators who present an opportunity such as this. Of Hoor Al-Qasimi, Sabsabi recalls her deep interest in corner, literally spending an hour in front of the work absorbing it in silence, a decidedly uncommon commitment to experience new work that one might reasonably expect of jet-setting delegates.4 Hasegawa’s artistic direction of Re:emerge–Towards a New Cultural Cartography, which included work by fellow Australians Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Angelica Mesiti and Tintin Wulia, is regarded by Sabsabi with a particular respect for the curator’s sensitivity in creating layers of meaning by presenting works in an annular design. It elucidated her central theme of the courtyard as a space, where “the private and the public intertwine freely, as the ‘objective’ world of politics merges and overlaps with the subjective space of introspection”.5 Naqshbandi was presented on the ground floor of the Collections Building, one of the principal exhibition sites across Sharjah’s heritage area of open-air courtyards, rooftop terraces and permanent and temporary spaces, surrounded by works by Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle, Marwan Rechmaoui, Anri Sala, Ana Torfs, John Akomfrah and Charwei Tsai.6 As Sabsabi recalls: All the works were open to each other following the theme of the courtyard. But this is the interesting thing: if you had walked to the right as you entered this level of the building to begin to circumnavigate the works, as is natural in this context given Arabic script is read from right to left, you would have understood her [Hasegawa’s] sensitivities in really considering the works and their content, stitching them up beautifully. I was blown away—the way you passed from representations or ideas of historical perspectives and periods from the eastern and western worlds, advancing one by one, concluding with Naqshbandi. But you got a very different narrative if you had navigated the space from the left, beginning with my work, then experiencing this totally disparate idea of history.7
Furthermore, Sabsabi says of Naqshbandi: I was a little anxious about showing that work in Sharjah, specifically because it’s Australian-made, it’s five or six families doing a zikr ceremony and it’s a really familyoriented ceremony that’s happening with the kids around it; audiences might view it in such a way that it might be mocking, too informal, potentially blasphemous. But they got it! I mean they got it! They got this idea that this division that’s going on between Shia and Sunni shows through clearly in the work and the essence is those kids, and having the men and the women in the ceremony together. It’s not about fanatics. It’s not about extremism. And this is what true Islam should be. It didn’t matter if it was in Australia or Lebanon anymore.8 Clearly, for Sabsabi the dichotomous idea of acceptance and resistance is key. Or, ironically, to put it more bluntly yet doubly eloquently, as Sabsabi himself summed up his experience of the stark qualitative difference between the platforms for contemporary art presented in Sharjah for the Biennial and in nearby Dubai for its art fair: “Art without context doesn’t mean shit”. Our conversation continues. These days I’ve quit smoking, but I’m still listening, still learning. Notes 1 Ai Weiwei: Under Construction was curated by Dr Charles Merewether and produced by Campbelltown Arts Centre (CAC) and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF), presented across the two venues comprising a major survey exhibition of 45 works at CAC and a commissioned, large-scale installation at SCAF from 2 May–29 June 2008 2 Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl ()روک فوب, D.P. Costello (trans.), Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 1997: 2 3 Edge of Elsewhere was a three-year project produced by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Campbelltown Arts Centre that received significant support from the Australia Council for the Arts Visual Arts Board and Community Partnerships. Three exhibition outcomes were presented in early 2010, 2011 and 2012 as part of the Sydney Festival, comprising both existing works and the results of projects commissioned from Australian, Asian and Pacific artists working with Sydney communities. The author was project manager and associate curator of the project for the first two years 4
Khaled Sabsabi: Recent Works, Milani Gallery, Brisbane, 6–22 December 2012
Yuko Hasegawa, Re: emerge: Towards a New Cultural Cartography, Sharjah Biennial 11 (catalogue), Sharjah Art Foundation, 2013: 23. The Biennial was presented from 13 March–31 May 2013 6 Sharjah Biennial 11 Exhibition Guide, Sharjah Art Foundation, 2013. See: 232-233 for Collections Building exhibition floor plan 7
Khaled Sabsbai in conversation with the author, 6 April 2013
Khaled Sabsabi particiapted in Sharjah Biennial 11–Re:emerge Towards a New Cultural Cartography, 13 March–13 May 2013 Page 108: Khaled Sabsabi, corner (installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney), 2012 Page 109: Khaled Sabsabi, Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement (installation view, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney), 2010 Opposite: Khaled Sabsabi, corner (installation view, Campbelltown Arts Centre) 2012 Photos courtesy the artist
Makeshift’s Kauri-oke challenges socially engaged practice: looking forward towards new forms of social imagining, dwelling and remembering MELANIE OLIVER For the 5th Auckland Triennial the collaborative duo working under the name Makeshift—Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe—produced Kauri-oke!, a portable karaoke machine constructed in Sydney from recycled Kauri wood and shipped back to the timber’s origin of New Zealand. The Kauri-oke! unit was set up at the Otara weekend market in South Auckland on the first two Saturdays of the Triennial, when the artists provided the chance for people to sing a range of popular folk songs. In recognition of the market context, the songs selected for karaoke were predominately Maori and Polynesian with a focus on those that featured lyrics dealing with home, journeys and remembered landscapes. After being facilitated by the artists at these initial scheduled times, the unit was exhibited inside Fresh Gallery and made available for enthusiastic participants to wheel out and operate at the market on any given Saturday, or even other times if desired. While Kauri-oke! offers an entertaining audience experience and cleverly negotiates a concept through materials, it also raises a number of questions in terms of strategies for community engagement, site specificity and participatory art that are consistent challenges for socially engaged practice. The suburb of Otara is notable for its high proportion of Pacific Island residents and specific socio-cultural milieu, confronting this project with a particular context that cannot be overlooked. There was a real necessity for the project to avoid appearing as a sort of colonial exploit whereby the artists bring their preconceptions of what is good for this community and presume how they would like to be engaged and represented. There was the added difficulty that practical circumstances prevented a prior research trip for the artists, meaning the well-intended idea had to be proposed from a distance, perhaps informed by online research and some conversations with locals, but proposed without direct experience of the South Auckland community it was intended for. The artists hoped to address the concern of how nostalgia plays into our readings of the past and the places we once knew, as a thoughtful invitation for participants to reflect on their complex histories through the performance of song. But how would the work integrate with South Auckland in a meaningful enough way to prompt reminiscence of times and places so different from the artists’ own? How would they ask the right questions and connect with people? It is nearly twenty years since Hal Foster admonished contemporary art for appropriating anthropological strategies, disputing how artists are granted institutional authority to come in and work with a community without questioning the nature of the collaboration, turning the subsequent project into an exhibit of cultural proxies unless underpinned by rigorous reflexivity.1 In 2002, Miwon Kwon revisited the arguments around site-specific art and locational identity with One Place After Another, expanding the discourse with analysis of the relationship between artist and community, the limitations and possibilities:
As the artistic, political, and ethical pitfalls of communitybased art become more visible and more theorised, the need to imagine alternative possibilities of togetherness and collective action, indeed of collaboration and community… may be the only way to imagine past the burden of affirmational siting of community to its critical unsiting.2 More recently Claire Bishop has consolidated her perspective on participatory art in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, articulating the lack of aesthetic criteria when working with people as art.3 These few examples are just part of a broader ongoing debate, but reveal some of the difficulties, the potential for exploitation or disingenuousness inherent to this project, merely through its participatory form. Critiques of socially engaged practice are familiar though, even mundane. Makeshift are aware of the troublesome nature of engaging communities from previous experience; and Hou Hanru’s curatorial premise for the Auckland Triennial encompasses these cautions in the central theme: ‘If you were to live here…’, inviting artists to imagine themselves in this place. So the apparent tensions of working with the Otara community are encapsulated within the framework for this project, the concerns that Makeshift were tasked with addressing, and locational identity to be found and explored through the experience and materials of Kauri-oke! The native Kauri wood used in construction of the unit was long ago stripped from New Zealand forests for use in Australia, and was sourced, appropriated and returned home for this project. Estimates suggest that of the lush Kauri forests once covering New Zealand, around half were accidentally or deliberately burnt, and much of the rest sold for a return sufficient only to cover expenses. Today, the remaining forests are under threat from disease, while Kauri is being considered as a long-term carbon sink to offset industrial and agricultural pollution. For Maori, the tallest trees in the forest traditionally had chiefly status and in the north of New Zealand, Kauri held the highest rank. Combining these associations the timber deployed in Kauri-oke! acts as both a functional material and communicative device for exploring ecological narratives, stories of migration and postcolonial discourse. Another distinctive quality of Kauri is that it relies on depriving its competitors of nutrition in order to survive. If we take this metaphor of the Kauri as a material with strong references for Makeshift, it could also reflect on the complicated definition of communities, collaboration and our broader trans-Tasman relationship.
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In addition to the Kauri, the unit incorporates handmade materials purchased from the Otara market, in this way absorbing and integrating physically with the site. Kauri-oke! is designed so that it can continue to collect new songs throughout its life at the market and while exhibited at Fresh Gallery, lending it the ability to act as a kind of responsive community archive. Adapting its surroundings, inviting and incorporating input from participants, the project might be embraced, empowering people and stimulating collective reflection through songs and performance. A Trojan horse of sorts for contemporary art, it may spark consideration of place, history and identity, with not only entertainment value but also a more serious outcome. However, there was also the possibility that the unit will sit like a lonely novelty at the market, used only by members of the art community that have ventured out to see the work in action. For there are really two audiences who will access this project: the usual Otara market-goers; and the contemporary art audience who search it out. When Hanru curated the 10th Istanbul Biennial in 2007, he similarly utilised a number of nontraditional exhibition spaces, including the old textile markets. Disused shops were converted into exhibition spaces, with some artists attempting to coexist beside the other businesses and their clientele, and others treating the site as they would any other space. No doubt there would have been some unexpected encounters with the regulars and some level of exchange, but the main audience seemed to remain the art tourists that were lured to this unusual location, possibly bringing some financial return through rent of the space and increased trade for the other shopkeepers. For Kauri-oke!, occupying a site amongst the bustle of the market, accompanied by the noisy banter and barter across tables of food, crafts and bargains galore, it is difficult to predict how much impact it will have had. Do people want to sing karaoke on a Saturday morning, or are they more concerned with nabbing a cheap deal on some fresh fruit and veg? Makeshift recognised that negotiation with local music lovers was necessary to assist in the selection of songs; that New Zealand music, like any other culture, is specific to this place and people. What songs are popular in Otara right now? Does ‘How Bizarre’, Otara Millionaires Club’s big hit in 1996, have any cache these days? How about Scribe’s Hip Hop classic ‘Not Many’? Or is Tina Turner simply the best? Makeshift asked for songs that evoke memories, the old favorites that people would recognise, that have certain resonance and have been played frequently. In creating a platform for hosting popular music to be selected and performed by local people, it is the words of the musicians and the voices of the community participants that were given authorship, visibility and ownership through this project, and perhaps this is the critical aspect. Bringing their karaoke unit into this environment but relying on popular culture as source material, it is hard to assess whether Makeshift could make something that shifts, that is transformative, or if it will simply be seen as convivial fun. It is unlikely that the historical tensions between Polynesian and Asian cultures at the markets will play any role in this work. The wider context and local politics, such as the recent creation of the Auckland Super City that saw Manukau’s Len Brown being elected as the inaugural mayor for the whole Auckland region in 2010, will probably not surface, or indeed have any relationship to this project. Coming back to the problems associated with socially engaged practice, it will be interesting to note whether the underlying intentions for the project to engage complex histories are manifest in the market audience experience. Another recent karaoke project presented in Wellington by a group working under the name Has Potential, Karaoke Stories (2013) offered very few songs to sing in their temporary booth, and was instead aimed at collecting the stories that visitors wanted to share in relation to the songs, leading to a tangible record of collective memory. Makeshift with Kauri-oke! created an archive of music and the actual performance of the songs seems key, rather than the anecdotes and commentaries from participants, perhaps a missed chance to capture and incorporate these.
Page 113; Makeshift, Kauri-oke! (gallery installation view), 2013 Opposite: Makeshift, Kauri-oke! (Otara market), 2013 Photos courtesy the artists
As suggested with their name, the notion of the ‘makeshift’ substitute or temporary structure is also important for these artists and the work that they make. Kauri-oke! is made to exist momentarily, to play a role in this community for the duration of the exhibition, a sketch or test structure that enables experimentation and disruption of routine. Coming back to the values that some critics demand of socially engaged practice, is there the potential for a more long lasting project? As a collaborative art practice, Makeshift has an interest in social and environmental sustainability. Could Kauri-oke! live on in Otara as a regular karaoke booth? Is there a potentially meaningful relationship being forged? Does sustainability mean that the project needs to be ongoing, or is this temporary intervention enough to leave a mark? This venue has been used for art previously, such as a video work by Jeremy Leatinu’u made from a performance at the Otara market a few years ago where the artist simply sat amidst the busy foot traffic, a grounded moment of stillness against the tide of people and trade. The work was quiet and contemplative, not particularly momentous or challenging, but memorable for the subtlety of the artists’ intervention. Presented in an art gallery setting, the recorded responses of passers-by revealed that the performance itself was easy to ignore, and it seemed that was partly the point: to counteract the everyday. For Leatinu’u, the distinction between the everyday activities of the crowd and his art practice was clearly defined and the performance always intended to be exhibited as documentation. The act of Makeshift assimilating with the Otara market is less responsive than Leatinu’u’s peaceful meditation in public space, and it is unclear the degree to which they have incorporated these social exchanges as part of their work. Even though there are various hazards associated with community engagement, concerns that are heightened in a New Zealand context due to the centrality of postcolonial discourse here, it is the inability to assess the aesthetic value of socially engaged work that is a further unsettling factor for Kauri-oke! In terms of participatory practice, there is a level of trust in the artists required despite the chance of failing, since to avoid engaging with difference in order to protect a community precludes any positive outcomes. But to evaluate whether a project was worth taking the risk for, seems dangerously immeasurable. Notes 1 Hal Foster, ‘The Artist as Ethnographer’ in The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge: Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996 2
Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another, Cambridge: Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002: 153
Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London and New York: Verso, 2012
Makeshift participated in the 5th Auckland Triennial: ‘If you were to live here…’, 10 May–11 August 2013
New models of knowledge, uncharted areas and hidden narratives: Adelaide International back to the future? Or arrival of the present? Broadsheet editor Alan Cruickshank discusses with UK-based artist, writer and curator Richard Grayson, artistic director of Adelaide International 2014 and Artists Week his vision for the exhibition’s third outing and its attendant public forum BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: The original concept for Adelaide International proposed in 2008 by the CACSA was to host a biennial contemporary visual arts event of internationally established artists that would promote Adelaide’s position as a “major international centre for the production and presentation of visual art in Australia”. It would have brought together a group of five key local arts organisations for the first time in a unique event seeking to reflect Adelaide’s capacity to exhibit cohesively significant international visual art. This concept was hardly original, deliberately appropriating the vision and aims of the Glasgow International, the thought being that if Glasgow, a city of comparable size, could achieve such a successful outcome why couldn’t Adelaide? But the stars could not be positioned in alignment and the proposal did not materialise.1 Enter the Adelaide Festival in 2010 with its inaugural Adelaide International, its “purpose… to feature work by contemporary international artists that addresses the overall theme of [that] Festival”, acknowledging along the way that “the idea of an Adelaide International was already under serious consideration”. The two concepts are not quite the same. Both the 2010 and 2012 presentations had as their premise “work… that addresses the overall theme”, thus complementing the Festival’s performing arts construct and not necessarily presenting Adelaide’s capacity as a major international platform for the presentation of visual art in Australia. So already after just two iterations the Adelaide International has some baggage in that regard, slightly resonated by the fact that 2013 saw the Festival relinquish its engagement with contemporary visual art organisations for the first time in more than thirty years. Adelaide, and Adelaide International 2014 then have some expectancies. What is your vision for the project and its projected (physical) scope? RICHARD GRAYSON: There’s a lot there to consider, and I can’t really answer regarding the development of the ideas and the vision, other than to echo Ghandi’s response when he was asked what he thought of Western democracy and replied he thought it would be a good idea. Aproject that echoes the approaches of the Glasgow International would seem ideal for Adelaide. But that’s a very different beast from what I’m hoping to put together, or from what I understand has been put together for the first two exhibitions. None of these exhibitions are really addressing Adelaide’s capacity to operate as a major international platform for international art in any way, in the way that I think you mean, other than staging what’s hopefully a good exhibition of art that’s been produced outside Australia. In that way they are relatively straightforward and modest in their formal conception. A model predicated on what happens in Glasgow (and elsewhere) would have to be very differently structured and funded, as it would be about supporting the productions of new work (eg. commissions). This makes specific demands on resources and organisations. Especially in the context of Adelaide—as
opposed to Scotland where you can bring your artists across to the city by a budget airline and a cheap rental van—a place that requires you to fly artists in on longhaul routes, freight work, and more. In fact in Scotland they extend their funding strength through many of the artists being either based in Glagow or elsewhere in Scotland, or south of the border. So quite a lot of the “international” is only in the title and that’s how they get to present over one hundred and thirty artists and get a bouncy Stonehenge (Jeremy Deller). So you’d need a lot more money, and a different structure to get the stuff happening. With 2014, I think that there will be perhaps fewer artists in the exhibition than usual, but I’m hoping that each representation will have a bit of presence, either a reasonable body of work or quite a chunky project, so that the works/installations have their own gravity in each site. The exhibition will still be using much the same format as previous iterations where it occurs in different venues across the city. This seems effective to me and appropriate, for when Adelaide is in ‘festival mode’ the locals will engage with it in a slightly different way while the visitors to the city will explore it. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: Given that Adelaide International falls within the Festival rubric and after two editions it does not, cannot hope to have a national ‘brand’ as such, so much favoured by museums and Festivals (similarly, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art does not really have much of a brand after twenty years, comparative to Perspecta which ran alternatively and with much expectation to the Biennale of Sydney for a similar length of time: 1981-1999). And with a plethora of city-biennials now globally—Asia and the Middle East having come online in a big way over the last ten years—such presentations find themselves very much at the small end of the greater art profile spectrum, seemingly more domestically recognised, given this overall reality. Is the 2014 Adelaide International retaining its thematic direction from the Festival’s, and if so what influence will these boundaries have over your curatorial vision?
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Opposite: Joana Hadjithomas+Khalil Joreige, from The Lebanese Rocket Society, Elements for a monument, 2012 Photos courtesy the artists and Third Line Gallery, Dubai
RICHARD GRAYSON: The ‘brand’ thing for the Adelaide International is one that just takes on more layers the more you zoom out from it. Hopefully it is something that might resolve itself in time. Just look at the possibility for confusion. Its held once every two years, which technically makes it a biennial, but it’s not the Adelaide Biennale (of Australian Art). Unlike practically every other biennale or biennial art exhibition across the globe, the Adelaide Biennial isn’t international in its scope. Whereas the Adelaide International is. On top of that the Adelaide Festival, since it has become annual, will sometimes have visual arts events that aren’t associated with either the Adelaide International or the Adelaide Biennial. Every two years they all happen at the same time. What chance does anyone without an unhealthy interest in the structures of the visual arts in South Australia and a flow chart have in sorting that out? To further confuse the issue, especially for those outside of Australia, the Adelaide Biennial (which isn’t international) and the Adelaide International (which is biennial) in 2014 will take place just prior to the Biennale of Sydney, which is the Australian biennale that people know of. I’m not certain if this Adelaide International is directly taking its thematic direction from the Adelaide Festival as I’m not entirely clear what the thematic directions are in 2014. It’s been more a question of morphic resonance. What has happened is that Festival Director David Sefton and I have had several meetings since my involvement has been confirmed, and wide-ranging conversations—sometimes about what sort of approaches that the International might take and what some of the concerns might be—but as often as not about other things. He has a passionate interest in and knowledge of some of the obscurer expressions of rock and postpunk music. So the recording career of Pere Ubu has come up a couple of times, and its become clear that there are crossovers in our interests, concerns and excitements. David founded the Meltdown Festival, where he approached musicians and asked them to curate seasons of performance on the Southbank in the UK, so this idea of giving space to someone because of what they do, and then seeing what unfolds, is something he’s happy with. Having said that, I’m informed by people who are more involved with the main Festival program that there are intriguing echoes and relationships between what the 2014 Festival is doing and what the Adelaide International is doing, which is great. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: What might be these “intriguing echoes and relationships”? RICHARD GRAYSON: It’s something that people who know more about what’s in the 2014 Festival than I do have said, rather than my own firsthand knowledge. Our conversations have allowed me to get a feel —nothing more scientific than that—for the sort of texture of the thoughts and approaches that might be shaping the Festival, work that’s shaped by concerns that lie outside mainstream approaches, ideas of spaces of popular culture and how they might inflect and shape high culture—an interest in the transformative and psychedelic, in messing with codes and a sort of bricollage of high and low. And rock and experimental music means a lot to us both, though I suspect he’s more able to put up with a truly tremendous racket than I can. So we have an interest in a certain energy, in those spaces where popular ideas or forms collide with avant-garde expressions, with a certain generosity, an in your face-ness. Basically he mentioned some things that were engaging him, I mentioned some ideas or practices that were interesting me, and there was a feeling of sorts that the trains were running across roughly the same countryside and had a couple of landmarks that we might triangulate by.
BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: While to a large degree the global art world, both its market and academia, either taps into or is dominated by the Euro-American, some regions are taking on a non-White European character of sorts, though it is true to say that the Made in China phenomenon of the past two decades and the new art developments in the Middle East have both been circumscribed by the money machine and art language of the West. Situated in the UK from your perspective what (or who) do you consider to be the more compelling current art movements/ makers and might this be reflected in your curatorial directions for Adelaide International? RICHARD GRAYSON: It is interesting that given all the new developments you mention, there seems to be little feeling of any compelling Movements in the sense of one of those gestalt shifts that generally changes and influences how people imagine how art might be made and imagined —like modernity, post-object art, post-modernity or god help us, relational aesthetics. Of course, I am saying this from the point of view of someone who is not from China, the Middle East or South America. Obviously, if you are a Chinese or Brazilian artist the world is significantly changed by the fact that new vocabularies seem to be developing and there’s an international interest and a market in the work, moreover that you’re part of something that is shaping the way that the culture you’re in operates and is perceived. But in the weird international space that also contains the art world, this specific activity seems to become subsumed into a general frenzy of activity and product. The markets are part of the problem. It’s difficult given their effect to make any clear distinction between things that might be significant and new and what is just new stuff. So any development is happening at a time that the market seems to have eaten much of the world. It’s not quite like anything we’ve seen before, and it is far more difficult to locate quite where things are coming from, what’s shaping them. Given the market’s role in supporting and representing much of this new activity, how much of the desire of the rich in the emerging economies to possess and support art working as a signifier of being part of the new transnational group of the Rich, in the same way as owning an Aston Martina or Ferrari? Luxury Goods. There’s another function of buying contemporary art, which is to indicate that you’re part of the progressive enlightenment project. After all, arts a ‘good thing’, which is a useful branding function if you’re making your money from dark deals and dodgy operations in Russia or elsewhere. And the involvement of Western-based galleries in representing new nonWestern practices, how much of it is an excitement at new bodies of work and practice and the dismantling of previous cultural hierarchies, and how much an excitement at reaching new strata of the über-rich to sell stuff to, especially given that the centres of economic gravity are shifting resolutely into these areas? And how much is it just branding ideas of innovation and radicality, and sell this to banks and corporations who want to buy this aura. This commercial frenzy has a knock-on effect upon how we like to imagine art functioning. These new markets, this international oligarchy, are often underpinned by a set of socio-economic relations—in terms of how workers are treated and paid, the environmental toll, ideas of law—and are often more extreme and brutal than those that apply in the older economies even after recent decades of neo-liberalism. In turn these are used to undermine conditions elsewhere under the name of competitiveness. What does that do to any of the vaguely progressive ideals that we’ve liked to wrap this art thing in? Does it all become bling for the capitalist classes? How does any ‘progressive’ practice survive the embrace of an oligarch or being collected by a museum that’s funded by a multinational?
The lack of any feeling that there is a compelling Movement, in that sense of there being a radical shift, is partially because of the art world’s and art market’s constant clamour that there has to be one taking place. Now. Everything is somehow predicated as The Next Big Thing. Novelty is very important in a market economy. And it is so overt that even stuff that might be the next big thing at the moment looks like a new line or product range. This seems to apply both within the market and in those institutions that seem to operate outside the market—museums, independent art organisations and so on. In the midst of all this activity, and perhaps in reaction to it, I do think however that there is a sense—in different places and different people —of some sort of reconsideration of how we might imagine contemporary art and its functions. This seems to me to be very tentative. Some of this reconsideration is triggered by more access to art made in non-Western contexts, as these can bring into play ideas and approaches outside the accepted methodologies of the mainstream. Practices that are predicated on other models of art are disrupting and invigorating. Part of this desire, and it is a desire without any sort of suggested resolution, is expressing itself in a number of artists and writers and curators walking the dog back a bit and looking again at ideas of the counterculture, ideas that underpinned alternative cultures that were emerging in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and which helped shape avant-garde art practices, music, social organisations, and also found expression in the development of ideas that shaped the dynamics of the world-wide-web. It was a time that saw people looking outside of their own cultures to investigate nonWestern expressions and understandings, looking for ways to step-outside world-views that they considered limiting. You can see this expressing itself in exhibitions—I’m writing to you from Berlin where there’s a big exhibition at the House of World Cultures that’s predicated on Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue, and looking at how cultural practice of the 1960s shaped the ways we imagine the world—but also in popular culture—the freak folk movement and new psychedelia, etc., its an intriguing strand, and its one that the International is going to be touching on. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: It seems to me that the Western Contemporary might not have much going for it these days when the driving forces seem to be multiple layers of money manipulation. The economic platforms in Europe and now Australia hardly seem positive for the career-pursuit of artmaking or indeed art administration. Europe’s economic travails seem to have a domino affect, just when things appear to settle up pops another bankrupt country to torpedo equanimity, with Australia just coming to the realisation that its political masters have mismanaged a once in a lifetime resources boom and maybe it’s downhill from here for the next decade regardless of political outcomes… but perhaps poverty and adversity might be the parent’s of invention for a society that knows nothing else but to have an economic privilege? Since the beginning of the 2000s Australian visual art has had all the appearances of art as (career-pursuit) product (for either superannuation investment/lifestyle consumption) with a ‘show me the Australian pavilion in Venice’ as a horizon point. Unlike elsewhere—ex-Soviet Bloc, MENASA regions, central Asia etc., it has conspicuously been apolitical; when in minor instances it did engage the political it presented itself as more hysterical and histrionic than of any other quality, characteristics currently quite apparent in daily life. So it’s back to the future then? RICHARD GRAYSON: When everything started overtly unravelling around 2008 there was a significant part of bien-pensant opinion that thought that there might be a re-addressing of alternative ideas of economic and social structuring, as was demonstrated in those essays that spang up stating that people might take another look at Marx. And there was a similar occurrence in the arts, a feeling that this surely had to mean something and mark an end to certain ways of looking at things. I was definitely part of this tendency. You published my text in Broadseet titled ‘Planet Finance’ —which was republished elsewhere—that was full of certainty and hope that, in the words of the song, “a change was gonna come”. Half a decade later it hasn’t and I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d done evening classes in being wrong! There’s been no shift in the social context other than
that the poor are paying for the excesses of the rich, banks and bankers are protected while the disabled are penalised. And there’s a whole load of art that looks like art. So this situation remains very much linked to what was before, but worse and more unjust. In the arts, this activity that’s meant to be about possibility, imagination and alternatives, looks pretty much the same—fewer commercial galleries maybe and a greater interest in blue chip art like Mondrian to protect your investment. Again, very much as it was before, but worse; emptier, more absurd, with claims made for the transformative utopian possibilities becoming more demanding, more hysterical, as art practices—as a whole—that manifestly fail to come up to snuff to the challenge. Until there is an approach that emerges that is up to the task, then perhaps it is back to the future, where the desire for a radical change animates an investigation of what happened before that might be of use in constructing something fit for the purpose. This is not necessarily entirely retrograde or nostalgic. Music has seen people digging around in what had happened with the MC5, with the Stooges, Can, dubreggae, looking for practices that informed and shaped their gut rejection of the commodified apporaches of mainstream popular music that was later expressed in punk. And that was a rich and worthwhile investigation, because a year zero is rarely the year zero that it seems to be. There have been emergencies and crises before, which have triggered somebody somewhere into a reaction that may be of use in how we imagine possibilities of practice, of engagement, and of imagination, that might help shape the present, when the present finally arrives. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: You will also be programming Artists Week, something that you attended while resident in Adelaide during the 1980s-90s, so you have some historical knowledge of it. Artists Week has had as its narratives the themes of the Festivals and/or visual arts programs over the past decade if not longer. In the two events corresponding with the 2010 and 2012 Festivals and Adelaide Internationals, it articulated “the broad themes of the Adelaide Festival” as “a forum for an exchange between international and national perspectives on the key issues that shape contemporary art”. I emphasise “key issues” here as the direction of the former might not necessarily inform the outcomes of the latter. Artists Week over time has had a variation in its length and intensity, usually the first days being of resonant international focus then dissipating towards the end through domestic issues. As Artists Week has become both a forum for critical discourse on the Festival’s themes and a branding agent for its visual arts program, might you have a different intention in what it does and how? RICHARD GRAYSON: It’s more so that I have a hand in the program of Artists Week rather than programming it entirely. There will be other voices and inputs. At the moment it is a work in progress. And “key issues”, there’s a phrase—obviously one wants the discussion to be of interest and relevance, but, as I touched on earlier, one of the defining things about this moment is a sense of a compass spinning but no determining field giving any particular direction, so I don’t think we can claim that it will be a “key issues” thing either. What it might be is a discussion about a certain number of ideas and approaches that might be illuminating, exciting or interesting to think about at the moment, some idea which might suggest patterns of thought or associations that could be useful indicators of approaches and strategies that bring us to a position from where we start sketching out what a key issue (amongst many) could be. And some of these things will relate to what’s going on in the Adelaide international. It will touch on those amorphous bodies of interest and approaches that are, to an extent, to one side of or underlaying approaches directly derived from scientific rationalism, alternative models, hidden histories, an interest in revealing events, some of which, historically, helped shape ideas of countercultures and alternatives, and which still shape some of the ideas and cultures of today. Is there anything there that might be useful in the task of imagining new models at a time where, despite a number of shocks and challenged mainstream understandings and orthodoxies remain surprisingly monolithic? Note 1 The project’s “international” quotient was subsequently domesticated in 2010 to become CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New with forty-four South Australian artists being presented
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Exposing the underbelly of society —the political, psychological and the personal: Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art
Broadsheet editor Alan Cruickshank, and assistant editor and Adelaide writer-curator Wendy Walker, discuss with Art Gallery of South Australia Director Nick Mitzevich his vision for, as recently appointed curator, the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art
BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: The Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art had as its model of conception in 1990 the Whitney Biennial of American Art, seeking to be comparable with the Australian Perspecta exhibitions initiated in 1981 by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The inaugural 1990 Adelaide Biennial overlapped with the then Biennale of Sydney, as will both in 2014. The Adelaide Biennial has in over two decades established itself as a national presentation constant of currency in Australian contemporary art practice (now outlasting the duration of Perspecta: 19811999), but it has never achieved nor attempted a totalising summation of Australian contemporary art practice (perhaps what might be deemed a “survey”)—rather, especially over the last decade more so specifically defined subgroups of the Australian contemporary art landscape. In then Director Ron Radford’s 2000 Adelaide Biennial Foreword, he stated that “The Biennial… was never intended as a mere standard survey of recent Australian art but an exhibition showing some of the most interesting, vital and challenging aspects of recent art”, the selection of different curators “ensuring that perspective”. The visual art fads and modes of the 1990s are now quite apparent in retrospect, as are those of the early 2000s. How do you consider the Adelaide Biennial model has eventuated in the context of the AGSA’s original vision (being its principal contribution to the Adelaide Festival) and how might this be reflected in your presentation for 2014?
NICK MITZEVICH: Conceived by Daniel Thomas, the Biennial began in 1990 as an antipodean version of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. And from its earliest iterations the development of the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art hasn’t been linear or followed a single pathway: its nature, as originally envisioned, means that it remains a work in progress. The beauty of the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art lies in its ability to respond to the topical issues of the day, both materially and conceptually. With its format constrained by very few rules it shouldn’t be viewed as a progressive or evolutionary phenomenon —like, for example, a diagram of modernist art by Alfred H. Barr. It should encourage risk-taking by artists and curators alike. The constant shapeshifting that defines the Adelaide Biennial is deliberately reflected in the selection of guest curators: the exhibition series has not been institutionalised, and this has enlivened the Gallery curatorially, while attracting dissension and dialogue (via curators, artists and writers) into the building, the city and the State. In its most recent iteration the Biennial brought artists, thinkers, writers and audiences to the Gallery on a scale that I would never have anticipated, impacting upon the identity and standing of the Gallery, both nationally and internationally. The conversation prompted by the Biennial has also rippled through to Gallery’s wider artistic program, broadening and enriching the parameters of the institution and serving as the impetus for other exhibitions and initiatives. And, crucially, there’s also the impact of the Biennial on the AGSA collection. The Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art rejuvenates the Gallery—it’s a vitamin pill for the institution—and maintains its vital connection to the throbbing diversity of Australian contemporary art, a theme I’m inspired to further develop in the 2014 Biennial. I aim to amplify the conversation and the contact that we, as an institution, have with the many faces of Australian art.
BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: The curation of the Biennial over its twelve presentations has wavered from the singular to the collaborative (eg. 2012), with a once-off curatorium in 2002 (seemingly with as many curators as artists). Twice the Adelaide Biennial has had internal curators (Chris Chapman in 1996 and Julie Robinson in 2004), with the concept for the 2000 Biennial “hatched” by AGSA Director Ron Radford with then Festival Director Robyn Archer. 2014 will see for the first time the Director of AGSA personally curating the Adelaide Biennial. What began as a broad survey as such (by curator Mary Eagle in 1990) has had its focus narrowed by curatorial parameters that appear to be more about individual curatorial foci rather than that broad scope of contemporary Australian practice; e.g. over the last decade especially the commissioning of artworks both confirmed and illustrated such curatorial parameters, being a ‘manufactured’ rather than actual reality. What will be your rationale for this new course (Director as curator) and for the Adelaide Biennial as a presenter of Australia’s “most interesting, vital and challenging aspects of recent art”? NICK MITZEVICH: The ongoing Adelaide Biennial is the Gallery’s most crucial and influential artistic undertaking. At this stage in my directorship I feel that it is important to harness every available element at the institution’s disposal to advance the Biennial and the best way I can do this is to lead from the front. This is also the most direct and, arguably, effective way of communicating the Biennial’s message. Having a strong curatorial perspective informing an exhibition, irrespective of its size or personality, is an integral part of my philosophy and my day-to-day life as Director. I believe that you have to have an opinion—to stand up and for something —and I relish the opportunity to present my perspective through the Biennial. I see myself as the Gallery’s chief curator and as such I want to model projects and collaborate with my team to advance the institution—I want to be active in my role. The ideals of the Adelaide Biennial have indeed been to present the “most interesting, vital and challenging aspects of recent art”. However, it is ultimately up to the audience—and I include all elements of the audience here, from the general public, to critics and commentators and to other visual artists—to judge whether this has been the case. My focus is on assembling an exhibition that is inherently emotional, one that connects with the viewer and provides a moving/confronting/ thought-provoking experience. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: The Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art has staged in recent years several exhibitions of Australian contemporary visual art, but the Adelaide Biennial remains the only major recurring biennial of national contemporary art. How do you view its current position within the Australian cultural landscape? NICK MITZEVICH: In 2010 when I commenced as Director I wanted to raise the bar on the Biennial. I wanted to set it on the path to being the most significant recurring exhibition of Australian art. In my selection of curators Natasha Bullock and Alexie Glass-Kantor I took that first anticipatory step, with their vision for the development of the Biennial coinciding with mine. Together they delivered a tour de force—in the way the exhibition spoke to the institution and the audience, but also through the publication and the more ephemeral and performative aspects of the Biennial. My vision for the future of the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art is no different three years later: the 2014 Biennial will be every bit as robust, decisive and engaging as its immediate predecessor. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: In the previous issue of Broadsheet in his text ‘This is not a survey’, on the 2012 Adelaide Biennial: Parallel Collisions, Blair French summarised; “I suspect it’s not likely, even possible, to successfully reproduce it structurally as a model for future Adelaide Biennials, nor do I imagine it possible to simply return to the modest survey approach of previous iterations. For better or worse depending on your perspective, in terms of curatorial and institutional approach, the 2012 exhibition was a game-changer for the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art as an ongoing project.” To repeat this model would be counterproductive so is Parallel Collisions a hard act to follow?
NICK MITZEVICH: Parallel Collisions was a game-changer: the Gallery worked brilliantly with the curators. We opened the doors for them to use the collection and collaborate with our team. We discarded the previous lines of demarcation, with everything up for grabs and discussion. Ideas became the catalysts for progress. And progress became the new order. The exhibition’s very successful dialogue with the collection built upon Lisa Slade’s interventions in the Elder Wing of Australian Art during the SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival in 2011. We had also in that year just rehung the Australian collection and we have now completed a similar exercise in the European Wing. Both of these displays challenge the more conventional notions of how art should be categorised, and with both we began to interrogate the ‘rigidity’ of the canon—the 2012 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art cemented the re-calibration of the institution’s approach. Having guest curators with ambitious ideas meant we could support the development of new work; we could invest in the artists. Ultimately all of these factors came together to produce an extraordinary exhibition—diverse, challenging, fun—and above all one that resonated profoundly with the audience, and along the way enriching Australian art more broadly. Parallel Collisions established the new and ambitious benchmark of speaking and communicating to a wider audience. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: The curators of Parallel Collisions dispensed with the expectation of the Adelaide Biennial as a snapshot or survey of contemporary Australian art practice, in favour of an expansive presentation that involved other areas of the Art Gallery of South Australia, interaction with existing works from the AGSA collections, as well as collaboration with writers and designers. In the course of twenty two years, the Adelaide Biennial has assumed many different guises, some inevitably more successful than others. Having described the Adelaide Biennial as “by and large a relatively modestly scaled exhibition”, Blair French (as noted before) viewed Parallel Collisions as emblematic of AGSA’s “new ambition and commitment to active harnessing of contemporary art within the overall museum”. What can we then expect from a Nick Mitzevich-curated Biennial? NICK MITZEVICH: In your question you use the term “the overall museum”, and this is precisely the concept I am appropriating as the starting point for the 2014 Adelaide Biennial, which I envision as an immersive experience that encompasses all elements of the art museum. Contemporary art is not confined to a couple of rooms in the art museum—ghettoised, if you like. Dialogue involving the past cannot occur without some relationship or reference to the present, since we make sense of art through our lived reality. The Gallery’s approach to the past and to its historic collections is undergoing a monumental transformation—and we are well on our way with this. Similarly, the Biennial is not an island—it is part of the larger philosophical direction of the institution. The Adelaide Biennial is our most significant art project and we will be directing substantial effort towards its success. Nationally speaking, we are a modest art museum—at least in terms of available resources. We can’t afford to relegate the Biennial to our temporary exhibition spaces only—I must work harder and smarter to overcome our limitations, but also to meet current national expectations. Since the Biennial’s inception in 1990 the terrain has changed—art museums have become more relevant to people’s lives and audiences are hungry for excitement, enlightenment, beauty, challenge, and many people travel to see art. The 2014 Adelaide Biennial will burrow into the hearts and minds of contemporary Australian society to explore the political, the psychological and the personal. My aim is an inherently emotional and all-encompassing experience, one that is not afraid to ask difficult questions and expose the seedy underbelly of society. When considering the direction of this Biennial over the Christmas period, I was re-reading Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, and it struck a chord with me, such that it began to inform my thinking about the rhythm and direction of the 2014 Biennial. While obviously rooted in contemporary art, this exhibition has to remain ever-cognisant of our cultural identity, which has been forged by our history. In the days following the passing of Hughes I revisited some words of his which have become a kind of mantra for me since university. Hughes claimed that:
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The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It’s not something that committees can do. It’s not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It’s done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.1 I can’t help but return to this passage, time and time again. Its sentiments are elemental (and moving) and have underpinned my approach to the Biennial. Our sense of ourselves and our identity has been comprehensively investigated—and questioned—through the imaginative and multifarious narratives delivered via our national literature and cinema. The 2014 exhibition will attempt to capture the immediacy and ready emotion found in these art forms to connect with the viewer to propose another narrative, one utilising contemporary art to tell, perhaps, a different version of the story of ourselves and our society. My goal is to weave a memorable tale, one that confronts but also seduces and rewards. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: Over the years there has been considerable discussion about the conservatism of Adelaide audiences. Yet within the performing arts, Adelaide Festival audiences have consistently demonstrated a willingness to embrace challenging works; Peter Brook’s remarkable productions in a quarry or Pina Bausch’s dance performances in the 1980s, to cite just two examples. The city came ‘alive’ during Barrie Kosky’s 1996 Festival, with his innovative programming of Red Square etc. But is this open-mindedness, this willingness by audiences to embrace experimentation limited to the performing arts? What has been your impression, since moving here in 2010? Has there been a degree of caution/ restraint within visual arts programming? NICK MITZEVICH: My experience of Adelaide before moving here was totally defined by my visits to the city during Festival time. To me, Adelaide meant the Biennial and the festivals, so when I came to the Gallery, I embarked upon an artistic program that adopted a festival-like approach to programming. Having been inspired by the audience’s response to the acquisition of a major work by Patricia Piccinini, I felt that the only way to serve the collection—and the people of the State—was to ensure that the edge was as sharp as it could be. The tremendous enthusiasm for the moving image, culminating in the projection of Allegoria Sacra by Russian collective AES+F onto the building itself during the 2012 Adelaide Fringe, along with the response to new acquisitions by the Chapman Brothers and, most recently, We are all flesh by Berlinde de Bruyckere, have confirmed our audience’s desire for the new. My program is ultimately driven by the appetite of the audience—I am not dragging them willy-nilly down a contemporary art cul-de-sac. I’m responding to their curiosity and this involves taking risks, and I like to think that we are not risk-averse. As I said earlier, the Biennial is predicated on the notion of risk-taking. We are a thoughtful institution and we want our audiences to have memorable and, at times, risky emotional experiences. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: I recall that Glenn Lowry (then director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art) on a visit to Australia stating that the really significant change in that institution had been the dramatic growth of interest in cutting-edge art, with the result that visitors to the contemporary galleries now outnumbered those to the early modern galleries. He ascribed this shift to a new youthful audience, which having grown up saturated in images was looking for “the challenge of seeing something startling, new and different”. The huge success of David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart has demonstrated the popular appeal of contemporary art for a very broad audience, although probably in that instance the ‘Bilbao effect’ is a factor as well. Do you think the growing appeal of contemporary art in Australia is consistently underestimated?
NICK MITZEVICH: I’d prefer to look at this in broader terms. This year’s Adelaide Fringe attracted around 25,000 people every night, which indicates an insatiable appetite for contemporary culture. But it has to be accessible, and invariably much of this occurs away from the formal institutions (although there are many so-called mainstream artists who began their journey outside formal cultural institutions). The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney has recently recorded its millionth visitor for the twelve months just ending, so the desire for an experience of the world unmediated by the mainstream media undoubtedly exists—arguably, the frustrations and banality of the mainstream media prompt this response. One of the most popular exhibitions worldwide last year was Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present at MOMA in New York: who would have thought that a performance artist with a rigorous conceptual practice would have people queuing in the streets? Art provides extraordinary and resonant experiences. To paraphrase Hughes, the necessary art of our time enables the individual to pass from feeling to meaning. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: I seem to remember you (like many others) citing the Venice Biennale satellite exhibition Artempo (2007)—at the Palazzo Fortuny—as influential. Curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, it was anticipated by the seminal 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, in which Martin aligned contemporary and ‘folk’ art at the Centre Georges Pompidou. I’m wondering about your impressions of the more recent Theatre of the World (2012) at MONA, also curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, and which utilised the resources of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, in addition to Walsh’s private collection. Are there other curatorial/exhibition models that you have found inspirational for AGSA and might there be any such influences in your Adelaide Biennial? NICK MITZEVICH: I am always drawn to the filmic and the sensory—to totally immersive experiences that defy conventional categories and experiences, and to projects led by ideas. Recent exhibitions of note include Voice of Images curated for Palazzo Grassi by Caroline Bourgeois, and Artempo and TRA–the edge of becoming at the Palazzo Fortuny. The Nordic Pavilion by Elmgreen & Dragset at the Venice Biennale in 2009 was unforgettable. BROADSHEET: Following the 2004 Festival the Contemporary Art Centre of SA proposed to the Art Gallery of SA the consideration of incorporating into the Adelaide Biennial other city exhibition sites, similar to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ presentation of Perspecta in its engagment of several local contemporary art spaces, thereby allowing not only an expanded physical presentation capability (and one might assume additional resources), but to also capitalise on the obvious potential for a wider audience base and national (international, even) profile—a proposal that prestaged the CACSA’s future hypothesis for a multi-artspace presentation of international artists in Adelaide (see the preceding discussion with Richard Grayson). While its proposal wasn’t taken up the CACSA did establish successful satellite exhibitions of Australian artists with the Art Gallery of SA aligned to theme of the Adelaide Biennial, for the 2006 and 2008 Festivals. It is of interest then to note the AGSA’s media release of 13 May this year which announced that satellite exhibition spaces were being “explored” for the staging of the 2014 Adelaide Biennial, a development that would (hopefully) not only promote Adelaide’s position as a major national centre for the production and presentation of visual art but also amplify the activities of the domestic contemporary artspace platform and its participating artists who in recent years have been successfully operating outside and beyond the circle. Note 1 Robert Hughes, The Future that Was, in The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change, episode 8, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1980
Page 119: program cover image for the 2010 Adelaide Festival (cropped)
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Eyeless in Gaza: <<That all artists are equal is a proposition which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent 1>> ALAN CRUICKSHANK Echoing Business’ perennial hymn that the State requires urgent vision for its future economic development (underpinning the social and the cultural), being a State of stagnation and trepidation when it comes to bold vision and progressive development, “eyeless in Gaza” has always been a phrase that has resonated with me, when considering this and more specifically, the South Australian visual arts landscape, having occupied it to varying degrees and times (and contemplating it from elsewhere in between, in the UK, Europe, USA and Asia) over more than three decades. I have increasingly come to view some aspects of this domestic landscape (and at simultaneous moments art policy) analogous to being “eyeless in Gaza”, regardless of which way the interlocutor considers the meaning of the phrase. This condition seemingly illustrates the greater predicament of the state of the State, essentially moribund in its buttoned-up orthodoxy and minority self-interest. As is known Eyeless in Gaza is the novel by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1936. His title originates from a phrase in John Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes: ... Promise was that I Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver; Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves ... The title of the book, like Milton’s poem, recalls the biblical story of Samson who fought and was captured by the Philistines, his long hair (representing his physical and moral strength) lost to female duplicity and his eyes burned out, and taken to Gaza where he was forced to work in a mill, resulting in his enslavement and his condition of being “eyeless in Gaza”. Samson’s blindness according to Milton plays out a symbolic role, of the correlation between his inner blindness (believing his “intimate impulses” to be “divine messages”) and his blindness to reason (of being blinded” by Delilah’s deception), as well as his outer physically blind condition. The addition to the phrase “at the Mill with slaves” conjures something further. Who might be the slaves, in this domestic art landscape context, fellow artists, slaves to the art grist-mill, laboriously and repetitiously beating out art product? If so, then is it the bigger picture that is “eyeless”—the conflict between policy and real art (whatever that may be) and its public appreciation—with its practitioners slave to this irresistible condition?
Opposite: minimal apologies to Brand SA, the ‘Open the Door’ logo with an etching of ‘Samson destroying the temple’ from an 1882 German bible
There is a Latin phrase used early in Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza that reads, “Video meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor”, which can be translated as, “I see better things, and approve, but I follow worse.” It could be conjectured that the utterer here might well be the masterminds of policy but I will concentrate on “the South Australian artist” and the notion of our public’s appreciation of art, as brave but ultimately foolish attempts to evaluate such policy is at best a fraught proposition in an historical environment where such critical evaluation is regarded as malapropos. With the messenger dispatched accordingly. Canon #1. In 2006 one South Australian arts administrator who ventured forth into the greater international realm on a professional scholarship returned imparting, to those loftier realms of bureaucracy, a declaration stating that his/her organisation was internationally appreciated significantly higher than its local determination, that a recent national funding strategy had affected a domestic “cottage industry” to the detriment of the visual arts landscape and its artists, and that this conclusion logically merited discussion towards a positive revision. The response was to both shoot the messenger and the sector. (This followed a similar themed prognosis earlier that same year, on that same national funding strategy, that after the expiration of six years hence the visual arts landscape would be greatly affected by its constituents having ‘voted with their feet’ to enjoy the benefits of said strategy elsewhere, along with the exiting of the then minister and his fellow travellers. The outcome by 2012 has been just that.) Who is this “South Australian artist”? Not anyone known in particular, certainly not those who operate at a national and international museum and gallery level; of those they are well known. “The South Australian artist” is infinitely more imperceptible, partly self-immersed in an orbit of art-as-game-as-lifestyle rather than an erudite and informed practice; partly of minimal effort with a life-owes-me-something reproach alleviated occasionally by the odd job but more often Centrelink; partly with an attitude of indignance to any critical evaluation beyond their peer-group cronyism (to this text for example, though it would be a case of self-outing); partly of waiting artless by the phone for that exhibition invitation, and when art is made it is undoubtedly as nonchalant art-history repetition, as artifact or object or domestic adornment. This hibernating creed of course proliferates biannually through two over-resourced and over-sponsored populist events that have as their singular family-friendly aphorism Everybody-is-an-Artist, eschewing any elitist or “quality and excellence” principles along the way—with “art” at best like that of those Sunday artists who once propped up their dayglo sunset paintings in closed petrol stations (remember those days, when they were closed like the rest of South Australia?)—all now warmly received into the bosom of bureaucratic and egalitarian discernment—as Artists.
And what of the South Australian art landscape, its constant cultural appellation of “the Festival State” blithely uttered as irrefutable confirmation? There are, in no particular order of merit, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Film Festival, Festival of Ideas, Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide International Guitar Festival, Come Out Festival, Feast Festival, OzAsia Festival, SALA Festival, Jazz Festival, Shorts Film Festival, WOMADelaide (music festival), food and multicultural festivals (Greek, Italian, German, Indonesian, etc.) now presented each year. Regardless of any real cultural quality of some of these events—some closely resembling the worst in commercial television—predominant importance is placed upon their bums-on-seats and “visitation” (now an overly used-and-abused determination) economic outcomes. At the time of writing this giddy list of festivals was added to. In more of the same, it was announced 29 May this year, “Little Britain star Matt Lucas to headline new winter arts festival ‘Word Adelaide’. Word Adelaide will… feature a diverse program of spoken word, comedy and music events… Developed by Events South Australia, a division of the South Australian Tourism Commission”2 (my emphasis), as if the spoken word, comedy and music—a cross between RocKwiz and Celebrity Chef—weren’t evident enough in the above inventory of festivals. As an example of a creeping contemporary manic justification over expenditure on festivals and “culture”, State spruikers Advantage SA/Advantage Adelaide, sponsored by the SA Government (and domestic corporate heavyweights Bendigo Bank and BHP Billiton) trumpeted on their website 9 January 2013; ‘Adelaide Festivals Contribute $62.9 Million to the South Australian Economy.’ … Festival visitors related expenditure (excluding tickets) within the state of $58.1 million… An estimated positive economic impact on the state’s economy of $62.9 million in new incomes… Festivals Adelaide Executive Officer, Tory McBride said the results reflect the value of Adelaide’s major Arts Festivals to… the state’s… economic prosperity… “The combined return on investment to SA is approximately 5:1 and I know that with our festivals working collaboratively through Festivals Adelaide, this is just the beginning of exponential growth”, Ms McBride said.3 (my emphasis again) It has become quite apparent in recent years that such clockwork political and bureaucratic economic justification if not apologia is required to pacify a potentially hostile and indignant lumpen-public scrutiny as to the merit of such expenditure of ‘their’ money on The Arts, no doubt convincing the spin merchants themselves in the process. This same public will generally take domestic and federal government over-spending (read profligacy, folly, squander)—a litany of self-rewarding and pie-in-the-sky schemes especially over the past six years—‘on-the-chin’. But The Arts, if not its funders, has to continually justify its consumption of government funding to a society neither particularly cultured nor universally mature. And as the national economic climate sustains its rollercoaster ride this kind of trumpeting has become symphonic. Despite this tsunami of South Australian festivals to alleviate it from its mundanity, The Public remains undoubtedly conservative. It might also be ignorant, asinine, and indignant, but who is to say? Public views on art might not be fundamental to South Australia, but they are certainly fixed. Canon #2. In The Advertiser 17 April this year, the fallacy of “the Dunstan years” surfaced once again in the article ‘Will the next Don Dunstan please stand up?’, with an introduction; “The Adelaide Festival Centre is 40 years old. To mark the milestone, three cultural leaders last night looked to the future in a panel discussion about the prospect we’ll ever see another leader who will champion the arts like late Premier Don Dunstan.” The speakers were Anthony Steel, “five-times Adelaide Festival Director“, Greg Mackie, “Past executive director of Arts SA“ and Christie Anthoney, “Creative Director of the Adelaide College of the Arts“. In online responses to this usual lame back-to-the-future exercise in media-initiated domestic cultural discourse, the true anatomy and disposition of the art landscape was made absolute, with predictable prejudice.
Fred of Elizabeth And how much money has been wasted on the “arts”? How many more police and nurses, doctors and teachers could we have employed if it was not for this drain on the public purse by these “privileged” few? wesley61 “the arts” are elitist, they cater for a very small number of people. If they were so popular they would not have to be subsidised to the extent that they are. At any one time there are half a dozen heavily subsidised plays or exhibitions wandering around the state playing to mostly empty houses. It is always the elite chardonnay socialists that look down their noses and sneer at the unwashed masses of workers who attend the football or touring car races as uncouth philistines whist (sic) they sip their wine and nibble finger food at some little art gallery looking at pictures that appear to be painted by a two year old child or someone with a severe mental illness… “the arts” died at the end of the pre raphaelite era anything thing done since is bunkum. Art 4 Arts Sake The Arts can grow in areas of extreme poverty and with no funding at all… we need to get our spending priorities right. Operations before Opera. Grades before Gallerys. Bridges before Ballet.4 Such sensibilities correspond with those aired on ABC weekday talkback radio in the early 2000s during the redevelopment of the city’s North Terrace precinct when disgruntled callers cheerlessly asserted that “artists and public art are a waste of money” and “those artists get paid too much” in the apparent assumption that all the significant expenditure on the labour and material intensive reconfiguration and landscaping of the road, footpaths and lawns etc. was minimal compared to the “outrageous” artist fees for aesthetic features such as benches and fountains, a parallel collision with early 1990s public sentiment that postponed the government’s planned extension of the Art Gallery of South Australia with the guilt-charged cry of, “the cockeys on Eyre Peninsula are doing it tough”. Obviously a ‘sneering chardonnay drinking socialist’, Anthony Steel in his cogent response to the question posed said, “To restore the arts to their rightful place as one of the essential ingredients of a liberal-democratic society… [the appearance of another Dunstan like figure to save us] NO, because our times are anti-intellectual and our politicians are poll-driven” (my emphasis yet again). Despite a lifetime of rhetorical if not bombastic branding of being “the Festival State” (the phrase once embossed on our car number plates as universal affirmation), that art suffers from such afflictions in perception should not be too surprising when so many of its visual elements are presented daily as dumbed-down agents for broad public acceptance. This non-elitist simplicity is daily reinforced in the mindsets of Fred of Elizabeth, wesley61 and Art 4 Arts Sake by two conditioning instruments —the picturing of artists (especially the visual variety) in print media with laughing, smiling if not stupefied faces—as if to say art is non-threatening, family friendly and simply entertaining (as opposed to cerebral, theoretical, philosophical; something that might be the product of many years of study and research); and its visual branding, either on buildings or event signage, that characterises art as a realm with a Play-School, childlike veneer, all a clownish facade that correlates with those hyper-sponsored biannual events branded by this philosophy that approves this Everyone-is-an-Artist ethos. This is further supported in the same media platform by a sibling notion that anyone who labels themselves a “curator” is thus regardless of education, employment, study or research. Apart from these “curators” the only other that Adelaideans know of through the same medium is Damian Hough, of the cricket pitch at the Adelaide Oval. If Fred of Elizabeth ventured south into the big city he might also be exposed, to add to his indignation but more likely confusion, to an institution felonious in its reference to graduating students still wet-behind-the-ears as “artists”, as highly a problematic designation as that alive and fringe ‘Everyone’ deceit.
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Added to this absurdity, it might be remembered when universities singularly focused on education and operated less like local franchises of global corporations, now seemingly more about self-serving economic development over and beyond their once upon a time raison d’etre. A speedy research of the history of one such South Australian university will show that at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s its art disciplines were of the most rigorous and sought after by national students —authenticated by the number of its alumni that occupied the national landscape throughout the 1980s and beyond. Its following steady decline in nationally recognised alumni artists, accelerated from the 1990s into the 2000s when other structural forces took over, to such effect that its students’ once radical avant-gardism metamorphosed into a now commodious nineto-five ‘whatever’ disposition, disinterested in visiting free contemporary art galleries, attending free artist talks or symposia, engaging in any forum of critical discourse or reading art magazines—the majority apparently disappearing into the ether of op shop suburbia. Within this dilemma has progressed the influence of the manual over the cerebral. That universities now offer postdoctorates in such byzantine pursuits as craft would seem both (intellectually) illogical and removed from twenty-first century art reality. But South Australia seems to excel in this deviation, confirmed and highlighted by the predominance of such practitioners representing South Australian visual artists on the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for more than two decades. Like the apparent abandonment of “education”, past attributes of “quality” and “excellence”, both in policy and in public cognisance have been eschewed for more family-favourable, sociallyaccessible and so-called non-elitist affections, precipitating repetitive (but well resourced) mediocre and populist art-lite. Is it any wonder that domestic and national online print media now locate“Art”subordinate to “Entertainment”, and list it last after “Television”? The greatest undulation in the visual arts landscape has been VACS, the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy announced by the Howard government in 2003. About this I have written before in these pages. But it needs to be echoed in this context that South Australia was “dudded”, (apparently a bureaucratic terminology) by both domestic and national duplicity. Similar to the recent Gillard government school funding proposal, VACS was an exemplar in eastern States shark feeding frenzy over money —South Australia’s allocation was per capita based, the lowest mainland distribution. VACS was conceptually size-ist, effectively the rich became richer and the poor became poorer, with a purely (singular nationwide) South Australian coup de grace of political whimsy that saw the “visual arts” and “craft” inverted in the distribution equation, after “indigenous”. Placed third in the queue of ‘not much’ would appear opprobrious within the premise of “visual arts and craft”. That the ‘visual’ in South Australia has become the poor art medium over the past decade in comparison to its performing associates in practitioners, real money and infrastructure is a condition clearly not wanting to be recognised or discussed; with the messenger dispatched. It is only so many times that the pronounced eventualities of this malaise can be presented to the deaf ears of bureaucracy before South Australia can haughtily boast that all critically engaged visual artists, whose professional practice might be a threat to the inanimate equanimity of the Freds of Elizabeth, have finally voted with their feet. What is lost to those deaf ears is that this art made today, The Difficult Critically Engaged Elitist Contemporary kind, nurtured, presented and promoted by a tenuous, dudded platform of presenters, is the stuff of tomorrow’s State art gallery collection, the fabric of State cultural history that rewards—as “essential ingredients of a liberal-democratic society”—the citizens of the future. “The South Australian artist” who biannually appears in suburban coffee shops and pubs, of whom we are told there are more and more each year5, and increasingly resourced, does not make an eventual Australian representative in the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Ever. It is debatable that when the greater art landscape transformed after the turn of the Millennium whether “the South Australian artist” and fellow travellers realised it or not. What were once contemporary art spaces catering for the artist-membership that formed them, operating with either a sense of greater community or cabalistic reclusiveness, were required in the early 2000s to take on the lofty hallmarks of
Business and to operate at the highest administrational degrees of financial and artistic accountability. Gone were the laissez-faire days of supposedly being all things to all people, and having fun. The most outstanding feature of the visual arts in Australia over the past decade —its über-bureaucratisation—has taken on alarming proportions, clearly a condition that is becoming exponential. With such populist elements in the art landscape becoming more patent through the replacement of print media reviews and critique by corporate-sponsorship “news stories”, blithely resourced through autarchic spin-as-policy, and with an increasing resourcing focus on the monumental institutions on North Terrace since 2010,6 the true landscape for The Difficult Critically Engaged Elitist Contemporary kind of art is becoming imperceptibly precarious. Which in effect is to say the rich history of such kind of visual art in South Australia has a a questionable lifespan. In March this year the State government launched its new South Australian brand with expected high hauteur, being a logo in the origamied shape of Australia with the South Australia’s borders acting as a doorway to the nation, making “a bold statement about our place in Australia and our place in the world”.7 Either apocalyptically or presciently, the text occupying one of the ‘OPEN THE DOOR’ brand booklet’s pages states, “A doorway is a traditional symbol of hope and opportunity. In ancient times, when you crossed a temple’s threshold, you abandoned old ideas, concepts and plans for something new and better.” Regardless of which way the interlocutor considers its meaning, the story of Samson “eyeless in Gaza” might present some resonance here for the state of visual art in South Australia, much like these comments as constructive criticism, of an environment that historically prefers silent, timorous acceptance in all things, never giving its assent. Shoot the messenger? Notes: 1 The title has been loosely adapted from a quote by Huxley; “That all men are equal is a proposition which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent.” Like many other instances throughout South Australia, a result of anti-German sentiment during the First World War, the name of the northern Adelaide suburb of Klemzig was changed. Between 1917 and 1935, Klemzig was referred to as Gaza after the British victory in the Third Battle of Gaza in Palestine (1917), in which the Australian Light Horse played a significant role at Beersheba (see ‘Rethinking the possibilities of the monument in the face of histories of dispossession’, Broadsheet volume 42.1: 66-68). Through South Australia’s Nomenclature Act of 1935, the suburb reverted to name Klemzig, though the local football club kept the name Gaza (now Gaza Sports & Community Club) 2 http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/little-britain-star-matt-lucas-to-headline-newwinter-arts-festival-word-adelaide/story-e6frea83-1226652971907 3 http://www.advantagesa.com.au/news/general-news/adelaide-festivals-contribute-62-9-million-to-thesouth-australian-economy; accessed 20 May 2013 4 http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/will-the-next-don-dunstan-please-stand-up/storye6freabc-1226622923980; accessed 17 April 2013 5 See for example ‘Record number of artists registered for SALA Festival‘; http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/ entertainment/record-number-of-artists-registered-for-sala-festival/story-e6frees3-1226648165607; “The South Australian Living Artists Festival is set for a bumper year after a record number of artists signed up… Participating artists have risen almost 30 per cent…“; accessed 24 May 2013 6 As I write this today’s announcement “Premier, Treasurer and Arts Minister Jay Weatherill will allocate $18 million in Thursday’s State Budget to be shared between the Art Gallery, State Library, SA Museum, History Trust of SA and Carrick Hill Trust over four years... it would enable those institutions to pursue “blockbuster exhibitions” such as Turner from the Tate, which attracted more than 92,000 visitors over its 100-day run.” http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/budget-to-include-18-million-infunding-for-arts-institutions/story-e6frea83-1226656491998; accessed 4 June 2013 7 http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/jay-weatherill-launches-states-brand-in-lightand-sound-show-at-elder-park/story-e6frea83-1226591835952; accessed 7 March 2013. See also OPEN THE DOOR, “Our new brandmark clearly demonstrates we are the central doorway to the whole of the country”; http://www.brandsouthaustralia.com.au/; accessed 20 May 2013
This text is a companion piece to ‘Elvis has left the building but has Adelaide left the tent?’, Broadsheet 37.2, 2008: 106-9, a prescient critique of domestic aspects of the visual arts landscape, specifically the “white” nature of the Festival’s visual art and forum program over time and its attitude towards that program and the historical contemporary visual arts presenters. That was five years ago. The messenger survived.
Adelaide: an ecology of big builds and small moves
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TIM HORTON Standing on level 12 of Roma Mitchell House on Adelaide’s North Terrace gives a commanding view from the Gulf to the Hills, sweeping north over the city, North Adelaide and the Riverbank precinct. Until recently one office on this floor had a yellow Tonka toy set arranged on the windowsill. If you got down on one knee, squinted and growled a low rumble, you could imagine these tiny toys building the Adelaide Oval. Maybe that’s what they were for. The renewal of this precinct is truly generational in its scope and scale, and this needs to be acknowledged. That so much work is being concentrated on a single precinct is also incredibly important for the city. Adelaide’s sprawl has meant that a lot of new infrastructure goes unnoticed; dissipated over our gigantic footprint and lost in the clutter of overhead wires, giant roads, car yards and screaming discount signs. The big build, but... As if another roll call was needed, the inventory of major works between Port Road to the city’s west and King William Street—which runs down the centre of the CBD—is impressive. Starting from the west, a new park has grown where a SA Water depot once stood. The new hospital, which landed with a bump on our evening news and struggled to gain the credit it deserves now, has six cranes at work. South Australia’s Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) is shaping up to be one of the great homegrown architectural works of the last few decades (credit Woods Bagot). Across Morphett Street Bridge, another Woods Bagot design takes shape. Stage 1 of the Convention Centre expansion was designed to represent the folding, sedimentary forms of the Flinders Ranges (a connection deep inside the greenbelt, to the red earth beyond). Stage 2 is on the drawing board. When this project was first announced, it was flagged as the renewal of ‘Riverbank’—literally where the square mile meets the serpentine River Torrens. Odd then that the funding was for the Convention Centre alone. Worthy as that is (the centre is not only a major business, but has an awarded program of sustainability from food to energy to water), ‘Riverbank’ implied major investment in fixing what has plagued the area for so long; poor pedestrian connections, cluttered sightlines and a lack of, well, reasons to be there. The Adelaide Oval and its connecting footbridge (oddly enough, funded out of the Convention Centre budget—go figure) will connect to the Festival Centre, with links to the train station, hotels and the casino. And, it’s hoped, a ribbon of eateries springing from where the footbridge lands, to just shy of the boat sheds to the west. The Riverbank master plan (led by ARM) hinted at connections beyond the precinct to Bank Street, to the Lion Arts Precinct and iconic Jam Factory, and east to ensure pathways along the Torrens and beyond. These connections are crucial and still forming. Bank Street, recently dressed up as an ‘activation project’, misses the point completely. Those of us who see design as how something works, not (just) how it looks know that Bank Street’s quaintist street furniture actually make the challenge of getting 30,000 people from the Oval to cafes and bars in the city that much harder. Not just because the street has been narrowed, but also because the work fails to make safe the narrow footpaths and—inexplicably—chooses to retain the street’s gutters guaranteed to trip up the unsuspecting football fan. Let alone thousands of them. Start budgeting now for retrofits in 2014, I suggest. This isn’t intended to be a spruik for the ‘big build’, nor a criticism of it. More something that puts into context the need for us to prepare now for how we make this huge investment work. And it’s probably best described as a cultural overlay. And here, culture isn’t intended to conjure the big-ticket festivals and events, but a more embracing definition. During work on a (yet to be released) integrated cultural campus master plan —originally scoped to extend from Kintore Avenue to Frome Road, and North Terrace to the Torrens—landscape architect Kate Cullity introduced the idea of the precinct as a place rich in a kind of cultural ecology. Thinking like this shifts our preconception of a city as physical infrastructure alone with a more nuanced understanding of what and why we choose to build at all. Cultural ecology embraces the physical world and its characteristics, the behavioural instincts of its people, and the study of the relationship
Pages 126-27 : Aerial view of the North Terrace precinct
between people and their environment. A cultural study. A study of culture. Where human behaviour is not separate from its environment, but fused with it. It is this thinking we need to adopt if anyone wants the ‘big build’ to work in the longer term. Remember, big builds have failed in the past. Utter “Docklands” to anyone with a working knowledge of urban regeneration and a cold chill sweeps the room. The big build is a crucial catalyst for us to lever. So how? The small moves Now the build is underway, we must work at cultivating a finer grain connected to the cultural drivers of the city delivered in the many smaller linkages and connections between large-scale gems of fine architecture. And it needs to be more than the ‘pop up’, but something deep and supported in the longer term and outside the constrained world of bureaucracy (which, by the way, isn’t exclusive to government). Step one is to view the projects as connected. This is one reason the Integrated Design Commission started planting the concept of ‘Bowden to Hackney Road’1 in minds, and why we kicked off the Riverbank master plan in the first place—what you call “something matters”. It shapes how we think of the problem and the scale at which we seek to solve it. The other reason is just simply that thirteen portfolios of Cabinet have a controlling interest in the area between Bowden and Hackney Road, and whenever we’re planning around these small fiefdoms we’re doomed to failure. These interests include small legacy land holdings that no longer make sense — easements held by the railways; oversight bodies that now spend their days sharing mechanical plant. Viewing all these projects as a single vast precinct may not sound like rocket science, but it’s become an important organising principle for Renewal SA, now tasked to deliver and the Office for Design and Architecture SA, which still holds the intellectual torch for this integrative thinking inside State government. With this work continuing (quietly, too quietly), the danger is that ‘cultural types’ view themselves as exclusive to their own cohort, institutions or precincts. Or that they are allowed to be perceived as an exclusive cohort by decision makers. Culture is more than high style art and opening nights. Art is more than just something that ‘challenges’ us. This line is too glib for the deep economic and social value it delivers to young and emerging practitioners finding their way as participants in the economy of a place, or established practitioners who have refined technique through decades of practice. Culture exercised at the scale of Bowden to Hackney Road, and fuelled by the native drivers of a place can embrace the historical as much as the emerging. In Adelaide, local cultural drivers include an emphasis on making and manufacture (we value outcome over concept), landscape and environment (scarcity and abundance) and a culture of knowledge and improvement (embedded in the founding ethos of the province). The demonstration Just as the Torrens Riverbank precinct is a nexus of land and water, grid and free form, secular and spiritual, sport and arts, any cultural overlay to this precinct must also be an intersecting point—transdisciplinary and experimental. Ancient Kaurna stories meet savvy urban informatics. The University of Adelaide’s advanced photonics become the prism through which Torrens water quality is made visual, reactive and interactive. Electrified rail infrastructure (the poles and wires) becomes an artscape with responsive lighting; rippling welcome as evening trains pull in. Technology as culture. If only. Cultures are rehearsed collectively, in public view, such as when the Art Gallery of South Australia mounted Allegoria Sacra by AES+F in giant widescreen on North Terrace for thousands to see on a hot summer’s night; the sort of night Adelaide does so well—the evening air matching the
temperature of bodily organs—dissolving visceral boundaries as well as the social. Invited VIPs and passing couples with prams jointly suspended the world around. (As it wrapped, a senior civic leader walked past shaking his head as if saying, “I don’t get it, I don’t get it.” His partner wiped away tears, rolling her eyes as if she was taking him home to explain it all). The installation of George Popperwell’s enigmatic work Untitled (2012), for the IBIDEM project in front of the Art Gallery of SA’s doors, and in the path of travel of students, visitors and tourists was with the same intent; to insert the output of creative practice into activities of daily living, whether you asked for it or not. There will be questions about how to fund this cultural overlay, let alone deliver it. In entering this discussion it’s important to understand the value of promoting a city’s cultural ecology, and why we do it. Cultural enterprise builds a city’s capability for innovation, which in turns grows the economic potential of a place—different to tourism for example. Tourism may be a driver of the State economy but it doesn’t add to the cultural ecology or value of a place. It’s not an inherent driver of differentiation. Its contribution is economic but rarely more. When talking about building cultural ecology, tourism is an inert gas. Tourism is important, but the best way to grow tourism is to grow local cultural enterprise, which is often the primary pull factor. It’s the difference between flying in for the footy final, and staying for a week either side. Work done for the Integrated Design Commission by SGS Economics showed that culture-led renewal delivers a return of 10:1. More recently, work published by the Art Gallery of SA showed a 3:1 return. Cultural and creative enterprise is a serious player in the economic development game. And when size is not your thing, differentiation certainly needs to be. Cities and States are realising this faster than we are. City of Sydney’s very public engagement to develop a city cultural policy is matched by the New South Wales government announcing it will move to do the same—in collaboration. I propose that the next Capital City Committee considers the same for Adelaide and South Australia. Who’s with me? As an architect, I believe the ultimate aim of policy and engagement is to define a shape and cadence to the environment we build around us. Ultimately this environment enables, or inhibits, how and where we meet, the things we do as a shared experience. This shared experience —rehearsed regularly—is the making of culture. The more enabling and supportive the environment in which this shared experience occurs, the more healthy and self-generating the culture becomes. Croydon’s Queen Street footpaths—like Sydney’s Surry Hills or a mini-Fitzroy in Melbourne —with its small fronted, east-facing shops that catch morning sunlight and offer an idiosyncratic mix of quality furniture, handcrafted food and vintage clothing is the enabling framework for the culture of Saturday morning brunch crowds, lazy browsing and indulgent purchases. A quiet dribble of cars slowed by paved streets helps too. Culture is the story of people and their environment. Good culture generates desirable experiences, which generates capital. Culture is always assumed to be healthy. “We need to be more cultured”. “She’s so cultured”. But culture can also be counter-productive; culture can even be destructive. Culture can be broken. How do we ensure the culture we allow to define our future as a city is healthy, enquiring and creative? By remembering that human behaviour is not separate from its environment, but fused with it. And by constantly working to support and nurture creative enterprise, art and design practice—not so it can titillate us for a brief time on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but because it makes smart economic sense for a city. Bowden to Hackney Road is where it starts. Note 1 The City of Adelaide is ringed by parklands—the outer edge of which is then ringed by roads and the ‘inner metro’ councils of Prospect, Walkerville, Norwood Payneham and St Peters, Burnside, Unley, West Torrens and Charles Sturt. Bowden is a former industrial site once owned by electrical manufacturer, Clipsal and is Adelaide’s flagship urban renewal project—bigger in scale than Sydney’s Carlton United Brewery site, but with a similar past. Bowden lies to the north-west of the CBD, and Hackney Road to its east. Connecting the two is the River Torrens; along which sits iconic institutions of Adelaide—the Adelaide Oval, the Festival Centre, universities and Botanic Gardens, the Zoo, convention centres, hotels etc. The greatest concentration of major business, cultural and sports venues in the country
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The corporeal and spiritual connection that we have with place Heartland: emotion, spirit, resilience and originality
Broadsheet editor Alan Cruickshank, and assistant editor Wendy Walker, discuss with Art Gallery of South Australia project curator Lisa Slade, her exhibition of South Australian artists Heartland (co-curated by Nici Cumpston) BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: The Art Gallery of South Australia’s history of presentation of contemporary South Australian artist exhibitions of magnitude and substance over the past decade (and more) has been limited. Discounting annual SALA Festival presentations as inapropos, Chemistry: Art in South Australia 1990-2000 was presented in 2000 (from the Collection), and surveys of Hossein Valamanesh and Anna Platten were presented in 2001 and 2012 respectively. Heartland, in presenting “the distinct visions of contemporary artists… in response to the state of South Australia” has as its genesis “an attempt to articulate the corporeal and spiritual connection that we have with place”, has all the appearance of a very ‘South Australian’ concept with its focus on “land”, “heart”, “spirit”, qualities seemingly quite abstracted in the self-absorption of the urban rush of the city—and why this, given the broad domestic panorama of universal ideas that has not been engaged over time by such major domestic AGSA presentations? LISA SLADE: I’m fascinated to hear that you feel “land”, “heart” and “spirit” are particularly South Australian concerns. I believe that these qualities preoccupy many Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous; those living in the bush or city or in the interstices. I also think these qualities have underpinned other exhibitions, both from the Art Gallery of South Australia—the surveys of artists Antony Hamilton (1984) and Hossein Valamanesh, and the more recent Desert Country (2011), curated by Heartland co-curator Nici Cumpston, spring to mind, but also many exhibitions interstate. The fifty artists included in Heartland1 all have a relationship with South Australia on some level, many have always lived and made art here while for others such as Kate Breakey, Stewart MacFarlane and even Yhonnie Scarce, their experiences in South Australia represent the crucible of their art making practice. Some have drawn on recent experiences and the role of the residency emerges as a pivotal one. Yhonnie Scarce for instance participated in the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal artists’ residency at the University of Virginia and her experiences working in their glass studio became the fulcrum for her Heartland work. The provision of artist’s fees enabled many of the artists to make new work. With Ian North and Wendy Fairclough existing works have been brought together for exhibition for the first time in South Australia.
The AGSA’s presentation of contemporary art has been transformed by Director Nick Mitzevich and his passionate engagement with the art of our time has changed our working practices. In curating this exhibition, Nici Cumpston and I were responding to recent exhibitions of South Australian contemporary art, including CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New in 2010, an exhibition of magnitude and substance with a constellation of twelve venues showcasing the work of forty four artists, and the return of CACSA Contemporary 2012: New South Australian Art), albeit on a much smaller scale in 2012. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: The fact that the AGSA has staged few exhibitions of specifically South Australian contemporary art has often been the subject of extended discussion. Solo survey shows aside, the last major exhibition was Chemistry: Art in South Australia 1990-2000 as stated above. Three of the artists from Chemistry are also featured in Heartland (James Darling, Angela Valamanesh and Hossein Valamanesh). The selection of artists in Heartland seems highly eclectic, the result (I surmise) of your curatorial resolve to “traverse media, age, gender and culture”. What connects all these artists to the central premise of the exhibition? LISA SLADE: Heartland is not posited on a single principle or argument. To extend the ‘heart’ metaphor, the conceptual linkages between works of art are arterial and the downstairs temporary exhibition spaces are conceived as chambers through which connections (made by the beholder) flow. Heartland offers an embodied experience, one where sound is employed in the work of James Darling and Lesley Forwood (through a collaboration with sound artist Philip Samartzis), in the moving image work by Angela Valamanesh and Hossein Valamanesh with their son Nassiem, and in the installation by Tjala artists from Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Furthermore, the beholder is
actively engaged in making the work with artist Annalise Rees who creates a provisional space for the viewer to become maker. The fifty artists reach across generations and cultures. Amy Joy Watson, being one of the youngest artists, has a studio at the artist-run-initiative Fontanelle. On a material level, I can’t imagine any selection of contemporary artists being anything other than eclectic, given the myriad practices with which contemporary artists engage. Having said this, there are points of convergence across the exhibition—these include an engagement with nature (an arboreal motif recurs through Heartland and has been selected in the graphic treatment for the exhibition) and an interest in object-based installation. My impression of South Australian contemporary art before moving to Adelaide was that there is a strong spatial practice here and an experimental approach to materials. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: Having stated that art from Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands—the ancestral heart of this country—occupies the centre of the exhibition, you add that the “aspirations and enthusiasm of the Tjala artists extended [your] curatorial ambition”. Can you elaborate on this? LISA SLADE: Art from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands was always going to be included in the exhibition—the art centres in the South Australia’s north-west are home to some of the State’s most exciting practitioners and recent exhibitions like Desert Country had presented an overview of the burgeoning community art centres. The initial funding application included the work of Hector Burton from Amata who was, at the time of writing, initiating along with other senior cultural law men and women some fascinating curatorial projects. These projects involved
many Tjala artists (men and women) and brought together painting and sculpture. Initially, we considered selecting exemplary work from across the APY for inclusion in Heartland, but after visiting Amata and meeting so many artists who were interested in being involved across myriad art forms, we decided to work closely with one community and to engage them actively in curating their own component of the exhibition. The outcome of this relationship includes an installation comprising painting, photography, video and sculpture, but also language and song. While we were in Amata in 2012, Wawiriya Burton started painting Ngayuku Ngura (My Country). Sitting in the centre of the painting, she worked centrifugally, as many desert painters do, and the work emerged as a type of arterial map containing the heartlines of her country. This work has become a type of curatorial talisman. The exhibition title is now part of Anangu parlance and is referred to in the art centre as Ngura Kurunitja (translated as “heart and soul of the country” in Pitjantjatjara). We see the use of Pitjantjatjara as an integral aspect of the Tjala component of the exhibition and have included it wherever possible. To do this is to honour the country’s true heartland. BROADSHEET/ALAN CRUICKSHANK: “Heart land”, while suggesting “many things to many people”, in this instance “connecting the heart and the land”, might also be viewed as the greater urban realm, Sydney’s western suburbs for example (with a population twice that of Adelaide), or Adelaide’s 80km suburban sprawl from Aldinga Bay in the south to Two Wells in the north. In Singapore the government constantly refers to its “heartland” when addressing its suburban constituents who occupy an area the size of greater Sydney. Apart from a small number of urban artists, “heartland” here seems to have more of a connection with the rural in “place”, at least demonstrated by the domiciles of the majority of artists.
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Page 129: Ian North, Felicia 22 (Yorke Peninsula), 1976 Photo courtesy the artist Page 130: James Darling, Lesley Forwood, Country (detail), 2011 Photo courtesy the artists and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide Page 131: Paul Sloan, Untitled, 2012 Photo courtesy the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide Opposite: Paul Sloan, Planet Caravan, 2013 Photo courtesy the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide Right: Angela Valamanesh, Hossein Valamanesh + Nassiem Valamanesh, What Remains? (video still), 2012 Photo courtesy the artists, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide and BREENSPACE, Sydney
LISA SLADE: We liked the suggestive connotations of Heartland—its frequent use to describe for instance, places like western Sydney, home to around ten percent of the nation’s population and as such, a political tipping point. The word is also frequently used in the United States of America to describe a concentration of values and beliefs, and often carrying the connotations of a hermetically sealed society—even one that is insular or self interested. We like the provocation of this—it speaks to the contradictions inherent in the state—closest in many ways to the heart of the country and yet isolated from east coast concerns. Of course the word’s semantic offerings (containing other words like heart, land, hear and art, opening up like a series of Russian dolls) enchanted us. Heartland offered a nomenclature for bringing together a range of practitioners and for engaging broad audiences, in asking them to consider or reflect upon their own heartland. Not tethered to landscape, many of the artists reside in Adelaide (reflecting the State’s demography) but their work engages with locations or experiences beyond the city. We would like to think that the term has equal appeal for city, suburban or rural audiences. The ocean finds its way into the exhibition too with the large installation of coralline pelts, printed by Fleurieu Coast artist Chris De Rosa. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: You begin your catalogue essay for Heartland with a discussion of the various implications—semantic and otherwise—conveyed by the exhibition’s title giving the impression that the written component of an exhibition is important to you. The catalogue, which accompanied the 2012 Adelaide Biennial Of Australian Art: Parallel Collisions included contributions from an author, a poet, academics, art writers, curators and artists. What has been your strategy with the texts for Heartland and the importance of the catalogue within the overall project? LISA SLADE: The catalogue is another arm of the project, one that will hopefully reach audiences who haven’t had the opportunity to experience the exhibition. Both Nici Cumpston and I value the art of writing and wanted to find a place for this in Heartland. Inviting authors located in South Australia and beyond to engage with artists has been an exceedingly rewarding aspect of the project. Many of the writers, such as John Kean, Gerry Wedd, Nicolas Jose, Domenico de Clario and Frank Young for instance, bring their sense of this place (their experience of South Australia) to their writing. They also bring a panoply of possibilities for art writing—art writing as social action, poetry or personal memoir. The art of introducing artists to writers is something we, as curators, hold in high value—in some instances the artists and writers were well acquainted (Stewart MacFarlane and Nicholas Jose attended school together in Adelaide in the 1970s) but in other cases (Kim Buck and John Kean) we were able to incite a relationship of mutual benefit. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: With the staging in Sydney of John Kaldor’s 13 Rooms, performance art has become newsworthy. In an interview with Kaldor, Museum of Contemporary Art Director Elizabeth Ann McGregor noted the growing number of younger Australian artists drawn to performance art. It was interesting that curators Hans Ulrich Olbrist and Klaus Biesenbach did not include well-known Australian performance artists in 13 Rooms, choosing instead the young and relatively unknown duo Clark Beaumont from Brisbane. Did you consider performance art (either live or as moving image) as part of Heartland, as there are a number of such artists in Adelaide?
LISA SLADE: Personally I don’t see this as a recent development. Australian artists have always been drawn to performance art and perhaps the spatiotemporal and its relationship to the body reflects an Australian sensibility? In Heartland there are several works that engage both the body of the artist and the body of the viewer. All of the work has a performative dimension and this of course extends to the curatorial process. For each of the works by the Tjala artists, there is of course inma (ceremonial performance) involved and it is not uncommon for the artists to sing and dance their work into the exhibition space. The most monumental work River to Ocean by James Darling and Lesley Forwood certainly has a performative aspect, captured via time lapse photography, of the artists and their family recreating the mouth of the Murray and its surrounding topography (including the Coorong) in mallee roots, sand and salt. We have attempted to reframe the traditional static mode of exhibition making to include temporary and temporal components both in the exhibition and in the public programs, all of which are free to the public to maximise participation. BROADSHEET/WENDY WALKER: Since there are many South Australian artists of substance not included in Heartland, is it likely to be the first in a projected series of exhibitions of similar magnitude? LISA SLADE: We made a conscious choice not to include the artists selected for other exhibitions funded through the same source.2 Many of these artists and more were on our long list and we will be keeping a close eye on their development. We would love Heartland to be the first of many such exhibitions. The source through which the exhibition has been funded unfortunately no longer exists. Without additional support, it is unlikely that the AGSA will be able to stage in the near future an exhibition of this scale that supports the creation of new work. Of course the AGSA will continue to champion the art of the State—Nick Mitzevich is committed to contemporary art—visitors will continue to experience South Australian art alongside national and international contemporary art. Notes 1 The artists are Kate Breakey, Kim Buck, James Darling and Lesley Forwood, Wendy Fairclough, Stewart MacFarlane, Ian North, Annalise Rees, Chris De Rosa, Yhonnie Scarce, Paul Sloan, Angela Valamanesh, Hossein Valamanesh, Amy Joy Watson; Tjala artists from Amata—Hector Burton, Steven Burton, Wawiriya Burton, Unrupa Rhonda Dick, Maureen Douglas, Ronnie Douglas, Willy Kaika, Nyurpaya Kaika-Burton, Tjampawa Katie Kawiny, Anistene Ken, Frida Ken, Ilawanti Ungkutjuru Ken, Ray Ken, Sandra Ken, Senena Ken, Sylvia Ken, Tjungkara Ken, Rene Kulitja, Paniny Mick, Barbara Moore, Mary Pan, Kukika Tiger, Rini Tiger, Kantanari Nancy Tjilya, Mick Wikilyiri, Nita Williamson, Ruby Williamson, Susan Williamson, Stanley Windy, Yaritji Young; and artists from Ernabella—Niningka Lewis and Tjunkaya Tapaya 2
Arts SA’s now defunct New Exhibitions Funding category; those exhibitions being Tough(er) Love, curated by John Neylon and Crystal Palace curated by Lisa Harms for Flinders University Art Museum
The Samstag effect Catherine Speck American artist Gordon Samstag was appointed to the staff of the South Australian School of Art in the 1960s to bring an international perspective to a provincial outfit. He was not the only one: a raft of others were appointed in those years, including Canadian painter Jo Caddy, Scottish potter Alex Leckie, fellow American Charles Reddington, European printmakers Karen Schepers and Anton Holzner, and painter Udo Sellbach. Samstag only stayed a decade or so, teaching painting from 1961-1972, and he is best remembered for the pool parties he used to throw for his painting students complete with drink waiters. But the experience of living and working in Australia, away from the cultural centre of New York, set in train a bequest based on the modernist vision of travel and expatriatism, and underpinned by the American tradition of philanthrophy. In the early 1930s Samstag benefited from the generosity of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany awarded scholarships to up-and-coming young artists for live-in summer schools at his residence, Laurelton Hall, at Oyster Bay on Long Island. This select group of Tiffany scholarship holders was small, usually about fifteen, and visiting artists gave the scholarship holders critiques.1 Samstag was schooled then in the American regional style of magic realism. But this was not Gordon Samstag’s only award, he had earlier received a Pulitzer Travelling scholarship which funded his time in Paris at the Academie Calarossi in the late 1920s. This move was an almost obligatory step for young Americans before the First World War, and as Alexander Calder said, “Paris seemed the place to go, on all accounts of practically everyone who had been there, and I decided I would also like to go.”2 Samstag therefore was only too aware of the need for artists to travel, and how necessary it was to go abroad “to free oneself of the burden and constraints of a culture, a social milieu, a family history”; and that a time of temporary exile, “imposes a sense of otherness” that engenders “energy and creativity”.3 He experienced the high modernist engagement with internationalism that Raymond Williams has talked about as “the elements of strangeness and distance, indeed alienation”, which engender innovation for artists, writers and thinkers where “the only commonality available to them [was] a community of the medium; of their own practices”.4 That expatriate experience, funded by Pulitzer, was Samstag’s own life story. It created the backdrop to the scholarship scheme he devised as his lasting contribution to what he perceived as the isolation of young Australian artists. He was quite precise about how it would work. His Will set out that: “It is my intent that the income of the Fine Arts Trust shall be made available to fine arts students from Australia so that they may study and develop their artistic capacities, skills and talents in New York and its vicinity, or elsewhere outside of Australia.” He wanted artists to travel and study, for an extended period of a year, not in short-term residencies, and his bequest would fund tuition fees, airfares and a generous stipend. While that modernist vision of expatriatism and travel has been overtaken by globalism in all its forms, and a much greater engagement with artists in our own Asian neighborhood, one element has remained constant—our geographical distance from Europe and America. The much prized Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship open to visual arts graduates of five years standing has become an institutionalised form of globalism. It has been operating since 1993, there are now one hundred and twenty-six recipients, and the alumni point to some very astute choices by the judges, including Daniel von Sturmer, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell who went on to exhibit at the Venice Biennale (von Sturmer and Morton in 2007 and Gladwell in 2009), Kristian Burford, Julie Gough and numerous other success stories. Little wonder Roslyn Oxley refers glowingly to the Samstag program as the greatest initiative that has happened to Australian art.
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Writer and art critic Louise Martin Chew described in 2008 the line-up each year of the scholarship recipients as representative of “the temperature of contemporary art in Australia”.5 But what of the South Australian winners? One scholarship per year, according to Samstag’s vision, goes to a graduate of the South Australian School of Art, sometime more, and to date twentytwo percent of all recipients are from South Australia (the largest number, thirty-four percent going to artists from the more populous New South Wales). Some years after the scholarships were underway, Ross Wolfe as program director, predicted it would be difficult, if not impossible, to measure the success of the Samstag scholarships. He noted, “their future cultural impact is inestimable”.6 But is Adelaide, as the home and host of the program, and its wider cultural horizon unaffected? And is it so difficult to measure success? Internationalism is now mainstream cultural practice, and the Samstag scholarship opens up access to major networks and curators. Julie Henderson of the class of 2004 is one of many who had her work ‘noticed’ in this way. She recalls that, “because I was involved with the Glasgow School of Art, I was given the opportunity to put my work forward to curators over there and a pair of Swedish curators chose my work to go on and exhibit in Stockholm, and that exhibition Syncopations, showcasing works from institutions in the UK, went to Wetterling Gallery in Sweden”.7 Following her year in Glasgow, she spent another six months in Switzerland before returning. Others have not returned, and Michael Kutchbach, Kristian Burford and Tracy Cornish are just three of those working post-Samstag in major international centres, but who maintain contact. While these are Samstag exports for the immediate future, and that is to be expected, many others once back in Australia continue their exhibiting profiles overseas, while also showing in Australia. There are now twenty-eight Samstag scholars harking from Adelaide. Where are they, what are they doing, what profile do they have, and is Samstag’s philanthropic gesture impinging on Adelaide’s cultural scene? Without descending into parochialism, the question of the ‘boomerang effect’ is worth exploring. The answer is both interesting and complex. Three are now in influential positions as Studio Heads at the School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia —Julie Henderson is Head of Sculpture and Installation, and Paul Hoban is Head of Painting. Nicholas Folland is Head of Contemporary Studies at the Adelaide Central School of Art. Henderson and Folland each speak of the “confidence” the scholarship experience gave them as artists, which flows into their teaching. Henderson says because her work was affirmed overseas, she brought back “extra confidence”. She commented that; the style of work I make is not so common in Adelaide, so there was lots of positive feedback about the work I’m making which is more familiar to English audiences—I didn’t realise I was doing that—but that was the sense I got of it—that I had extra cachet, and I didn’t realise it living here.8 Nicholas Folland too speaks of confidence stemming from the Samstag scholarship, but more than that it is the authority that has come with it: “It validates what you do, people responded differently to what I put out there, they came to my work with faith. For a lot of people the difficultly is finding an audience, the Samstag immediately built that audience, whether they knew what I did or not, they knew that I had received the Samstag and they gave my work consideration and I’m sure that has influenced every opportunity I’ve received since then.” Also the knowledge gained from his time overseas seeps into his teaching, and how there are “lots of benefits to students in knowing about that the world out there. It helps to know the way the world is responding to what people are putting out there, and the way people are articulating their ideas and the things that they want to communicate.” But like Gordon Samstag, he detects that “in Adelaide there are a lots of students and artists [even now] who don’t seem to get out”.9
Paul Hoban, whose work explores the making of fundamental forms on the surface (skin) of paint, returned to Adelaide and is now Studio Head of Painting. He speaks in mixed tones of his Samstag experience at the Royal College of Art, London, where foreign students, placed in the sculpture studios at Battersea, had rare meetings with their studio tutors. But this had the singular advantage of leaving him to his own devices. It gave him time to mull over ideas, and his research-led practice has come out of this experience. The scholarship also changed his life in a fundamental way; he can now be experimental in his painting, rather than having to produce a less realised body of work in order to survive.10 Darren Siwes speaks of the significant changes wrought on his practice stemming from his time at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, and more broadly from his brush with class in Britain, and in turn how that experience keeps ricocheting through his subsequent photographic series. He commented recently, I could not have imagined at the time where my work was going to head, and how influential on my practice it was going to be. It was a significant catalyst in shaping the direction of my art today and the strength of it is just continuing on. The value I got out of it was immense and… it has got to be one of the most important things that has shaped my art and my future.11 His current series Mulaga Gudgerie, which extends his Oz Omnium et Rex Regina series, presents an indigenous Australian Queen as Head of State. In his heavily painted Aboriginal models, he is deliberately blurring the boundaries between what is real and what is surreal, and what is black and what is white. Beneath these dramatic effects, the issue of an indigenous head of Australia is not an ‘if’, but ‘when’. Deborah Paauwe too talks of the inestimable impact on her career of receiving a scholarship, which meant she could engage in further study “in the stimulating and challenging atmosphere of the London art world”. There she said, she “was forced (most agreeably) into pushing my work into at first, uncomfortable but ultimately richly rewarding territory”.12 Her base, also the Chelsea School of Art, attracted visiting influential artists every week who gave public lectures and one-on-one tutorials, and since returning the esteem flowing from the scholarship has brought her numerous invitations to participate in local, national and international exhibitions. Others also speak of the changes wrought on their practice by the experience. Sarah Crowest of the class of 2007, and now back in Australia, says she “was looking for an experience that would shift my thinking and practice, blow apart my habitual ways of working and give me time to think and research without predetermined outcomes”. She wanted “to place myself in a situation that was unpredictable”, so she settled on Maumaus Escola des Artes Visuais in Lisbon, Portugal, which at that time had no website and was somehow “very mysterious”. It played host to a diverse and fascinating range of visiting artists and theorists from all over the world. She says the experience was both “wonderful and terrible” and how, …being alone and at large in a strange city for a year without my usual home comforts and distractions, gave me extra time to reflect and see starkly the real nature of my practice… I had been working with video and planned to explore that further, but was stripped of the performative sculptural processes that had been my focus… I was opened up to all kinds of random but often old European influences. I somehow felt I gained permission to be old fashioned and use ‘proper’ art materials. I used, for the first time, large, deluxe sheets of watercolour papers and inks and old lithographs for collage. I had many works framed for exhibition (another first in my practice). Going away for a year and coming back enabled two totally fresh starts to my practice unencumbered by my habitually accumulated studio detritus. These breaks and spaces (both physical and psychological) are crucial for keeping the mind and practice agile.13
While there has been limited probing of the actual process of change by the Samstag program, there has been some in-house showcasing in Adelaide of what their artists have produced post-scholarship. The aptly titled Kindle and Swag travelling exhibition of November 2004 looked at the new work of seven alumni: Kristian Burford, Nicholas Folland, Timothy Horn, Deborah Paauwe, Nike Savvas, Megan Walch and Anne Wallace; as did their Colliding Worlds of May 2009, which featured the new work by Pia Borg, Nicholas Folland, Hayden Flower and Shaun Kirby, along with “extras” —Anna Platten and Patricia Piccinini.14 The most innovative profiling by far of the Samstag program in Adelaide was their Disclosures series which took place at monthly intervals between September 2003 and April 2004. These one-day events, staged in public spaces, were premised on the idea of surprise, and the six artists involved, all South Australian alumni, worked in a medium outside that of their usual practice. Deborah Paauwe’s Once in a lullaby consisted of a house made completely of balloons for a site in Elder Park in 2003. It was an ostensibly playful, tangible construction; but it was neither, and alluded to the darker side of childhood stories and games. Six artists, in all, were involved in these monthly events, the series was very well received, and at the time Ross Wolfe commented they were staged to give something back to South Australia. The most recent manifestation of this ethos is Simon Terrill’s Crowd Theory, one in his ongoing photographic studies of how people occupy space, and for this work it was Adelaide’s Victoria Square/ Tarndanyangga on an evening in February this year. Terrill is from the class of 2009.
For another vantage point of how Samstag scholars might be affecting South Australia’s cultural landscape we need to look beyond in-house exhibitions and events to even more high profile indicators. Sarah Thomas’ Chemistry: Art in South Australia 1990-2000, staged in 2000 by the Art Gallery of South Australia featured five recent Samstag scholars: Angela Valamanesh, Paul Hoban, Shaun Kirby, Zhong Chen and Deborah Paauwe. The scholarship had been going for seven years by then. A better measure though is the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, which aimed at “showing some of the most interesting, vital and challenging aspects of recent art”15. The brief from 1998 on is always to include senior as well as younger artists, although the commissioning curators inevitably apply a filter due to their self-selected theme and biases in terms of who is ‘in’. These qualifications aside, there is a strong crossover between the scholarship and the Adelaide Biennial. It commenced in 1990, the scholarship in 1993, and by 1998 in All This and Heaven Too curated by Juliana Engberg and Ewen McDonald, four scholars were included: Mehmet Adhil, Ruth Fazacklerly (both SAbased), Julie Gough and Anne Ooms. The 2000 Biennial Beyond the Pale, curated by Brenda Croft, featured Rea and Darren Siwes (SA); Converge: Where Art and Science Meet in 2002 bypassed Samstag alumni, while the Contemporary Photo-Media curated in 2004 by Julie Robinson featured Darren Siwes and Deborah Paauwe. Linda Michael’s 2006 Twenty First Century Modern included ADS Donaldson and Daniel von Sturmer; while Felicity Fenner’s 2008 Handle with Care again bypassed the alumni. Before and After Science curated by Charlotte Day and Sarah Tutton in 2010 included Benjamin Armstrong, Callum Morton and Michelle Nikou (SA); while 2012’s Parallel Collisions, curated by Natasha Bullock and Alexie Glass-Cantor, had Nicholas Folland as the only SA Samstag recipient, joined by earlier scholarship winners Shaun Gladwell and Marco Fussinato. On that measure, the Samstag experience is an entrée for some, but not all, in gaining selection in this South Australian survey of contemporary trends.
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The Contemporary Art Centre of SA’s CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New presented a wholly different profile of Samstag alumni. That exhibition focused exclusively on South Australian contemporary art, and included numerous scholars who made up twenty-three percent of participants including Andrew Best, Monte Masi, Julie Henderson and Bridget Currie. However, the picture changes with AGSA’s forthcoming 2013 exhibition Heartlands curated by Lisa Slade and Nici Cumpston, with Angela Valamanesh being the sole scholar in their thematic vision of South Australian visual culture relating to “land, heart and spirit”. There has been a steep decline in the awarding of scholarships since 2009. None were awarded that year due to a decision by the Trustees to preserve the trust funds given the economic severity caused by the Global Financial Crisis.16 Year-long scholarships recommenced in 2010, but given the rising costs just two are awarded each year, one of which goes to a South Australian artist. This in itself might suggest that aspiring artists with an eye to the future should move to and study in South Australia to be eligible. The University of SA though has been careless it would seem in not maintaining the nomenclature of the “South Australian School of Art” as a current Art School, rather than as an historic entity on its website. This is an issue since Gordon Samstag’s Will stipulates the scholarships will be transferred to New York’s School of Design should the SA School of Art cease to exist. This straightforward naming issue should be rectified on the new School of Art, Architecture and Design’s website. The cultural penetration of recent Samstag scholars to South Australian art is noticeably declining as there are now fewer of them. Fontanelle, a recent gallery addition to the domestic scene, has staged nine exhibitions since April 2012, and only two group shows have included alumni. For the AEAF, the picture is similar. Julie Henderson held a solo exhibition A Universe of Small Truths in 2012, which extended her Glasgow work, in which her “assemblage functions across mediums and like drawing, involves an immediate and sensory probing of spatial and therefore also durational fields”.17 Nicholas Folland also held a solo exhibition there in 2005 with Doldrum. Other alumni at the AEAF have been in group exhibitions: Nicolas Folland in a Build me a City, 2012; Matthys Gerber in Painthing, 2010; Sarah Crowest, To Give Me to Time (Adelaide and Mildura sites), 2010, and Angela Valamanesh, Duetto, 2010. The picture at the CACSA improves a little and alumni have been consistently programmed in group projects—Folland and Hoban were in Mentor Mentored2 in 2006, Crowest in Mentor Mentored3 in 2007, and Tim Sterling in Mentor Mentored4 in 2008. Christine Collins, Sally-Ann Rowland and Andrew Best were in Roadmovies in 2009, while Collins was included in two 2012 group projects Ibidem and CACSA Contemporary 2012: New South Australian Art, the former also presenting Craige Andrae. The aforementioned CACSA Contemporary 2010: The New New presented Andrae, Best, Collins, Folland, Henderson, Hoban, Masi, Paauwe, Rowland, Siwes and Valamanesh. Both Paul Hoban and Shaun Gladwell have had solo exhibitions: Gladwell in 2008 in In a Station of the Metro, and Hoban in 2009 with Paintskin (plus a monograph). Greenaway Art Gallery and Hugo Michell stage frequent solo exhibitions of Samstag alumni. The Samstag scholarship is a precious gift to South Australia. Sarah Crowest is one of many who articulated this as “something special for Adelaide. I always felt it to be something extraordinary for the aspiring students and artists of Adelaide... possibly their sole advantage over interstate colleagues”.18 It would be strategic for the Samstag program to make much more of the process of the change incurred by the scholarship experience—Nicholas Folland is one of several who speaks of changes to his practice he just didn’t expect. In 1999, he was faced with a totally new form of a constructed landscape in the Netherlands that caused him to reinvent his practice while there, and this continues. His recent sculptural incursion, Untilted (Jump-up), in AGSA’s Elder Wing as a part of Parallel Collisions extended his exploration of the material language of domestic objects, and their re-making in the landscape. His commission involved working in a gallery space, which, by its display, already prompts viewers to question
Page 134 top: Darren Siwes, Jingli Kwin (from ‘Mulaga Gudjerie’ series), 2013 bottom: Darren Siwes, Gudjerie Kwin (from ‘Mulaga Gudjerie’ series), 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide Opposite: Nicholas Folland, Untitled (Jump-up), (installation view Parallel Collisions: 2012 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia), 2012 Photo courtesy the artist and Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane
ideas of settlement. Folland extended this ethos via his installation of domestic glassware transported to the antipodes, and in playing with that antipodean inversion, the work was hung mostly sideways and upside down. More than that, the glassware itself offered a fractured view of other portrayals hung in that contested space of settlement. Adelaide-based poet and art critic Ken Bolton predicted in 2004 that the Samstag group would be distinctive for their “originality and promise”, and that they will go on to shape art history.19 While seeing out that prediction requires long term vision, it would serve contemporary culture if that process of change could be better explored. Certainly some of the South Australian cohort imbue local culture with that change. This is an extension of the Samstag brief, but one well worth exploring. Notes 1 Alice Cooney Freylinghusen, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006: 94; ‘Exhibition of art will open Sunday’, Buffalo Evening News, 24 April 1931; ‘Show by Oyster Bay Group’, 1931 (source unknown); ‘American-Anderson Galleries’, Art News, 7 November 1931: Edna Reindel file, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC 2
Alexander Calder, Autobiography with Pictures, New York: Pantheon, 1966: 76
Sophie Levy (ed.), American Artists in Paris, 1918-1939: A Transatlantic Avant-Garde, Giverny, University of California Press, Musée d’Art Américain, 2003: 16
4 Raymond Williams, ‘The metropolis and the emergence of modernism’, in Peter Brooker (ed.), Modernism/ Postmodernism, London: Longman, 1992: 91-92 5 Louise Martin-Chew, ‘Alternative realties’, The Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, University of South Australia, 2008, np 6 Ross Wolfe, ‘Foreward’, The Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, University of South Australia, 2004, np 7
Julie Henderson interviewed by the author, 17 April 2013
Nicholas Folland interviewed by the author, 23 April 2013
Paul Hoban interviewed by the author, 22 April 2013
Darren Siwes interviewed by the author, 30 April 2013
Deborah Paauwe to the author, email 2 May 2013
Sarah Crowest to the author, email 27 April 2013
14 See Wendy Walker, ‘The Samstag Legacy: The man, the program and the art’, Art Monthly Australia, April 2005 15 Daniel Thomas, ‘Foreward’, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: 1990, Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1990: 1; Ron Radford, ‘Foreward’, Beyond the Pale: Contemporary Indigenous Art, 2000 Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2000: 7 16 ‘Samstag scholarship moratorium’, www.unisa.edu.au/Samstag/news/april08.asp; accessed 28 April 2013 17
Julie Henderson, artist’s statement, www.aeaf.org.au/exhibitions/past.html
Sarah Crowest email, 27 April 2013
Ken Bolton, ‘New brew: export quality six pack’, The Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships, University of South Australia, 2004, np
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A new New Deal: greater emphasis on issues artistic could be sutured into the socio-economic fabric of the State Jim Moss The editorial intention of this text is to provide information on the condition of contemporary visual art in South Australia. Given that the ninety percent of all South Australians live in the greater metropolitan area of Adelaide, the focus is very much on art made in the city precinct. But this is not to negate the fact that most indigenous art is made in ‘country’, and that contemporary regional artists of all kinds have a significant role in the bigger picture of the artistic commonwealth of this State. By the condition of art one is led to think of both qualitative and quantitative analyses—how much is made and of what quality is the work? The short answer to these questions is, a lot, and very good. The longer answer, however, is considerably more complex and engages with much more than just the number and quality of works of art. A comprehensive answer to the question is also impossible in the scope of this text; it would have to accommodate a multiplicity of concerns, not to mention those things that might mitigate against the very production of contemporary art in this once upon a time Athens of the south. This is not to say that such an endeavour would be without purpose. It may in fact be that, or, something very akin to that which is needed to precipitate an artistically led revival of this State’s financial and spiritual economies. But before we go forward we must return, briefly, to the past. This writer first went to art school in Adelaide in 1968. Although, it was a beginning for him, 1968 turned out to be a very special year for the end of things. Marcel Duchamp died in that year and the last socialist revolution expired at the hands of the media. The revolution failed because the majority of people stayed home and watched it on television. The age of ideology had come to an end and the age of media had begun. In the avantgarde art headquarters of New York and London, the art object, “an entity of truly awesome ideological density”1 had also been placed under fairly intense interrogation. A shift away from the object of artisanal expertise as the primary focus of art discourse was, by the end of the 1960s, becoming evident, although, mainstream concerns were still fixated on the painterly object of desire. The Adelaide art scene was particularly active in Australia’s relatively short-lived flirtation with late modernist vanguard art, setting a sales precedent for locally produced art that has only ever been aspired to since. With a soaring GDP and new money from the Poseidon led mining boom, the domestic art market was very healthy. Galleries flourished and collectors were enthusiastic for what was considered genuine avant-garde Australian art. While the new painting was innovative and radical compared with the work of the previous generation, it was in fact based wholly on variations of established international styles and the artists, “were painting to a text. [A particular] style was an Anglicised version of New York School post-painterly abstraction: in Australia it was commonly called Hard-edge painting”2 and it was the house style of younger Adelaide artists, affecting not just painting but sculpture and printmaking.
The city’s reputation as a cultural venue had been established with the Festival of Arts and the city had become a national and international lure for artists many of whom taught at the South Australian School of Art in its custom-built premises in leafy North Adelaide. One well-known artist who moved from Sydney to the Fleurieu Peninsula for a time in the 1970s told this writer (with a completely straight face) that he felt much like Cezanne must have felt when he moved from Paris to Provence. And there was no sense of provincial cringe apparent when Bonython Gallery, Llewellyn Gallery and the Contemporary Art Society, amongst others, promoted cutting-edge local artists, many of whom were SASA affiliates or graduates. With the onset of the 1970s, threats to the viability of a paintingbased art practice appeared throughout the international scene and gallery based art was suddenly perceived of as being somewhat passé. Conceptually driven practices reflected an anti-establishment, anti-market sentiment in opposition to USA imperialism and the Vietnam War. The election of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972 and the subsequent establishment of the Australia Council offered a new deal for artists who were no longer producing traditionally desirable objects but who were operating in a largely experimental field of expanded signifying practices. The federal Labor Government also took over responsibility for tertiary education, an end result of which saw the South Australian School of Art uprooted from its bohemian dreaming and banished to an educational gulag smack bang in the cultural Siberia of the western suburbs. Duchamp’s pigeons had finally come home to roost. While location may be everything in market terms, during the 1970-1980s location meant stuff all when it came to inventing art. If anything, the SASA produced the most successful bunch of graduates ever during its twenty-year stint at Underdale. However, by the time the School had re-located back to a city precinct the rise and rise of corporate power in the 1990s including, of course, the emergence of consumer capitalism in China, saw smaller art centres like Adelaide (and, dare I say it, Australia) reduced to spectator status, watching from the side-lines for the next manifestation of visual arts super-stardom to emerge from the traditional art centres. These days, given the nature of global commerce, it is possible, with the financial backing of energetic entrepreneurs, to live and work in Adelaide and sell art in Venice, Dubai or Kassel. However, while there are many very good artists who reside locally, only a handful make a living from their art, and the primary reason for this is that there is no longer a domestic market of significance for most of the contemporary art that is produced in the greater Adelaide region. Thus, while this city’s reputation for firsts is acknowledged it has also gained an internal reputation as a place which artists have to leave if they are to achieve market success. From a qualitative point of view, this is somewhat puzzling for a city that, depending on which survey one reads, ranks between fifth and thirty-second of the most desirable cities in the world in which to live. But, from a quantitative point of view it’s more understandable; with a population of 1.65 million South Australia has only just over seven percent of the national population (Adelaide 1.3 million). South Australia generates approximately eight percent of the national GDP and receives a similar percentage of the monies allocated by the Australia Council.
But this is not as if Adelaide is not endowed with a visual arts infrastructure. There are three academy-style art schools, one of which offers postgraduate programs involving Masters and PhD candidates, for whom the studio is their laboratory. It’s a truism that the jury is still out on whether or not postgraduate research will make for more accomplished artists than their previous undergraduate forebears, although, it is clear that the hothouse environment of postgraduate studios stimulates critical engagement. Two of Australia’s half-dozen visual arts journals are published from Adelaide, Artlink and Contemporary Art+Visual Culture Broadsheet, both of which have pedigrees that stretch back three to four decades. The city has two publicly funded art spaces dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art—the Australian Experimental Art Foundation and the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, both of them ground-breaking organisations in their time and remaining state of the art organisations in the present. There are numerous commercial, institutional and independently funded galleries that specialise in showing a range of quality contemporary art practices; and via the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, the public is exposed to the work of some of Australia’s best contemporary artists. In addition, Adelaide also hosts the annual SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival, an exposition of South Australian art from all quarters of the aesthetic compass. Launched in 1998, it has proven to be increasingly popular. So, given that there is a visual arts infrastructure that belies the relatively small population base of the State, what mitigates against Adelaide being recognised, nationally and internationally, for excellence in the visual arts? There are a number of factors at play here but the overriding factor is that Adelaide is a minute entity in the spectacle of the international visual art scene. While there’s no shortage of quality artists and information upon which to base a professional engagement with the visual arts in Adelaide, the fact remains that the enormous market weight of northern hemisphere centres still determines what will be the ongoing intellectual and critical trajectories in the evolution of visual art. China’s emergence as a competing centre has tipped the scales somewhat away from the trans-Atlantic duopoly, but the latter still holds the bulk of the crucial historical heritage of art that lends a particular cultural authority to the Eurocentric discourse. To hold out that this city may one day be influential in determining market trends is to be off with the fairies; however, there is another way of visualising how Adelaide may indeed become further recognised as a city of artistic innovation. In 2010 the Contemporary Art Centre of SA hosted CACSA Contemporary: The New New, showcasing the work of forty four leading local artists commissioned specifically for the exhibition. Judging by the number of people who attended over the duration it was a blazing success with even a queue standing patiently outside in the rain on opening night! The setting was the gutted interior of a nineteenth century commercial building on North Terrace, a somewhat over the top environment for an exhibition space to which many of the works reciprocated in grand style. While The New New was a great success as an exhibition of contemporary art, in another sense it was less of a success than it could have been, through no fault of artists or organisers. Projects of this calibre don’t come around very often and the exhibition was not designed with a commercial return in mind, but it could have had greater longevity in the minds of the public had it been fully recognised for the cultural event that it was. For around a measly $100,000 the exhibition (or, at least a representative portion) could have been toured to regional centres in the State and been experienced by multiple times the number of people who visited it in Adelaide. In such a manner, the life of the exhibition could have been extended over a year or more and work that ended up tragically being destroyed simply due to lack of storage space may well have been relocated, temporarily or permanently, in any number of institutional venues across the State. To be fair, no request was made to fund a regional tour simply because no such publicly sourced funding is available. It is minutely possible the exhibition could have been re-badged and toured under the auspices of a corporate entity, but to arrange such an enterprise is way beyond the staffing and other resources of the organising body. Why a regional tour was never on the cards can be laid at the feet of bread and circus priorities.
The visual arts just do not have the kind of media profile that is enjoyed by muscley young blokes in shorts who spend a couple of hours in public every week fighting over a ball. To promote that spectacle is worth investing hundreds of millions of dollars and the transformation of the most beautiful cricket ground in the world into a generic arena (while there is a perfectly good arena for this purpose at suburban West Lakes). By comparison, that a regional tour of cutting edge South Australian contemporary art had absolutely no chance of happening due to a lack of available funds was a loss to people of the regions, to the artists and to the intellectual quantum of the State. While it is the case that Adelaide has public/private infrastructure for the promotion of contemporary art, the fact is that it runs on a shoestring.3 Publicly funded art spaces like the AEAF and the CACSA are funded to run sophisticated programs and to pay highly experienced directors and expert (but) skeleton staff, and to do this, each art space receives annually operational funding around the same as a State Cabinet Minister’s base salary. While this in itself is an issue that needs redress, the overriding issue is dealing with the ongoing tokenism directed at the visual arts sector rather than perceiving it as contributing to the socio-economic fabric of the State: and there’s no shortage of rhetoric coming from the government on this last point: In 2013 South Australia will be a place of acknowledged national leadership in the arts and where artistic practice, the creative process and our cultural institutions are valued as an integral part of our society, accessible to all and recognised as a key driver of our economy.4 However, the reality is that, Political leadership is often lacking. The post of minister for the arts is rarely seen as a plum job and often goes to a junior minister or is combined with far more time-consuming and politically sensitive portfolios… At state level the post is often the plaything of premiers or party apparatchiks attracted by the photo-op opportunities, opening night networking, or pet projects rather than the weightier questions of policy development.5 What’s needed is a model for government policy, one that has its origins in an economic context not dissimilar to that of our present time. The Great Depression of the 1930s has parallels with the current global economic crisis, although, the latter is more akin to the gradual fall of an empire. We hear every day of the increasingly dire nature of local and global fiscal crises. Both billionaires and bankrupt states are on the increase. The very rich are getting richer and everybody else is finding themselves worse off. The condition of capitalism has become acutely unstable and top-end heavy largely as the result of insatiable corporate greed. Australia, it seems, has been relatively shielded from the worst effects of the recent global financial crisis by the resources boom, although we’re now beginning to feel the cold winds of recession. Federally, the net debt is around $235 billion and South Australia has a debt somewhere in the range of fifty to seventy five per cent of the State’s income. Increasingly, South Australians are born into, live and die in the twin realms of public and private debt. Given the fact that the world’s biggest economy is seventeen trillion dollars in debt (to whom is not quite clear, but whoever it is, they’re stuffed as well) one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Karl Marx actually had a point. We are told economic growth is the only way out of the seemingly endless problem of recurring debt and the primary purpose of government, it seems, is to find ways of generating economic growth. However, herein lies a problem. There is a growing awareness that economic growth is in fact the worst thing for the planet. The state of global ecology is pretty similar to the state of global capitalism—it’s in crisis. The only way of slowing ecological degradation is to reduce the drive for economic growth: or, to be more precise, to reduce the kind of economic growth that pollutes and degrades the environment to levels from which it will not recover. In response to this seemingly intractable problem it’s naive to assume that the arts hold the key to a sustainable economy, although, there have been a plethora of studies focusing on the potential for
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economies that are sustainable and innovative and in which the arts play an organically inclusive role. Such studies are unanimous for the need to commit significant resources so as to embed creative fundamentals into the economic fabric of a society. Visual art, with its history of innovation and its genetic associations with visual culture, is an ideal conceptual platform from which to initiate something akin to a new, New Deal. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s was a means of re-igniting the economy of the USA, whereas the new deal advocated here is posited as a means of igniting artistically focused sub-economies that could find in-principle inspiration from that historical model. But what is required for a similar re-engagement to occur is recognition from all tiers of government that a dynamic visual arts ecology is not simply the happy result of an economy in surplus. What history has shown us is that the cultural potential inherent in visual art can be profoundly discovered and experienced in difficult economic times more so than in good. The State’s relatively small population and clearly defined city and regions, along with an established visual arts infrastructure makes for an ideal test-bed for promoting the visual arts and associated sectors in a relational experiment aimed at kick-starting a socio-economic trans avant-garde, designed to manifest and be experienced locally. All levels of government would be involved as would all levels of education: councils and schools across the State would be funded to employ artists and artists in residence; tax breaks would help to employ artists in retail and business and publicly funded arts spaces in metropolitan Adelaide would have regional annexes. An obvious area of artistic engagement would be to replicate the work undertaken by the artists who were funded by the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s, particularly in the light of recent cuts to visual arts funding to the State’s regions. There is no shortage of concerns that could warrant creative and documentary investigation—climate change insecurities, socio-economic inequalities and ecological degradation due to current levels of exploitation in primary and secondary industry leap to mind. Further to this, digital technologies now offer creative adjuncts to visual culturites that the old world could never have dreamed of and which may, indeed, provide a means by which marginalised groups everywhere can be seen and heard. Notions of what constitutes art and art practice have certainly changed since social realism set the aesthetic agenda of the 1930s. The Depression years were fixated wholly on the economic crisis of the time and how to ameliorate social conditions; and the art of the time reflected those concerns. In the present age we face not just the symptoms of a collapsing economic order, but also the ominous potential of a collapse in the ecological order of things. The point need not be laboured, but in a world of multiple crises the future trajectories of art, post Damien Hirst, can only go up in real value and down in price. While artistic innovation for its own sake has been an aesthetic standard for the past sixty years it has been floated principally in the guise of a luxury commodity, intellectually and materially. Art of the future will be tailored to more demographically localised concerns, going beyond mere institutional or individual acquisition and becoming something more akin to a system of exchange ranging from the need to accommodate the basic material, political and spiritual necessities of community life through to the development of clean, green sophisticated technologies. South Australia and its premier metropolitan centre may never have any particular influence on world art trends as they are currently formulated, although, the State has a reputation for innovation and art has always been driven by a desire for innovation. At present the South Australian community is relatively well insulated from the turmoil of much of what is reported from various regions on the planet, although our own backyard is incredibly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of what the future bodes, economically and ecologically. If we were to diversify, even only slightly, the search for resources away from primitive industrial concerns and more towards tapping wells of artistic ingenuity (a form of exploitation that would be welcome) the State may indeed raise the bar of artistic innovation, the ramifications of which could be profound: and all for a minimal fiscal outlay and zero carbon footprint.
Page 138: Walker Evans, Kitchen wall, 1936 Below: Arthur Rosenstein, Steer Skull, Badlands, South Dakota, 1936 Photos courtesy the Farm Security Administration, USA
The idea of a new New Deal as suggested here is clearly a high flying balloon6 and in need of considerable conceptual development, as to how a greater emphasis on issues artistic could be sutured into the socio-economic fabric of the State, while maintaining bureaucratic predilections to a minimum. That it can be done is obvious; but for it to be done would require the visionary leadership of a certain 1970s vintage, which, in this most conservative of times is an unlikely possibility. But, if it were to happen, it would set a national, even international benchmark as a model of artistic diversity that really would make South Australia, the State of Art. Notes 1 Victor Burgin, The End of Art Theory: criticism and postmodernity, London: Macmillan, 1986: 38 2
Christopher Coventry, The Wrong Place: Five Sydney Painters (exhibition catalogue), Tasmanian School of Art Gallery, 1985
3 The author does not pretend to represent the commercial gallery sector and has little knowledge of the commercial market for art in this State: the point being made here refers primarily to the situation of publicly funded arts spaces, and by correlation, to the situation of art school graduates 4 ‘Arts-The Heart of South Australia. Government and the Arts and Cultural Sector Working Together. Strategic Directions for South Australia, December, 2003’. Response by the South Australian Government to the key issues raised at the Arts Summit in July 2003 5
Ben Eltham, ‘The plan to provoke a profound shake-up to the arts’, crikey.com, 4 February, 2011
With apologies to Martin Jay
My comments here are privately held and originate from my professional capacity as lecturer in history and theory of art at the School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia. While I am also the Chair of the Board of the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, the publisher of this journal, these comments do not reflect in any way CACSA or Board policy.
Home truths: the idea of art as an experimental enterprise Donald Brook The Experimental Art Foundation was born in the basement of a disused jam factory nearly forty years ago. It now lives in a white box not far from my home in Adelaide, in South Australia. This is only a superficial proximity: some approximation to the truth about its name and nature is what matters. A CHANGE OF NAME The original name was so intimately related to its nature that it was mystifying to see it changed in 2009. The advice that names are only labels and not worth contesting was no consolation. If this had been true then the change was pointless. Obviously it matters. It is odd that the reasons why it matters, and the questions about how much it matters, have not yet been publicly addressed. Four of the founders lodged a protest in November, 2009.
Dear Foundation: We understand that the Experimental Art Foundation (of which we are the four most active original founders) has recently changed its name to Australian Experimental Foundation. In our opinion this is an error of judgment that should be rectified, for the following reasons. The concept of art that motivated the originators of the Foundation and guided the best of its subsequent development was universal, not local. In this respect Mr de Clario’s assertion in a note dated 1 October 2009 that ‘At this time [the time of foundation] it did not expect to be necessarily operating internationally’ contradicts the plain fact that the EAF was conceived as operating internationally of logical necessity, by virtue of the universality of its animating idea. This idea of art as an experimental enterprise, rather than as a skilfully or tastefully aesthetic enterprise, was challenging to conventional art world practices at the time and it has won a reputation for the Foundation that is internationally respected. The EAF has remained internationally distinctive under its original name for more than thirty-four years. The imputation of a specific locality (whether it is Adelaide or South Australia or Australia) is a fundamentally parochial manoeuvre that only adulterates the Foundation’s guiding principle. It is more likely to reduce than to enhance its influence and reputation. We are firmly of the opinion that a correction of this mistake should be initiated, and we seek publication of our note in your next newsletter, as a step in this direction. Most sincerely, [Signed by] Donald Brook, Herbert Flugelman, Clifford Frith and Ian North
A windily evasive correspondence followed, some of which was published months later on the Foundation’s website. Because no reversal of the action seems to have been contemplated an account of what is at stake is overdue. WHY IT MIGHT NOT MATTER A case of sorts for changing the name can be made. Comparison might be invited with two other names: the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art and the (subsequent) National Institute for Experimental Arts in The University of New South Wales, in Sydney. In these cases, however, the qualifiers “Armenian” and “National” are applied adjectivally to their respective institutions. There is no suggestion that they might serve as adverbial modifiers of the experimental art that characterises the domain of interest. It is just conceivable that the Experimental Art Foundation intended to re-name itself in a similar way, as the Australian Foundation for Experimental Art. But it did not do this. We may be told—but we have not been told—that if a mistake was made it was so trivially syntactical or grammatical that only a pedantic troublemaker would seize upon it. The point was simply to advertise the patriotic commitment of the South Australian institution in a way that would forestall any unfavourable comparison with the national affiliations of its Armenian and New South Welsh relatives. Many people will need no persuasion that affirmations of patriotic sentiment are commendable and deserve reciprocal appreciation. In spite of this I dismiss out of hand the suggestion that a calculation that a loosening of the federal public purse strings could follow is what motivated the EAF to put its hand on its heart in this theatrical way. Such cynical pragmatism as this cannot have displaced the founding idealism in fewer than four decades. The problem must be more serious. We need to ask whether a new and sincerely held conviction has emerged that the purpose of the Foundation is to nurture a distinctively Australian sort of experimental art for competitive deployment against the experimental arts of Armenia, Berzerkistan and other contenders for domination of the world stage. Are we contemplating an epiphanic conversion to the sort of cultural imperialism from which the EAF’s original alienation was part of its raison d’être? WHY IT REALLY DOES MATTER Dissent from the erroneous belief that the abstract noun “art” and the classificatory expression “works of art” are synonymous was implicit in the Foundation’s conception. The radical nature of this challenge should have been evident in, for example, the peripatetic survey of street manhole covers in the suburb of St. Peters that was undertaken as one of our earliest activities. It was not our contention that manhole covers are unappreciated works of art. Apostasy of this sort was the very reason why the EAF was so bitterly reviled by conservative art critics,1 whose minds were closed like bank vaults against the idea that the artworld may not be right about what art is. Curiously, everyone who is compelled to pay attention to this point can see it easily, but the moment the pressure is relaxed the light goes out. The truth is that we classify as works of art exercises of skill that are mostly artless, and some of which are not even remarkably skilful or admirable in any other way. We also recognise, and joyfully celebrate, the art that we occasionally find in objects and activities with no claim at all to classification as works of art. The authority of the artworld is built on the deflection of public attention away from this plain truth, and from its significance.
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The EAF’s awareness of the accidental and contingent nature of the relationship between art and works of art contrasted pointedly with the artworld’s fiction that this is a necessary, or tautologous, relationship. This fallacy is associated with the conviction that what distinguishes works of art from other things is their unique incarnation of an incomparably valuable essence that has been characterised as aesthetic goodness or as art quality ever since it became embarrassingly obvious that beauty was no longer up to the job. Generations of verbose aestheticians have failed to deliver any acceptable account either of what aesthetic goodness is or of why we should find it incarnated only in works of art. But my present concern is not with the bogus academic subject called “Aesthetics”. It is with the way the artworld has systematically conflated the meaning of the word “art” with the meaning of an entirely different word just because they are spelled in the same way. The first of these words is the one that names something really important, contrasting fundamentally with any exercise of skill or the practice of any craft.2 The other word, confusingly spelled in the same way, is the one that is used as a name of a class of which the members are works of art. Things qualify as “art” (that is to say, they qualify as members of the class of works of art) for all sorts of reasons, among which their occasional incarnation of art (using the other word) is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition.3 Conflation of these two words, taken together with the eager way in which the construction of national cultural policy has been embraced by the Australian artworld in a bond of common purpose, was the prospect against which the EAF turned its back. It is a marriage of convenience sustained by two convictions, of which the first is that every serious conversation about cultural evolution is fundamentally a conversation about art. This is absolutely true; but it is only absolutely true when the word “art” is correctly used without any reference to works of art. It is not true when conversation about cultural evolution is taken to be fundamentally a conversation about works of art. Art is the driver of cultural evolution, of necessity. Works of art play only an occasional, contingent and accidental role in cultural evolution. ‘THE ARTS’ The importance of works of art has been exaggerated by the artworld (to the huge advantage of investors) by associating the concept of creativity over-intimately with their production. This is a valid association only when creativity is conceived in terms of the unexpected discovery of new and imitable memes, and disassociated from the purposeful deployment of skills. Simultaneously with this inappropriately close association of creativity with works of art, the class of works of art has been elasticised to accommodate an ever-expanding range of objects and activities that the artworld would once have treated with derision. The name “The Arts”, as it is applied to this expanded class of objects, only partially mollifies the outrage of an artworld that still attributes incommensurable cultural significance to works of art, and it does this by deceitfully conflating the word “art” that names the discovery of new ways of participating in the world with the word ‘art’ that names the class of works of art. If we are to resist this error we shall need to find a classificatory principle for populating The Arts that makes no appeal to the putative ‘aesthetic goodness’ of works of art as its criterion, or to the artworld as the arbiter in disputed cases. It must also be a classificatory principle that enables us to distinguish the objects and activities that properly constitute The Arts from the objects and activities that are constitutive of other cultural domains such as The Sciences, Manufacture, Agriculture, and so on. There is an obvious solution to this problem. At least to a first approximation the name “The Arts” can be construed as a flattering way of speaking about the Entertainment Industries. These are the industries engaged in the production of items intended for relatively detached contemplation by relatively passive audiences. Application of this test gives us a reasonably clear and workable contrast with those industries that are dedicated to the production of items for practical, purposeful or instrumental use. It is true, of course, that such things as devotional pictures and statuary have practical uses analogous to the propitiatory submission of tax returns, but although this is a conceptually distracting consideration it is not fatal. I speak here only of a first approximation.
CULTURAL POLICY The domain of Entertainment is very like the childhood domain of play. It is the domain in which we adopt a detached and contemplative attitude and state of mind that gives us relatively unfettered access to new feelings, new insights and new ways of dealing with the world. Entertainment and play are prime sites of unsystematic learning and discovery. The relegation of works of art from their exalted status as incarnations of creativity to a proper role alongside all other forms of entertainment should be welcome. In this way we may start to distance ourselves from the mystical system of belief that has lifted the market value of works of art out of commensurability with the prices of other interesting collectables and transformed the sites where they are displayed into temples of worship. The popular mis-identification of The Arts with culture as it is spelled with a capital initial, as Culture, will not be easy to eradicate. It has always been well understood by anthropologists that the treatment of Culture as if it were a domain parallel to the domains of Science, Podiatry, Dairy Farming and Investment Counselling is a category mistake. It is quite inappropriate for a national government to make this mistake and to identify Entertainment (or The Arts) with Culture as if the other domains of national life were not cultural and as if creativity were not to be found elsewhere. The Arts (or Entertainment) is a domain with an entitlement to the benevolent solicitude of government for similar reasons and in similar ways to those invoked on behalf of every other industry. CREATIVITY IS EVERYWHERE I have pointed out that an excessive association of creativity with The Arts is related to the exaggerated importance attributed to works of art on the erroneous supposition that they are objects identified only by the artworld in an inscrutable way, by virtue of their aesthetic goodness. This is the hymn tune to which Simon Crean as (then) Minister for The Arts evidently composed the lyrics for his revised national cultural policy. The Australia Council will be a more responsive funding body with a new purpose to support and develop artistic excellence, distinctively Australian, wherever it is found and across the art forms as they develop in the 21st century.4 Had he commended the Council’s revised dedication to excellence, rather than to artistic excellence, parity with other cultural domains would have been preserved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence or with the impulse to promote it. His train of thought is derailed by a notion of artistic excellence borrowed from artworld’s fading illusion about works of art. We should applaud the encouragement of every sort of excellence in The Arts, just as we applaud every sort of excellence in every cultural domain.
WHAT’S TO BE DONE? Can these anxieties be comfortably dismissed as baseless? If it is the simple truth that the name-changers had no intention of disowning their past, or of embarking on a different future, there are two options available of which I suggest that the second is preferable. The first would be to follow the lead of the Armenian Center and the National Institute, by replacing the ambiguous name Australian Experimental Art Foundation with the more explicit Australian Foundation for Experimental Art or, better still, the Adelaide Foundation for Experimental Art. But there is a more radical alternative available that would put beyond any doubt the constancy of the EAF’s commitment to its founding principles. This would be to re-affirm the original and internationally recognised distinctiveness of the institution that was established here in Adelaide, as the Experimental Art Foundation. Notes 1 See for example Peter Ward, ‘Non-look at non-art’, The Australian, 11 May 1976 2
A plea might be entered in his defence that, shorn of the atmospheric language, this is what he really meant to say. For this reason—because it may be less serious than it looks—I do not stress the transfiguration of the Experimental Art Foundation that the embrace of a national cultural policy fixated on ‘artistic’ excellence would wreak. The risk of capitulation to a dud aestheticism is certainly there; but it is avoidable. As a matter of fact the current mission statement of the Foundation does not mention excellence at all. It is “to support the conception, making and exhibition of new art in Adelaide and to bring national and international artists to South Australia”. The making of ‘new art’ would certainly be unobjectionable if it were not that art, whether old or new, cannot be made. Only works of art can be made. Here we meet the homonymic conflation again, reinforced now by a commitment to bringing national and international artists to Adelaide. Whatever their national or international affiliations may be, artists do not and cannot possibly make art. They can only make works of art, hoping to find art in them occasionally. Missing from this mission statement is any reference to the opening of minds to art, whether this is to be achieved by making and presenting works of art or in some other way. We look in vain for the aspiration to acquire new understandings of the world that was implicit in the EAF’s early engagement with an international scholar of dentition and facial morphology who was not an artist, with a mandate to transform the way we think about our faces.5 These criticisms may seem to be trivial or even a game with words; and although they are neither I press them lightly because we must confront a more serious issue. This is not about whether the Foundation should promote excellence of Simon Crean’s notionally “artistic” sort. It is about whether the Foundation should promote the excellence of his “distinctively Australian” sort. Capitulation to this imperative would indeed be transformative. Even in the Antipodean Manifesto of 1959 (an embarrassment from which we have spent more than fifty years distancing ourselves) it is conceded that the “final obligation” of the artist is “neither to place nor nation”. This admission notoriously follows a longer and more heartfelt passage that has frequently has been taken to imply the very contrary. It runs: We live in a society still making its myths. The emergence of myth is a continuous social activity. In the growth and transformation of its myths a society achieves its own sense of identity. In this process the artists may play a creative and liberating role.6 It seems that today our national cultural policy is even more purposefully dedicated to the construction of myths of national identity than was the notorious Manifesto, in which this flag of ambition is speculatively raised only to be taken down again. (And in which, incidentally, the most fundamental question about cultural evolution is risibly conceived as if the practice of figurative easel painting were locked in mortal combat against abstraction). It is a truly alarming possibility that the Foundation may have embraced the sort of patriotic mythography-construction that is harnessed to the competitive advancement of Australia’s standing on the world stage.
See my extended essay ‘The awful truth about what art is’, Artlink, 2008, in which art is elucidated as memetic innovation
3 This distinction and several others summarised in this essay–especially in relation to experimental art and its role in cultural evolution–are spelled out in my paper ‘Experimental Art’ in Studies in Material Thinking, 8 May 2012, Paper 12; http://www.materialthinking.org/papers/101 4
Simon Crean, in an address to the Canberra Press Club, delivered on 21 March, 2013
I refer, with no punning intent, to the seminars of Professor C. Loring Brace on teeth
6 The Antipodean Manifesto, Melbourne, 1959, authored by Bernard Smith and signed by Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, John Brack, Bob Dickerson, John Perceval and Clifton Pugh
Page 143: Stelarc, photo courtesy the artist and http://inc.ongruo.us/2010/12/29/cybernetics-in-art-and-the-mythof-the-cyborg-artist/ Left: Stuart Brisley, Beneath Dignity, 1977 Photo courtesy the artist Below: Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Rest Energy with Ulay (film still), 1980 Photo courtesy the artists and Lisson Gallery, London
Your creative journey starts here... In the Gallery
Associate Degree of Visual Art
In the Beginning...30 Years of Adelaide Central School of Art: the first six years, Bloor Court: 1982 - 1988
Adelaide Central School of Art has moved to the Glenside Cultural Precinct with the official opening of the School by The Hon. Jay Weatherill MP, Premier of South Australia on 18 May 2013.
Bachelor of Visual Art
Bachelor of Visual Art (Hons)
26 June - 20 July 2013
The School is an independent, not-for-profit, accredited Higher Education Provider that offers intensive training for students looking to develop a career as a practising artist. All lecturers are leading practitioners in the field in which they teach. In our studio based teaching program we emphasise structured sequential learning developing practical skills in parallel with rigorous intellectual inquiry.
Featuring works by Jess Mara, Julia Robinson, Talia Wignall and Hailey Lane.
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The Next Chapter
Applications for semester 1 2014 close 6 Jan 2014.
20 May - 15 June 2013 Neck of the Woods
Full-time or part-time study options Day and evening classes Extended 34 week academic year
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Dedicated studios for BVA and Honours students Pro Hart Scholarship open to year 12 students Defer fees through FEE-HELP
26 July - 10 August 2013 Auction 30 July 2013 6 - 8 pm
Open Day Sunday 8 September 2013 11 - 4pm
Semester 2 Short Courses
Featuring lecturers, graduates, supporters and associates of the School.
Meet staff, listen to talks by lecturers and graduates, visit the Gallery and view student work throughout the School. All welcome.
An exciting new range of short courses starting in July. Contact the School for a brochure. All classes will be held in the School’s new superior teaching studios.
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Image The new Teaching & Studio Building Photography James Field
Visit our new facilities Call Andrew on (08) 8299 7300 to make a booking.
PO Box 225 Fullarton SA 5063 | Glenside Cultural Precinct 7 Mulberry Road Glenside SA 5065 [via Gate 1, 226 Fullarton Road] T 08 8299 7300 email@example.com www.acsa.sa.edu.au