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{ 44_1 } CRITICISM | THEORY | ART

broadsheet CONTEMPORARY VISUAL ART+CULTURE


An immersive exhibition of photographs and moving image works by Magnum photographer Trent Parke; a meditation on life journeys, reflecting on the way in which the past infiltrates the present and in turn can influence the future. See more at artgallery.sa.gov.au

A R T G A L L E R Y O F S O U T H A U S T R A L I A 14 M A R C H – 10 M A Y 2 0 15 detail image: Trent Parke, Australia, born 1971, Shattered portrait, Newcastle, New South Wales, 2009, ŠTrent Parke/Magnum Photos PRESENTED BY

EXHIBITION PARTNER

PHOTOGRAPHIC PARTNER

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.


CONTEMPORARY AB Gallery, Lucerne • Agial Art Gallery, Beirut • Aicon Gallery, New York / London • Albareh Art Gallery, Manama • Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid • Art Factum Gallery, Beirut • Art Twenty One, Lagos • Atassi Gallery, Damascus • Athr Gallery, Jeddah • Ayyam Gallery, Dubai / London / Beirut • Hannah Barry, London • Bolsa de Arte, Porto Alegre / Sao Paulo • Laura Bulian Gallery, Milan • Canvas Gallery, Karachi • Carbon 12, Dubai • Carroll/Fletcher, London • Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai • Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins • CRG Gallery, New York • Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris • Dastan’s Basement, Tehran • Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai • Exhibit 320, New Delhi • Experimenter, Kolkata • Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai • Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan • Galerie Imane Farès, Paris • Selma Feriani Gallery, London / Tunis • Galleria Marie-Laure Fleisch, Rome • Honor Fraser, Los Angeles • GAGProjects, Adelaide / Berlin • Giacomo Guidi Arte Contemporanea, Rome • Green Art Gallery, Dubai • Grey Noise, Dubai • Grosvenor Gallery, London • Gypsum Gallery, Cairo • Leila Heller Gallery, New York • Inda Gallery, Budapest • In Situ/Fabienne Leclerc, Paris • Galerie Iragui, Moscow • Galerie Jaeger Bucher, Paris • Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels • Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai • Kalfayan Galleries, Athens / Thessaloniki • Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna • Kurimanzutto, Mexico D.F. • Latitude 28, New Delhi • Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai • Galerie Lelong, Paris / New York • Victoria Miro, London • ma2gallery, Tokyo • mor.charpentier, Paris • Galleria Franco Noero, Turin • Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels • Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore • Pechersky Gallery, Moscow • Pi Artworks, Istanbul / London • Raster, Warsaw • Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York • Sanatorium, Istanbul • Schleicher/Lange, Berlin • Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg / Beirut • Gallery SKE, Bangalore / New Delhi • Galerie Tanit, Munich / Beirut • Temnikova & Kasela Gallery, Talinn • Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris / Brussels • The Third Line, Dubai • Viltin Gallery, Budapest • Wentrup, Berlin • Whatiftheworld, Cape Town • Yay Gallery, Baku MODERN Shafic Abboud (Agial Art Gallery, Beirut) • Shahid Sajjad (ArtChowk, Karachi) • Gouider Triki / Hatim Elmekki (Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai) • Mohsen Vaziri Moghadam (Gallery Etemad, Tehran) • Mahmoud Hammad (Green Art Gallery, Dubai) • Shafic Abboud / Abdallah Benanteur (Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris) • Farid Belkahia (LeViolon Bleu, Tunis) • Mohamed Melehi/Mohamed Hamidi (Loft Art Gallery, Casablanca) • Dia Azzawi / Marwan Kassab Bachi (Meem Gallery, Dubai) • Bruce Onabrakpeya (Mydrim Gallery, Lagos) • Ernesto Shikhany / Manuel Figueira (Perve Galeria, Lisbon) • Jamil Molaeb (Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut) • Kourosh Shishegaran (Shirin Gallery, Tehran / New York) • Aref El Rayess (The Park Gallery, London) • Project Space: Works by Kaveh Golestan (curated by Vali Mahlouji) artdubai.ae


Contributors Brad Buckley: Sydney-based artist, Professor of Contemporary Art and Culture at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; editor, with John Conomos, of Republics of Ideas: Republicanism, Culture, Visual Arts (2001), Rethinking the Contemporary Art School: The Artist, the PhD, and the Academy (2009) and with Andy Dong and Conomos Rex Butler: Teaches in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland; recently completed a book on Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? He is writing a history of UnAustralian art with ADS Donaldson John Conomos: Associate Professor, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; artist, critic and writer; his latest books include the monograph with Brad Buckley, and Andy Dong, Ecologies of Invention (USP) and has edited (with Brad Buckley) the forthcoming Erasure-The Spectre of Cultural Memory (Libis, UK); currently working on three new books, on surreal documentary cinema (with Brad Buckley), international curating, and new videos (editor: Joshua Raymond) Alan Cruickshank: Editor Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet and Executive Director Contemporary Art Centre of SA, Adelaide since 2000; publisher of numerous catalogues, mongraphs and anthologies since 2004 through the CACSA; prior–artist, writer, independant curator, publisher and international arts consultant since 1980 with artworks collected by the Art Gallery of SA, Art Gallery of WA, National Gallery of Australia and Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris ADS Donaldson: Sydney-based artist and art historian who teaches at the National Art School, Sydney; recently co-curated with Ann Stephen the exhibition J.W. Power: Abstraction-Création, Paris 1934. He is writing a history of UnAustralian art with Rex Butler Elle Freak: Associate Curator of Australian Paintings, Sculpture and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Art Gallery of South Australia Alex Gawronski: Sydney-based artist and writer; publishes widely, regular contributor to Broadsheet and Column; Co-founding director of a number of independent artist spaces including the Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown (ICAN 2007-2014) and presently KNULP, Sydney (2015-); currently teaches in the Painting Studio, Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney Adam Geczy: Sydney-based artist and writer who teaches at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney. His most recent exhibition was S/M Wonderland (2014) at the Australian Centre for Photography, and soon to appear (co-authored with Vicki Karaminas) is Fashion’s Double: Representations of the Fashion in Painting, Photography and Film (Bloomsbury, 2015) Alexie Glass-Kantor: Executive Director, Artspace, Sydney, previously Director/Senior Curator, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, Curator,Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, and numerous projects in Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy and USA; currently Curator Encounters sector, forthcoming 2015 Art Basel Hong Kong Richard Grayson: London-based artist and curator; recent exhibitions include Dilston Grove/Matts Gallery, London 2014, HMKV Dortmund, 2014, 2012 Kiev Biennale, Ukraine, Matts Gallery, London 2012 and 2010 Biennale of Sydney; curatorial projects include the 2002 Biennale of Sydney The World May Be Fantastic, Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition A Secret Service: art concealment and compulsion, 2006, Polytechnic, Raven Row, London, 2010 and 2014 Adelaide International Worlds in Collision Helen Hughes: Co-founder and co-editor of Discipline contemporary art journal; Curator, Gertrude Contemporary; recent edited publications include Three Reflections on Contemporary Art, with Nicholas Croggon (Discipline, 2014); Impresario: Paul Taylor, 1983-1985, with Nicholas Croggon (Monash University Museum of Art and Surpllus, 2013); and Making Worlds: Art and Science Fiction, with Amelia Barikin (Surpllus, 2013) Ryan Johnston: Head of Art, Australian War Memorial, Canberra; prior, was Acting Director, Shepparton Art Museum, and lecturer, School of Creative Arts, University of Melbourne and Curator at La Trobe University. His research has been published journals including The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, The Art Bulletin of Victoria and The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas; a founding editor of e-maj (electronic Melbourne art journal), Australia’s first online refereed journal of art history Mary Knights: Director, SASA Gallery at the School of Art, Architecture & Desgin, University of South Australia Lee Weng Choy: President of the Singapore Section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA); has lectured on art theory, cultural studies and policy, including at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Singapore, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; was Artistic Co-Director,The Substation arts centre, Singapore; currently serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong Talia Linz: Curator, Artspace, Sydney; the 2013-14 Nick Waterlow OAM Curatorial Fellow, Biennale of Sydney; former Assistant Editor, Art & Australia and contributorArt Monthly Australia, and Current: Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand Anne Marsh: Senior Research Fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. Her latest book is Performance_Ritual_Document, Macmillan, 2014 Nat Muller: Independent curator and critic based in Rotterdam; main interests include the intersection of aesthetics, media and politics; media art and contemporary art in and from the Middle East; editorial correspondent for Ibraaz; has also written numerous book chapters, reviews, catalogue and monographic essays. She has taught at universities and academies in the Netherlands and the Middle East, and has curated exhibitions, video and film screenings internationally Laura Webster: Curator of Art, Australian War Memorial, Canberra: recent curatorial projects include the commissioning of Arlo Mountford and Alexander McKenzie to create new backgrounds for First World War dioramas; commissioning curator of the AWM’s First World War print portfolio and Ben Quilty: After Afghanistan exhibition currently touring Australia Christopher Williams-Wynn: Melbourne-based writer and editor; holds honours degrees in art history and economics, both from the University of Melbourne; co-founder and co-editor of the contemporary art publication Dissect Journal and co-editor of emaj; has written critical essays and reviews for publications including un Magazine, Dissect Journal, Runway and Kapsula; works as a research assistant at the University of Melbourne

contemporary visual art + culture b r o a d s h e e t Editor Assistant Editor Advertising Manager Publisher Design

Alan Cruickshank Wendy Walker Sarita Chadwick Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia Inc. Alan Cruickshank

ISSN 0819 677X © Copyright 2015, 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 [08] 8272 2682 Email: editor@cacsa.org.au www.cacsa.org.au Subscriptions: Contact the Administrator, Contemporary Art Centre of SA—admin@cacsa.org.au 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 SHEYMA BUALI UK Writer, London NAT MULLER Netherlands Curator and critic, Rotterdam ASTRID MANIA Germany Editor, writer and curator, Berlin CHRISTOPHER MOORE Germany Writer, Berlin; Editor-in-Chief, Randian online, Berlin VASIF KORTUN Turkey Director Programs & Research, SALT, Istanbul Basak Senova Turkey Curator, writer and designer, Istanbul RANJIT HOSKOTE India Curator, writer, art historian and poet, Mumbai PHIL TINARI China Director Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing COLIN CHINNERY China Artist, writer and curator, Beijing; Artistic Director, Wuhan Art Terminus (WH.A.T.) BILJANA CIRIC China Independent curator, Shanghai JOHN BATTEN Hong Kong Curator, art critic and writer PATRICK FLORES Philippines Professor, Dept Art Studies University of Philippines, Manila RAY LANGENBACH Malaysia/Finland Artist, curator, writer, lecturer and critic, Faculty Member, Post-Graduate Studies, Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki LEE WENG CHOY Singapore Writer and critic TONY GODFREY Singapore/Manila Art historian, writer, curator SIMON REES New Zealand Director, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth NATASHA CONLAND New Zealand Curator Contemporary Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tämaki, Auckland

Australia:

ROBERT COOK Perth Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia REX BUTLER Brisbane Writer, editor and senior lecturer, University of Queensland BLAIR FRENCH Sydney Assistant Director, Curatorial and Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia ADAM GECZY Sydney Artist and writer, Senior Lecturer University of Sydney ALEXIE GLASS-KANTOR Sydney Executive Director, Artspace Visual Arts Centre CHARLES GREEN Melbourne Artist, curator, art critic and historian; Associate Professor, University of Melbourne IAN NORTH Adelaide Artist, writer and Adjunct Professor of Art History, University of Adelaide

volume 44_1 MARCH 2015


{ 44_1 } COVER: Nasim Nasr, from the Zaeefeh (The Wretchedness) series, 2015 Presented at Art Dubai, UAE, 18-21 March 2015 Photo courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin

10 from participatory art to participatory criticism: the big noise The decline of criticism and critical writing Adam Geczy

22 value washing the arts: on the quantification and instrumentalisation of art On government arts funding not being a ‘bandaid’ to policy Nat Muller

27 regarding the reader

On the decline of reading and print Lee Weng Choy

32 australian art now: same place, same time

Why write critically about art, and why make critical, conceptual or context-aware art in Australia? Alex Gawronski

36 the nature of things: angela valamanesh Angela Valamanesh at Art Dubai 2015 Mary Knights

40 nasim nasr: the language behind the veil

52 dioramic histories: arlo mountford’s little worlds

The Australian War Memorial contemporary art commissions Ryan Johnston | Laura Webster

57 inside, outside and in parallel

Australia and Turkey Visiting Curators Initiative 2014 Alexie Glass-Kantor | Talia Linz

62 tom nicholson’s comparative monument

Conjoining the politics and histories of Israel and Australia through the trope of the eucalyptus Helen Hughes

66 the narcotic veil

Issues of the diaspora Brad Buckley | John Conomos

72 i am, you are, we are australian

Nasim Nasr at Art Dubai 2015 Anne Marsh

On various international artists who have made works titled ‘Australia’ Rex Butler | ADS Donaldson

44 images and their obverse: ariel hassan

75 an internet of things

Ariel Hassan at Art Dubai 2015 Christopher Williams-Wynn

The new big thing, post internet art Richard Grayson

48 fiona hall: out of my tree

79 cultures of complaints

Fiona Hall at the 56th Venice Biennale Elle Freak

The marketplace of outrage and offence-taking Alan Cruickshank

Broadsheet can be read cover to cover and texts are available to download. cacsa.org.au/?page_id=2901 For additional commentary see Platform. cacsaplatform.org.au/


TELL ME MY TRUTH SIMON FUJIWARA HELEN GRACE AMALA GROOM SHILPA GUPTA FX HARSONO HE XIANGYU JAMES NEWITT TONY SCHWENSEN JOHN VON STURMER

27.03. – 16.05.15

4A CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ASIAN ART 181-187 HAY STREET SYDNEY WWW.4A.COM.AU

PRODUCED BY

FUNDINGSUPPORT

Tell Me My Truth is produced by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and supported by the City of Sydney Cultural Grants Program. Image: He Xiangyu, The Death of Marat, 2011, fiberglass, silicone, fabric, human hair and leather. Courtesy the artist and WHITE SPACE BEIJING.

MASS GROUP INCIDENT 17.01. – 31.05. 2015


AN IMPRECISE SCIENCE: 29 MARCH – 17 MAY 2015 Alicja Kwade [Poland/Germany] Biljana Jancic (Australia) Bridie Lunney (Australia) Daniel von Sturmer (Australia) Isabel Nolan (Ireland) Kate Newby [New Zealand/USA] Natalya Hughes (Australia) Nina Canell [Sweden/Germany] Ragnar Kjartansson (Iceland) and The National (USA) Rob McLeish [Australia/USA] Shinro Ohtake (Japan) Walead Beshty (UK/USA) Ideas Platform — Eve Fowler (USA)

EXHIBITION OPENING & 2015 LAUNCH: Sunday 29 March 3pm Exhibition generously supported by Holdsworth House Medical Practice and King & Wilson Essential Art Services. Exhibition launch presented in conjunction with Art Month Sydney.

Image: Nina Canell, Mender, 2013, nails, magnet, 3 x 5 x 15 cm. Private collection, New York

Artspace 43–51 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo, Sydney, NSW 2011, Australia Galleries Open: Tues-Fri: 11am-5pm & Sat-Sun: 12-4pm T +61 2 9356 0555 E artspace@artspace.org.au W www.artspace.org.au @ArtspaceSydney

Artspace is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments; by the New South Wales Government through Arts NSW; and by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.


Lida Abdul Diana Abouali Jude Adams Ravi Agarwal Vernon Ah Kee Zehra Ahmed Ai Weiwei Akira Akira Khadim Ali Basma al Sharif Roy Ananda Craige Andrae James Angus Amy Baker Lara Baladi Katie Barber John Barbour Bianca Barling Anna Barriball Beata Batorowicz Troy-Anthony Baylis Richard Bell Jill Bennett Andrew Best Kate Beynon Maria Bilske Ken Bolton Christine Borland Mark Boulos Brian Boyd Matthew Bradley Donald Brook Sheyma Buali Brad Buckley Erik Bünger Rex Butler Madison Bycroft Matt Calvert Candy Factory Cao Fei Aurelia Carbone Gary Carsley Aaron Cezar Chris Chapman Chen Chieh-Jen Olga Chernysheva Ali Cherri Christine Collins John Conomos Martine Corompt Brenda Croft Sarah Crowest Alan Cruickshank Adam Cullen Nici Cumpston Bridget Currie Johnnie Dady Dacchi Dang Aleks Danko Jordan D’Arsie Anna Davis+Jason Gee Andrew Dearman James Dodd Margaret Dodd Sonia Donnellan Denis Dutton Leith Elder David Elliott

Juliana Engberg Ariane Epars Siamak Fallah Media Farzin Joe Felber Nicholas Folland Peter Franov Justina Gardiner Adam Geczy Richard Giblett Gauri Gill Simryn Gill Shaun Gladwell Tony Godfrey Emil Goh Romi Graham Richard Grayson Michael Grimm Joan Grounds Guan Wei Guo Jian Joana Hadjithomas+Khalil Joreige Rokni Haerizadeh David Haines Anthony Hamilton Ray Harris Anton Hart Louise Haselton Ariel Hassan Julie Henderson Larissa Hjorth Ho Tzu Nyen Paul Hoban Rebecca Ann Hobbs Kahl Hopper Timothy Horn Anna Horne Ranjit Hoskote Khaled Hourani Eyad Houssami Astra Howard Same Howie Chris Howlett Huang Yan Matt Huppatz Aldo Iacobelli Lucas Ihlein Jiang Jie Samar Jodha Natasha Johns-Messenger Daniel Johnston KAB 101 Yoko Kajio Tellervo Kalleinen+ Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen Gulnara Kasmalieva+ Muratbek Djumaliev Ash Keating Deborah Kelly Heidi Kenyon Mazen Kerbaj Abbas Kiarostami Chosil Kil Mark Kimber Shaun Kirby Sue Kneebone Derek Kreckler Rosemary Laing

Ray Langenbach Brad Lay Dinh Q. Lé Lee Weng Choy Leung Mee Ping Liu Wei Liu XiaoXian Ryan Lobo Christian Lock Nicola Loder Andrew Long Stephen Loo Jessie Lumb Ian McLean Jennifer McMahon David McNeill Agravaine MacLachlan Alison Main Astrid Mania Guy Mannes-Abbott Zoe Marr James Marshall Dani Marti Rick Martin Monte Masi Gretchen Mercedes Charles Merewether Miao Xiaochun Tatsuo Miyajima Vivienne Miller Kate Mitchell Goenawan Mohamad Hayati Mokhtar Katie Moore Akira Mori Chris Mortensen Callum Morton Arlo Mountford Rabih Mroué Nat Muller Veer Munshi Kate Murphy Nasim Nasr Michael Newall Matthew Ngui Tom Nicholson Michelle Nikou John Nixon Susan Norrie Ian North Ahmet Ogut Riley O’Keeffe Sherman Ong Deborah Paauwe Louise Paramor Cornelia Parker Jack Persekian Andrew Petrusevics Jacqueline Pitman Bronwyn Platten George Popperwell Qiu Anxiong Qiu Zhijie Ram Rahman Michael Rakowitz Scott Redford Jacky Redgate Patrick Rees

Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia 14 Porter Street Parkside South Australia 5063 +618 82 72 26 82 cacsa.org.au

Charles Robb Julia Robinson Marian Pastor Roces Sally-Ann Rowland David Rozetsky Julie Rrap Sean Ruiz Koji Ryui Raeda Saadeh Khaled Sabsabi Lee Salomone Larissa Sansour Saki Satom Gigi Scaria Tony Schwensen Ruti Sela & Maayan Amir Basak Senova Shen Shaomin Mark Siebert Tim Silver Darren Siwes Paul Sloan Sam Small Peter James Smith Praneet Soi Song Dong Sam Songailo Manit Sriwanichpoom Tim Sterling Jim Strickland Kate Stryker Ricky Swallow Ania Szremski Jinooz Taghizadeh Masato Takasaka Adele Tan Stephen Tarr Rod Taylor The Atlas Group/Walid Raad Tehching Hsieh Monika Tichacek Yasuko Toyoshima Matthew Tumbers James Tylor Angela Valamanesh Hossein Valamanesh Warren Vance Sharif Waked LM Walker Mark Wallinger Wang Gongxin Warren Vance Sera Waters Louise Weaver Gerry Wedd Apitchatpong Weerasethakul Linda Williams Stevie Wishart Wong Hoy Cheong Judith Wright Yang Fudong Yao Souchou Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck Yee I-Lann Mahmoud Yekta L.E.Young Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries Ala Younis


broadsheet Diana Abouali Nancy Adajania Haig Aivazian Wassan Al-Khudhairi Judy Annear Paola Anselmi Michael Baers Stephanie Bailey Lara Baladi Amelia Barikin Bruce Barber John Barbour Geraldine Barlow John Batten Zany Begg Thomas Berghuis Maria Bilske Tony Birch Ken Bolton Frances Bonner Ole Bouman David Broker Donald Brook Laura Brown Sheyma Buali Brad Buckley Emma Budgen Natasha Bullock Rex Butler Jon Bywater Gary Carsley Rebecca Catching Aaron Cezar Nicholas Chambers Meiya Chang Christopher Chapman Ali Cherri Colin Chinnery Emily Chua Kevin Chua Biljana Ciric John Clark Justin Clemens Andrew Clifford Rebecca Coates Edward Colless Natasha Conland Robert Connerly John Conomos Rebecca Conroy Robert Cook Emily Cormack Barbara Creed Alan Cruickshank Joselina Cruz Uros Cvoro Iftikhar Dadi Ade Darmawan Lucy Davis Charlotte Day Pedro de Almeida Bec Dean Duygu Demir Michael Desmond Rhana Devenport Wulan Dirgantoro

ADS Donaldson Anthony Downey Georgina Downey Shane Eastwood David Elliott Juliana Engberg Fulya Erdemci Margaret Farmer William Field Reem Fekri Felicity Fenner Patrick Flores Norman Ford Rosemary Forde Ray Forrester Elle Freak Blair French Nicole Fritz Keith Gallasch Sue Gardiner Anthony Gardner Rob Garrett David Garneau Alex Gawronski Adam Geczy Paul Gladston Alexie Glass-Kantor Erin Gleeson Tony Godfrey Mark Gomes Kon Gouriotis Richard Grayson Charles Green Tim Gregory Joana Hadjithomas+ Khalil Joreige Sue Hajdu Hou Hanru Lisa Havilah Lily Hibberd Wes Hill Larissa Hjorth Daniel Szehin Ho Pat Hoffie Ihor Holubizky Tim Horton Ho Tzu Nyen Ranjit Hoskote Claire Hsu Helen Hughes Yusaku Imamura Susie Ingham Nicholas Jose Craig Judd Mami Kataoka Reuben Keehan Caleb Kelly Joe Khalil Omar Kholeif Sunjung Kim Natalie King Mary Knights Stuart Koop Vasif Kortun Chris Kraus Boris Kremer

Olivier Krischner Maria Kunda Danny Lacy Yishan Lam Ray Langenbach Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez Mabel Lee Lee Weng Choy Chrisoula Lionis Samantha Littley Geert Lovink Sean Lowry Victoria Lynn Eva McGovern Ian McLean David McNeill Anna Macdonald Andrew Mackenzie Andrew Maerkle Vali Mahlouji Astrid Mania Guy Mannes-Abbott Anne Marsh Leon Marvell John Mateer Hannah Matthews Viviana Mejia Kit Messham-Muir Alice Ming Wai Jin Jacqueline Millner Goenawan Mohamed Catriona Moore Christopher Moore Tim Morrell Julia Morrison Jim Moss Nat Muller Djon Mundine Stuart Munro Deeksha Nath Michael Newall Carmen Nge Matthew Ngui Tom Nicholson Ian North Sophie O’Brien Hans Ulrich Obrist Alan Oei Ahmet Ögüt Melanie Oliver Maurice O’Riordan Margot Osborne Daniel Palmer Melentie Pandilovski Nikos Papastergiadis Martin Patrick Mary Lou Pavlovic Robin Peckham Jack Persekian Geraldine Peters Tanya Petersen Dougal Phillips Ana Teixeira Pinto Laura Preston Qiu Anxiong Gerald Raunig

Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia 14 Porter Street Parkside South Australia 5063 +618 82 72 26 82 cacsa.org.au

Jarrod Rawlings Scott Redford Joseph Redwood-Martinez Simon Rees Chris Reid Colin Rhodes Jon Rich Ghalya Saadawi Chaitanya Sambrani Anne Sanders Jack Sargeant Edward Scheer Aaron Seeto Basak Senova Hamid Severi Tina Sherwell Gayatri Sinha Lisa Slade Ben Slater Russell Smith Trevor Smith Simon Soon Yao Souchou Catherine Speck Zara Stanhope Jasmin Stephens Russell Storer Rich Streitmatter-Tran Andreas Ströhl Peter Suchin Eve Sullivan Jim Supangkat Alia Swastika Gabriel Switek Ania Szremski Mikala Tai Adele Tan Tan Boon Hui Eugene Tan Jeannine Tang David Teh Sarah Thomas Angus Trumble Nicholas Tsoutas Sarah Tutton Julie Upmeyer Murtaza Vali Jan Verwoert Mercedes Vicente Wendy Walker Jessica Wang Phillip Watkins Rachael Watts Virginia Whiles Chris Williams Tamara Winikoff Hendro Wiyanto Jena Woodburn June Yap Carol Yinghua Lu Ala Younis Kathy Zarur Pam Zeplin Zhang Lansheng Zhao Chuan Danni Zuvela


H AT C H E D NATIONAL GRADUATE SHOW 2015

2 M AY − 21 JUN E

Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Northbridge Tue–Sun 10am–5pm | +61 8 9228 6300 | pica.org.au Government Partners

Principal Education Partner

Image: Broc Webster, Athanasia (detail), 2014. Photo by Broc Webster.


THE SKIN OFF OUR TIME an interrogatory ‘picking away’ at the cortex, the crust, perhaps even the scab—literally, figuratively, poetically—of institutional order

JAMES TYLOR | SERA WATERS | ABDUL ABDULLAH | ARLO MOUNTFORD (AUSTRALIA) ROKNI HAERIZADEH (Iran/UAE) | ALI CHERRI (Lebanon/France) Rokni Haerizadeh, Reign of Winter (video still), 2012-13 Single channel colour video animation (rotoscopy), 8: 42 Photo courtesy the artist and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai

27 FEBRUARY_29 MARCH, 2015

Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia cacsa is assisted by the commonwealth government through the australia council, it arts funding and advisory body, and the south australian government through arts sa cacsa is supported by the visual arts and craft strategy, an initiative of the australian, state and territory governments

14 Porter Street Parkside South Australia 5063 +618 82 72 26 82 cacsa.org.au


from participatory art to participatory criticism: the big noise


11

c o n t e m p o r a ry v i s u a l a r t + c u lt u r e b r oa d s h e e t 4 4 _ 1 2 015

Adam Geczy If we choose to reflect on the difference between performance art when it arrived in the late 1960s and performance art today, it exists along a relatively clear line of demarcation when it became corralled into the institution in the late 1990s. With such a movement also came a growing taxonomy and subdivision of terms, from “live art” to “participatory art” and “relationality”. With its institutionalisation also came its definition, and we know that once a term can be comfortably and consensually summarized it has all but lost its transgressive gloss. Performance art is just another art form, not just the purview of free-love hippies and antidisestablishmentarians. It is perhaps through this lens that we can also begin to identify the slow ebb in critical consciousness in art over the same period. As art has become friendlier, so too has art criticism, such that it has all but become a series of studied appreciations. And it appears that a recent favourite is the obituary, which has become a critical genre unto itself; a homily to what has once been and will be no more. Ironically so, since the obituary that has yet to be written is to art criticism itself. Participatory art is the branch of performance art that enlists the viewers to interact and find their own elective bodily relations with the art object. This is just a fancy way of saying that people can do stuff with the work of art. The popularization of this has less to do with artists, except if one counts the gullibility of artists to follow trends. For it essentially resides in the rationalization of society in the late 1980s; this occurs together with the global flourishing of the mass art biennale bonanza. Art, delivered increasingly as spectacle, was also shouldered with the need to justify itself. Visitation numbers lend creditability, but also the kind of art that affords greater visitation numbers. By the 1990s, accessible art had diversified well beyond references to popular culture into the realms of what lay people could physically engage with. The act of engagement with a work of art was a dubious, if only safely legitimate manoeuvre that safeguarded against audience alienation. If audience alienation has been one of the strategic mainstays of modernism—taking dialectical control over the aesthetic in order to then transform it into something that would be more authentic and ethically apposite to both art and society, thereby rendering it ‘truly’ accessible—then it was, with few exceptions

jettisoned. Modernism’s utopianism collapsed into a diluted and fraudulent form of utopia, in which the pregnant and potent narrative of communality was introduced through treating direct action as superior to concentration and reflection, forms of mental interactivity. These are of course fundamental to the apprehension and experience of the art object (or event), but are of no interest to the forces of rationalization which weighs up value according to tangible relationships, among them for art the ‘relationality’, to use Bourriaud’s now overused word, of the art object. Here art is no longer a neutral zone but subject to the behest and manipulations of the public. Observer becomes user; the work of art is something to be acted upon. There are two further reasons why participation is made attractive by institutions, both of which also shed light on the crisis of art criticism: one is the unstable criticality of the staged event, the other the issue of faith and law in art. As abstruse as the pairing of these points may first appear, they are arguably

intimately connected, as will be shown presently. The event: all art is an event, a special form of aesthetic, intellectual and historic happening. At best a work of contemporary art restages the historic, and reformulates it, or expresses it in a way more poignant to the present. As well as a grand cultural event, such as the outbreak of an insurrection, the riot that causes the end of a political regime and so on, an aesthetic event can be the proverbial contemplation of a sunset. What makes the contemplation of a work of art more eventful than the latter is that it involves the reflective interaction of the viewer with the intention of the artist. This is not a literal intent, but rather the intent of producing something different from ‘natural’ production, for unless you are an ardent pantheo-fatalist, nature is without the same kind of intent. In this regard the experience of the work of art is like deciphering a puzzle for which you cannot find the answer, but where the net effect is not of frustration but pleasure brought about by a harmonic (or delightfully


MUMA

Monash university museum of art

Justene williams the curtain breathed deeply

7 february – 2 april 2015

Ground Floor, Building F Monash University, Caulfield Campus 900 Dandenong Road Caulfield East VIC 3145 Australia

www.monash.edu.au/muma Telephone +61 3 9905 4217 muma@monash.edu Tues – Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat 12 – 5pm

Justene Williams Yves Klein Eyes, film still 2014 courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney


John Mawurndjul and Gulumbu Yunupingu C U R AT O R: H E T T I PERK I N S

28 March – 8 June 2015

LEFT: John Mawurndjul Billabong at Milmilngkan 2009 natural earth pigments on bark 183.5 x 77 cm Courtesy of Annandale Galleries, Sydney © John Mawurndjul RIGHT: Gulumbu Yunupingu Garak, The Universe 2008 natural ochres on bark 179 x 69 cm Private collection © Estate of the artist, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre

www.twma.com.au PRINCIPAL SPONSOR

MAJOR PARTNERS

MAJOR SPONSOR This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body

PRESENTED IN ASSOCIATION WITH


from participatory art to participatory criticism: the big noise

dissonant) combination of thought and sense. But with participatory art this experience is violated in favour of the literal eventfulness of that precipitated by the viewer, who effectively consummates the work of art. The ‘virgin’ work of art requires that it be altered in some way by a participant, where the alteration as such is part of the work. Here the artist’s intent becomes embroiled with the intent of the viewer-participant. But the intent of the viewer-participant can never be on the same level as the artist who supplies the framework, the modus operandi. Nevertheless, if a work requires participation, then it becomes reducible to participation. Thus even if there are outcomes to the process, it is the eventual nature of participation that becomes the main element. The irreducibility of performance art to the commodity, which was its virtue in the protest era, has, with institutionalized performativity, transformed irreducibility to itself. Priorities such as visitation and audience satisfaction under-ride this. When the event in and for itself becomes a premium it is pre-eminently attractive to curatorial priorities dominated

Pages 10-11 and above Mark Leckey installation views from Stills & Trailers, 2012 Photos courtesy the artist and Daniel Buchholz, Köln

by popularity over criticality—because it is self-referential. It is the event that matters, the outcomes always second, yet there is still the bogus whiff of yesteryear: performativity imparts the artistic flavour, like the sprinkling of a freeze-dried spice, of transgression. The transgression exists in a very distant echo, and therefore the critical summary of the work need only be in historicized terms, according to a certain terminology and set of references whose real glory is in the past. The issue of law and faith in participatory art is less self-evident, but perhaps more disturbing. In any civilization in which what we now call art was intertwined with the laws of religious belief, it was granted a respectful distance by its spectators. This applies to Greek drama as it does to mediaeval devotional altarpieces and to the frescoes of the Renaissance. A key watershed in the relationship between the art object and the viewer comes with the birth of the public museum at the end of the eighteenth century, where the art object is venerated as a cultural artifact whose cultural value becomes confounded with its value as a commodity as it enters the status as (quantifiable) public property. The public museum was the first phase in the democratization of art, and its climax arrives with art that is interactive and

participatory. As I have already suggested, this is more as a result of an institutional mandate; artists largely follow. But its seamless positioning into the academy is simply a decoy for how institutionalized and undemocratic art has become. The primacy given to viewer contact is also a symptom of the uncritical turn in both art and art criticism. To undermine the unwritten law that creates the schism between artist and viewer is much like the postmodern new age parent who wants to discuss instead of tell his or her children, or enframes injunctions as questions (‘don’t do that, ok?’). To pretend that there is no line of demarcation between viewer and art object runs in close parallel to the collapse of critical criteria, the critic who assumes moral authority is treated with the same contempt as the new age postmodern parent treats the parent who wishes to instil in his or her child old-fashioned manners. But it is much easier to justify one’s actions as a private citizen, far harder as a spokesman—it is a question that was already asked at the end of the twentieth century by philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard who saw the demise of the public intellectual. In the wake of the (arguable) failure of the May 1968 revolution, and the splintering of ideological factions, intellectuals increasingly began to ask the question, ‘for whom does one speak?’ In this sense Lyotard’s question of “que peindre?”, “what to paint” works together with the more universalist question of “what to say? And for whom?”1 This is a subject I will return to later. By now the reader will see why the lead-in with participatory art has been so important. For with Pop and post-Pop, from Warhol to Koons and beyond, one can still command a sceptically humanist position, should one choose to do so, as did the New York critic Jed Perl recently in his eloquent lambasting of Koons’ retrospective at the Whitney Museum.2 But with participatory art, the erosion of criticality is far more covert, and insidious, since the viewer, entering the artwork clad in the rhetoric of invitation and inclusion, becomes complicit in the work and thereby compromises—similar to ‘conflict of interest’ in professional judgment—the capacity for evaluation; that is, if there is something residually forthcoming outside the selfreferentiality and ineffability of the event itself. In effect the viewer’s position as an objective observer outside the work is jettisoned in favour of the work of art ‘building in’ the viewer, a strategy that has been a trusted tool of marketing for a long time.


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It is at this point that the participatory melds with contemporary Pop. As Perl presciently observes with regard to Koons: There is not a shred of doubt in Jeff Koons. And where there is no doubt there is no art. Those who care to understand Duchamp’s impact on recent art must look elsewhere —perhaps to the enigmas and paradoxes of Robert Gober and Vija Celmins, two artists who keep some of Duchamp’s quixotic elegance and eloquence alive. But Gober and Celmins are artists’ artists. That is what Marcel Duchamp and the rest of the Dadaists were, at least for most of their careers. Koons is a publicist’s artist.3 As evidenced by Koons, sure fire things are rewarded in contemporary art. The obverse is perhaps what looks and feels like Contemporary Art, such as Mark Leckey who had his first major retrospective at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Wils in Brussels at the end of 2014. An elaborate and arbitrary pastiche of Steinbach and Nauman and much more besides, Leckey’s work is so cryptic and so playing at being clever that it meets back to the same place: exhausted and bewildered, one is left ‘sure’ that this ‘Contemporary Art’ and nothing else. The purpose here is to situate the precariousness of art criticism not only in terms of art’s hyper-commercialization, but also in medias res with contemporary art itself. For both art and criticism have become, at least at the institutional level, unbearably friendly, of a piece with the unbearably morbid ‘have-anice-day’ ethos of American consumerism prophesied in Evelyn Waugh’s satire The Loved One. Art criticism’s purported objective distance is a necessary illusion, much as the psychic phantasy of human autonomy, however it is needed in order to gather arguments for other possibilities for the work of art. But critical differencing can only be carried out with art that seeks to do the same. Criticism is left stranded—conceptually, ethically and verbally—with art that is either an activity (participation, interactivity etc.), a sure fire shot (Popish work and punch line art), or whose ambiguity is so intense that boredom takes over from wonder (contemporary art that plays at being ‘Contemporary Art’). For with such art the critic is placed in the position of either dissenting, or simply describing and repeating in words what the work of art does. Description is an inevitable necessity within art criticism, but best within the motor of why something is good, bad,

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or indifferent. But criticism is easy when there is no compulsion to commit, and when read by an audience which treats criticism as curmudgeonly. (In Australia, John McDonald has done a good deal of damage in this regard, in his earlier years taking the stick to much of contemporary art, high-handedly stunting its critical reception, while now also discrediting the harsh, or frankly incisive, critical voice.) Dissenting has become increasingly hard as it presumes a hypothetical alternative. If that is the case this is discouraged by contemporary art institutions—governed by sponsors whose sole wish is to see large numbers who then bear witness to their sponsorship—who drive content that is marketable, plausible, and eminently digestible. But this is a determinable end point, the collapse into verbal noise, the beginnings of which were already in evidence in the 1980s, notably in Robert Hughes’s campaign against Julian Schnabel. Hughes, a highly respected if conservative critic writing in Time magazine, was scathing of Schnabel’s work, but this did nothing to dent the artist’s success; if anything it contributed to his rise and lasting

success. In this respect, Hughes’s diatribes were precursors of Internet ‘bites’ and ‘hits’ today: what matters is not how you are noticed, only that you are noticed. While it is something of a given that the most damning condemnation is to be ignored, what is at stake for art criticism is the way in which critical debate is the baby thrown away with the bathwater. To return to the question of ‘for whom one speaks’, this is complicated all the more by the onset of globalization, and socalled global art. On a domestic level, since the 1980s, indigenous and non-indigenous artists and commentators have struggled with the entitlements of art criticism: cultural difference and the secret/sacred nature of traditional art meant that it could, possibly, bask comfortably in a critical vacuum, insulated from the critics who didn’t know what they were talking about, and certainly had no right to comment on a race that their own had spent years in subjugating and oppressing. But significant figures such as Djon Mundine have laboured to redress this balance, lending credence to the commonsense argument that to want to

Robert Gober Untitled, 1989-90 Photo courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York


Mariko Mori | Transcircle 1.1 2004 (detail). Stones, Corian, LED, Real Time control system. 336 cm in diameter: each sculpture: 110 x 56 x 34 cm. The Mori Art Collection, Tokyo. Photo: Richard Learoyd. Rebirth was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2012-13, then at the Japan Society, New York in 2013-14 and is now presented at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2015. All artworks are copyright of the artist.

GROUP EXCHANGE: 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial curated by Cecilia Heffer

14 April —15 May

UTS GALLERY Level 4 702 Harris St Ultimo NSW Mon–Fri 12–6pm art.uts.edu.au

This exhibition has been developed and toured by Tamworth Regional Gallery


CASULA POWERHOUSE ARTS CENTRE PRESENTS

GUARDING THE HOME FRONT 20 March – 17 May 2015 ARTISTS TONY ALBERT PENNY BYRNE SAM CRANSTOUN JODI DALEY EX DE MEDICI BONITA ELY PHILLIP GEORGE GEORGE GITTOES LUCY GRIGGS FIONA HALL FREYA JOBBINS BADEN PAILTHORPE MICHAEL PECK BENJAMIN TANKARD GUAN WEI FROM THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL GEORGE BENSON STELLA BOWEN PENLEIGH BOYD SYBIL CRAIG WILL DYSON JOHN GOODCHILD GEORGE LAMBERT HORACE MOORE-JONES KATY MUTTON SIDNEY NOLAN

CASULA POWERHOUSE ARTS CENTRE 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula NSW 2170 (Enter via Shepherd Street, Liverpool) e. reception@casulapowerhouse.com t. 02 9824 1121 w. casulapowerhouse.com

Penny Byrne, War on Terror Waltz, 2009. Courtesy of Deakin University Art Collection, purchased 2010. Photograph by Jeremy Dillon.


from participatory art to participatory criticism: the big noise

participate on the international stage is also to be subject to the same criticisms. Predictably, however, Aboriginal art, both traditional and urban, remains one of the darlings of the international stage, where its ‘primitive’ status is affirmatively greeted by curators who see this as relieving them of the need to comment in any engaging way, freed from overly heavy intellectual activity, lest they offend. On a global level, the supposed shift from the Euro-American frame of reference means that the critic’s zone of authority, from the point of view of language, tradition, and cultural inheritance, is also precarious. The word “supposed” is used advisedly, for it appears that while there has been much comment by art historians, critics and curators on this shift, the main centres of art, London and New York, remain as such. It would appear that this shift, whatever form it may take, and its indeterminate nature, is very convenient

for these centres, as it allows a softening of standards of measure. It is a cultural relativism that defies any unity or consensus other than that of taste and whim, two instincts that have always been congenial to art when it shies away from challenging ideas. This condition is yet more acute in the case of indigenous artists, whose postcolonial legacy is mired in guilt: the culture of political correctness means that international curators shy from any form of criticism, comforted with the revisionist narrative that they are in no position to enter into discussion with cultures not their own. Thus curators and critics are effectively given a superficially creditable theoretical buttress for not having to make any commentary at all. By and large, in the postcolonial shadow, all is left is to ‘accept’, for to enter into criticism is, it would seem, to enter into hazardous speculation. Another component in the lowering standards of art criticism, or the lack of courage,

is the culture of encouragement. This is part of the same family of values as participatory art, insofar as it pretends to partake in an easily comprehensible notion of community. In the contemporary art world, the art exhibition has splintered into four identifiable strands. The first is the artist-run-initiative, which is low or not-for-profit, mostly ad hoc and driven according to the agenda of those responsible for its maintenance. The second is the Kunsthalle: these are venues for the insertion, or hosting of contemporary art, which may vary in size, and are funded by the State and perhaps donors and sponsors. The third is the commercial gallery. The fourth is the large art festival from biennales to Art Basel. Biennales appear to operate according to curatorial disinterest but their adventurousness must ultimately be tempered so as not to offend those who fund them.4 The latter are notoriously difficult to critique simply for the fact that they are


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almost invariably a massive pluralist hodgepodge flimsily stapled together with a theme that could be taken to mean almost anything. Exhibitions in commercial galleries are insulated by a number of variables; one is that a magazine will not run a nasty review based on a show from a gallery that purchases lucrative advertising space; it is also customary to sponsor critics on certain junkets. These occur under a covert and disingenuous appearance of full disclosure—where the magazine or newspaper declares that he or she was sent to a particular venue under certain auspices —however, it is a form of passing benefaction that acts as a guarantee that the critic will not be begrudging of anything associated with the gallery. There is an implicit loyalty purchased by purported largesse. Owners of rich and powerful galleries also make it their business to maintain ties to upper level media people and politicians, and therefore can ultimately be an invisible hand in the fate of the lowly art critic, largely working from article to article, and without any formal long-term contract. When it comes to contemporary art spaces and Kunsthalle—be it Mücsarnok in Budapest to PS1 in New York to Artspace in Sydney—the artists they exhibit are either associated with official dealers—so as to apply the criterion made above—or they are non-commercial and ‘experimental’, such that they are either of very little interest to the wider public, or, because non-commercial are presumably doing art for all the right reasons and worthy of encouragement. This too applies to the lowly artist-runinitiatives, who are commercial small fry and proportionately so marginal that to hit at a soft target, or to engage in a specialist debate arcane to the lay-reader and liable to earn the writer still more enemies in an already shrinking pool of colleagues. Rounding all this off, the cherry on the cake if you will, is the culture of craven editors who join hands with craven curators: I was recently accused of making a ‘cheap shot’ about the choice of artists in Australian biennales (according to type and taste over any real idea; Simryn Gill being the right choice after the machismo of Shaun Gladwell etc.) by an editor who refused to print part of an article that eventually appeared in the last issue of this publication.

With the end of courage also comes the end of philosophy. The regnant leitmotif of this essay has been the various reasons art can subsist with few or just weak ideas, leaving art criticism to be a kind of service industry of the redundancies of description over reflection and provocation. In a recent essay entitled ‘Neo-Modern’, the New York critic David Geers proposes that in recent years there has been a turn to modernist styles by artists, but in a way that forgoes commentary, self-reflexiveness or contextualization. Geers explains; A perfect storm of timing and influence, this embrace of modernist styles is a convergence of several developments. It is, in equal parts, a generational fatigue with theory; a growing split between hand-made production and social practice; a legitimate and thrifty attempt to ‘keep it real’ in the ever-expansive image culture and the slick ‘commodity art’ of Koons, Murakami, and others. But it also represents a nostalgic retrenchment on the part of an art world threatened by technological transformation and economic uncertainty that now undermine its hierarchies and claims of cultural precedence.5

Opposite Robert Gober Wallpaper: Forest, 1991; Legs: Untitled, 1991 Photos courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

The current new generation of artists is returning to tried and tested styles unencumbered by any conscience. Where not so long ago artists working with non-objective abstraction would have at least paid lip service

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to ‘post-painting’ and its litany of wobbly and puzzling definitions, the present order of artists proceeds without looking sideways or back, the equivalent of born-again-Christians whose contentment with life comes from it being ruled by unquestioned irrational certainties. To go blindly forth is the best way, or one way, of combating the age of uncertainty, as it is simply to deny it, artistically speaking, with forms that are all too familiar and which have been absorbed into every level of culture, from furniture to wallpaper. Art criticism is painted into a corner, since it can do nothing else but rehearse the same discourses, and is actively encouraged to do so. To venture into critical debate is not only to give voice to what no-one wishes to hear, but which the majority would ignore. Art criticism, which is destitute of philosophical values, is emasculated further by artists who eschew them altogether. This is compounded by the reticence of editors cowed by a meddling board, and driven by subscription rates. At about the same time as the appearance of Geers’ article, Dave Hickey, one of the USA’s pre-eminent art critics, announced his departure from the art world. As The Guardian reported, Hickey “launched a fierce attack on the contemporary art world, saying anyone who has ‘read a Batman comic’ would qualify for a career in the industry”.6 This would not be so funny if it weren’t so true. To take enjoyment in trenchant art criticism is rarer than the rampant hedonism of the art world, which is the mild recompense for a loss of nerve, and an ‘industry’ caught up in its own self-congratulation. Notes 1 Jean-François Lyotard, Que peindre? What to paint? Herman Parret trans., Leuven: Leuven U.P. 2013. See also Lyotard, Tombeau de l’intellectuel, et autres papiers, Paris: Galilée, 1984 2 Jed Perl, ‘The Cult of Jeff Koons’, The New York Review of Books, 25 September, 2014, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/ archives/2014/sep/25/cult-jeff-koons/; accessed 21/12/14 3

ibid.

4

This is dealt with in more detail in my previous article, ‘Drained and Confused: Insistent Voices on “The Contemporary”’, Contemporay Art+Culture Broadsheet, 43.4: 6-11 5

David Geers, ‘Neo-Modern’, October 137, Winter 2012: 9

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Edward Helmore and Paul Gallagher, The Guardian, 28 October, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ 2012/oct/28/art-critic-dave-hickey-quits-art-world

Above Robert Gober Leg with anchor, 2008 Photo courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York


first quarter program @ NCCArt 4 April to 2 May 2015 Gallery 1: Glenn Campbell, Two Fields Gallery 2: James Tylor, Un-resettling (Dwellings), Un-resettling (Happenings) Screen Room: Julia Mageau Gray, Tep Tok

Romaine Moreton, Ragtag, 2014 SiĂĄn McIntyre, work in progress, 2014

21 February to 21 March 2015 Gallery 1: Cathy Laudenbach, Landscapes of Desire Gallery 2: Sadat Laope, Sometimes, Something Screen Room: Romaine Moreton, Ragtag Boxset: Nadine Lee, Healing

16 May to 13 June 2015 Gallery 1: Harriet Body, Paul Williams, Pete Nelson, Stella Rosa McDonald, Siân McIntyre, Belem Lett, North Gallery 2 + Screen Room: Baz Ledwidge, Darwin Daze Boxset: Leanne Waterhouse, Cumulus

James Tylor, Un-resettling- half dome hut on desert plain

Vimy Lane, Parap, Darwin

nccart.com.au

Tender exoTics Curated by

Lisa CampbeLL-smith

artists:

bobby beausoLeiL, Nik kamvissis, margaret stoNes,

2 - 31 may 2015 tender exotiCs is the 2015 Contemporary art tasmania Curatorial mentorship exhibition

WWW.Contemporaryarttasmania.orG 27 tasma street, north hobart, tasmania t +61 3 6231 0445

Image: Nik Kamvissis, Sucking On Nothing, 2014. Pencil on Paper. Courtesy of Artist.


perth international arts festival and fremantle arts centre present

ragnar kjartansson

14 feb – 6 april | free

Fremantle Arts Centre is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts.

Visual Arts Program Partner

Image: Ragnar Kjartansson, The End – Rocky Mountains, 2009, in collaboration with Davíd Thór Jónsson, five-channel video projection, colour, sound loop: 30:30min, Production Photo: Laura Vangas, courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


value washing the arts: on the quantification and instrumentalisation of art

ceci n’est pas l’art de évolution sociale


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Nat Muller We have heard it all before: art for social change, intercultural dialogue, conflict resolution through art, resistance art, revolutionary art, participatory art, the social turn, the political turn, the educational turn. Attitudes towards arts and culture have changed along with the drastic global political and economical changes of the past decade. We have witnessed amongst others the end and aftermath of the Cold War, ‘9/11’ and a global economic crisis caused by what some may term hyper-capitalist greed. In an age of quantification and maximisation of profits everything needs to be accountable to computation. Art too. This brings me to the thorny question of the value of art. Quantifying art financially, though at times arbitrary, is the easy part. In her excellent book on the contemporary art market Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century Georgina Adam writes that, “[b]etween 2004 and 2012 [the contemporary art] market grew by five hundred and sixty-four per cent in value—far eclipsing the previous traditional heavyweight category of Impressionist and Modern art”.1 Later on in the book she makes a connection between luxury consumer goods and contemporary art. Indeed, for the one percent contemporary art has become a lifestyle choice: flaunting a Louis Vuitton bag, wearing Prada and owning a work of the snazziest artiste du jour go handin-hand. The newly established, and much criticised Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris is a case in point. However, in times in which the marketability of art is being played out extremely aggressively and in which art fairs have more funds at their disposal to commission artists and organise conferences, symposia and not-for-profit shows than museums and art institutions, the tables have been turned. Public funding, that ever dwindling resource, which facilitates non-commercial and ‘difficult’ art, has over the past fifteen years, beset by budget cuts and increased populism, struggled to articulate its raison d’être. The effect is that nowadays more often than not art has ‘to do’ something if it

Opposite Apologies to Rene Magritte

wants to be eligible for public funding. ‘Doing something’ is never really defined but can be broadly interpreted as ‘doing good for society’ and thus can be quantitatively measured. In other words, art is made useful and functional and its prerogative of autonomy and of doing absolutely nothing in terms of immediately “useful” material outcomes is effectively annulled. Examples are legion, and perhaps one of the most evangelising and misguided ones is pop philosopher’s Alain de Botton’s idea of art as therapy—art will help you cure everything from love sickness to dissatisfaction in your professional life. On his website he claims, “if art is to enjoy its privileges, it has to be able to demonstrate its relevance in understandable ways to the widest possible audience”.2 Part of this undoubtedly implies, “if art wants to continue to receive public money it better prove its usefulness”. Claims like de Botton’s completely miss the point about art and perpetuate a populist neo-liberal idea about public spending, namely that hard earned tax money should only be spent on something with wide appeal and consensus. Moreover, it forces art in a very narrow straitjacket that is soothing, sanitized, pleasing, sugarcoated and most of all functional. Out go the practices that disturb, complicate, rub, resist, are difficult and produce affect and meaning on a variety of levels, whether conceptually or aesthetically. De Botton’s idea of art is, apart from being reductive and conservative, decidedly boring. However, this has not stopped Amsterdam’s prestigious Rijksmuseum from appointing de Botton as its guest curator to convert the institution into a self-help manual. Reviews in the Dutch and British press were scathing.3 They mostly found that de Botton pedantically reduced art audiences to an unthinking mass of infantile souls, incapable of reflecting, feeling or experienceing artwork without prescriptive guidance. Art critic Wieteke van Zeil of the largest Dutch daily de Volkskrant put it very well when she wrote; So let it be said, the exhibition Art is Therapy is an insult three times over: for museums, for the works of art and above all for the visitor who is addressed as a childish victim and is not encouraged to look or to think. And that’s exactly the opposite of what every good work of art evokes, if you make the effort. Whether amateur or connoisseur.4

We should keep in mind here that de Botton’s curatorship was probably meant more as a publicity stunt than anything else. Get a celebrity in your museum and it is bound to attract lots of media attention and generate (new) audiences. It is an excellent example of how ideas about the consumption of art, marketing and public spending—dangerously —go hand in hand. On the funding end of the spectrum we find initiatives such as ‘The Art of Impact’, a seven million euro fund initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in late 2014 in collaboration with the Netherlands’ largest cultural funds. A slick video on the project’s website announces the fund’s objectives and a video message of Jet Bussemakers, the Netherlands current Minister of Education, Culture and Science, reinforces the fact that this is basically a policy instrument. The issue with this fund starts with its very name, “The Art of Impact”. It desperately wants to do something that has (measurable) effect and states that it wants to stimulate projects with a clear social impact. The examples given on the website are textbook, from a collaboration between artists and scientists to research into ways fungi can function as insulation material, to playwrights developing plays for communities in disenfranchised neighbourhoods. Despite the inclusion of projects by excellent and visionary organisations such as the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (STEIM) and the art and new technology platform Mediamatic, it becomes clear that the actual intent of the fund is to spur on “organisations, companies and policy makers to use artists more to attain their goals”.5 Indeed, the main questions asked here are, “How can art make a difference in [creating] a liveable neighbourhood or city, energy and climate, care and welfare, technology, science and economy?”6 It is no coincidence that artists are required to step in where neo-liberal governments are pulling out: education, care, social services etcetera. In an economic context where cultural resources are scant, even prestigious and unique international cultural foundations such as the Prince Claus Fund have shifted their focus more towards topics such as conflict and poverty, the traditional areas of humanitarian development agencies.


www.unisa.edu.au/sasa-gallery

University Collections curating and collaborating researching and documenting engaging the community presenting events enhancing university experience supporting university values

With its illustrious history, the University of Adelaide holds over 40 collections which form in effect a decentralised museum with many branches and facets. We share our collections with the public through a dynamic program of cultural activities and invite you to register for electronic invitations and see what we are up to: unicollections@adelaide.edu.au www.adelaide.edu.au

image Smith Elder & Co Physiological diagram The Organs of the Senses, Plate 1, 1876 photograph: Catherine Buddle

Image: David Archer, Skull of truth, 2014 From the upcoming SASA Gallery exhibition, Uncomfortably Numb


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Though “value-washing” the arts took flight particularly after the 2008 global economic crisis and ensuing massive cuts in arts and culture budgets, especially in countries with typically generous cultural budgets, such as the UK and The Netherlands, the writing had been on the wall for a while. In The Netherlands the idea of “cultural entrepreneurship” was trumped and written into policy by former Deputy Minister of Culture Rick Van der Ploeg in 1999,7 who concretised the by now irrevocable relationship between public funding, artistic ambitions, marketability, accessibility, audience preference and ultimately the self-sufficiency of cultural producers. Cultural entrepreneurship is to this day a key criterion for funding bodies to assess an applicant. In the UK, writers such as Alana Jelinek and Claire Bishop trace a shift of attitudes back to the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour government in the late 1990s. For the first time, funding became linked not to an artworld’s [sic] elite self-defined notion of excellence, but instead to increasing the range and the type of audience for the arts (known as “access”) and, to a lesser extent to those activities that provide social goods, such as “community cohesion”.8 It is an unpopular position to challenge the direct social and political impact of art projects. My quarrel is as much with the total commodification of art in an art market that has totally spun out of control as it is with artistic practices which are blatantly instrumentalist and hence end up in their own way commodifying the arts. Albeit not in terms of sales, but rather of its measurable contribution, i.e. profit, to society. A wholesome participatory society, whether it’s the neo-liberal variety that is organised top-down or the self-organised horizontal ‘Occupy’ variety, both call for a wholesome and participatory art. Aesthetics —that dirty word—has all but disappeared from most critical artspeak. I am exaggerating for the sake of argument, but there is a disturbing and cloying dogmatic reek to all of this. Cultural producers, already working precariously and on shoestring budgets, should be weary of perpetuating a feel-good semblance of participation or criticality, so that ‘value’ mileage can be accrued. Symbolic capital, so it seems, is bleeding to death in the twenty-first century. There is a real danger that artistic production may fall in two absolute categories: the luxury consumer good or the PR extension for faltering governance. Neither option is attractive.

A curious effect of all this is that certain politicised forms of ‘radicality’ and ‘resistance’ in art are embraced by institutions and funders alike. In her excellent history of, and critique on, participatory art, Claire Bishop argues; “models of democracy in art do not have a relationship to models of democracy in society”.9 Yet time and again these two models are collapsed and confused. The 7th Berlin Biennial titled Forget Fear curated by Polish artist Artur Żmijewski in 2012 is a case in point. Known for his provocative and confrontational videos, Żmijewski does not shy away from disturbing the social—and other—orders. There is nothing sugarcoated about his artistic work; it is raw and in-your-face. Nevertheless, what works for Żmijewski’s artistic oeuvre became problematic as a curatorial framework for the Biennial. I share Żmijewski’s frustration with the current political climate that is detrimental—not only to the arts—but to society at large and that change is urgent through different forms of alliances. He propagates a fervent anti-institutionalism and rightly observes in his foreword to the Biennial’s catalogue that “artistic radicalism is transformed into velvet critique” and that “in the art world and beyond… art has become a décor for a neo-liberal system, [which] includes not only art objects, but the intellectual discourse that frames them”. 10 Nevertheless, I do wonder at his idea of what he calls “artistic pragmatism”, which he explains as: What interested us were concrete activities leading to visible effects. We were interested in finding answers, not asking questions. We were interested in situations in which solutions are implemented responsibly. We were interested neither in preserving artistic immunity nor distancing ourselves from society… All that art has now is spectacle, where social and political problems are played out with no substantial impact on reality. And no substantial impact even on the players in the field of art: other artists and curators.11 Biennials, and the institutional structures that shape and support them, are unwieldy animals, no matter how many transformations they go through. As such, as a biennial curator, it’s difficult to have your cake and eat it too. And though Żmijewski is fiercely anti-neoliberal in his arguments and discourse, we might wonder whether he too has failed in his endeavour. What is the artistic or political meaning of bringing part of the Occupy movement to the spaces of the Kunst-Werke

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Institute for Contemporary Art other than spectacle? We have to ask ourselves if Żmijewski’s act would have been more powerful had he simply joined ‘Occupy’ rather than putting them on display in a white cube gallery. In the end both the artistic and the political gesture are weakened here. After all, is art the best vehicle to further the social change he desires? Isn’t art’s role elsewhere? Returning to Bishop: “This new proximity between spectacle and participation underlines the necessity of sustaining a tension between artistic and social critiques.”12 In the 7th Berlin Biennial this tension came undone. During the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world many artists participated in the demonstrations. Many made a point that they were there as political subjects and that their artistic practices would have to wait. It was a potent statement. Conversely, artists are censored, arrested, tortured and killed for their work the world over, from Ai Weiwei, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, to Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, Pussy Riot and the atrocious killings at Charlie Hebdo. Art is never innocent, whether we choose to identify with its assumptions or not. Therefore the binary that is often set up between “autonomous art or art for art’s sake” and “engaged or politicised art” is a too facile one and undoes the complexity of what art is and what art does. Not being exactly able to pinpoint what art does is, I would argue, an inherent part of its beauty and attraction. It is why we can re-visit a certain piece again and again and not become bored by it. However, in a neo-liberal context and in the participatory society geared towards demonstrable results, there is little patience for this. At a workshop on art, value and globalisation that I ran at the arts organisation TENT in Rotterdam in the autumn of 2014, students commented on a piece by artist Jonas Lund, who was part of the group show The Value of Nothing. Lund’s piece Projected Outcomes (2014) consisted of a huge blackboard depicting a real-time, cost-benefit overview of the exhibition. The data ranged from grants received, ticket sales, artist and curatorial fees, production costs, mentions in the press, to cleaning and PR costs. It also listed the volunteers paid to come and adjust the numbers on the black board every day, as well as the price of the blackboard itself (€54).


VALUE W ASHING THE ARTS : ON THE Q UANTIFICATION AND INSTRUMENTALISATION OF ART

irony was lost on my students. They cried foul that artists criticising the capitalist system should then actually expect to be paid for their labour. Their reasoning was: if you expect remuneration for your work, you cannot oppose the system; you have to acquiesce and be part of it. There is no other system. They read Lund’s work as hard quantitative data only, not as a poetic intervention. While it might be unfair to argue that this group of students is representative for a general public, it is informative as much as it is slightly worrying. If we obsess so much over the measurable and literal impact of art in society, we forsake the power of the imaginary and the potential for art to make worlds, no matter how hopeful or dark they turn out to be. Notes 1 Georgina Adam, Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century, Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2014: 10 2 Cfr. http://alaindebotton.com/art/; last accessed January 23, 2015 3 See for example Adrian Searle, ‘Art Is Therapy review – de Botton as doorstepping self-help evangelist’; http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/apr/25/ art-is-therapy-alain-de-botton-rijksmuseum-amsterdamreview; last accessed 23 January 2015 4 Wieteke van Zeil, ‘Alain de Botton in het Rijksmuseum: Alain de Botton in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum: An insult three times over...’; http://www.volkskrant.nl/dossier-museaen-galerieen/alain-de-botton-in-het-rijksmuseum-eendrievoudige-belediging~a3646456/; last accessed 23 January 2015 5 Emphasis and translation from the Dutch “Organisaties, bedrijven en beleidsmakers zouden meer gebruik kunnen maken van kunstenaars om dat te bereiken wat ze nastreven”, mine. Cfr. http://www.theartofimpact.nl/over.html; last accessed 23 January 2015 6 Translation from Dutch “Hoe kan kunst verschil maken voor een leefbare wijk en stad; energie en klimaat; zorg, welzijn, technologie, wetenschap en economie?”, mine. Cfr. http:// www.theartofimpact.nl/over.html; last accessed 23 January 2015 7 Cfr. Rick van der Ploeg, ‘Nota Cultureel Ondernemerschap’, presented to the Dutch parliament on 25 October 1999; http://parlis.nl/pdf/kamerstukken/KST41287.pdf; last accessed 23 January 2015 8

Alana Jelinek, This is Not Art: Activism and Other ‘Not-Art’, London: I.B.Tauris: 24

9

Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London: Verso Books, 2012: 279

Jonas Lund Projected Outcomes, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and TENT, Rotterdam Photo Janssen/Adriaans

Projected Outcomes is a wonderful tongue-incheek example of turning the quantification of value in the art world against itself. The hard data becomes the artwork, the spectacle, and presents itself to be assessed quantitatively, conceptually and aesthetically. Lund’s simple but genius move of flipping a work against itself is extremely effective as a critical statement. It also shows us that little meaning can be derived from this hard data only; you still need to experience the work in order to review—or assess—the show. However, this

10

Artur Żmijewski, ‘Forget Fear: Foreword’; http://www. berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/comments/forget-fear-a-forewordby-artur-zmijewski-19528; last accessed 23 January 2015

11

ibid: 10

12

ibid: 9, 277


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regarding the reader LEE WENG CHOY When it comes to animal metaphors and arts discourse, it’s hard to beat the octopus. Chus Martinez writes: The octopus is the only animal that has a portion of its brain (three quarters, to be exact) located in its (eight) arms. Without a central nervous system, every arm ‘thinks’ as well as ‘senses’ the surrounding world with total autonomy, and yet, each arm is part of the animal. For [humans], art is what allows us to imagine this form of decentralized perception. It enables us to sense the world in ways beyond language. Art is the octopus in love.1 Sadly, no such poetic image of unity and decentralization comes to mind with regards to reading about art. There is no republic of readers out there in the art world waiting to be amalgamated. For my theme here, the creature I decided to open with is the very definition of the ordinary, certainly in contrast with the multi-brained denizen of the sea. Do cats reciprocate the love of their companions? Why do felines and humans misread each other so? People who adore their cats often like to stare at them, straight into the eyes. Alas, to the furry critter, the direct gaze is a threat. Better instead to do as follows: sit calmly next to your pet and pretend to mind your own business —unlike the cat who is actually ignoring you —and then, finally, finally, when she (or he) glances at you, look back, but don’t gawk, and slowly blink your eyes. I often employ animal figures in my writing because of the suggestive potentials of their imagery. But I’m not seriously proposing human–cat relations as a metaphor for reading about art. Although isn’t it true that sometimes while reading it’s better not to confront the material head-on, but rather to take it in like a slow blink? And when speaking of reading, one should always also speak of misreading.

Note also that my title is not “regarding reading” but regarding the reader. I did not want to privilege the practice itself but the generic agent or actor instead. The tendency might be to think of reading about art as an activity primarily done within the arts community (by artists, curators, writers, historians, students, gallerists, collectors, dedicated audiences, etcetera) and I wanted to highlight the object of desire of arts administration: the reader as a member of the general public. The title itself is taken from an email exchange with Broadsheet’s editor Alan Cruickshank. More than a dozen years ago, he invited me to contribute to this journal, and he has been a supportive editor and reader ever since. I understand this is his last issue; I would be remiss if I did not express my profound gratitude to him.

The running theme of this text is the way that reading has changed in the age of, not globalization, one of my favourite terms to pronounce mockingly, but the internet. One could characterize the internet as a contest between visuality and textuality (or inter-visuality and inter-textuality). And of course the cat is a huge internet meme. Note that I did not speak of a “crisis of reading”. There may well be a crisis, but “crisis” is a term loaded with a lot of baggage, and for now, let me just say that the major changes in how, what and why we read has led to major worries for at least some people: for instance, an older generation of publishers, editors, writers and scholars, who are quite pessimistic about the future of reading about art.

HIGH QUALITY PRINTED MATTER Does print still matter? One of the topics that Alan broached in our email exchange was the state of art magazine and journal publishing. He painted a dire picture. Printed art periodicals worldwide are closing down. Some try to survive by converting to digital; many new platforms forsake print from the get-go. No doubt the internet is reshaping publishing and reading. At stake is whether the loss of existing platforms and the transformation of the landscape also means a loss of quality, globally. Is art writing becoming less serious and more superficial? Alan thinks so. My interest here is not to chime in with my own anecdotes and laments. Rather, I want to ask, firstly, what does an argument about quality entail? Pages 27-31 Broadsheet front covers selected by the author: Volume 29-4, 2000 Volume 38-4, 2009 Volume 40-2, 2011 Volume 42-3, 2013 Volume 43-4, 2014


REGARDING THE READER

Contemporary art making and art writing is characterized by great plurality and fragmentation. Sometimes it is cultural difference that matters; other times, what’s at stake are formal innovations and conceptual interventions. But one of the big assumptions of contemporary art is that you can curate art from anywhere and everywhere, and exhibit it all within a single structure. This is what platforms like biennales do. Hopefully, they do so with the aim of displaying diversity and prompting the different individual works to speak to each other. There is a term for when art’s many conversations, its multifarious voices, become more formalized, even institutionalized —discourse. Art is discursive by nature. And one of the central modes in the production, transmission and reception of a discourse is reading. The centrality of reading in the art world is not just something that obtains today, it has been the case since the invention of writing. The story of modern and contemporary art may comprise a series of repeated assaults on convention, and some art may attempt to be wildly unconventional, but new art is always ultimately read in the context of art history. The past is preface, and still present. This historical continuity makes it meaningful to speak of art as a specific field or category of cultural activity, even if one can’t draw clear

boundaries around it, and even when there are holes and gaps within the field. While we do not have a single unified and coherent world art history, there is commensurability within all this pluralism and difference, because our multiple discourses and histories intersect or can intersect—and because of platforms, publications and institutions like biennales, museums, art spaces and art schools, magazines, books and universities that encourage, establish and manage these interconnections. Of course, for a number of generations, the notion of “quality” in art has been under assault. Clement Greenberg is not the arbiter of art history. Yet I would contend that all the contestations of canons do not constitute an argument for discarding hierarchies or judgements altogether, or for the flattening of everything, where all art works and all texts are equal to one another. Rather, notions of quality are as they have always been: debatable and contextual. Now, we’re more selfaware of this reality. The expanding pluralism of art is characterized by efforts to reach out to different contexts, or to make any one context, if not quite translatable to every other, at least able to speak to other contexts. One can advocate for the merits or quality of a particular work of art and at the same time embrace the ever-widening inclusiveness of the field.

FEAR AND SELF-LOATHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY For older generations of art writers and editors who grew up with hardcopy books and magazines, the eclipse of print by online platforms has precipitated not only a lot of discussion, analysis and lament on the decline of content, what is also expressed, sometimes deliberately and other times subconsciously, is an anxiety over a newer generation of content producers and consumers: millennials. Laura Bradley, self-described millennial and intern for the online magazine, slate.com, writes about what she argues is a misplaced hostility towards her peers. “Millennials, those born roughly between 1980 and 2000, are infamously narcissistic, entitled, lazy, arrogant, wild, politically disengaged suckers who will fall for any weird fad.… these clichés are silly and easily debunked. Yet people keep spitting out condescending explainers and bitter grumbles about ‘millennial’ propensities… for better or worse, these trends actually have more to do with the age we’re in and the tech we use than they do with kids today.” She claims; “You don’t hate millennials; you hate the 21st century.”2 I once wrote an art magazine blog post called, “too analog to blog”3, so I can’t deny that I’m part of an older generation; nonetheless, I am suspicious of the denigrations of the “youths of both sexes”4 that Bradley describes. “In many ways, millennials embody what people tend to blame for the perceived American decay in the twenty-first century: tech addiction and a growing culture of mistrust and individualism.” As the first generation to grow up fully immersed in the new digital technologies—social networks and not just mobile but smart phones—millennials may well be the face of ‘selfie’ culture. But as Bradley points out, baby boomers “were the original ‘me’ generation”, Facebook use has become intergenerational, and the word “CrackBerry” —referring to those addicted to their BlackBerry phones like crack cocaine—predates the iPhone and Instagram. In her short piece Bradley doesn’t go on to explore what it means to hate the new digital technologies, nor does she analyze the notion of social and cultural decay. In another slate.com item, an episode of their Culture Gabfest podcast, host Stephen Metcalfe (a middle-aged man like me) and his Gabfest partners Dana Stevens and Julia Turner take on the proposition that franchise films like Marvel Comics aren’t just a big part of Hollywood, they have become the movie business, period.


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There is a delicious line that Metcalf dispenses when he tries to goad Turner into defending the current state of the film industry. He calls her a “pop-timist” who believes there is always hope for popular culture’s future, no such thing as a golden age, and that she would maintain, in his words, that “declinism is the nectar of the loser”. Turner, in her turn, says the problem is when commentators fixate on what is lost at the expense of not noticing what is emerging.5 Declinism is another big, loaded topic like “crisis”. Declinism often displays both a nostalgia for the past and a fear and dislike of the present. It has a long history. After every technological transformation that opens up the processes of cultural production and distribution comes assertions of civilisation’s demise. This passage that John Palattella cites is a winner; “Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would be best forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.” As Palattella notes, you might think this is someone “kvetching about blogs, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or Twitter”, but he tells us that this “jeremiad was the handiwork of Niccolò Perotti, a learned Italian classicist, writing to his friend Francesco Guarnerio in 1471, less than twenty years after the invention of the printing press”.6 If we are going to blame digital technologies, let’s pause and ask what exactly is “digital culture”? It is characterized by an even greater pluralism and fragmentation than art’s own. Yet digital culture doesn’t designate a category like art so much as a whole universe of disparate phenomena. Where does one start? More importantly, where can one end? What would be the equivalent of a biennale for digital culture, a single platform that displays a thoroughly representative range of all things encoded into ones and zeros? From mainstream to indie movies, TV and music (all now distributed digitally); from video games to blogs of every stripe that cover politics, gadgets, graphic design, architecture, food, philosophy and fashion; from mobile phone multimedia to online gambling and porn and websites of all kinds; and of course let’s not forget new media art. One could go on, but let’s stop here. This scattered expansiveness, however, may not be digital culture’s most defining characteristic. If art, deep down, is discursive and thus reading-based, then perhaps digital culture could be considered essentially “participatory”. It is something that we engage

in. Digitally produced and distributed content may dominate our attentions, but not because the overlords of capitalism are churning out material for our passive reception (true as that may be). It’s we users who produce a fair share of the images, sounds and texts that fill up our hard-drives and cloud servers, which we sometimes broadcast for all to see. Yet it’s one thing when this output is for personal entertainment, another if it replaces, for example, the news—bystanders reporting on events via Twitter, instead of seasoned journalists covering, say, the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. To a far less lifeand-death degree, in the art world, the parallel would be blogs replacing criticism published in professionally edited magazines and journals.7 TELEVISION AND THE NEWS FIX If my topic is the reader of art writing in the age of the internet, then why is my one example a recently concluded television show about television? The “boob tube” was perhaps the first great enemy of reading. Society’s moral and intellectual decline was often blamed on too much TV-watching. But the internet transformed television. Back then there was appointment viewing: a big share of American households would watch Dallas together as it aired on CBS, and then people might talk about

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the show with co-workers the next day by the office water-cooler. Today, we—a more global “we”—might binge-watch niche programming like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black, after downloading them illegally. Today, there’s an argument to be made that we have both the best of TV as well as the worst. Reality shows proliferate, whether it’s the Kardashians or Australia’s Got Talent or Asia’s Next Top Model. Yet there is also Mad Men, The Wire, BeTipul (In Therapy) and The Honourable Woman. Unlike the movie business, which has become increasingly mono-cultural in Hollywood, pluralism has proliferated on TV globally. It’s been argued that more than film or the novel, television is providing the most popular complex narratives that audiences—I almost said “consume”, but maybe the word “read” is better. Now, our typical television watching is more layered because of the internet: in some cases, more sophisticatedly discursive; in others, merely extended. After watching, many viewers might visit fan sites for gossip, or online magazines like slate.com, avclub.com or vulture.com for recaps, reviews or cultural analysis (the last site features Jerry Saltz as its resident art critic). There are lessons to be learned from TV when it comes to thinking about readers for art writing. To return to the issue where I left


REGARDING THE READER

off at the end of my last section: what happens when experts or professionals are no longer the privileged content producers? Which brings me to Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, an HBO series about a fictional nightly news program that had a three season run. Sorkin has been celebrated for writing television like The West Wing (about a fictional liberal USA President, which aired during the George W. Bush years) and movies like The Social Network (about Facebook), but his latest TV effort has been much maligned. As Willa Paskin notes, “Setting The Newsroom in the near past, Sorkin used the fictional fast-talking spastics of the News Night team to ‘correct’ for the real world’s broken cable news industry, showing the professionals how they should have handled everything from the Tea Party to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. The Newsroom argued that if only America had a cable news programme upon a hill like Will McAvoy’s—if only anyone really cared about the news, as opposed to ratings and entertainment—civility, intelligence and cooperation would be restored”.8 As humourless and frustrating as the show may sound, I very much enjoyed watching and reading about it. Like many of Sorkin’s dramas, it is centred on the one great man, in this case, news anchor McAvoy, who is on a mission to

civilize an America in decline, to restore it to its former greatness. If only the rest of the world would get out of his way. As an art critic, I’ve long been invested in the agency of the public intellectual. Maybe that’s why The Newsroom struck a chord. It presents a fantasy where the public intellectual is a popular figure, elevating him (it’s decidedly gendered) onto a podium where he can address society at large. But Sorkin’s great man is self-righteous and condescending. He knows better and never fails to let you know that; worse, he doesn’t even consider that his News Night viewers might need persuasion, they just need to be exposed to the clarity of his reasoning. “Every bad thing that happens to our friends at The Newsroom ultimately happens largely because they’re forced to chase ratings with a viewership composed of stupid Americans who won’t just shut up and listen to the truth”, as Arthur Chu observes.9 And a lot of these dumb “anonymous hordes” (Chu’s words) would be millennials too busy expressing themselves via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. McAvoy wants to look right into our souls as he demands a gaze of admiration in return, but Sorkin seems to lack the self-awareness that both he and his protagonist might be off-putting and thus fail to connect with the show’s real

world viewers. The Newsroom loudly insists that the crisis of democracy in America is partly a result of the news industrial complex being de-professionalized. But the show is less concerned about fixing the news—it does not exhibit any real interest in who American TV viewers might be, what their needs and motives are—than it is about the importance, the self-importance of the news team, from the great white man himself, to his love-interest news producer, to his loyal staff who applaud him in spite of his cranky smugness. The show provides the opposite of what I am interested in about readers and audiences: to understand who they are, to listen to them first and foremost. The Newsroom’s first reflex when it comes to encountering an audience is to begin by lecturing at them. The art world does not quite have anything comparable to global cable news networks, but the function of news in the art world has changed in the age of the internet, just as it has with television, and this may be causing more problems for older generation writers and editors. Ben Davis offers this commentary; Art criticism is in eclipse… If you had to name the major development in art discourse during the 2000s, it would undoubtedly be the ascent of ‘art news’, which has definitely replaced ‘art criticism’ at the centre of discussion… Readers care a lot more about reporting on the art world than they do about reviews of art. By whatever metric you use—Web traffic, reader feedback, or just percentage of the collective brain taken up—people are more inflamed by the latest institutional scandal or art-related celebrity sighting than they are by quaint, old-fashioned discussions of what, exactly, makes an artwork good.10 READERS LAB The problem with art news that Ben Davis describes is not too different from the problem that afflicts the world of The Newsroom, but let’s finally talk about readers of art writing. At its best, reading news about art may keep one informed (rather than spread gossip), and while being informed is necessary, it is not the primary function of reading about art. Arguably, what’s more important is to deepen one’s engagement, interest and understanding of the field. More than news, criticism, from the short review to the long essay, does precisely that. Can criticism ever “come back” and be at the centre of the discussion for the art world?


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Was it ever? I do believe that publishers, editors and writers, young and old, print or online, should care for the current health of art criticism. Alan Cruickshank is right to assert that without good platforms, good content cannot survive, and the future for readers looks less good, howsoever we might define “good” in each instance. While he’s pessimistic about the Internet, let’s say that I’m agnostic about it. What we both agree on is that the survival of platforms and content producers is important. But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in this struggle, it’s the lack of a concerted effort to better understand the needs and interests of a wide range of readers. Though it’s not as if the reader as a member of the general public has been entirely neglected. The arts have become big business, and so policy-makers have come to play a larger role in the lives of arts communities worldwide; the arts are there to be managed rather than supported. What seems to be a universal feature of arts policy is the desire for larger and larger audience numbers. In this view, the reader is important insofar as he or she can be lumped together with everyone else who ‘attends’ arts activities. In Singapore, where I try to work and live, there was a major arts policy report released in 2012 that articulated a road map for arts development, the Report of the Arts and Culture Strategic Review (ACSR).11 The ACSR’s vision is that by 2025, the island city-State should become “a nation of cultured and gracious people, at home with our heritage, proud of our Singaporean identity”. Hackneyed as the statement is, it expresses a qualitative aspiration, and in Singapore “quality” always has to be translated into quantitative terms. Thus, for the ACSR, “We hope that by 2025, the percentage of Singaporeans who attend at least one arts and culture event each year will double from a minority of 40% to a majority of 80%, and the percentage of Singaporeans actively participating in arts and culture activities will increase from the current 20% to 50%”. Of course, how attending a single arts event a year is evidence that anyone is more cultured, gracious and proudly Singaporean is not explained. Not that I want to think like a policymaker, but if we consider Key Performance Indicators, it’s strategic to target the reader of art as more than your typical audience member. He or she is someone who makes a significant intellectual and emotional investment, who cares enough to read. Against the policy-makers drive towards more and more, I’ve often argued

that small audiences are no less important for being small. But given the current conditions of art criticism, increasing the number of readers for it and popularizing good writing is a straightforward goal worth pursuing. The question is, how? Certainly one could start by getting to know readers. This year I plan to do a series of Readers Labs, working with arts organizations in Singapore and Korea, and hopefully in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Switzerland as well. The first phase of the project will be workshops that bring together small groups of people who represent the diversity of art readers. I am hopeful that these Labs will surprise me about what, why and how people read today. I’m just a little sad that I won’t be able to share my findings in an Alan Cruickshank-edited Broadsheet. Notes 1 Chus Martinez, ‘The Octopus in Love’, e-flux journal 55, May 2014 2 Laura Bradley, ‘People Don’t Hate Millennials, They hate 21st-century technology’, slate.com, December 2014; http:// www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/12/ you_don_t_hate_millennials_you_hate_21st_century_ technology.single.html; accessed 29 January 2015 3 Lee Weng Choy, ‘Too Analog to Blog’, December 2010; http://www.art-it.asia/u/ab_leewc/BxJ0FgH3Glm7YZfqpA2S; accessed 29 January 2015

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4 Lee Weng Choy, ‘The Youths of Both Sexes: Target Audiences and Biennale Publics’, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet 40. 1, 2011 5 Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, ‘The Culture Gabfest ‘Behold! Ignorance and Want’ Edition’, slate.com, December 2014; http://www.slate.com/articles/ podcasts/culturegabfest/2014/12/slate_s_culture_gabfest_ on_the_sony_hack_mark_harris_on_hollywood_s_toxic.html; accessed 29 January 2015 6 John Palattella, ‘The Death and Life of the Book Review’, The Nation, 21 June 2010 7 Portions of my discussion here derives from Lee Weng Choy, ‘I’ve never done it before, but I’ve read about it in books: art criticism in the age of digital culture’, Reflect/Refract: essays on photography in Singapore, Charmaine Toh and Cyril Wong eds, Singapore: Objectifs, 2013 8 Willa Paskin, ‘Headless Chickens Who Happen to Be Excellent at Their Jobs’, slate.com, July 2013; http://www. slate.com/articles/arts/television/2013/07/season_2_of_ aaron_sorkin_s_the_newsroom_on_hbo_reviewed.html. See also Paskin, ‘Did Aaron Sorkin Forget How to Write a TV Show?’, slate.com, December 2014; http://www.slate.com/ blogs/browbeat/2014/12/14/newsroom_finale_did_aaron_ sorkin_forget_how_to_write_a_tv_show.html; accessed 29 January 2015 9 Arthur Chu, ‘A Few Great Men Too Many: Aaron Sorkin Doesn’t Think You Can Handle the Truth’, thedailybeast. com, December 2014; http://www.thedailybeast.com/ articles/2014/12/21/a-few-great-men-too-many-aaron-sorkindoesn-t-think-you-can-handle-the-truth.html; accessed 29 January 2015 10 Ben Davis, ‘Total Eclipse of the Art: The Rise of Art News and the Crisis of Art Criticism’, blouinartinfo.com, January 2011; http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/36690/totaleclipse-of-the-art-the-rise-of-art-news-and-the-crisis-of-artcriticism; accessed 29 January 2015 11 National Arts Council Singapore, Report of the Arts and Culture Strategic Review, 2012


australian art now: same place, same time hubris

ALEX GAWRONSKI And if contemporary art is above all a discursive situation, the artists who produce and extend it merely conform to the requisites of their profession.1

Contemporary art is understood primarily as a discursive situation. It habitually projects an image of a networked culture via which multiplicities are seen to interact and extend, potentially infinitely, the global scope of such discursiveness. In a contemporary Australian context still shadowed by previous constrictions vis-a-vis geographic isolation and the attendant operations of cultural cringe, it is this discursiveness that is imagined as an

ultimate antidote. Australian artists, at least theoretically, connect more often and more easily with artists and institutions across the globe. In doing so they participate, again theoretically, in a discursive broadening of the critical and artistic parameters of the art produced in this country, extending audiences while experimenting with diverse media and forms. However, the obverse of this rosy picture of discursive inclusion is a more realistic, less


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idealistic situation, in which narrow concepts of ‘professionalism’ effectively meld together commercial interests with those of institutions like biennales and with spectacularized local expressions of contemporary ‘culture’ such as Melbourne Now.2 Indeed, rather than inclusive and openly networked, contemporary art in this country, as it is more frequently around the world, is part of cyclical operation whose primary concern is the pursuit of profit and/ or national(ist) prestige. Unsurprisingly, the closed, managerial circuit created as a result exists at a time when critical writing about art, even though central to contemporary art’s global institutionalization, plays an ever more supplementary and superficial role. Thus, a type of writing whose real purpose is not to close down, as some narrowly presume, but to open-up genuine possibilities, functions today instead as a form of legitimizing ‘critical’ window dressing: critique as an image of serious thought. This would explain also, why in an Australian context, questions of Aboriginality are generally3 perceived to be beyond the pale of true critical analysis because critique of Aboriginal art—a convenient market fiction itself—can easily be written off as ‘racist’. Finally, beyond the site-specific dimension of the ‘Aboriginal question’, are broader questions about varieties of ‘post-critical’ art currently flourishing in an Australian global context. Such art, rather than context-aware or critical, even humorously so, embraces a placeless ‘universal’ aesthetic that in actual fact unconsciously identifies the global ‘free’ market as the genuine discursive home for art made in this country. As is readily apparent to anyone with an interest in contemporary art, global mass events like biennales, festivals and art fairs, in Australia as elsewhere, represent a paradigmatic image of the art of our age. This is because such occurrences serve an image of diversity and difference that suggests a lingering kernel of enlightened idealism apparently still available to contemporary art in an otherwise inescapably and often crassly, commercialized context. Therefore, the image, which events like biennales project is one where overt commercial interest is subsumed for an alternate depiction of a type of momentarily conjoined United Nations of contemporary artistic possibility. Nonetheless, in an imagist era beholden to the domination of the static image of the brand, the critical openness promoted by mass events, even when well intentioned, is in many ways dissimulated. In fact, it takes little analysis to discover the commercial and market

interests that propel ‘utopian’ enterprises like biennales and other large-scale transnational art events. Certainly in an Australian context, where geographic distance from global centres still limits artists’ international opportunities, it is commercial galleries in particular who competitively, and at times ruthlessly, vie with one another to get ‘their’ artists exhibited. This increases not only the chosen artists critical prestige, but perhaps most forcefully, the caché of the commercial gallery representing them. Naturally, this is readily transformed into profit once the artist, by their inclusion in a bluechip global art event, attains visibility of this kind. And, it could be argued this is regardless of the quality of the work they exhibit, as if either biennale inclusion or commercial representation were an incontestable guarantee of artistic or critical worth. The furtive soliciting of visiting curators by commercial galleries visibly intensifies in the lead up to biennales. This is especially true in the instance of the Venice Biennale, one of the oldest and most prestigious, because only one artist is chosen to represent the entire nation. The gallery who scores this contract is bound to reap both critical and monetary rewards. Moreover, from the perspective of national economic interests, biennales and related phenomena, alongside “destination museums”4 have become a key means by which a paradoxical image of cultural discursiveness is strategically marketed to art and non-art audiences alike. The situation described above is by no means new. Still, it must be remembered that before their ubiquitous proliferation, the international biennale, aside perhaps from ‘old’ biennales like Venice, was not necessarily a known quantity; the biennale could still be an unfolding experimental form. Today, while experimentation is by no means absent from such events it is always underwritten by a form that has undoubtedly become, thoroughly conventionalized. A paradox arises accordingly by which a mass cultural event, generally perceived as indicating cutting-edge contemporary culture, exists as a result of such culture’s utter professionalization; the biennale as ‘avant-garde’ trade fair. More broadly telling is the frequency with which today the terms “art” and “culture” are viewed as synonymous. Such a situation is thoroughly expressed in a recent Australian context by way of heavily marketed ‘cultural’ expressions like Melbourne Now which included the participation of over one hundred and seventy-five artists, designers, architects, choreographers, performers,

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musicians, sound artists and curators, while a downloadable catalogue, a children’s book, a free ebook as well various multimedia attachments were available online. Melbourne Now’s stated aims were to, “promote engagement with contemporary art in new and dynamic ways by harnessing the creative energies of Melbourne’s wider community.”5 The question conveniently elided here was for what did this celebration of Melbourne culture ‘now’, co-funded by government and private means, hope to achieve beyond an instantaneous celebration of itself? What critical outlook was the event aimed at addressing other than the self-conscious promotion of Melbourne as a “city of culture” in the process of reaping tourist profits for the State of Victoria? Considering the, superficially at least, mind-bogglingly inclusive program listed in conjunction with this festival, the question of critical intention becomes irrelevant because diversity in itself is implicitly posited as critical reason enough in a supposedly post-critical age. Of course, inclusiveness in this context was achieved, as in all mass-events of this ilk, by very strategic means. Thus, the idealized image of inclusivity becomes the means by which a culture celebrates itself, mirror-like, to itself, under a watchful national, if not international, gaze. The networked closed circuit represented by essentially festivalizing cultural expressions like Melbourne Now, is similarly evident in contemporary attitudes to contemporary critical and theoretical writing. On the one hand, such writing is still considered of utmost importance in lending weight to the productions of contemporary artists, curators and institutions. The mere inclusion of the names of important writers in exhibition catalogues, as much as the appearance of the names of important theorists within the texts they write, proves to the reader, to the targeted art audience, that such-and-such an artist or exhibition is of unquestionable importance.6 On the other hand, in such instances, the mere inclusion of proper names becomes enough reason for the ‘critical’ article to exist. In this way, contemporary critical or theoretical writing is reduced merely to an image of itself as generally indicating ‘serious thought’. An artist, curator, gallery or institution with whom such serious thought is connected, is then subsequently deemed worthy of serious attention; it is a simulatory trajectory. In the meantime, critical writing about art, in Australia and elsewhere,7 is almost wholly transformed into the hagiographic marketing of the careers of particular artists.8


AUSTRALIAN ART NO W : SAME PLACE , SAME TIME

The reason for this scenario is complex and hinges largely on the contemporary preponderance for a dominant conception of knowledge as the product of virtualization —at the heart of which are the technologies and interpretive practices encouraged by widespread dependence on virtual media, the internet and its basically imagist prefiguring of the social sphere. Internet browsing and virtual social networking promote knowledge and experience as simultaneously instantaneous and image-dependent. Textuality hence becomes a question foremost of visuality. Thought skims imagery in a combinative and re-combinative fashion that, regardless of its limitations, does not automatically dismiss inventive possibilities. Nonetheless, this practice tends to be antithetical to analytical thought. Analysis is not entirely discounted by such prevailing habits, although evidence of it as a sustained and interrogative practice is less supported. Meanwhile, the self-interrogative necessity to truly think, inevitably entailing ongoing difficulty and doubt, is deemed increasingly unnecessary to the more expedient external pursuit of purely professional goals. It is then, that the image of the career artist comes to the fore usually despite or at the expense of, their thinking.9

This criticality without criticality also impacts strongly on one of the most significant issues facing the national cultural imagination, that of so-called “Aboriginal art”. This issue is particularly pressing because the concept of Aboriginal art is so thoroughly central to Australia’s international self-presentation. In fact, Aboriginal art might be said cynically to account for the only ‘original’ Australian brand on the global art market, given that Australia’s non-indigenous artists practise in ways that connect to existing cultural practices whose origins lie elsewhere. Still, the originary representation of Aboriginal culture is particularly problematic once stripped of its political dimension. Such critical denuding is typical in the interaction between local and global markets, which in this case, allows Aboriginal art to stand as both inherently ‘spiritual’ and pre-critical and as powerfully politicized. In this situation, Aboriginal art can conjure political struggle though diminished to the domain of trade in aesthetically singular artifacts. Therefore, the political charge of certain examples of Aboriginal art can be experienced locally and internationally in complete isolation from any awareness of the actual and continuing political struggles from which they have sprung. By the same token, and even if it is increasingly recognized, the blanket term Aboriginal art, perceived again as both uniquely spiritual and political, is

critically devoid of meaning. No such unified art exists. Nor are the intentions of those purported to produce Aboriginal art in any way reducible or self-same. It is an especially peculiar scenario within a contemporary Australian art situated in an overwhelmingly image-centric global context that works of art of an often radical, suprarepresentational abstraction, may be equally radically simplified to an image of a non-extant totality; Aboriginal art as global fantasy brand, powerful and beautiful, contemporary and timeless. Fantasy also informs emergent practices within the local Australian context. However, such fantasy tends not to be the phantasy that once propelled movements like Surrealism in their unpacking of disturbing contemporary, psychological contents. Instead, contemporary fantasy as it appears in Australian art is primarily formalist. Indeed, there is a growing trend, encouraged, as has always been the case here despite claims of the death of cultural cringe, by broader international, particularly British and North American, examples. The tail end of the defunct yBA ‘movement’10 with its selfconscious, a-critical, institutionally bankrolled, attack on contemporary morality and taste still exerts an unwarranted influence in Australia. More endemic though, is the current local preponderance for object-based installations whose primary raison d’etre seemingly, is the ‘quirky’,11 casual looking or ‘slacker’, presentation of a miscellany of unexpected and ‘surprising’, material combinations.12 Such contemporary bricolage, while drawing distantly from Dadaist contempt for ‘goodtaste’ (although entirely devoid of traces of that movement’s socio-political inclinations), is more likely clarified as resulting once more, from the online browsing habits of younger artists. This is the case insofar as internet browsing is inherently collagist. More pertinently though, it results because even material properties apprehended online, are instantly reduced to imagery. Thus an awareness of the “thingness of things”,13 the materiality of substances, as much an awareness of art historical examples, wanes as material and critical contexts effectively vanish. By the same token, this process often simultaneously celebrates the placelessness of the internet in a way that completely discounts the more insidious aspects of its political origins, previous and current uses.14 Conversely, that is not to foolishly suggest that the internet and the social media it supports are ‘evil’ or wholly


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stupid, which are completely absurd and thoughtless propositions. It is to suggest nevertheless, that the spaces of the internet are too often automatically perceived, like those of the contemporary virtualized economy, as naturally occurring. It is unsurprising then that particular contemporary aesthetic trends in recent Australian art, against notions of Australia’s cultural isolation, embrace the placeless utopia of the internet that is simultaneously the dominating space of global capitalism. This is an art born ‘naturally’ of and for the art market.15 This state of affairs would also explain the growing tendency among a younger generation of Australian artists to produce art that looks like conceptual art. Such art fundamentally apes the aesthetics of conceptual art, while completely ignoring the intellectual and critical demands that conceptual art, historically and by its very description, places on its audiences. Instead such art, conceptual art lite, usually deploys minimal formal means to present ‘concepts’, generally textual, that require no deciphering or interpretation because their ‘meaning’ is already immediately obvious. Work of this kind could be said to look intellectual, where contemporary emphasis on appearance is everything. The contemporary imperative of discursiveness in art has in many respects opened Australian art to wider international audiences. At the same time, Australian artists’ increasingly savvy use of the discursive mediums of the internet and social media have likewise extended, at least practically, opportunities for local artists. Unfortunately though, extreme emphasis on the necessity to connect to broader and broader audiences, both from an artistic and institutional perspective, has tended to champion a paradoxically static image of a now globalized art. Such art is ultimately trapped in the circuits of its own perpetual self-representation. Therefore, while apparently open to infinite spatial possibilities, Australian art like much contemporary art elsewhere, is temporally fixed in an image of the present, the never ending now. Time to think future possibilities beyond those that are purely professional is increasingly hard to justify. Again paradoxically, futurity pre-empts sameness. The promise of use-value that clings to narrow concepts of professionalization, legitimizes artistic production in a milieu where, more than ever, time is money. The same is true of art writing where increasingly, unless such writing can be used promotionally, it goes unread.

Critical awareness of the contextual compromises inherent to the current ‘profession’ of art from an artist’s viewpoint, or from an art writer’s, is likely to be regarded as nothing but a hindrance to ‘success’.16 This is unfortunate, as both art and art writing or theory as much as they produce genuine thought, can still furnish the means by which closed circuits are opened to an awareness of their finite circularity. But in a local and global scenario where, as is frequently cited, funding and opportunities are limited, artists are more than ever willing to play strategically dumb and to curtail the type and extent of their interests. To be less professionally usable is to be less visible. Less visibility in an age commanded by the dominating imperative of the Image, where everything is imagined as image-able, suggests irrelevance and obscurity. This applies to the work of curators as well who are even more pressured to say what ‘counts’, which frequently translates as what is already known and immediately graspable. In the end, in contemporary circumstances such as these where limitless discursiveness begets limited thinking, and long after the pronounced death of the artist (writer, curator) as hero, perhaps a real solution lies precisely in embracing the courage to do and think differently. Notes 1 John Kelsey, ‘Escape from Discussion Island’, Meaning Liam Gillick (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle Zürich; Kunstverein München; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, MIT Press, 2009: 61 2 Melbourne Now, multi-disciplinary exhibition and related events, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and various locations across Melbourne, 22 November, 2014–23 March, 2015 3

Of course there are exceptions, the most acute critical examples coming from contemporary indigenous artists like Destiny Deacon, Daniel Boyd or Richard Bell 4 The Guggenheim Bilbao being one of the first and most obvious. Interestingly, Rome’s MAXXI designed by star architect Zaha Hadid and inaugurated (late) in May 2010, is a particularly telling example of the precedence of the museum over its contents: upon MAXXI’s completion controversy arose once it became publicly known that there was an €800,000 shortfall in gallery finances making it impossible for the museum to actually finance exhibitions within it. This dire, if not wholly compromising, situation was curiously reversed once the museum was bought by Italy’s Culture Ministry in 2012 5 From a press release for Melbourne Now; http://www.ngv. vic.gov.au/melbournenow/about-melbourne-now

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8 “Here art criticism becomes an element in the market, stripped of its contexts and arguments and reduced, in classical Marxist fashion, to the exchange value it may have helped create.” James Elkins, What Happened to Art Criticism, University of Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003: 48 9 “My work has been most often discussed in terms of its having a populist rather than critical impulse. I had to say how my work operated in relation to various discourses, because no one else would have done so. I’ve said this many times before; if you don’t write your own history, someone else will, and this ‘history’ will suit their purposes.” Mike Kelley in Mike Kelley, London: Phaidon, 1999: 10. This statement by Kelley reflects the art world’s capacity to transform even the most acerbically critical contemporary art into a celebratory image of its opposite 10 As everyone would remember, ‘Young British Artists’ were strategically championed by millionaire entrepreneur and art dealer Charles Saatchi alongside the British government’s British Council for the Arts 11 This issue of quirkiness bears a particular, if often embarrassing, relationship to Australian culture. It could be reasoned as a reaction of a colonised local culture in its attempts to subversively undermine the cultural weight of the paternalistic coloniser. However, it too often ends in mannered displays of a belaboured mawkish cuteness as evidenced by a whole swathe of Australian films marketed to international audiences, specifically for their ‘quirkiness’, during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s 12 Such a trend might also be partially explained by the sheer success of contemporary art publications like UNMONUMENTAL: the Object in the 21st Century, where it is echoed throughout. UNMONUMENTAL was originally published by Phaidon in conjunction with the New Museum, New York in 2007 and has been re-printed numerously since 13 Heidegger’s concept of the “thingness of the thing”, posits that potentially any-thing, is determined by a constellation of properties, sensorial, significatory and material, that can never be reduced to a simple image. See Martin Heidegger, ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ in Basic writings: from Being and time (1927) to The task of thinking (1964), San Francisco: Harper, 1993 14 It is frequently ignored common knowledge that like many advanced contemporary technologies, the internet was developed by USA corporations in conjunction with the USA military and has frequently been used, and continues to be used, for less than enlightened purposes such as ‘data gathering’ as well as the commercial and criminal profiling of targeted individuals and groups 15 And this is true even if examples of this sort of art never make it there 16 “Addressing the intrinsic conditions of the art field, as well as the blatant corruption within it… is a taboo even on the agenda of most artists who consider themselves political… the conditions of its (contemporary art’s) production and display remain pretty much unexplored. One could even say that the politics of art are the blind spot of much contemporary political art.” See Hito Steyerl, ‘Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Postdemocracy’, Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, e-flux journal, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011: 35

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Page 32 With apologies to Cornelis Anthonisz’s The Fall of the Tower of Babel, 1547

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Opposite Karina Eibatova Now Is Happening Right Now, 2010 Photo courtesy the artist

Interestingly, this mechanism functions in much the same way that an artist’s appearance in mass cultural events like biennales and art fairs, grants the dealer with whom they are associated, incontrovertible kudos Nonetheless it is especially apparent in relatively small contemporary art milieux as exists in Australia


the nature of things: angela valamanesh Mary Knights I had got the foresaid water taken out of the ditches and runnels on the 30th of August: and on coming home, while I was busy looking at the multifarious very little animalcules a-swimming in this water, I saw floating in it, and seeming to move of themselves, a great many green round particles, of the bigness of sand-grains.1 Antony van Leeuwenhoek, 2 January, 1700 Angela Valamanesh’s artworks are beguiling. Although characterised by a subdued palette, simplified forms, a refined use of materials and subtle gestures, her artwork is deeply unsettling and refers to a complex web of historic, scientific and philosophical ideas. Quietly insisting that everything is connected, Valamanesh traces correspondences between disparate living things and poetically reiterates patterns that recur frequently in nature. Her most recent body of work, which includes drawings and ceramic objects, is in part an outcome of research undertaken in 2014 at the Smithsonian Institute’s Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, and the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History in Washington DC. There she scoured rare scientific books and papers from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries for illustrations of organisms and structures invisible to the naked eye. In particular she sought out early illustrations that captured the excitement of discovery, as miniscule things were revealed by microscopes and magnifying glasses for the first time. Some of the earliest and best-known pictures of ‘minute bodies’ are illustrations by the natural philosopher Robert Hooke (16351703) published in Micrographia in 1665 by Opposite Angela Valamanesh Various friends and enemies No. 6, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin Photo Michal Kluvanek

the Royal Society, London (in 1665). Hooke’s interests ranged widely and his contribution to knowledge included recognising the organic origins of fossils; coining the word “cell” to describe the honeycomb structure of plant matter; and suggesting that gravity impacted on the movement of ‘heavenly bodies’. Shifting human understanding of the natural world, Micrographia included extraordinarily detailed copperplate etchings of a magnified flea, a louse and bark from a cork oak (Quercus suber), as well as telescopic images of moon craters.2 Twelve years later in 1676, Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) a draper and citizen of Delft, reported his discovery of microscopic organisms, which he called “animalcules”. As an apprentice in Amsterdam, van Leeuwenhoek had seen magnifying glasses used to do threadcounts and check the quality of fabrics. After establishing his own drapery and inspired by Hooke’s Micrographia, he experimented with small spherical glass lenses and crafted single lens microscopes. Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes caught the attention of a Dutch physician, who realised that the degree of magnification he had achieved was higher than that of an Italian lens-maker whose craftsmanship was being lauded in scientific circles. Encouraged, van Leeuwenhoek described his findings to the Royal Society in London in dozens of handwritten letters. However, when he first reported observing “animalcules” he was ridiculed until his claim was verified in 1677 by a group of eight respectable men including three ministers of religion. Gaining considerably less attention than his earlier discovery of “animalcules”, in a letter dated 17 September, 1683 van Leeuwenhoek revealed that he had seen “very little living animalcules”—now understood to be the first time bacteria had been observed. Van Leeuwenhoek explained that he had scrapped some muck from a gap between his own teeth and collected samples from four others, including the mouths of two old men who had never cleaned their teeth, and:

…saw with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort...had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The second sort... oft-times spun round like a top... and these were far more in number.3 Van Leeuwenhoek, considered the founder of microbiology, was the first to discover microorganisms and to observe blood cells flowing in capillaries. His study of the spermatozoa of molluscs, fish, birds and mammals led him to propose that they were the primary factor in reproduction and contained anatomical ‘vessels’ of the animal in miniature. Van Leeuwenhoek’s delight in sharing what he saw through his microscopes is evident in the colourful descriptions in his letters. A poor draftsman, he commissioned artists to document some of his discoveries.4 Although van Leeuwenhoek enthusiastically and generously disseminated his observations and speculations to peers, he withheld the techniques that he used to make his strongest lenses and apparently showed inferior ones to those who were overly curious.5 A series of Valamanesh’s images sketched with watercolour on paper allude to the marvellous and at the time barely plausible, early microscopic discoveries. In Observations No. 1 and Observations No. 3, as if depicting a magnified drop of pond or ditch water, a swarm of organisms appears to wriggle and squirm. Inside a circle of light framed by black, similar to the view through a simple optical microscope, the silhouettes of the microbes appear. A puzzling array of features that could be filaments, cilia or flagella protrude from globules, splodges, splashes and splats, suggesting a plethora of mysterious life-forms. Remarkably, almost one hundred and fifty years passed before the importance of van Leeuwenhoek’s report of seeing “many very little living animalcules”—bacteria —was realised. While there was delay


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THE NATURE OF THINGS : ANGELA VALAMANESH

Angela Valamanesh top: Ova No.3, 2014 bottom: Ova No.2, 2014 Photos courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin Photo Michal Kluvanek

before bacteriology was established as a science, in the eighteenth century van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopic studies led to some extraordinary advances in physiology. Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-99), an Italian polymath and Catholic priest, was familiar with van Leeuwenhoek’s work.6 To investigate questions about the beginnings of life, Spallanzani, undertook a number of experiments that cast doubt on the prevalent notion that life-forms, such as maggots, could come into existence through spontaneous generation. He also investigated the role of the male in reproduction and discovered that amphibian and mammalian reproduction required contact between semen and an ovum to begin. Spallanzani held the belief that the ‘germs’ of all living things were made by God ‘in the beginning’ and were passed down through females in ova, which just needed to be activated by semen to develop. The actual spermatozoa he surmised were irrelevant parasites. Despite this, he was the first to use in-vitro techniques to fertilize frogs’ eggs and in 1784 successfully artificially inseminated a spaniel which delivered three puppies.7 Eventually, with the benefit of increasingly powerful microscopes, German scientist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876) revealed the significance of van Leeuwenhoek’s first observations of bacteria. He was awarded the inaugural Leeuwenhoek Medal by the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology in 1877 for diligently collecting, identifying, naming and illustrating thousands of microscopic organisms, including a rod-shaped bacteria that in 1828 he named “Bacterium”. Valamenesh’s work Various friends and enemies, No. 3 consists of a collection of thirteen unidentified specimens. The proximity of the ceramic forms to each other accentuates the similarities and differences of their distinctive shapes. Unnamed, they are at once familiar and mystifying and perhaps represent nascent life forms, a collection of microscopic algae, an assortment of pollens and spores, or deadly pathogens. Superstitions, religious beliefs and commonly held assumptions about the nature of life, death and disease—such as illnesses being caused by foul smelling miasmas, unbalanced humours, evil spirits or God as a punishment for sin—were re-evaluated in the nineteenth century as microbiologists disrupted the known order of things. Famously, as well as noting that fermentation was caused by microbes and contributing to the understanding of immunity

and vaccines, Louis Pasteur (1822-95) advanced van Leeuwenhoek and Spallanzani’s findings to prove conclusively that living things did not spontaneously come into existence when non-living material began to spoil. Ferdinand Cohn (1828-1898) classified bacteria according to shapes—spirals, spheres, rods, and threads —and revealed that some bacilli under duress could transform into dormant endospores. By studying tuberculosis, cholera and anthrax, Robert Koch (1843-1910) proved that there was a causal relationship between pathogens and particular diseases and that ‘spontaneous’ outbreaks of anthrax in cattle were the result of spores that could survive dormant for a period of time and re-emerge when conditions were conducive. Some of Valamanesh’s images allude to the innovations in staining techniques, which enhanced the visibility of the often transparent micro-organisms. Alarmingly, it became apparent that a single drop of drinking water might contain innumerable algae, bacteria, ciliates, larvae, rotifers and protozoa. Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915), who contracted tuberculosis while working with Koch, developed aniline methylene blue dye that for the first time enabled various types of blood cells to be differentiated. He also synthesized Salvarsan by modifying the chemical properties of a stain used to see the spirochete which causes syphilis, into a compound that would damage it, and coined the term “magic bullet” for drugs designed to target specific pathogens.8 Refining Ehrlich’s blue stain, Hans Christian Gram (1853-1938) developed a staining and counterstaining technique, still used today, that enabled microbiologists to distinguish between Gram positive bacteria which stained violet, and Gram negative which appeared red.9 In Small Creatures, a multitude of bizarre life forms—that might be real or imaginary—have been drawn with white casein, a chalky milk-based paint, onto sheets of heavily textured black paper. Their shapes are opaque against the black background as if fixed and flushed in vitro with a negative Indian ink or a nigrosin stain. Flashes of napthal yellow highlight a curious distinguishing feature that many of the organisms have in common —perhaps a clump of photosynthetic filaments or a corona of cilia used for propulsion. As well as images made by microbiologists prior to the use of photography, Valamanesh’s recent work is influenced by early anatomical and botanical illustrations, especially the collages made by Mary Delaney


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(1700-88), which are held in the British Museum. Starting when she was seventy-two years of age, Delaney, a natural philosopher, carefully cut out the shapes of hundreds of plant specimens from coloured papers, glued them onto black card and labelled them according to the Linnaean taxonomy. Devised by Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) and published as Systema Naturae in 1735, the original Linnaean taxonomy divided the natural world into three kingdoms—animal, vegetable and mineral—which in turn were ranked into family, order, genus and species. This preDarwinian system of classification was based on the morphology of internal and external form and structures rather than evolutionary linage or function. Apparently, the explorer and botanist Sir Joseph Banks stated of Delaney’s botanical illustrations that they, “were the only imitations of nature that he had ever seen, from which he could venture to describe botanically any plant without the least fear of committing an error”.10 Unlike Delaney’s intention to classify botanical specimens according to similar features, in order to understand their place within a coherent hierarchical system, Valamanesh’s illustrations become more ambiguous the longer you look at them. In Near and Far, No. 1, 2 & 3, a tangle of white lines stained with a wash of colour resemble, and were inspired by, drawings of neurons by the neurologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), but could be mistaken for threads of fungal hyphae. Even more disconcerting is The Anatomy of Plants and Animals, No. 1, in which slivers of a matter seem to shift between representing segments of a dissected human brain and slices of cauliflower. While the three Linnaean kingdoms have been superseded with six kingdoms —Bacteria, Protozoa, Chromista, Plantae, Fungi, Animalia—living things that combine attributes associated with the older categories of animal, vegetable and mineral still seem bizarre. Along with animalcules, Antony van Leeuwenhoek in his letter to the Royal Society, dated 2 January, 1700, described floating “green round particles” the size of grains of sand that appeared to move by themselves. He was probably referring to Volvox, a green algae that thrives in pond water. Although they are single-cell organisms each with flagella and the ability to photosynthesise sunlight, they connect to form spherical colonies and behave as a single multi-cellular organism. Enabling the whole colony to move about purposefully, some of the organisms have specialised functions. The colony reproduces

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asexually, by creating daughter colonies with identical genetic material, and sexually. Colonies may be male, female or hermaphrodite (although not both male and female at the same time) developing ovum (a single enlarged unicellular organism) and sperm through division, which are then released into the water. Perhaps the most disturbing of Valamanesh’s works are a series of unglazed, elliptical ceramic forms, which like Volvox, fossilised trilobites and carnivorous Venus flytraps seem to transgress and disrupt the commonly assumed order of things. Made from mud—rich in mineral oxides and organic matter—the material itself suggests the primordial origins of life. Revealing patterns that reoccur in nature and alluding to the connections between all living things, in Ova 1 a microscopic ovum magnified to the size of a duck egg appears to be erupting through the dilated muscular rings of a fleshy cervix. The ossified contractions are almost palpable as the contents are disgorged in a terrible spasm. In Ova 2 the pursed lips of a large barnacle or plate coral are seductive, sensual—and almost human. Notes 1 Robert Hooke, Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon, London: Royal Society, 1664, www.gutenberg.org/files/15491/15491h/15491-h.htm; accessed 7 January 2015 2 Antony van Leeuwenhoek, excerpt from letter to Royal Society, London, dated 17 September 1683, Randy Alfred, ‘Sept. 17 1683: Van Leeuwenhoek Gives Us Reason to Brush and Floss’, www.archive.wired.com/science/discoveries/ news/2008/09/dayintech_0917 3 Clifford Dobell, Antony van Leeuwenhoek and his “Little Animals”, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932: 42 4 www.history-of-the-microscope.org/anton-vanleeuwenhoek-microscope-history.php 5

Mariano Gacto, ‘The Bicentenary of a Forgotten Giant: Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799)’, Internal Microbiol, 1999, 2: 273-274, www.im.microbios.org/08december99/11%20 Gacto%20(P).pdf

6 Clara Pinto-Correia, The Ovary of Eve: Egg and Sperm and Preformation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997: 197-208 7 Salvarsan was used for the treatment of syphilis until the discovery of antibiotic properties of mould and development of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 8 www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www. microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/wimsmall/smal3.html. 9 Christine Cariati, ‘Flora Delanica: Art and Botany in Mrs Delany’s “paper mosaicks”’, www.venetianred.net/2009/12/04/ flora-delanica-art-and-botany-in-mrs-delanys-papermosaicks 10

British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/explore/ highlights/highlight_objects/pd/m/mary_delany,_winter_ cherry.aspx.

Angela Valamanesh top: Flesh No.4, 2014 bottom: Flesh No.5, 2014 Photos courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin Photo Michal Kluvanek


nasim nasr: the language behind the veil Anne Marsh

Nasim Nasr What to do (video stills), 2012 Opposite Nasim Nasr from the Muteness series, 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin

Nasim Nasr was born in Iran but now lives and works in Australia, where she completed her MA in Fine Arts as an international student in 2011. Since then she has exhibited widely and represented South Australia, her home State, in numerous national and international exhibitions. Nasr’s artwork deals primarily with female identity and often draws from her own experience. This made it difficult for her to operate as an artist in Iran. Her father supported her move to Australia so that she could develop her career without fear of persecution. Nasr’s art is not radical by Western standards, but in Iran she may have been ‘questioned’ for her representations of women. Talking about her performance Women in Shadow (2011) she says: “my practice seeks to represent not only the socio-cultural invisibility of women in Iran but also their disempowerment”.1 Nasr’s performative, photographic, and screen-based practice is compelling and complex. It addresses gender issues but it does not present easy configurations, as the artist has depicted women as complicit in their own oppression, both in the East and West. In Iran and elsewhere mothers, and other familial women, constrain their daughters in traditional roles thus perpetuating the cycle of oppression. In the West this process is less widespread, but women are still oppressed and abused by men and gender stereotypes are prevalent in popular culture and fashion. This opens up difficult questions about who is to blame and how patriarchy works. Western women rebelled against their mothers and fathers, the Church and the State from the 1950s onwards and gained some equality with men, but in Iran the situation is dire for women. Of her own situation, Nasr says: “I’ve been frequently asked why I make this art and the answer is because I am in Australia, and this is something I can’t do inside my country. Now I’ve got all my freedom… but there is displacement between my past and present. It naturally comes to my mind always to think about what I was


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Page 42 Nasim Nasr Shadi (Happiness), 2013-14 Photo courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin

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Page 43 Nasim Nasr from the Zaeefeh (The Wretchedness) series, 2015 Photo courtesy the artist and GAG Projects, Adelaide/Berlin


NASIM NASR : THE LANGUAGE BEHIND THE VEIL

experiencing, my past… the difficulties women are experiencing… I’m really not free from these things, they are always with me, like a shadow.”2 The French feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir famously argued in her groundbreaking book The Second Sex (1949), “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” in a society constructed around patriarchal values.3 In short, gender identity is learned and acquired as a result of social conditioning. Pondering the continued oppression of women across societies de Beauvoir wrote: “It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.”4 The compliance of women in their own oppression is a result of the subject being written and spoken by a language that is already entrenched. In Louis Althusser’s terms, we are “interpellated” subjects and we are spoken by society and speak of ourselves through a language that oppresses us.5 We are not born as a blank slate, we are not free: we are born into predetermined gender codes designated by our society through its language. Language speaks the subject and it constitutes the law. It is also the vehicle for the interpretation of history, the teachings of the gods, and, as all artists, activists and advertising designers know, this language can also be used against itself. Indeed, this is the role of the radical artist and thinker who struggles to become free. Language is both conservative and radical. It is used by hegemonies to make the majority compliant and silent. Those who defy the law, the language of the father in

psychoanalytic terms, are punished. Nasim Nasr fled her oppression in Iran so that she could speak freely in the West, but she does not believe that Western women are entirely free. The performance Woman in Shadow was presented as a fashion parade that critiqued the image of the veiled woman in a bid to destabilise the stereotype. As the audience entered the art space each was segregated into their respective genders. Men on the left hand side, women on the right, as they would have been in Iran. The soundtrack by Tom Harrer included excerpts of ancient Persian music from Shirin Neshat’s dual screen video performance Turbulence (1998) that likewise represented the gender division of audiences in Iran.6 The internationally acclaimed, Iranian-born Neshat is an obvious mentor for the younger Nasim Nasr. Women in Shadow was performed by professional models from the Tania Powell Model Agency in Adelaide with Powell herself acting as the compere for the show. Eight tall women in full-length chadors, with heavy eye makeup and wearing designer high-heeled shoes, paraded before the audience several times. They entered and exited the runway, each time gesturing in a different way to the audience as the compere described the designer outfits that each model wore underneath her chador. The models appeared with their elegant eye makeup smudged until it ran like black tears down their faces. They performed to either side of the audience with four models staring across the female constituency and four facing off the males. They then swapped sides so that they each looked at both the genders segregated in the room. In one sequence, a video performance by Nasr was projected at the rear of the space. Titled Unveiling the Veil (2010) it showed a closeup of the artist’s eyes staring directly into the camera and thus out to the audience. As Nasr strained to stare unblinkingly, her eyes started to water, and she shed a single tear. She then washed away her eye make-up with her wet hands reproducing the black tears originally seen on the models. In their next turn on the runway, the models appeared with clear faces and each held a small goldfish in a plastic bag full of water. Again they stood gazing intently at the audience. In Iran these small fish are symbols of rebirth and as each woman exited the space they brought the bags up behind their backs and simultaneously raised the ‘skirt’ of their

chador to reveal glimpses of the outfits worn beneath. In the final scene the women paraded in provocative designer outfits that allowed each to show off her sexuality. The message of Women in Shadow is double-sided. On one hand we could view it as a criticism of the chador, but the verbal patter of the fashion compere, who objectifies the women as objects of desire, points to another interpretation where the commodification of women, through clothes designed to accentuate sexuality, is also seen as oppressive. Once again, women are described by a language that underlines gender stereotypes and the would-be sexual liberation of Western women is neatly questioned by the artist. In Erasure (2010), a live performance re-mediated for dual channel video, Nasr dressed in a chador and wrote on an identical garment that had been stretched across the wall. She recounted her memories as a young woman living in Iran which she wrote in white chalk from right to left in Farsi and from left to right in English. In English she interspersed the words of the notorious Iranian feminist poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, whose 1959 poem, Another Birth, was banned in Iran after the revolution of 1979. Nasr partially translated Farrokhzad’s poem into English as she wrote on the chador: Life is perhaps a long street through which a woman holding a basket passes every day Life is perhaps a rope with which a man hangs himself from a branch life is perhaps a child returning home from school Life is perhaps lighting up a darkness Once the whole text was written it was crossed through and then erased, leaving a residue of white markings that became indecipherable: a kind of cultural palimpsest where the erased words ghost the present. In the video version made in 2012, the figure of Nasr was doubled so that the writing in Farsi and English occurred concurrently. On the second screen there was a closeup sequence of a woman’s hand erasing the Farsi text as it was being written. Erasure is concerned with writing the voice of woman on the shrouded body. But she erases what she writes and in the video version this self who writes is split and appears to be another woman, a mother figure who cancels out the young woman’s words, thus silencing her.


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This points to women in Iran erasing themselves, their memories and histories, and participating in their own oppression.7 In 2011 Nasr turned her attention to men with the video performance What to do (exhibited in 2012). Here ten men of different ages are shown using Muslim prayer (tasbih) or worry beads. They are of different nationalities (Lebanese, Persian, Greek and Arab), but each emanates from a zone of conflict. The installation presented ten small flat screens hung at different levels indicating the height or position of each man. The eldest is isolated at the bottom of an adjacent wall to the left, the placement suggests he is kneeling as he chants “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). The other men are younger and it is unclear whether they are praying, worrying or mindlessly passing the time. The soft clicking of the beads together with the old man’s prayer create a meditative sound installed in the pristine white gallery, another sanctuary where nothing much happens. This work is drawn from Nasr’s experience of watching her grandfather praying with his beads for hours on end. As a young child and later a woman she found it difficult to understand this passive behaviour. All around her she saw conflict and a society receding into its past. While the performance of men praying is a visual and audible spectacle in Iran, women must pray in private, unseen and unclean: the invisible Other. The work points to passive inaction and the inability or unwillingness of men to do anything. In a recent work about the kings and shahs of Persia/Iran titled Zaeefeh (The Wretchedness), 2015, Nasr creates museumsize portraits of the patriarchal rulers dating back six hundred years. Across their faces the artist writes quotes in Farsi from Farrokhzad’s poem Another Birth and Sadegh Hedayat’s story The Blind Owl (1937), which has also been banned in Iran. In this way the writings are etched onto the skin of history but the scale of the photographs creates pixilation, which blurs the image, making it unrecognisable.8 Nasr prefers this poetic aesthetic, one that pulls back from a didactic message but it may also be insurance for the artist, who still fears persecution in her homeland. Zaeefeh is the name that the kings used for their wives; it means a weak woman without the ability to do things. It is the name many men call their wives at home. Nasr uses this derogatory description of women to indicate that it is the kings and shahs who were weak and useless.

The silencing of women recurs in Muteness (2011-13) where Nasr utilises the ancient Daf drum, an instrument made by village women and played by them to signal conflict and war. This was a time when women had a role to play outside the confines of the domestic arena, but after 1979 women were banned from playing this instrument. Muteness is a series of four ‘lightboxes’ that show a translucent Daf drum ringed in light and being held and played by a woman behind the drum. The work has been shown in galleries and as a public art projection in the city of Adelaide. Beshkan (Breakdown) (2013), is a singlechannel video loop that will be shown in Dubai. Here three females and two males perform the ‘Persian snap’ which uses both hands to create a cracking or clicking sound. It is traditionally employed throughout the Middle East to signify good news but in Nasr’s representation there is a touch of the sinister lurking at the edges of the video. If one looks carefully one sees that the hands of the males, on the extreme left and right, are fashioned in the pose of a gun and they take symbolic aim at the females trapped between them.

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Nasim Nasr specialises in making aesthetically pleasing works of art that bite back at the viewer. Underneath the veil, behind the drum, written across the faces of kings and the posing of figures we find a powerful socio-political critique that creeps up on us and punches home its message. This is one Iranian woman who will not be silenced. Notes 1 As quoted in the invitation to Women in Shadow distributed by the Australian Experimental Art Foundation 2 Nasim Nasr, Artist’s Statement, supplied to the author, 11 August 2013 (my punctuation) 3

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, H.M. Parshley trans, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1953 [1949]: 267

4

ibid.

5

Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Lenin and Philosophy, Ben Brewster trans, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971: 127-86 6 The music used by Neshat was ‘Daramad, Dad Khavaran Tasnif’ by Shahram Nazeri. In Neshat’s performance a male and female singer share the song. He sings with his back to an all male audience, she sings to an empty auditorium. Available on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=f2DNMG2s_O0, accessed 14 January 2015 7 Nasim Nasr in conversation with the author in Adelaide, 10 August 2012 8 Nasim Nasr in conversation with the author in Adelaide, 24 December 2014


images and their obverse: ariel hassan Christopher WilliamsWynn Contemporary art is a restless chimaera. Having departed from the strictures of modernism and stepped outside the ironies of postmodernism, contemporary art finds itself adrift on a sea of possible forms and subjects.1 On account of its global remit, and its emergence over the past few decades, it could be regarded as intimately linked with globalization. As the sociologist Manuel Castells has emphasized, globalization comprises complex networks that link people, technologies, capital and culture.2 In the realm of art, this web of forces indicates concerns not just with spectatorship and discourse, but indicates an abiding interest in the circulation of objects and images. There is, in that respect, a resurgence of explicit interest in systems and signs.3 Not in isolation, but linked with each other, signs constitute and circulate throughout systems, whether discursive or physical, real or virtual, or some combination thereof. Art historian David Joselit addresses these concerns in his recent conception of the format as a replacement for the medium.4 Formatting, he argues, affords the “capacity to configure data in multiple possible ways”.5 It registers the shifts and remediations that occur when art circulates through the circuits of exchange characteristic of a globalized (art) world.6 The format compacts, or condenses, the sign and the system, the unit of signification and the relations into which it enters. Viewed in these terms alone, contemporary art appears as an epiphenomenon of global trade. Ariel Hassan, however, follows deeper lines of enquiry. Whether working with painting or photography, sculpture or installation, he finds an affinity with recent thought regarding the capacity to uncover the fundamental contingency of the world. In this respect, his process runs counter to what philosopher Quentin Meillassoux terms correlationism, “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being”.7 There is, therefore, an attempt to uncover “a world capable of subsisting without being given”,8 one that exists but is not dependent upon


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the human. According to this view, there is traffic between the subjective and the objective, between what forms the content of human experience and what exceeds it. This condition of mobility and change resonates throughout his life and work. Born in Argentina, he lives between Australia and Germany, spending half a year in each country working on projects and exhibitions. His production processes often incorporate elements of both analogue and digital production. These works, in effect, exist as systems comprising signs. While the final signifier might take the form of a painting or photograph, these objects are the result of complex methods of production that enmesh the processes of becoming with the stasis of being, alert to the conditions of their making and the circuits into which they pass. In Electronicfluids (2001-03), one of his earliest series, he employs a production method that combines digital processes and analogue presentation, a model further developed in his subsequent Ghost paintings (2010) and series Intrigues of Long Duration (2012-ongoing). Juxtaposed colours float across the surfaces of these paintings; intense mauves bleed into cobalt blues, fields of fuchsia merge with olive greens. At first glance, these patterns of colour appear meditations on the legacy of the supposedly authentic and subjective outpourings of Abstract Expressionism, or the marbled paintings of Louise Janin or Philip Taaffe.9 The visual appearance is, however, only part of the significance of the work. Hassan’s production process obstructs any purely optical reading of these works. While marbling traditionally involved laying a material support on colours floating in a liquid bath, Hassan’s process employs the fluid malleability of digital manipulation. His method involved scanning random skeins of paint, before digitally re-configuring their composition, tonal ranges and colour values. Hassan then transfers these manipulated images to canvas through careful brushwork, which inevitably introduces further discrepancies into the chain of images. This production process enmeshes the works in a set of relations between analogue and digital production processes. The signs of gesture are merged with the systems of algorithmically powered, image-editing software. Hassan further develops these concerns with systems in paintings comprising Intrigues of Long Duration. Engaging a similar principle, Hassan scans traces of paint that have been poured onto small, rectangular planes of

Opposite Ariel Hassan Intrigues Of Long Duration #3, 2013 Above Ariel Hassan Skin, 2015

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Pages 46-47 Ariel Hassan Organic Occurrances Forming Within the Grey Zones of Preexisting Regimes, 2014 Photos courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS, Adelaide/Berlin


IMAGES AND THEIR OBVERSE : ARIEL HASSAN

glass, before digitally manipulating aspects of their arrangement and colour. The resultant forms are transferred to canvas, where they appear as tendrils spreading across the image plane. In a further act of abstraction, Hassan voids the images of colour, turning shades of grey as a means of focusing attention on structure and line. Instead of forming around any central focal point, these lines of paint trail off the canvas, pointing towards a larger whole of which they are each only a part. The images signify some larger, unknown system from which they derive. With few visual clues as to the nature of such a system, it falls upon the viewer to interrogate these works, to attempt to discern the networked world of which they are a part. One means of interpreting these works is to see them, and the complexities of their production, as indices of the processes that drive contemporary society. In their influential book Empire (2000), political theorists and philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that over the past four decades society has been transformed through processes of informatization.10 Once dominant, industrial production has been displaced, but not entirely erased, by shifts towards an economy of networked computation, broadly described

as post-industrial society. In these conditions, work is “characterized in general by the central role played by knowledge, information, affect, and communication”.11 Caught within the network, there is the risk of overstating the dominance of digital production. Tempering evaporation into immateriality, social theorist David Harvey posits that “capitalist activity is always grounded somewhere”.12 Hassan’s work finds itself at this juncture. The random dynamics of painterly flows confront the ratiocination integral to computation. Suspended between the supposed immateriality of electronic production and the resolute materiality of concrete objects, his paintings subtend analogue and digital modes of being. If these works indicate the precarious status of painting as a cohesive and distinct practice, so too are claims of photographic veracity subject to scrutiny in his HFVProject (2007 and 2012). Presented predominantly as black and white prints, these photographs present portraits of young adults. Cropped at the shoulders, and set against a pitch-black background, the individuals gaze into the camera lens with indifferent equanimity. In this respect, the sitters recall the listless stares of those portrayed in Thomas Ruff’s photographic portraits. Their thoughts, backgrounds and their beliefs are unknown, indeed withheld. Hassan’s works, however, forego the grand scale and vivid colour characteristic of Ruff’s works. Hassan also rejects an anthropometric mode of photography. To produce these works, the sitters were photographed in front of a backdrop, which severed the sitters from their external context, while randomised patterns were also placed over their resultant images. While Hassan nods to the modernist desire for the supposed purity of black and white photography, he again introduces elements of abstraction that thwart attempts to penetrate the image in search of stable referents. The HFVProject has also been expanded into installation pieces and moving images. Dark Trough (2008), is a rectangular prism constructed from wood used to view images from the series. At one end, a data projector casts images from the series onto a screen positioned halfway along the prism, while the other end is open, allowing the visitor to view the images upon the screen. Set on a loop, at defined intervals a flash of white light bleaches out the image, leaving only its ‘shadow’ on the retina. More recently Hassan has begun to produce short animations based on these images. Undulating patterns glide

across the faces, which move gently, their heads turning or eyes blinking. These moving images mimic the gestures of the sitters, silent in their recognitions of being viewed, before retreating behind a white flash that intersperses each animated portrait. This denial of vision, combined with the abstract patterns of organic fluids, points towards recognition of the limits of visibility, a reminder that signs on the surface can only hint at the complex systems that lurk below. Hassan presses this interplay between the random flows of fluid and geometric structures even further in his series Organic Occurrences Forming Within The Grey Zones Of Pre-existing Regimes (2014). In this body of work, images of fluid paint have been compacted into the proportions of a Fibonacci rectangle, and later dissected by it and by an arrangement of Émile Lemoine’s geometric construction of the golden ratio. The fractured plane of the image struggles to contain a re-ordering of those aleatory fields of paint alluded to in the title. The signs of fluidity and their system of order appear in conflict. Although these twisted forms recall the distorted and contorted bodies and forms in surrealist photographs by Man Ray and André Kertész, Hassan aims at more than formal experimentation and brooks no claims to unbridled liberation. This interplay of figuration and abstraction complicates the demands typically placed upon photography. Generally, a photograph is taken to accord with that which it represents. It is said to be a document or, even evidence, of its subject. In the oft-cited words of the theorist Roland Barthes, the “name of Photography’s noeme will therefore be: ‘That-has-been’”.13 The photograph, on such an account, is taken to be a trace of that which it depicts, and which is now lost. In the case of portraiture, it is said to refer back to a particular individual, to register their unique countenance. According to a paradigm that understands a privileged, indexical relation between photography and the world, digital manipulation appears to sever this link. Such thinking is open to critique. Digital media theorist Braxton Soderman argues that in a world of ubiquitous information technology, digital processing techniques do not rend the connection between image and reality, but testify to it.14 Digitally altered photographs may therefore offer a means of reflexively engaging with the world, one that entwines physical and virtual environments.


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On account of his combinatory production process, Hassan exploits the relation between analogue and digital production once again, inserting specific signs into overarching systems. Across all these faces rest similar, randomised patterns. These images consequently point both towards and away from the individual, to their status as individuals, but also to their imbrication in a mesh of relations. There is, then, a balance between the pull towards a subject, but a recognition that homogeneity looms. In a world of surveillance and ‘Big Data’, images risk becoming another casualty of quantification. The patterns of form indicate the potential for dissolution into uniformity and capitulation to the dictates of structure. Resting on the wall, the works stand as mute witnesses to an array of complex interactions both internal and external to themselves, all the while resisting attempts to subsume them within systems of discourse. Presented at a human scale, the works in Organic Occurrences appear as though portals, inviting entry into a domain exceeding human experience. Although its effects are crucial to his practice, technology is less a central focus for Hassan and more a means of exploring the philosophical problems that drive his practice. On the question of the analogue and the digital, however, these elements of his work intersect. Media and cultural theorist Alexander Galloway has recently posited a re-thinking of analogue and digital modes of thought with recourse to François Laruelle’s non-philosophy. For Laruelle, at its core philosophy splits the world, it positions the real against its image, thought against action, instance against essence.15 Galloway develops this thought in relation to the terms of analogue and digital. The analogue, he posits, forges identity between heterogeneous elements: “only a baseline heterogeneity, as in the pure multiplicities and generic persons of Deleuze’s and Badiou’s cosmology, can possibly produce the conditions for a relation of the common”.16 The digital, by contrast, is founded upon equivalence. It is a fundamental sameness borne of “a purely homogeneous substrate of standardized atoms”.17 Because of this fundamental uniformity, Galloway states that “the digital relation arises from out of a pure, profane nihilism”.18 In considering the analogue and digital, questions of relations are paramount. Enacting the procedure of the digital, Galloway divides it from the analogue. Such a move is problematized by Hassan, whose processes

blur the boundary between them. It is unclear exactly where standardisation ends and difference begins. Across and throughout his practice, concerns with various relations play out. Paintings merge with photographs, analogue processes confront digital procedures, and images wrestle with the forces that generate them. He grapples with how difference can emerge from equivalence, and how rationalisation might promise to expand thought, even as it threatens to enclose it. As attempts to reconcile these conflicting elements, his works seem almost attempts to exceed themselves, to gesture beyond their own finitude. Although his objects are often singular and distinct entities, they arise from complex methods of production that obscure any defined origins. Processes of indeterminacy unfold within and across his works, countervailed by procedures of rationalisation. A state of tension prevails. Hassan’s works engage in a process of disclosure, revealing structures of experience and opening them to scrutiny. At every turn, his works press against the singularity of the sign and the enclosure of the system, cycling between them, refusing to rest. Notes 1 On the multifarious forms of contemporary art, see Terry Smith, Contemporary Art: World Currents, London: Laurence King, 2011 2 Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, second ed., Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010 3 Edward Shanken has been a particularly prominent researcher in this field, demonstrating the importance of networks, systems, technologies and related theories to a range of artists, at least as far back as the 1960s. See Edward Shanken, ‘In Forming Software: Software, Structuralism, Dematerialization’, in Hannah Higgins and Douglas Kahn eds, Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012: 51-62; Edward Shanken, ‘Art in the Information Age: Technology and Conceptual Art’, Leonardo, volume 35, issue 4, 2002: 433-438. See also Etan J. Ilfeld, ‘Contemporary Art and Cybernetics: Waves of Cybernetic Discourse within Conceptual, Video and New Media Art’, Leonardo, volume 45, issue 1, 2012: 57-63 and Eve Meltzer, Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013 4 David Joselit, After Art, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013 and David Joselit, ‘What to Do with Pictures’, October 138, Fall 2011: 81-94 5 6

Joselit, October, ibid: 82

While his explicit reference to the vast range of forces within which contemporary art finds itself is welcome, the thrust of the format as an enlarged understanding of artistic practice, or medium, is not without precedent. There is, of course, Rosalind Krauss’ concept of the post-medium condition and W. J. T. Mitchell’s invitation to extend the concept of medium to encompass material, institutional and discursive aspects. See Rosalind Krauss, ‘A Voyage on the North Sea’, Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames & Hudson, 1999, Rosalind Krauss, Under Blue Cup, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011 and W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, Chicago and London: University

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of Chicago Press, 2005: passim, esp. 198. Douglas Crimp’s concept of the ‘picture’ as a generic placeholder for images, one without the demand for any truth to medium or materials, serves as another early precursor. See Douglas Crimp, ‘Pictures’, October 8, Spring, 1979: 75-88 7 Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, Ray Brassier trans, London and New York: Continuum, 2009: 5 8

ibid: 28

9

On Hassan’s relation to the history of painting and its legacy at the end of the twentieth century, see Nicholas Croggon, ‘Absurdity and Ambiguity’, in About Madness (exhibition catalogue), Adelaide: GAG Projects, 2011: 63-66 10 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000: 280-289 11

ibid: 285

12

David Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism: A Theory of Uneven Geographical Development, London and New York: Verso, 2006: 78 13 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Richard Howard trans, New York: Hill and Wang, 1981: 77 14 Braxton Soderman, ‘The Index and the Algorithm’, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, volume 18, issue 1, 2007: 153-186 15 Alexander Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital, London and Minneaplois: University of Minnesota Press, 2014: 14 16

ibid: 62

17

ibid.

18

ibid: 63


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fiona hall: out of my tree Elle Freak We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.1 For the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art Fiona Hall claimed insanity: not of her mind but of the current state of the world. In many ways Hall’s art has always been about madness. She chooses complexity and contradiction as her subject matter. She explores the very issues of our existence and our threat to all other existences. Or as Hall has said, she reflects the world’s “madness, badness and sadness”2. The dense installation Out of my tree produced for the Adelaide Biennial certainly appeared chaotic—her manipulation of diverse materials and juxtaposition of seemingly disparate objects projected disorder and senselessness—however Hall achieves this aim with clear reason and conviction. Her carefully constructed museum environments reveal an intuitive sense of how things are and how they could be. Perhaps in Hall’s art ‘madness’ should be considered a contingency for dealing with reality. Hall’s oeuvre is structured not by a linear progression of individual works but a number of materially and conceptually interconnecting incarnations. She reflects the very ephemeral nature of existence by presenting works of art of an ephemeral nature. Thus in observing Out of my tree created for the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Dark Heart, curated by the Art Gallery of South Australia Director Nick Mitzevich, we are also (indirectly) examining Hall’s previous body of work for the 2012 dOCUMENTA 13 in Germany, Fall Prey, and at the same time we can predict her next, the much anticipated 56th Venice Biennale exhibition in the new Australian Pavilion. Curated by Linda Michael, Deputy Director and Senior Curator at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, Wrong way time is predicted to be another macabre installation that will address our perplexed relationship with the world: cuckoo clocks, burnt books, skulls and camouflage are all likely to reappear.

The very fabric of Hall’s work operates on a continuum and as a result any definitive meaning is also never conclusively reached. The artist presents a series of unanswered questions about an equally changing world. The link to Hall’s four decades of artistic production has remained humanity’s relationship with nature. She celebrates the wonders of the natural world and at the same time she highlights our tenuous relationship with it. From Hall’s earliest black and white photographs of suburban street scenes produced in the 1970s and her meticulously constructed beaded and sardine can sculptures of the 1990s, her evolving installation and moving image practice continues to be driven by an innate curiosity to understand the world around her. Hall draws on global environmental debate and the ecological imperialism of our colonial history as informed by her postcolonial identity and, with that, a sense of detachment from Australia’s European cultural framework. This has led the Adelaide-based artist to live a somewhat contemporary nomadic life and to frequently travel to countries that share with Australia a British colonial past including India, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Tonga, and New Zealand. Hall poetically examines the nature and culture interface with one of the first objects encountered in Out of my tree. She considers the age-old paradigm that nature is separate from culture and a perceived ‘Other’, as is deeply embedded in Western thought.3 Hall positions an image of Hotei (known to the West as the Fat Buddha) ironically carved from an energy drink can and sitting above a Chinese cork carving. The twentieth century, carved cork export product depicts a pastoral landscape scene following the popular seventeenthcentury British willow pattern design that plays to the imagination of the East as the exotic. Rejecting the object’s lyrical undertones, Hall highlights the world’s madness: she includes a film of a variety of spiders trapped in the cork sculpture boldly exploring the unfamiliar territory. The film ends with a large trapdoor spider, with expert camouflage abilities, capturing and digesting a smaller

species. The whimsical landscape becomes a microcosmic site of conflict.4 With this single object, Hall reveals the beauty and tranquillity of the natural world, while at once highlighting its horror and vulnerability. Consistent with Hall’s observation of our human impulse to discover and understand the world, is her expression of our need to collect, store, organize and preserve it. Her own compulsion to collect and analyze matter perhaps has its references to her mother, who was a pioneer in radio physics and radio astronomy.5 Entering the chaos of Out of my tree we immediately seek to find order and meaning. We begin to list and categorise its diverse contents before making numerous culturalhistorical associations. We list the souvenirs lining the wood-grain camouflage walls and museum glass cabinets: carved animal figures, china birds, model planes, a Taj Mahal replica, snuff bottles, and Chinese cork sculpture. In this world not all is what it seems: faux tree trunk plinths are made of plumbing pipes and anthropomorphic driftwood impersonates animal bones and skulls. We smell the ash from recently burnt books and we hear the persistent call of Australian corvines, punctuated by the regulated ticking of German Black Forest cuckoo clocks: slow, drawn-out, hollow and relentless. The combination of objects and materials both familiar and strange recalls the inquisitive early modern invention of the Wunderkammer (German for wonder chamber) or cabinet of curiosities. Hall critiques the Wunderkammer as largely a product of the curiosities of colonialism evolving from a desire to understand and control a new world, to possess the rare, and contemplate the sublime. Like her previous work Fall Prey (2012), Out of my tree more closely reflects the Wunderkammer of old: a personal microcosm of the world’s declining diversity displayed in a room marking the wealth and worldliness of its owner.6 These early Wunderkammern predated scientific classification and as such they combined the materials of nature and culture, attesting to both the powers of divine creation and the


FIONA HALL : OUT OF MY TREE

artistic possibilities of humanity. Similarly, Out of my tree combines the wonders of nature (naturalia)—wood, cork, ash, feather—with the products of humanity (artificialia)—glass, tin, ceramic, plastic—and the instruments for humanity to dominate nature (scientifica) —cuckoo clock, Blackberry phone, carpenter’s ruler, and military camouflage. Their display appears seemingly at random with results more surrealist than scientific. And the material combinations seem to entirely disregard the rational categories of modern/Western epistemological order that now epitomizes our scientific age. Hall’s intuitive manipulation of materials encourages our curiosities. The artist has described her visual aesthetic as a lure, like “a flower exudes a perfume and is coloured specifically to attract an insect to pollinate it”7. Her manic, labour intensive processes—cutting, knitting, beading, painting or, more recently, filming and recording—transfer an energy to otherwise inanimate materials often associated with consumer culture and global trade. There is a certain amount of wit found in her processes and materials; the humble sardine can is a prime example. In 1990 for the very first Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Hall exhibited Paradisus terrestris, a series of tin-sized botanical specimens eroticised through association

with human erogenous zones. The cans were revisited in 1996 and later in 1999, with subsets considering the colonial history of Australia and Sri Lanka. For Out of my tree, Hall once again returned to the modest material to carve the most universal symbol of our mortality, a human skull. In this case the skull (combined with the tin for packaging processed seafood) directly referenced the unregulated mining in the oceanic trenches and its subsequent environmental threat. The irony of our attraction to Hall’s objects, painstakingly crafted and elaborately adorned, is her comment on the excess of consumer culture and conspicuous consumption.8 She draws on our innate desire for material possession and then, operating in the European vanitas and memento mori traditions, her motifs highlight the transient nature of all earthly goods. Human skulls, skeleton birds, clocks, books: the motifs reveal her preference for the traditional symbols of material being, perhaps an interest developed during what she describes as a more classical education.9 However, Hall extends their symbolism to critique human abuse of nature. For instance, Hall’s inclusion of a collection of burnt de-accessioned university books, which have traditional references to human knowledge, now speak to the very temporal

nature of knowledge and our modern history of intellectual censorship and environmental destruction. Still the most pervasive of these symbols is the human skull. Using common everyday materials (tin, beads, wood, paint), Hall animates the skull, reflecting its universal symbolism as both the finality of death and an embodiment of consciousness. It is here that Hall is perhaps her most compelling; she explores our emotional responses to death and mortality. She includes symbols of religion and superstition which warn of imminent danger and that have perceived protective powers. In Out of my tree we encounter talismans believed to offer health, good luck, longevity or even immortality: the evil eye, Buddha, snuff bottles, and the swastika. Perhaps the most widespread talisman known is the swastika and like the human skull, its universal symbolism for eternal time and consciousness has multiple readings. In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism the swastika means ‘well-being’ or ‘good fortune’, however debate still circulates its meaning if turned clockwise or counter-clockwise with its loaded references to Nazism. The perceived power or agency of these symbols and objects is largely based on the belief that there is a fixed, natural order to the universe. Albeit with no religious beliefs of her own, Hall provokes critical thought on the concepts of chance, fate or luck in the face of our worldwide environmental destruction. Hall’s environmental position has become even more pervasive with her recent production of work in the context of indigenous cultures. Featured in Out of my tree are two large ngatu or backcloths, created in the Tongan tradition of ngatu ta uli. The large banner-like paintings draw our attention to the environmental threat of commercial mining and fishing activities along the Kermadec Trench on the Pacific Rim of Fire. Hall encountered the ten kilometre-deep untouched wilderness of extraordinary global geological and marine diversity on an expedition led by Pew Environmental Group in 2011. She was introduced to the bark cloth that women have traditionally made for royalty and ritual occasions such as funerals10, and which since the Second World War have featured political imagery and messages.11 Using natural dyes and ochres on the inner bark of mulberry trees (dried, soaked and beaten) Hall called upon the traditions of ngatu with references to war and gender. She applied a wood-grain camouflage to each surface followed by the potent imagery


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of skulls and messages of political alliances including ‘brothers in arms’. With references to battle and conflict, the works appear as metaphors for the challenges faced by the Kermadec region. Most recently, Hall collaborated with twelve women from the Tjanpi Desert Weavers collective from central Australia.12 The collaboration resulted in the exhibition 2014 TarraWarra Biennial: Whisper in My Mask, curated by Natalie King and Djon Mundine. Working in country near Wingellina (or Irrunytju) they produced a series of sculptures representing war craft and endangered or at-risk native animals, which are vulnerable to the introduced species and degradation of the environment they inhabit. The women participated in a material exchange: Hall provided military camouflage and the Anangu artists offered their innovative manipulation of tjanpi (grass) and found objects. Hall’s use of camouflage as “a symbol of our time that transforms the patterns of nature into the fabric of conflict and hostility”13 has clear references to the ongoing displacement of Anangu people due to the military testing at Woomera and Maralinga during the 1950s and 1960s. This collaboration, which will also inform Hall’s Venice Biennale exhibition, once again draws our attention to the complex interface between nature and culture. Positioned at a time when great uncertainty prevails, as the realities offered by science are stranger than fiction, and the volcanic vents in near-pristine oceanic trenches are at threat because of the mining of metals, a declaration of insanity is certainly relevant. However, it is unclear whether Hall is reflecting the world’s own madness or exposing the world as that which is driving her mad. Perhaps there is no difference between the two. Fiona Hall creates a web of associations that speak to the very uncertainties, complexities and contradictions of the world. She weaves relations between natural things and social signs, and the material world and that of mythology, religion and spirituality. She reveals a universal sense of interconnectedness—an observation of culture, nature and humanity as one—and thus she calls on us to rationalize that respect for nature is respect for human life. It’s not such a crazy thought. Page 48, 50-51 Fiona Hall Out of my Tree (installation views), 2014 Photos courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Photography Saul Steed

Notes 1 (Attributed to) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, c.1749-1832 as quoted by Lawrie Reznek, in Delusions and the Madness of the Masses, Maryland, USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2010: 47 2 Fiona Hall as quoted by David Hansen, ‘Happy Hour’, in Nick Mitzevich, 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Dark Heart, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2014: 98 3 See Andreas Roepstorff, Nils Bubandt and Kalevi Kull eds, Imagining nature: practices of cosmology and identity, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2003

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8 Social scientist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, the term was used to describe the behavior of a limited social class 9 Hall briefly studied for a Painting Diploma at the National Art School, Sydney (1977-78) at a time when the school was not offering study in photography. She later received a Master of Fine Arts (Photography), Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, New York, 1979-82

4

10 Bronwen Golder and Gregory O’Brien eds, Kermadec – Nine Artists in the South Pacific, Pew Environment Group, Wellington, 2011: 136

5

11 Gregory O’Brien, ‘Days of Paperbark and Sail: Fiona Hall in the Kermadecs’, in Kendrah Morgan, Fiona Hall: Gig Game Hunting, op cit: 55

The same term was used by Kendrah Morgan, ‘Introduction’, in Fiona Hall: Big Game Hunting, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Victoria, 2013: 9

Ruby Payne-Scott was the first female radio astronomer. She was an active member of the Communist Party of Australia and is frequently described as confronting inequality and injustice where she perceived it. See adb.anu.edu.au/ biography/payne-scott-ruby-violet-15036 6 The same analogy was used by Kendrah Morgan in reference to Fall Prey (2012): Kendrah Morgan, ‘Introduction’, in Fiona Hall: Big Game Hunting, op cit: 13 7 Fiona Hall, ‘In conversation: Fiona Hall & Paula Savage’, in Fiona Hall: Force field, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and City Gallery, Wellington, 2008: 29

12 From Wingellina Community (WA) Roma Butler, Stacia Lewis, Rene Nelson, Tjawina Roberts; Pipalyatjara Community (SA) Angkaliya Nelson, Sandra Peterman; Kalka Community (SA) Yangi Yangi Fox, Molly Miller, Nyanu Watson; Mutitjulu Community (NT) Rene Kulitja; Ernabella Community (SA) Niningka Lewis; Amata Community (SA) Mary Pan 13 Fiona Hall, notes, 2001, quoted in Julie Ewington, Fiona Hall, Sydney: Piper Press, 2005: 163; see also David Hansen, ‘Cryptoserendipitous Palimpsesetery, or Seeing the Wood for the Trees’, in Fiona Hall: Big Game Hunting, op cit: 35-44


dioramic histories: arlo mountford’s little worlds

Ryan Johnston The most distinctive aspect of the Australian War Memorial’s First World War display has always been the elaborate diorama cycle. Conceived by the Memorial’s founder, Charles Bean, and the first official war artist, Will Dyson, as WWI drew to a close, the cycle depicts most major battles in which Australians fought, from Gallipoli to the Western Front to Palestine and the Sinai. Work on the dioramas was conducted throughout the 1920s by artists including Wallace Anderson, Charles Web Gilbert, Leslie Bowles and Louis McCubbin, and they were exhibited in Melbourne and Sydney before being installed at the Memorial for its opening in 1941. Like their nineteenth century precursors, the Memorial’s dioramas combine three-dimensional models of battle-scenes set against illusionistic painted backdrops to create self-enclosed and selfconsistent historical worlds. Distilling the Great War into a series of frozen, silent moments, shrunk to the scale of a child’s toy yet designed to immerse the viewer within, the dioramas deliberately naturalize history as a pseudo-mnemonic experience.

When the Memorial’s First World War exhibition was refurbished to mark the war’s centenary in 2014, the central role of the dioramas was preserved. In the refurbishment process they were subject to extensive conservation and partial relocation, the latter requiring the production of several new backdrops, either because the originals could not be moved (and were thus preserved instead), or because they had been previously damaged or lost. In keeping with the original conception of the dioramas as works of “true art” (as opposed to exhibition design or props), contemporary artists were commissioned to produce the new backdrops.1 Melbourne-based artist Arlo Mountford, best known for digital animations that mine and interleave histories of art and popular culture, was commissioned to develop new backdrops for two dioramas. The first, Desert Patrol, depicts a generic scene in the Sinai while the second, Mont St Quentin, depicts one of the most celebrated Australian victories on the Western Front and was the first diorama to be completed (in 1920).2

In response to the commission Mountford produced two animated films running eight hours in length (mirroring the duration of the museum’s opening hours), each comprised of around sixty historical images drawn from the Memorial’s collection. Paintings, watercolours, sketches and photographs of the respective locales, mostly completed in the field, by the likes of Arthur Streeton, Louis McCubbin, George Lambert and Frank Hurley were redrawn by hand and digitally montaged into hybrid landscapes. The landscapes, at once familiar and strange, transition periodically throughout the day, and without repetition, thereby appearing different at any given moment. Since all the artwork Mountford incorporated consists of found images, the pictorial illusion of the diorama as a selfconsistent still space is fractured by the always slightly misaligned and multiple perspective of the backdrop. For example, most landscapes have at least two (and often more) incompatible vanishing points, while others have multiple images of the same hill or mountain depicted side by side but from different angles. Yet if these hybrid landscapes sit irresolutely in


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relation to the sculptural components, they are nonetheless held in fragile unity via the animation’s triggering of the diorama’s lighting: digital clouds, birds and dirigibles cast actual shadows on the model battle as they pass in real-time across the sky, while visibility on the ground shifts as appropriated suns rise and eventually set throughout the day. The historical narrative thus remains clearly discernible, however the viewer’s perspective is never entirely coherent or consistent, but rendered mobile and contingent as the once frozen history is literally reanimated. In addition to the backdrops being cued both to the time of the battle (real-time) and the time of the museum (the eight hour duration), a series of sonic markers opens the diorama to the time of history as well. The running time of the animation has been indexed to the century since the First World War and periodic, short abstract sounds mark subsequent historical events in temporal relation to the battle being depicted: the opening of the Australian War Memorial in 1941, the beginning and end of the Second World War (and subsequent wars through to Afghanistan), the deaths of the original diorama artists and most recently, the development of Mountford’s own digital backdrops. In other words, these dioramas now exceed and loop around the chronology of their own narrative, as well as the gallery in which they are housed,

gesturing to other histories formerly occluded by the diorama genre and more broadly by the curatorial structure of the museum. While Mountford’s animations provide wide ranging historical visual context to the battles they illustrate, perhaps more significant is the use of the genre of the diorama itself as a model for contemporary history telling, and a model reflexive to its own location amidst powerful national narratives. If the internal logic of the diorama form has always relied upon the production of a unified and self-consistent little world frozen forever in time, then Mountford’s backdrops productively pick at and expose its epistemological seams. By redeploying hundreds of found images, the artist ensures that history is itself presented as multiple and always unresolved, while confounding any attempt by the viewer to adopt a fixed or impartial perspective upon it. At the same time, by opening the diorama to multiple temporalities—the time of the battle, of the museum, of history—the work renders these events not frozen in chronological place, but in an open, anachronic relationship with the future. And in a context where history is so often reduced to teleology, and at a time when public discourse tends increasingly towards both the naturalization and totalization of the past, these awkward little worlds, with their dioramic histories, point up a salutary alternative.

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ARLO MOUNTFORD INTERVIEWED BY LAURA WEBSTER AND RYAN JOHNSTON LAURA WEBSTER | RYAN JOHNSTON: Can you explain why appropriating or recasting the history of art has always been a central component in your work? ARLO MOUNTFORD: It came out of that horrible realization that you might be an artist and you have the opportunity to contribute to something larger, so you start looking at art history and realizing it’s quite hard to make art when so many people have done it before you. You inherit the burden of art history and you have to somehow acknowledge that. Well at least I felt I had to, which led me to start using art history as a resource to explore ideas that interested me in contemporary art practice. Once I worked out that it was a resource, I then developed a kind of method or a way of working, which involved appropriating aesthetics and ideas relevant to the more local and contemporary problems I was facing. With the dioramas at the Australian War Memorial I applied similar methods. There is already such a wealth of history there: art, social and military.

Arlo Mountford working on his backdrop The Shift, Mont St Quentin in front of the diorama; opposite a screenshot of his working method using images from the AWM’s collection


DIORAMIC HISTORIES: ARLO MOUNTFORD’S LITTLE WORLDS

LW | RJ: Can you tell us more about what this working method entails? AM: I redraw images directly on to the computer using a drafting tablet and Adobe Flash; events and ideas are usually drawn directly from a photograph of the artwork. These drawings more often than not are incorporated into a digital animation using software such as Adobe Premiere and After Effects and these sequences form either a narrative or a working through from point A to point B. In the case of the dioramas I’ve redrawn paintings and photographs from the Memorial’s collection relevant to the moments and places depicted, and used them to depict the passage of time. In order to project this moving image, we’re using a program called Watchout, which allows us to layer multiple video and audio tracks and then map them on to the curved and not always symmetrical, backdrop surface behind the diorama. The great thing about this is it has allowed me to compose the images in the space with the diorama in position and easily make changes. Despite this ease however, the render times involved in animating two works that are eight hours long have been mammoth!

LW | RJ: This is the first time we’re aware you’ve engaged socio-historical (rather than art historical) events. Did this influence your methodology? AM: I think definitely working with the dioramas and something so loaded as the First World War it was impossible to ignore the historical context. But because of the method I’ve developed, where l borrow art historical ideas to explore my own aesthetic and conceptual concerns, I was able to apply this same process, but use the Memorial’s art collection and historical documents as a part of the resource. To a degree it was different because it wasn’t always obvious what George Lambert or Arthur Streeton were really investigating. Their style of paintings aren’t always symbols of particular ideas or events, they are of more evocative things. I remember reading Streeton used his heavy use of shadow to imply the impending German threat. So I definitely used that. However, I don’t think I was intending to imply an impending threat through heavy use of shadow, so much as implying a general darkness. Simply put, regarding the dioramas: I used the Memorial’s archives and the war artists’ paintings in a similar way to the way I would use the twentieth century art canon. In order to do this, it was necessary to invest time in learning about the war artists and their artworks to develop, what was a fairly cursory knowledge, prior to this commission.

LW | RJ: Dioramas are now largely anachronistic museological devices and new ones are rarely built. How did you approach working with an outmoded genre given that your own practice is so technologically cutting edge? AM: I loved it! I’m a child of the 1980s and 1990s, I think postmodernism is great! So it felt like a postmodern challenge at the beginning but it’s not quite appropriation, because this time I was given this amazing art object to work with. I treated it like that to begin with and then after a while, as I became more involved in the Memorial’s history and looking at the paintings, I shifted a bit. I still like art galleries instead of the internet, I’m quite conservative on that level probably… I think the dioramas are such fascinating things and it’s the anachronism that appeals really… I’m certainly not too mature for them. Especially with Mont St Quentin, it’s like a Where’s Wally? book, you’ve got all these things going on; there’s that whole experience you have when looking at the diorama and all the different actions depicted. There is something great about them. A previous work I made, The Triumph, based on Pieter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death (c.1562) has a similar Where’s Wally? sense to it in the way you look through it to find smaller smaller narratives and so on.


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LW | RJ: You researched considerably the Memorial’s archives and collections. How integral did those items become to the work you created? AM: I think when I decided that I would use the Memorial’s collection using the method I’ve described, it was important to work out not necessarily what the artists were trying to convey, but how I felt about the works and where they fitted into that depiction of the First World War. It was quite interesting for me. I probably got more out of the sketches and watercolours, especially Louis McCubbin’s watercolours, than I did out of the more finished paintings. Lambert’s desert work is the same; they’re just sketches created at the time, but they were a better way of capturing and informing my knowledge of the places they depicted than anything I could have come up with. And the photographs, I found these helped, most of the time they weren’t by recognized photographers, just ‘photographer unknown’. They were a bit colder and often you don’t know what you are looking at. You’re not sure what the photographer was trying to convey with the shot but these combined with the sketches led to my better understanding of

the spaces and time. It was also fascinating to go through the records concerning the construction of the dioramas to study their history as objects, but also to see the level of bureaucracy, which seemed to easily slide from the military world to the functioning of the Memorial. Louis McCubbin’s backdrops (or what’s left of them) were especially influential for the Mont St Quentin backdrop. His clouds are those large high clouds, I’m not sure if they’re cumulus, but they’re dramatic which I love. He’s really good at painting clouds and trees, I’m not so sure about his battle scenes. The clouds I was drawing were directly influenced by McCubbin and also Arthur Streeton. Streeton also has those beautiful dramatic cloudscapes. There’s a certain quality to the way McCubbin painted them; you get the impression that he was enjoying it much more than the landscapes. I also loved McCubbin’s watercolours, which I used for Desert Patrol. I’m presuming he used them for the other Sinai dioramas, because in the end he didn’t paint the Desert Patrol backdrop—I’ve seen the record where he turned it down.

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LW | RJ: One important aspect of the dioramas is that they are considered ‘moments in time’ or ‘frozen moments’, depicting action, yet static in nature. How does your backdrop of moving images, its antithesis, enhance or contradict this idea? AM: I remember after coming up to Canberra that first time, flying home I realized that these dioramas don’t move and I’m making moving image. So I immediately started thinking about time and how time was the major point, in more ways than one. The context for this was obviously the marking of the broader First World War centenary, but also on a more fundamental level where you have a static image depicting an actual moment. Especially with Mont St Quentin where it is depicting 1:30pm in the afternoon on the 1st September 1918, it’s very specific. After reading Peter Stanley’s book, Men of Mont St Quentin (2012), with the story about Garry Roberts and his son, who had died at the battle of Mont St Quentin, Stanley makes it very apparent how important the diorama was and he is quite sure it depicts the 21st Battalion leaving Elsa Trench. Garry’s son Frank was a part of the 21st Battalion and he was killed later that day. Peter Stanley also


DIORAMIC HISTORIES: ARLO MOUNTFORD’S LITTLE WORLDS

discusses the friendship between Garry Roberts and Charles Web Gilbert who sculpted the diorama. So that was quite heavy, at some point I had to choose to ignore it to a degree. Back to the plane trip, the best way to respond to the static versus moving issue was to take time quite literally, so I decided early on to try and make everything in real time. I then added a third time construct by introducing a timeline corresponding with the centenary that refers to Australian military history and the history of the dioramas themselves. Mont St Quentin was the first diorama made: the artists were researching in the field less than a year after the battle, so it is almost a direct response to the battle. From here the object itself developed its own history; directly after the war it became an object of catharsis, where people could get some sort of impression of how their children fought and died on the other side of the world. The second timeline refers to each diorama’s history as an object, which includes all the interesting things that happen to objects like these: for example when they became formally classified again as an art object in 1991. LW | RJ: Could you elaborate how these extra timelines manifest in the work itself? AM: The very first timeline is the diorama which is one moment; you then have the moving backdrop which is in real-time in contrast to the single moment, which is essentially the clouds and the lighting moving as close to real-time as I could depict. By real-time I mean the sense that the clouds are moving, but you don’t realize they are moving or how you look at the minute hand on a clock—you know they’re moving, but moving so slowly you don’t notice it. I wanted that sense of time. I then tried to map the weather on the day to the backdrop so we have drizzle in the morning, it gets brighter about 1:30pm, and then there are a few clouds towards the end of the day. At least this was my initial idea, but I had to compromise between the paintings I was drawing from and the weather recorded. It was impossible to find the appropriate weather for each hour. I should point out that by doing the backdrop in real-time for eight hours it means that if someone sees it at 3:00pm in the afternoon, it’s not going to be the same as what someone else sees at 10:00am in the morning.

It was important that it was different every time someone went to see it. Quite often in my other video works I develop a reason for them to loop. I will make it quite obvious that they loop and I will try and incorporate the loop into the work. Looping seems like a conceit mostly, but because everything was in real-time it wasn’t really necessary. The next timeline is the simple sonic—we’ll call them chimes, but I don’t like the word. Let’s call them ‘sonic markers’ that mark off one hundred years from 1918 for Mont St Quentin and 1916 for Desert Patrol, and these markers note quite obvious events in Australia’s military history, as well as events specific to each diorama. The other sonic timeline, which is a different sounding marker is the history of the diorama itself as an object, so there are sounds for when the diorama formally became an art object [in the Memorial’s collection]. There are sounds for when the diorama was painted or repainted or had a new backdrop produced. LW | RJ: Talking about sound, often we perceive battlefields as noisy places full of frightful sounds such as explosions and gunfire. But the soundtracks you created for each diorama are sparse with sounds of birds and wind. What was the reasoning behind this and why did you choose not to use the sounds that many viewers would expect? AM: That was a deliberate decision, I didn’t want to use battle sounds—it felt gratuitous to go down that route. The action is already there in the dioramas; there is something powerful happening because they aren’t making literal sounds. I think by not adding that kind of noise, it allows the three-dimensional object to be itself, whereas if you hear for example a machine gun firing then you immediately look for that machine gun… I could have gone down that route and tried to pinpoint actions depicted and make sounds for those actions, but it just seemed a bit… I used to do that when I played Transformers as a child; I would make the sound as they transformed and then I’d make the sound of their guns firing. The dioramas already lend themselves to that, so I don’t really need to go down that route. But also I wanted them to be quiet objects, which is why my sound is just atmosphere deliberately contrasting with the action. I thought it was more powerful to not use battle sounds and to let the dioramas be monuments.

LW | RJ: Speaking of dioramas as monuments, from their inception at the Memorial they were often considered to be memorials to the fallen, especially in the decades nearer to the First World War. Was this something that you thought about when you were researching and creating your backdrops? AM: I definitely thought of them as being objects of catharsis as I spoke about before, and I guess as people closely involved died and there was a less direct connection with the events depicted, they kind of shifted to memorials. I don’t know what they are now. I don’t necessarily think they are memorials to the fallen now because they… maybe they are still. I think once they become artworks, they were always artworks, they become a bit more active than memorials. You’re aware that the artists involved had a point of view. For example, apparently Web Gilbert had quite a reputation for being derogatory when depicting Germans. I find that interesting in the same way I find what Piet Mondrian was doing when he was making his paintings interesting. For me, I don’t think they are memorials to the fallen, so much as interesting art objects that deal with all these personal, social and artistic histories. Everyone seems to know them; anyone who has ever been to the War Memorial remembers the dioramas. I think they have this interesting role in Australia’s history, not just as objects, but they are imbued with something. It sounds mystical, but they represent certain moments in Australia’s history. I find this more interesting than thinking of them as static monuments. Notes 1 Charles Bean was adamant from the beginning that production of the dioramas should be taken “out of the hands of mechanics and carpenters” and that Australia’s finest sculptors and painters be selected. See Charles Bean, 1918 letter to John Treloar, quoted in Michael McKernan, Here is their spirit: A history of the Australian War Memorial 19171990, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1991: 56 2 A third backdrop for the Semakh diorama was produced by Sydney-based painter Alexander McKenzie

Page 54 The Shift, Desert Patrol – George 14:30-15:30 Page 55 Top: The Shift, Mont St Quentin – William and James 10:30-11:30 Bottom: The Shift, Mont St Quentin – Arthur 15:30-16:30 Photos courtesy the artist, Australian War Memorial, Canberra and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne


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inside, outside and in parallel Alexie Glass-Kantor Talia Linz ONE VERSION OF EVENTS This is one version of events. Events that took place over ten days last October across three Australian cities with a delegation of four Turkish curators. Writing this reflective piece after the fact we are compelled to acknowledge that it is, in a way, an act of effacement; for in order to retrospectively document we must necessarily co-opt and own an experience that happened simultaneously to a number of different people in a number of different ways—although plainly acknowledged, innately problematic. The process of putting word to page initiates an erasure and a construction antithetical to the very intention of the initiative. We know that everyone involved, each of the curators, all the artists they met with, and every partner and stakeholder will have a different version of events. And yet, even if we can only ever offer our version, there is value in adding a voice to the archive, to contributing to a continuum of AustralianTurkish exchange and to having a printed record of some of the ideas that arose during the trip. Cultural exchange is at the core of what we foster as an arts organisation at Artspace (Sydney). As enriching and inspirational as it can be, cultural exchange is also a fraught domain. As much as an academic, critical and, yes, cultural exercise, it is a profoundly human experience, where our reading of a situation can rapidly shift and something that looked okay five minutes ago on reflection may not have been.

In the case of the Australia and Turkey Visiting Curators Initiative 2014, we could rely on a common vernacular and a very particular informed hegemony: an art-historical, theoretical and critical frame. On the one hand, we were all speaking in a commensurate way to peers working within an international platform that is a shared language. On the other, this scenario can be even more challenging than starting from a base of vast difference, because with a groundwork of commonality the points of rupture and misreading seem amplified. Borrowing the name we gave to the three public forums that took place as part of the initiative for the title of this article, ‘Inside, Outside and in Parallel’ situates this text as something that exists inside, outside and in parallel to what happened—it is subsequent to and in some ways anticipatory as we planned its publication ahead of the trip. Yet every note we took was inadequate at the point at which we sat down to write, because we realized that nothing experienced could in any way be accurately represented here as it is utterly tainted by lapsed memory, complicated positioning and the very subjectivity of experience itself. So with that somewhat slippery beginning, some background. TRYING TO IMAGINE WIDER THAN WHAT SHE OR HE CAN SEE In June of last year we were invited to apply for support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australia Council to bring a delegation of Turkish curators to visit Australia in advance of the year of Australia-Turkey bilateral exchange (2015), tying in of course with the centenary of Gallipoli. Partnering with Mari Spirito we put forward a proposal and with her identified three other curators

working in the Turkish context, who represent a range of independent, not-for-profit and museum sectors—Övül Durmuşoğlu, Başak Şenova and November Paynter—a mobilized cohort of strong, cross-generational curators, who are all in their own way a crucial part of the Turkish art scene. Emblematic of a new generation of curatorial practice, a very active and mobile set particularly invested in expanded curatorial models, Övül has studied internationally, worked with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Chus Martínez on the Education and Public Programs for dOCUMENTA (13) and was the Social Media Curator for the 13th Istanbul Biennial at such a crucial time in the history of both the Biennial and the city. Övül made the trip in tandem with opening a project in Istanbul with a young, peripatetic art project aptly called the Moving Museum. Having curated the Turkish pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and slated to curate the Macedonian Pavilion this year, Başak is a generation older than Övül and one of Turkey’s most pre-eminent independent curators. She arrived two days into the program—somehow energized and ready to go straight off the plane having just opened The Jerusalem Show as part of the 2nd Qalandiya International across twelve venues in the contested terrain of the old city of Jerusalem. November in turn represents a very different position, having moved to Istanbul from England over a decade ago as a recent graduate to work with Vasif Kortun, initially at Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center and then later at SALT, an institution central to the contemporary Turkish art scene and where, at the time of the trip, she was about to open one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of


INSIDE , OUTSIDE AND IN PARALLEL

Above Daniel García Andújar Universitas (magistrorum et scholarium), 2013 Installation view of 2nd Biennial of Contemporary Art, D-0 ARK Underground, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2013 Photo courtesy the artist Right Four headed sphinx 2nd half of the 2nd century AD © and courtesy KHMMuseumsverband,Vienna

renowned Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari’s work to date. She was the Assistant Curator of the 9th International Istanbul Biennial in 2005, continues to curate shows outside Turkey, and brought to the mix a consciously self-reflexive institutional standpoint. Mari was the ideal partner for this initiative, occupying an interstitial place between foreigner and national, and her passionate, yet relatively recent commitment to the Turkish art scene presented another entry point for us and Australian audiences. Investing the knowledge, experience and resources gained from over twenty years working in art galleries, Mari founded Protocinema in 2011 and in less than four years it has become a unique and highly regarded platform for contemporary art. With only a few months to plan and execute the trip, our key objective was to generate a series of connections across a broad network, with artists at the forefront—and indeed there were more studio visits and artist meetings than anything else on the agenda, over thirty-five across the ten days. In order to cast a wider net and ensure a collaboratively minded and thorough engagement, we established key partnerships with Gertrude Contemporary and Monash University in Melbourne and with the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane. We also contacted key stakeholders like the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and Queensland Art Gallery|Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), cognisant of the fact that we were building on foundations of exchange already laid, including Alan Cruickshank’s long engagement with Turkey and established relationships with curatorial colleagues Başak and Fulya Erdemci, as well as Russell Storer’s previous co-curation with November of ‘0–Now: Traversing West Asia’ for the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial. So too does Artspace have a pre-existing alliance with our Turkish peers, having hosted Fulya Erdemci’s public talk ‘Impotence of Action and the Search for Poetic Art’ last March and holding the first major Australian presentation of Ahmet Ögüt’s work in 2010 in conjunction with the CACSA. It was also an opportunity to build upon conversations commenced as part of the Shifting Sands Symposium convened by the CASCA in Adelaide in 2013, which included Başak and nine other international participants and was co-hosted in Sydney by Artspace. One consideration when constructing a schedule for a curatorial research trip such as this is taking into account not only time and financial restraints, but also our own


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personal and institutional bias, when planning for the needs and interests of four individuals. The schedule too is only one version of events. Having said that, we tried to think about how we could facilitate a meaningful interaction with the different art scenes in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, to give the curators a sense of the breadth of practice in these cities and facilitate initial meetings upon which they could later build. Engaging with a spectrum of artistic practice and privileging dialogue with artists was a key priority, as was visiting independent spaces and artist-run-initiatives. Most meals were opportunities to meet a cross-section of people working in the arts, as the intuitive conversations and organic connections made over a shared meal are often more rewarding than formal and structured arrangements. As intended, artist meetings and studio visits stand out as some of the highlights of the visit. These can be somewhat nebulous experiences, often with too many people crammed into a small space, jostling to see tiny images on a screen or waiting for videos to load. Yet at their best you emerge feeling something wonderful has passed between you, a particular conversation or artistic union, which inspires or challenges or incites curiosity that makes you think and draw connections and plan for more. From our perspective a few of the artist meetings that resonated with a particular level of robust and generous two-way engagement include those with Nick Mangan, Khadim Ali, Raquel Ormella and Vernon Ah Kee—four very different practices across the three cities, but all artists who work broadly within an international refrain, while maintaining a conscious awareness of their point of localized departure. The challenging and re-imagining of narratives of power and history, the issues of displacement, loss and reclamation of cultural heritage at the heart of all their work resonate far beyond the specificities of their individual practices. Synergies between interests and practices are always a hoped-for outcome, so it was wonderful to see, for example, affinities between Nick Mangan’s current exploration of cultural theories, which connect solar cycles to global financial markets with a large-scale research project Övül is undertaking (with an art historian in Mexico City) that explores a pseudoscientific linguistic hypothesis initiated by researcher Tahsin Mayatepek in the founding times of the Turkish Republic, which connects modern Turkish to Mayan language in their central aspiration for the sun.

It was also valuable to witness the more contentious meetings and the debrief conversations between curators afterwards. What one considered as an aesthetically beautiful photojournalist image, another saw as coming through a neo-colonialist lens. More than a collective resolution about the works intentionality, it was individual subjectivities that came to the fore through these debates, in which personal persuasions and generational influence were sometimes exposed. For an initiative devoted to contemporary art, the sculpture of a fourheaded sphinx dating to the Antonine dynasty in second century Rome became an unlikely recurring image. Held in the antiquities collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, this marble piece is only partially preserved, apparently missing the wings of an eagle found on sphinxes from this period, but nonetheless projects a mysterious power and fecundity, joining four distinct oracle-like visages on the muscular body of a lion with the breasts of a woman. This historiographic point of departure contributed by Övül in her image gallery for the forums, became a symbolic representation of the four curators, with faces turned in different directions, yet married at the centre. As she eloquently described, the work is a useful visual metaphor for the role of the contemporary curator. In a contemporaneous reading, this ancient quartet forms a potent symbol for the numerous and simultaneous roles embodied by curators today, and with heads facing in all directions, generating a circling horizon, they evoke the curatorial desire to get to know more, to learn, to imagine and to be able to speak to and from different points at the same time: ‘Trying to imagine wider than what she or he can see.’ WHAT WAS ASKED AND WHAT WAS ANSWERED As part of the initiative, a public conversation with the visiting curators was presented in all three cities; at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne under their Gertrude-Discipline talk series, at Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane and Artspace in Sydney. At each of the three forums, the curators spoke candidly about the complexity of curating within the refrain of Turkish contemporary art, artists and institutions in the twenty-first century. Each moved in and beyond Turkey in their accounts, offering histories and anecdotes

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from Cyprus to Bulgaria, New York and London, with Istanbul slipping in and out of focus, as it has throughout their various careers. Given the title ‘Inside, Outside & in Parallel: Speculations from four curators working in the Turkish context’, it is important to note here, as we did in planning the initiative and indeed at each of the public events, that the notion of a delegation of Turkish curators is a misnomer in some respects, given that two of the four have moved to Turkey from elsewhere, one currently splits her time in Berlin, and all their practices involve substantial engagement and curating outside the Turkish context. Within these forums, Turkey was a touchstone for situating differing approaches and experience. In thinking about their individual presentations, rather than walking the audience through past curatorial projects, we offered the curators some questions that we hoped would be useful in formulating thoughts and ideas. These included the critical issues they think about when curating both local and international work within Turkey and situating Turkish content outside Turkey; particular challenges they face being perceived as ‘Turkish curators’; ideas or interests they find themselves returning to as curators; and what they perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of the contexts in which they work. Yet it became clear that the questions Australian audiences sought answers to largely revolved around either our shared history of war or the recent political and social upheaval in Turkey and in particular what happened at Gezi Park. Despite the personal relationships formed and the individual narratives generously presented by each curator about their methodology and ideas, on a certain level cultural exchange positions us as a representative of where we come from and an access point for outsiders. Curiosity around the post-Gezi atmosphere fuelled many questions, and Başak talked about social media sites and applications that have been the main communication tool for the resistance in Turkey, as well as the only way to spread immediate information and news about ongoing events. She also mentioned her hopefulness at the time of the Gezi Park protests, realising that she was not the only one thinking and feeling despondent about the authoritarian direction in the country, but that after the elections the atmosphere of hope and potentiality felt squashed.


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Zooming out from the specificity of Gezi, these kinds of conversations are becoming more and more crucial to addressing the transformation of publics and how this affects artistic and curatorial practice. Istanbul is an interesting case study as the point was made that there is essentially no public space in the city, that what seems to be public space has in fact long been State-defined and is now under the purview of a government operating like a contract organisation for private enterprise. Indeed, there was much debate about Istanbul Biennial’s Fulya Erdemci’s decision to relocate the numerous works planned for public spaces to interior venues, and the reflection that her decision came from a philosophical standpoint of not seeing the value in trying to add or compete with an already charged external atmosphere, but also on pragmatic grounds, not wanting to be absorbed by the municipality and utilized as cultural ammunition. Broadsheet has extensively covered the controversy surrounding the Biennale of Sydney’s previous sponsor Transfield and the impact of protests around the issue, but needless to say there was a logical analogy to be made for Australian audiences between what happened here and the activists who protested against one of the sponsors of the Istanbul Biennial, Turkey’s top industrial conglomerate, Koç Holding. The growing pressure from artists and audiences for transparency about funding sources and organizational structures is a key thematic of our time and it was somewhat disheartening to hear that one solution offered on the ground in Istanbul was to close the Biennial altogether. A similar extremist attitude was aired in Sydney and it seems antithetical to the hope for change and improvement to strangle these formative institutions, rather than seek alternative ways forward. One really fascinating domain of enquiry interrelated to the Biennial debate stemmed from a conversation November shared that she had had with her Director Vasif Kortun, about the life of institutions and the validity of the innate, perhaps Western-aligned assumption that they should exist in perpetuity. For SALT, which provides expansive library and archive services for public use, the question of existence is linked with the preservation of the archive and the opening up of unseen or invisible layers of Turkish history.

There were some very interesting and complicated discussions about the perception of Turkey with Mari offering the point that it is not Europe, not Persia or indeed an Arab nation, but still exists as it has for many years as a liminal space, as “its own suspended ecosystem”. This makes it a unique space in which to live and work and a fitting setting for Protocinema, which takes its name from a reference in Werner Herzog’s film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011) to the sense of motion captured in the earliest known cave paintings. In a city that is constantly evolving and developing, Protocinema can temporarily inhabit unique spaces—empty storefronts, parks, apartments—in a way that might not be possible elsewhere, with new commissions and existing works by a range of well-established and more emerging practices. One of the 2014 projects was from an emerging Turkish artist Atalay Yavuz, who altered readily accessible chemical materials and our perception of them through a series of interventions in a neighbourhood convenience store. With such a potent mix of generational perspectives, expertise and opinion, the discussions were fascinating, both in regard to the kinds of conversations that took place and also because they revealed interesting and divergent qualities about the three different cities. In Melbourne, the audience posed questions largely anchored on the voice of the artist, whereas Sydney was more focused on the geopolitical, and Brisbane offered up some propositions about the future beyond conflict. What became clear is that constant political change is part of the Turkish collective unconscious and that what unites these four curators is the belief that art has the potential, perhaps the responsibility, to show people that there are other modes of resistance. In talking about the concerns of artists in Turkey there was a firm stance across the board from the curators not to want to talk on behalf of artists, but from their perspective they observe the political atmosphere as a great concern, as well as the rapid urbanization and gentrification occurring throughout the city, systemic to the capitalist agenda. And there is by some artists, unsurprisingly, a desire to be recognized first and foremost as artists without being prefaced as Turkish or Kurdish, or whatever the distinct geographical, political or cultural circumstance of their background and development may be.

With four curators who often work outside institutional structures, and who all maintain a level of mobility and transience, the conversation often turned to how curators must behave sensitively within the new and varied contexts in which they work—an approach that can be difficult with the fly-in/fly-out trend of some, especially biennial, curatorial appointments. To truly immerse oneself in the specificities of the local and to create trust with new people in unfamiliar environments takes time, perseverance and dedication to the translative act which includes being a channel for the dreams and desires of the artist. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT At the start of the trip, on the very first morning of artist meetings, one artist arrived wielding a container of Turkish delight and promptly positioned it in the centre of the table, gesturing for the curators to partake: ‘Have some Turkish delight!’ When they politely declined, he offered it again, and again, and continued to do so intermittently for the remainder of the meeting. For most of us it was a benign, tacky, yet unforgettably provoking incident. For others, it created a particularly uncomfortable atmosphere with deliberate sexual and sexist innuendo that caused unnecessary offence. One wonders whether the same would have been offered to a group of male curators. An equivalent for an Australian curator or artist visiting Turkey would be to have Vegemite offered repeatedly in a collegiate context—at its worst this would be perceived as reductive stereotyping; or, at best, a cultural parody in which tongue-in-cheek humour could get lost in translation. Similarly, at social gatherings there were several off-the-cuff remarks complimenting the Turkish-born curators’ well-spoken English, comments not meant to offend, but revealing of a cultural insensitivity and ignorance. These fault-lines within cultural translation are to some extent part and parcel of being an international traveller, but illuminating nonetheless and from the outset brought to the fore questions about cultural tropes and clichés and the misperceptions that exist even within informed groups and people very familiar with the vernacular of cultural exchange. So from the start and now at the end, we are left to consider what synergies do exist for Australia and Turkey to work together; what might a real collaboration look like? In a sense our title ‘Inside, Outside and in Parallel’ should be inverted—we’ve all brought the outside in


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and now we’re trying to see what’s inside each of us as a result of this visit, seeking meaningful parallels that have efficacy and the potential for agency that can really support the development of original, exciting and complicated artistic content. We know that what motivated government bodies to reach out to us was firmly connected to this bipartisan year of collaboration, itself a commemoration of a shared military history that resonates strongly with some Australians and some Turks, but for others does not hold the same weight. When the discussions turned to the centenary and the legacy of Gallipoli, a chasm seemed to exist between the Australian and Turkish collective consciousness. Indeed, the first question, or rather statement, posed in Sydney was; “You guys are here because the Australians are still trying to get over Gallipoli. They said we were fighting the Turks but really we were fighting the English, all Australians know that.” It’s a difficult terrain, which involves a complicated history of representation of nationhood, but bringing out four women on the back of a framework anchored heavily on an arguably patrilineal construct of Australian identity was the first and very conscious gesture. It’s fair to say that one of the major strengths of this initiative is that there isn’t a prescribed outcome; to push the inadequate metaphor, they don’t have to feed us Vegemite and we don’t have to offer any Turkish delight. Despite a focused year of cultural exchange, there are few funding opportunities on both sides and so limited purview to support a joint project, yet there are and must be conversations underway about potential publications, commissions and partnerships. If we return to the four-headed sphinx, she again provides a useful visual reference in thinking through where to from here, for if we are only looking forward for outcomes, we miss what’s happening around us. We view the established and nurtured connections that took place as having deeper meaning over time, providing another layer on top of what has come before and depositing a platform for supporting future relationships. In this regard the sphinx is the most contemporary of images, for it speaks to the polyvalence of cultural exchange. Protocinema is a non-profit art organisation based in Istanbul that makes transnational, site-aware exhibitions around the world. Collaborations, interventions and exhibitions

are presented in spaces specific to the artist/s and their visions. Founded in 2011 by Mari Spirito, Protocinema creates opportunities for emerging and established artists from all regions to realize new work and exhibit existing work in a variety of contexts that are accessible to a wide range of individuals. protocinema.org Mari Spirito is the Founding Director of Protocinema, which recently presented Diner Noire, with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Tristan Bera in Istanbul; early work by Gerard Byrne in a former Chinese deli in New York and new work by Ahmet Ögüt in New York in partnership with Itinerant. Spirito served as an advisor to the 2nd Mardin Biennial, Turkey (2012). Prior to founding Protocinema, she was Director of 303 Gallery in New York for twelve years, where she worked on large-scale, site-specific works by Mike Nelson and Doug Aitken. She holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art, Boston. Spirito is a Consultant for Art Basel’s Conversation and Salons, and is on the boards of Participant Inc. and New Art Dealers Alliance in New York and Collectorspace in Istanbul. Övül Ö. Durmuşoğlu is a curator and writer based in Berlin and Istanbul. She completed an MFA in Visual Arts and Visual Communication Design at Sabanci University, Istanbul and participated in the Critical Studies program at Malmö Art Academy, Sweden (2005-06). In 2007, Durmuşoğlu was awarded the Premio Lorenzo Bonaldi Young Curators Award for her exhibition Data Recovery, GAMeC, Bergamo, and in 2010 she received a Rave Scholarship to work on a collaborative project of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa), Stuttgart and the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart. In 2013, Durmuşoğlu curated the international contemporary arts festival Sofia Contemporary. As a Goethe Institute Fellow at Maybe Education and Public Programs for dOCUMENTA (13), she organized the programs, What is Thinking? Or a Taste That Hates Itself; Readers Circle: 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts; and Paper Mornings: Book Presentations at dOCUMENTA (13). Durmuşoğlu is among the founding members of Altyazi Monthly Cinema Magazine in Istanbul and has contributed to different catalogues, publications, and magazines such as Frieze d/e, Flash Art International, and Witte de With Review. She is currently the artistic director of YAMA Public Screen Project in Istanbul.

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Başak Şenova is a curator and designer. She studied literature and graphic design (MFA in Graphic Design and PhD in Art, Design and Architecture at Bilkent University) and attended the 7th Curatorial Training Program of Stichting De Appel, Amsterdam. She has been writing on art, technology and media, initiating and developing projects and curating exhibitions since 1995. Senova is an editorial correspondent for ibraaz.org and Flash Art International and one of the founding members of NOMAD, as well as the organizer of ctrl_alt_del and Upgrade!Istanbul. Senova was the curator of the Pavilion of Turkey at the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) and co-curated the UNCOVERED (Cyprus) and the 2nd Biennial of Contemporary Art, D-0 ARK Underground (Bosnia and Herzegovina). As an assistant professor, she has lectured at various universities in Istanbul, including Kadir Has University, Bilgi University and Koç University. Now she is teaching at Bilkent University. Senova is a member of the Advisory Boards of the Istanbul Biennial and D-0 ARK Underground, and of the Advisory Committee of Protocinema. In 2014, she acted as the Art Gallery Chair of (ACM) SIGGRAPH 2014 (Vancouver) the curator of the Helsinki Photography Biennial 2014 and The Jerusalem Show also in 2014. Recently, she was appointed curator of the Republic of Macedonia for the 56th Venice Biennale. basaksenova.com November Paynter is Associate Director of Research and Programs, SALT in Istanbul. She was previously Curator for Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center 2002-06, Assistant Curator of the 9th International Istanbul Biennial in 2005, and among other achievements was the 2003 recipient of the Premio Lorenza Bonaldi per L’arte-EnterPrize, as the first curator under the age of thirty to be recognized with this award. In 2007, Paynter was Consultant Curator at Tate Modern for the exhibition Global Cities and a selection of independent curatorial projects include New Ends Old Beginnings at the Bluecoat and Open Eye galleries in Liverpool (2008); The columns held us up at Artists Space in New York (2009); and As the Land Expands at Al Riwaq Art Space in Bahrain (2010). Paynter also co-curated 0 – Now: Traversing West Asia (with Russell Storer) for the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane in 2011. Paynter has written for art periodicals including Artforum, Bidoun and ArtAsiaPacific, as well as for artist and exhibition publications.


tom nicholson’s comparative monument Helen Hughes Tom Nicholson’s work frequently employs correspondence as a structuring device. In visual terms, correspondence describes a perceived similarity between two things, whereas in terms of communication, correspondence (the exchange of letters) joins together two perspectives—including wholly oppositional ones. That is to say that correspondence can, contradictorily, at once describe an equivalence and bring into contact radical difference. Where works by Nicholson, such as Cartoons for Joseph Selleny (2014) have foregrounded written correspondence (hypothetical letters from the artist to friends, academics, and historical personages compiled into a book1), his most recent work, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), also 2014, pivots around iconographic forms of correspondence —perceived similarities between sets of images, politics, and histories. That this most recent work conjoins a pair of profoundly different politics and histories through the examination of a perceived equivalence or similarity, that it engages the contradiction of correspondence, is the focus of this text. Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) takes as its subject the history of the oldest Islamic cemetery located in Jerusalem, called Ma’man Allah or Mamilla. When Nicholson visited Jerusalem in 2012 for the inaugural Qalandiya International biennial exhibition, he noticed a number of large river red gum trees (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in the Ma’man Allah cemetery that reminded him of those populating the Barmah National Forest in northern Victoria, the State in which he lives.

This visual correspondence prompted a major, two-year research project into the history and present state of the cemetery, and the subsequent artwork. The corresponding presence of river red gums in two settlercolonial States, Israel and Australia, presented a way for Nicholson to produce a “comparative monument” that would speculatively conjoin the two countries, while destablising the sense of an ‘official history’ that a traditional monument typically seeks to commemorate. Through this artwork, Nicholson shows what appears to be the same (the river red gums in both countries) to in fact be symbolically, diametrically opposed.

Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) is the sister work to Nicholson’s well known and much exhibited Comparative Monument (Palestine), a series of nine posters, fifty centimetres square, double-sided, stacked in nine piles on the floor, and free for visitors to take away. Commissioned for and first shown in the 2012 Qalandiya International as part of The Jerusalem Show, the posters of Comparative Monument (Palestine) document nine public monuments in and around Melbourne that bear the word ‘Palestine’. The accompanying text (in both English and Arabic) describes the Israeli annexation of the Palestinian city Bir Sab’a (known in Israel as Be’er Sheva, and in Australia as Beersheba) and the ethnic cleansing of the native population during the Nakba (“catastrophe”, the Arabic term Palestinians use to describe the events of 1948), which brought the State of Israel into being, resulting in the depopulation of about


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five hundred Palestinian villages and towns, and the dispossession of about seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians. The posters’ text proposes a hypothetical monument to be made by transplanting the nine existing Palestine monuments from Melbourne onto the present-day city of Be’er Sheva to form a sixtymetre long line pointing back to the historical cemetery that is wedged between the historical Ottoman city and the new Israeli city. Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), by contrast, assumed a slightly more complicated form, it had what Peter Osborne would call a “distributive unity”2, dispersed across multiple physical and temporal instantiations. Materially, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) is dispersed across photographs, texts, a walk, a prospective plantation, and a book (A Guide Book to a Collection of 69 Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Seeds in the Khalidi Library, Jerusalem, published by Surpllus3). In its short history, it has already manifested in two very different places and guises: an initial installation at Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and the second installation as part of The Jerusalem Show VII for the 2014 Qalandiya International.4 For the Milani Gallery iteration, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) comprised a threetiered frieze that snaked around the walls of the two-storey gallery. The middle-tiered frieze (located at eye-height) was the most consistent; it ran in an unbroken line, whereas the upper and lower friezes were punctuated with gaps. The middle tier comprised sixty-nine framed, fifty centimetre square prints numbered one to sixty-nine, running right to left, and which bore text written in both English and Arabic (the exact dimensions and layout of the Comparative Monument (Palestine) posters). The text described Nicholson’s walk from eucalypt to eucalypt, sixty-nine altogether, at the Ma’man Allah cemetery, and provided additional information on the site: the history of the trees, the cemetery, and its contested future. The upper frieze consisted of various different archival images, which loosely correlated to or illustrated the text on the prints below. Nicholson had sourced these images from libraries and archives in Munich, London, Boston, Jerusalem, Beirut, New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Newcastle and from the internet. The lower frieze comprised photographs of river red gums in the Barmah National Forest in Victoria, taken with Melbourne artist Christian Capurro. These photographs were captured using a flash in daylight, thus transforming the tree trunks into white, featureless absences, and

their branches into spectral veils. The resultant images resonated with Capurro’s own oeuvre, which often seeks to visualise erasure, and pointed to the long history of the two artists working together.5 Lastly, a single eucalyptus seed sourced from each of the sixty-nine trees at Ma’man Allah had been placed in a small zip-lock bag (then quarantined for a period by Australian Customs) and taped to the exterior side of the glass of the middle-tiered frieze. The seed taped to the Seed No. 1 station came from the first tree on Nicholson’s walking itinerary, the seed taped to the Seed No. 2 station from the second, and so on. The installation at Milani Gallery solicited a very specific choreography from its viewers, who advanced slowly through its sixty-nine stations in a linear procession.6 While the frieze propelled viewers around the gallery in a counter-clockwise direction (“in deference to the Arabic”, explained Nicholson in an artist talk7), the final station, Seed No. 69, encouraged viewers to retrace their steps. At this threshold, the work arrived at its central proposition, that these seeds be planted in exactly the same configuration (in, one presumes, an Australian context), and thus in due course form a secondary, austral plantation that would mirror or echo the existing configuration of river reds at Ma’man Allah on the other side of the world. This secondary plantation would be “a replica of the configuration of eucalypts at the Ma’man Allah cemetery”, Nicholson writes, “an exact double of their placement, inserted back into an Australian landscape, part exile, part homecoming, a map of the cemetery grown into or amidst a forest of eucalypts in their own place, one forest cleaving another”.8 The gesture of planting eucalypts may well reference Joseph Beuys (on whose actions and traces Nicholson wrote his doctoral thesis9) and his 7000 Eichen for documenta 7 of 1982, a land artwork concerned with social and ecological regeneration. Equally, the gesture cites the more nationalistic Lone Pine monument phenomenon, which remembers Australian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli during the First World War. (In brief, a soldier brought a pinecone from the battlefield back to Australia from which many Lone Pine monuments have subsequently been spawned.)

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The implication of eucalypts in Israel and Palestine begins earlier, in the late nineteenth century. As the Seed No. 23 station explains, eucalyptus trees were introduced to Israel en masse by the French Zionist Baron Edmond Rothschild as an anti-malarial, swampdraining measure in 1900, and their use was popularised by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) after first being sent as seeds from Australia in the 1880s.10 Seed No. 24 advances that trees do the colonial work of holding contested land cheaply, “as British law protects trees”.11 Seed No. 15 exhorts, colloquially: “Crikey! Eucalyptus elected most ‘Israeli’ tree.”12 Later, pines became the JNF’s ‘greenwashing’ tree of choice, and pine and eucalypt forests quickly become ‘symbols of claiming territory’—though not without some resistance.13 Seed No. 62, for instance, recounts a ‘botanical ghost’ story that Nicholson discovered while walking in Canada Park, formerly the Palestinian village Imwas: At this place in 1967 Israeli soldiers expel an entire village, Imwas, and bulldoze every home in the village… Canada Park—the pine trees I walk amidst—covers the traces of the village. But after the bulldozers the cactii [which Palestinian villagers use to create fences between houses] grow back, becoming the matrix of the missing village, a botanical ghost of the destroyed homes.14 Further topographical layerings occur at the site of Ma’man Allah cemetery. In 1959, graves were cleared to make way for Independence Park, built on the western part of the cemetery by the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality. More recently, a further four hundred graves were cleared to make way for the controversial (and some would say ironically named) Center for Human Dignity—Museum of Tolerance, which now occupies a large remainder of Ma’man Allah cemetery.15 The project is backed by the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, in alliance with the Israeli government.16 Just as written correspondence is the product of two vantages, and iconographic correspondence requires two forms by which to create the comparison, there is a dualism governing the logic of Nicholson’s work. Hence, while the subject of Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) is unquestionably the fate of

Opposite Tom Nicholson artist talk Khalidi Library opening night, The Jerusalem Show VII for the 2014 Qalandiya International


TOM NICHOLSON’S COMPARATIVE MONUMENT

occupied Palestine, it is framed (and haunted) by the spectre of colonial Australia—by the ghostly river red gums photographed in their native landscape in the lower frieze. Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), like its sister work Comparative Monument (Palestine), connects these two settler-colonies. The correspondence between Palestine and Australia, channelled through the image of the river red gum, produces a mirror-like structuring device that inverts as it seemingly doubles. The eucalypt as a symbol of Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine is reversed as a symbol of Aboriginal resistance in Australia. Nicholson’s pensive prose explains at the station of Seed No. 17: I am at the Pool’s edge… I recall looking across another body of water amidst these same trees, amidst monumental river reds growing at the river’s edge. I recall looking across the Murray River, that great volume of water, from Barmah towards Commerangunja—a landscape inscribed with Yorta Yorta history, Yorta Yorta resistance to the controlling and effacing our colonising would effect—standing at the water’s edge, looking out for pools of water around where I step.17

The artist’s focus on occupied Palestine is twoway: Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) is also a reflection upon the settlement of Australia by Great Britain and the subsequent affect this has had on the indigenous inhabitants. The lower frieze of photographs of the Barmah Forest, what Nicholson refers to using the filmic term “memory flashes”,18 also remembers the 1939 Cummeragunja Walk-Off by the Yorta Yorta, traditional owners of the Murray-Goulburn area. After decades of exploitation and oppression, and, since 1937, mistreatment under a notoriously cruel Protection Board manager, one hundred and fifty Yorta Yorta went on strike and walked off the reserve in protest, crossed the Murray River, and then camped on the Victorian side in Barmah. The Cummeragunja or ‘Cummera’ Walk-Off has, explains Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung elder Wayne Atkinson, become a symbol of both “Aboriginal survival in the face of dispossession” and “resistance to government control over Aboriginal affairs”, as well as attesting to “the continuity of culture and identity”.19 In addition to the photographs of river reds in Barmah, the Cummera Walk-Off is also remembered in the choreography of Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), whose final station concludes with the words: “This walking is a monument, a line to follow these words.”20 The complexity of the work’s inverted historical and political correspondence bears out not only in the yoking of occupied Palestine to colonial Australia, but also in the

figure of Nicholson himself, who travels freely between the two places: as a white man of European heritage in Australia, and a friend and colleague of Palestinians in Jerusalem (a fact that foregrounds the tension or contradiction that is inherent to the work).21 Indeed when one looks for it in Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), this dualistic, inverted, mirroring structure is present in many of the work’s formal and conceptual strategies. Nicholson’s art is almost Manichean in this respect, and it is not insignificant that many of his works are produced in black and white.22 Within this dualistic order, black is gravid with white, and vice versa. In Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), consider the bi-directionality of the English and Arabic texts at each station, then echoed by the gesture of traversing the series of sixty-nine stations first counter-clockwise, and then clockwise, or reading the Guide Book left to right in English, then flipping it to read it right to left in Arabic, meeting at the central pages: Seed No. 69. The mirrored reflection pool at the centre of the Ma’man Allah Cemetery, Birkat Mamilla, which Nicholson refers to as a “mirror to the sky”, is another key, mirrorinverting trope in the work.23 This reflection pool (now empty) corresponds vividly with another void, the nearby open excavations for the foundations of the Museum of Tolerance. This trope is emphasised by the phrase, “I visit everyday. I descend into the pool, ten metres below”, which is incanted no less than six times throughout the sixty-nine stations.24 The three-tiered structure of the frieze also creates a type of mirroring. It produces a vertical correspondence between the upper and lower, southern and northern hemispheres, which couples the archival documents pertaining to Ma’man Allah in the upper frieze with the photographs of the Barmah National Forest in the lower frieze.25 In the Milani Gallery installation, the single seeds taped to the posters in zip-lock bags form a perforated, equatorial line demarcating this bi-hemispherical schema. A related, bi-hemispherical mirroring or correspondence is produced in another of Nicholson’s works, Radio Exarcheia (2012), a collaboration with Italian composer Riccardo Vaglini. Radio Exarcheia comprised thirty-five stacks of A4 paper positioned throughout Melbourne’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery creating a type of miniature townscape. One side of the pages was printed with English translations of contemporary political graffiti found on the streets of Exarcheia, Athens following the Greek economic crisis of


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2008-09, and on the other side, the negation of that slogan in “political, syntactical, and/ or formal terms”.26 Viewers were invited to assemble their own scores of slogans/counterslogans, and then read these scripts into a microphone, while listening to a composition made up of field recordings from the suburb of Exarcheia through a set of headphones, thereby creating a spectral, antipodean community in an inverted parallelism to its Greek, northern hemispherical counterpart. As with both Radio Exarcheia and Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), the figuring of Australia as the mirror-inverse of its north-hemispherical counterpart in some way attends to early European conceptions of the as yet ‘undiscovered’ austral land as antipodal (diametrically opposed to) rather than southern. Ian McLean maps the classical literature on this belief in his book White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australian Art (1998), noting that the classical concept of antipodality was first glimpsed in Pythagorean cosmography, in which “another body named antichthon is the opposite or counterpoise of the world”.27 In Homeric Greek mythology, he writes referring to James Romm that antipodality was conceived as “ethnocentric inversion”.28 For the geographer Eratosthenes (b. 276 BCE), antipodality was the rational product of geometry. He wrote that “five encircling zones were girt around” the earth, and “in them dwelt men antipodal to each other”.29 For the later Roman theologian Isidore, Antipodeans were believed to be “opposite to our feet, so that, being as it were placed beneath earth, they tread in footsteps that are opposite to our feet”.30 McLean explains that the neo-classical conception of the Antipodes as an inversion of the north was subsequently embraced during the epoch of European colonialism.31 In this respect, the Antipodean construct is emblematic of the colonial projection of fantasies onto distant lands, like the Zionist projection of an unpopulated land onto Palestine pre-1948. As the popular phrase goes, it was imagined as “a land without people for a people without land”. Correspondence, mirroring, and inversion each have specific but related meanings. Correspondence joins, mirroring doubles, and inversion reverses. The effect of thinking of through mirrors, correspondences, and inversions is such that a monument, history, or memory is automatically rendered pregnant with its other. It rejects a monolithic conception of history by attending at every moment to its

countermemory, and creates a way of imagining two histories together.32 But Nicholson’s use of each of these strategies is always partial and incomplete, riddled with gaps and structured by the logic of the fragment—most evident in Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) in the seven physical absences in the upper frieze, and the corresponding seven ‘memory flashes’ of the lower frieze. Anthony Gardner has observed of Nicholson’s broader methodology that his “meetings of history are fragile and inconclusive so that the surety of any one perspective or historical frame is perpetually suspended in doubt”.33 In Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), the use of mirroring, inverting, and doubling is, importantly, coupled with the strategy of fragmenting. This fragmenting functions to dispel reductive comparisons between—and to resist effacing the specificities of—Israel and Australia, even as those two States are brought into direct comparison. That is, by conjoining these two profoundly different politics and histories through the trope of the eucalyptus, the point of comparison and the kernel of the paradox, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah) simultaneously points to a correspondence between these two States while sustaining contradiction. Notes 1 Tom Nicholson, Cartoons for Joseph Selleny, 2014, 12 cartoons, charcoal drawings perforated and pounced with cheesecloth bags full of ground charcoal; wall drawing created through pouncing with cheesecloth full of ground charcoal, 1200 x 500cm, off-set printed artist’s book to take away

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11

ibid. (Seed No. 24)

12

ibid. (Seed No. 15)

13

Tom Nicholson, artist talk op cit.

14

A Guide Book, op cit. (Seed No. 62)

15

ibid. (Seed No. 58)

16

ibid. (Seed No. 60)

17

ibid. (Seed No. 17)

18

Nicholson, artist talk op cit.

19

Wayne Atkinson, ‘The Cummeragunja Walk-Off and the return to Base Camp Politics’, History Journal, Vol. 1., No. 1, 2005: 35 20 Nicholson, A Guide Book, op cit. (Seed No. 69). A related walking monument of Nicholson’s is Proposition for a Banner March and a Black Cube Hot Air Balloon, a collaborative work with Raafat Ishak from 2012, which would stage a banner march through the streets of Shepparton following a black cube hot air balloon, which, in turn, attempts to follow the march. See Raafat Ishak and Tom Nicholson, Proposition for a Banner March and a Black Cube Hot Air Balloon, Ryan Johnston (ed.), Shepparton, 2012 21 Observation made by Johan Lund, co-director, Institute of Modern Art, at Nicholson’s artist talk at Milani Gallery 22 For instance, Cartoons for Joseph Selleny, 2014, a black and white charcoal rendition of Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (1867-69); the black and white wall panels, texts, and photographs (some inverted) of Towards a Monument to Batman’s Treaty, 2013; and the photographs for Proposition for a Banner March and a Black Cube Hot Air Balloon, with Raafat Ishak, 2012, to name a few recent examples 23

A Guide Book, op cit. (Seed No. 27)

24

ibid. (Seed Nos 6, 19, 42, 54, 62, 67)

25

There are seven gaps in the upper frieze, and seven corresponding photographs in the lower frieze

2 Peter Osborne, Anywhere or not at all: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London and New York: Verso, 2013, see Chapter 5: ‘Photographic ontology, infinite exchange’: 117-132

26 Tom Nicholson with Riccardo Vaglini, Radio Exarcheia, 2012, 35 stacks of 60 different two-sided A4 sheets, to be read aloud into a microphone connected to the gallery public address system; stereo sound component comprising two sets of recordings from in and around Exarcheia Athens, playing through one set of headphones; chair; vinyl text on wall; silent HD video work, still images of political inscriptions from the streets of Exarcheia, Athens, 6 minutes

3 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah): A Guide Book to a Collection of 69 Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Seeds in the Khalidi Library, Jerusalem (2012-14), Brad Haylock (ed.), Melbourne: Surpllus, 2014

27 Ian McLean, White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australian Art, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 11, citing E.H. Bunbury, A History of Ancient Geography, vol. 1, London: John Murray, 1879: 123-4

4 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), Milani Gallery, Brisbane, 2014; Fractures, The Jerusalem Show VII, Qalandiya International, 2014

28 McLean, ibid., citing James S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992: 45-81

5 Capurro is renowned for his painstaking method of rubbing out images from the pages of magazines, such as with the series Compress (doublivores) (2006-07)

29 McLean, ibid., citing Ruth Cowhig, ‘Blacks in English Renaissance Drama and the Role of Shakespeare’s Othello’, in David Dabydeen (ed.), The Black Presence in English Literature, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985:12

6 As Blair French has noted of Nicholson’s work previously, emphasising the artist’s background in the drawing department of the Victorian College of the Arts under Bernard Sachs and John Cattapan, this linear procession may be understood as an expanded form of drawing. See Blair French, ‘Tom Nicholson: Following the event’, Art & Australia, Vol. 47, No. 1 2009: 142-5 7 Tom Nicholson, artist talk at Milani Gallery, Brisbane, 5 September 2014 8

Nicholson, A Guide Book, n.p. (Seed No. 69)

9 Tom Nicholson, ‘Actions towards the Image: Traces, Images and Memory in the work of Joseph Beuys’, PhD diss., April 2007, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne 10

A Guide Book, op cit (Seed No. 23)

30

McLean, op cit: 12

31

McLean, op cit: 11

32

The hypothetical walk between the sixty-nine red river gums to be configured in an Australian landscape is intended to by undertaken whilst simultaneously holding memory of the Ma’man Allah cemetery in one’s head 33 Anthony Garnder, ‘Which histories matter?’, Third Text, Vol. 23, Issue 5, 2009: 611

Opposite Installation view Comparative Monument (Ma’man Allah), Milani Gallery, September, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane


the narcotic veil

1

BRAD BUCKLEY | JOHN CONOMOS This only means, however, that at no other time [has] the keen search for common humanity, and the practice that follows such an assumption, been as urgent and imperative as they are now. In the era of globalization, the cause and the politics of shared humanity face the most fateful of the many fateful steps they have made in their long history.2 Zygmunt Bauman Sharif Waked To be continued (video still), 2009 Photo courtesy the artist

Democracy dies behind closed doors.3 Damon Keith His hero was the Emperor of Qin, a thirdcentury-BC despot, remembered for starting the construction of the Great Wall and the destruction of the Confucian classics. He was the first great book-burner in history.4 Ian Buruma

VEILED When American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag was asked in 1977 what the role of the writer or artist is, she said it was to pierce the narcotic veil of “organised hallucinations” that society daily produces, and that passes for reality.5 Importantly, she said that it is crucial for the artist not to produce more hallucinations of their own, but to critique the dominant ones that function as the doxas of our ‘administered life’. This is becoming more complicated to accomplish in our dynamically shifting geopolitical world of West-East, NorthSouth dialectical complexities, alignments and tensions.


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For all of us who care to locate a better world in our present one, the task is particularly difficult in these days of neo-liberal ‘them and us’ mantras about the so-called global war on terrorism. What is even more challenging in these dizzyingly confusing times is to maintain the ethical and epistemological capacity to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff in our daily individual and collective lives. Simply put, this is a result of the ways in which we are now all connected in a post-McLuhan ‘global village’ world of internet connectivity and immersion. However, that world is a seminal part of the ‘organized hallucinations’ of ideological illusions, mythologies and mendacity Sontag referred to, when asked to describe the artist or writer’s role in society. One of the key questions facing us currently is this: what are our chances of articulating critical analyses of ourselves and our institutions in ways, which actually pierce this self-bewitching narcotic veil that engulfs us all? Artists, irrespective of their art form, are in the main communicating vessels, who can intuit the shape of things to come, things that often become established in our mainstream culture. This is not a radical proposition. Artists, thanks to their professional skills, poetic instincts and experimental, intuitive drive to locate an ‘elsewhere’, often function like buffalo scouts with their ears to the ground, so that they can hear which way the herd is heading. In other words, artists are, as the poet Ezra Pound once argued, the antennae of the human race. In keeping with this view of the artist’s role in society, the philosopher Marshall McLuhan also believed that art was (in fact) an early warning system of sorts to old culture. Of course we are speaking here in broad brushstrokes, for artists, like anyone else, are structured commodities and cogs in the alienating machinery of late capitalist culture. This was famously rendered by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936), when in order to keep up with the inhuman pace of the post-Fordist assembly line, he became caught up in the assembly line itself as another product being assembled in the factory. Let us put aside for the moment, the now familiar claims that the international art world is a hyper-simulated and hyperbolic supermarket of self-parodying images, labels and intellectual fashions, obsessions and stereotypes, presciently described by Harold Rosenberg, the seminal American art critic of the 1950s and 1960s, as “a herd of independent minds”. Or, if you

prefer, the American poet and critic Randall Jarrell’s ominously dystopic expression “the age of the supermarket”. Here we are discussing the fate of today’s artists, operating in a consuming neo-liberal, free market economy that is a dominant norm of our globalised world. SPEED In the Administration of Fear (2012), a recently published series of interviews with the French cultural theorist Paul Virilio, he suggested that we have adopted the trappings of religion in the way we think about progress. He uses the worship of the sun in many ancient societies to illustrate this idea, but goes on to add that light has now been replaced by speed. Speed, he conjectures, has created a situation in which success is so seductive that athletes (for example) will corrupt themselves by using drugs, no matter how harmful they are, to obtain that elusive win. Lance Armstrong, the now disgraced American road racing cyclist and winner seven times of the Tour de France, is perhaps the best example of this win at any cost philosophy. It is also evident in manufacturing, which has adopted a just-in-time attitude, creating an ever-accelerating cycle of speed: Virilio calls this “turbo-capitalism”. And banks are getting increasingly larger, to the point where even the largest of nation-States will not be able to bail them out in the next financial crash, so perhaps we will actually see the failure not of the banks, but of a nation-State.6 If we accept the premise that artists are critical agents in the articulation of a nation as a continuous experiment, with vital institutions, narratives, values and horizons, as we do, it follows that artists are always preoccupied with intuiting ‘the state of things’ in a civil society. While not completely in sync with Virilio’s thinking, French philosopher Jacques Rancière has eloquently argued recently that saying “times have changed” does not imply that certain things are impossible; we are told that since the 1960s we have been experiencing the grand narrative of the ‘end of art’, but that is not so.7 Simply put, Rancière’s argument is that though we are often confronted with this ‘state of things’ idea, hanging over us like the proverbial sword of Damocles, the artists’ task is in essence nothing more (according to Rancière) than figuring out the “distribution of the sensible”.8 For the author, we are obliged to work out the dialectical relations between what is perceptible, thinkable and doable in our world. Understanding that we can use knowledge (ecologically

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and ethically) as a weapon to examine and interact in our lived world occurs when we understand that the time that comes after ‘the end of art’ is, in Rancière’s pithy expression, “a time ‘post’”.9 Rancière posits a devastating critique of the fundamental concepts and assumptions of the familiar discourses of ‘our time’, which all presume an “immediate identity between the global time and the time of individuals”.10 It is erroneous to think, Rancière contends, that our world is solely determined by the flow and speed of capital, that it functions according to an “homogeneous process of presentification and acceleration”.11 Instead, he contends that it operates according to “a regulation of the convergence and divergence of times”.12 Artists who wish to create with the aim of enunciating a horizon of possible emancipation need to be active in questioning the daily hallucinatory veil of the consensual ideological myths and lies of late capitalist everyday life. Rancière’s call for a heterochrony of art, life and culture (paralleling Michel Foucault’s term “heterotopias”), and which is cognisant of the necessary intertwining of different times, in order to disrupt the dominant mainstream culture, is something we should take note of. If we are to strive to pierce this ubiquitous narcotic veil, which shrouds the possible utopian potential of human emancipation, it behoves us to realise that Rancière is not prescribing a possible model of politics of art now, but is arguing for a sustained speculative examination of the possible forms of art that can be located at the multiplying, disruptive and dissensual crossroads of many worlds of experience and many temporalities. Doing this allows us to invent new multilayered capacities of defining a present. For in these dark and ugly times, such a life-expanding project of dissensus, of locating another time of human equality, critique and imagination in the dominant one of human exploitation, monotony and inequality, is certainly something to which we should aspire. LIES This is an era where we can be ‘connected’ to the industrial-military-entertainment complex in nanoseconds. With the speed of the internet, the digital technologies of immersion and extraction, everything we hear and see in our ‘24/7’ media cycle of tabloid news and infotainment, one needs to be critically aware of the immense inequality between the North


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and South, East and West. Since the heady days of the “super-information highway” in the 1990s, an instrumentalist definition of digital technology was—and still is—lamentably the norm of late capitalist culture. Where individual narcissism is equated with this vertiginous global reign of the commodity and the market, democratic capitalism is nothing but a shadow play of mass alienation, banal consumerism and seductive hyperreality. In this context, the chances of a nuanced understanding of the daily news are virtually nil, given these forces of commodification, mass individualism and exploitation, and the spectacle at play in our psychic and social lives. What we get these days is a global set of media banalities, reality television inanities and the immense rapid diminishing of anything that resembles investigative or ‘long form’ journalism. This is a sad state of affairs in the Fourth Estate around the globe. What we have instead is a form of journalism known as churnalism, that uses daily press releases written by spin-doctors, factotums and other servants of politicians, transnational corporations, lobby groups and think tanks. This is an obscene replacement of an informed, critical ‘broadsheet’ journalism by digital infotainment. This shifting dynamic is an Orwellian travesty of the Fourth Estate. This is not to suggest that all forms of social blogging by the Fifth Estate are by definition suspect. However, it is true today that the general public thinks that infotainment is the same thing as critical informed opinion about the news and current affairs.

Hannah Arendt, the American political theorist (a description she preferred to philosopher), who was originally interviewed in 1974 by Roger Errera, had this to say about the relationship between having a sound, plausible opinion about one’s body politic and the world and being properly informed: The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.13 Governments lying to their citizenry has become a ‘24/7’ reality, and keeping on lying and obfuscating, so that they may keep on governing leads to a continuous ‘zombification’ of the citizenry, who are fed gross lies daily, ideological falsehoods, and

self-serving mythologies. This is not just an academic proposition but a reality; at present the USA has forty-six separate national security agencies and “has spent over US$3.3 trillion on counterterrorism in the decade following September 11 (2001)”.14 What we have now are governments that keep on deceiving their citizens and are forced to create more lies in order to cover their preceding ones. Arendt, with her acute analytical, erudite and philosophical acumen about the complex evolution of the Socratic agora and its legacy in our existential and political lives, nails this critical issue: today we are constantly incapacitated in terms of making life-enhancing decisions about who we are and our sociocultural institutions. Very occasionally, with whistleblowers such as the former CIA systems administrator Edward Snowden, the veil is torn and the curtains are drawn on the actions of our governments. David Cole, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, writing in the New York Review of Books, observed that the former USA President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama have pursued very similar policies —albeit Obama in secret until recently—in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Cole cited the New America Foundation, which claims that “while in office Bush launched forty-nine drone strikes while Obama has launched more than 440”.15 These figures may seem incongruous, when one considers Obama’s policies at the time of his election in 2008 and the fact that he was named the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the same year. As David Rohde reminds us in his recent book Beyond War (2013), today seems a lifetime away from Obama’s historic 2009 speech at Cairo University, where he “called for mutual respect and the spread of democracy, and peace between Israel and Palestinians”.16 It is clearly the case that the engulfing hallucinatory veil that our governments create in the name of the status quo paralyses our ability to make the vital aesthetic, cultural, ethical and political links between thinking (worthy of its name), judging and then acting. These three elements are critical to Arendt’s philosophical view of the human condition. For Arendt’s understanding of the intricate relations between an informed citizenry, the media and fascism in all its shades is based on her own experience of such turbulent times in Europe. As artists, as citizens, we have to be alert to the necessity of ensuring that we do not negate (in any shape or form) the all-important dynamic between these three core activities of


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human existence. In other words, it is in the interests of our present revisionist and austere federal government to make sure that we are in Plato’s Cave, bewitched by its shadows and confusing these with a world of possible emancipation. This nexus, for Arendt, between thinking, judging and acting implied, for her personally, the cardinal belief that no matter how abstract one’s thoughts may be, one is obliged to act upon them. Hence, in Arendt’s own case, working to help Jews flee from Nazi Germany to settle in America. If we are to adopt this activist approach, combining creativity with scholarship, aesthetics with ethics, culture with politics, then our chances of puncturing this insidious narcotic veil of conformity and cultural cringe increase. We need to apply this pragmatic wisdom to all facets of our life: art and politics, press freedom and human rights, ‘boat people’, refugees and racism, global terrorism and free speech, violence and surveillance, free-market capitalism and social democracy. Since Homer’s time, as the Italian philosopher Mario Perniola has persuasively argued, art has been coupled with action, and all forms of artistic, dramatic, literary and poetic activity has often been thought of as performance; in truth, as the ancient Greeks believed, a certain kind of action/performance in itself could be more effective than military, economic or political actions.16 Historically speaking, it has been Hegel in modern times who wrote most significantly on this connection between art and action. Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics is his most sophisticated development of the artistic ideal. Here he argues that the most important consideration in this context is the actual process through which the spirit enters the world and emerges, to cite Perniola, “out of its own quietness and finds itself exposed to suffering, unhappiness and conflict”.17 Pathos is said to surface once an ideal is in opposition to universal nature within the same subject. This results in what the Greeks called “the beautiful action”, which for them was the mixture of free will and rationality resulting in decision and action.18 This was, as we know, manifested in the Greek tragedy par excellence. By the end of the nineteenth century, a radical shift had taken place: it was neither the hero nor the philosopher, according to Perniola, but the artist who represented “the beautiful action”.19 Central to this view were, of course, Wagner and Nietzsche, who both

regarded the Greeks highly, and who both insisted that aesthetic ideals were located not in works of art, but in the totality of human experience. This existential connection between aesthetics, art and ethics was at the very centre of the Greek outlook on the world. How things have changed regarding the role of the artist in society since Wagner and Nietzsche’s time! Today, we encounter on a daily basis the tawdry, self-caricaturising, tiresome spectacle of the international art world, where “the beautiful action” the Greeks believed in has morphed into a post-Barnum and Bailey circus of selfimportance, hollow convictions and apolitical irrelevance. Small wonder that one of the USA’s foremost art critics, Dave Hickey, in his most recent book, Farmers and Pirates, has excoriatingly farewelled this global ‘Emperorwithout-clothes’ lunacy.20 In our post-John Dewey world, we have lost the aesthetic and existential power that results from art being regarded as totally connected to ordinary everyday experience. This is increasingly relevant today, in this Anthropocene era where art has become tragically separated from ecology, class, ethics, fulfillment and politics: in a word, from our surrounding world here and now. We need instead to see art as a vitally connected continuum with ordinary life. But we are living in a time where consumerism, distraction, fear Opposite Jowhara Al Saud from the series Out of Line (Airmail), 2008 Photo courtesy the artist and Athr Gallery, Jeddah

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and neo-liberal ideology militate against this happening. All the more reason why we must strive for what we believe in, endeavouring to locate a better world in this present one. And as the Dardenne brothers suggested in their extraordinary film Two Days, One Night (2014), what matters at the end of the day is not winning, as such, but ‘putting up a good fight’. FEAR Fear is an essential tool of control for governments of all persuasions, whether left, right or in the middle, and whether liberal, fascist or theocractic. However, it does appear to be more effective in some societies than others. While most of Europe rails against new immigrants from the Middle East, Sweden’s sixty-five year-old open door policy continues, rather surprisingly, to have the support of the majority of Swedes. However, even in Sweden there has been a sharp rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, with several attacks on mosques. In Germany, officials have recorded more than seventy attacks against mosques from 2012 to 2014.21 Fear of Muslim immigration has led to a dramatic shift to the right in many European countries, including the UK and Denmark, leading to centre right governments moving further to the right to retain their voter base.

Below Ahmed Mater Magnetism II, 2012 Photo courtesy the artist and Athr Gallery, Jeddah


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Fear works in many ways with unpredictable outcomes. The recent killings in Paris at the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and of Jews at a kosher supermarket, and numerous other attacks on Jews across France, have created a state of anxiety in the French Jewish community. As Peter Ford and Sara Miller Llana, writing recently in the Christian Science Monitor, observed: Nearly 7,000 Jews left France for good last year, according to figures from the Jewish Agency; that is twice as many as emigrated in 2013. A poll last year by Siona, a French Jewish group, found that 74 per cent of respondents had thought of emigrating, one-third of them because of rising antiSemitism.22

Across the Mediterranean, Israel is struggling with its identity. As the novelist Amos Oz, considered by many the liberal conscience of Israel, recently told New York Times columnist Roger Cohen: …there is a growing uneasiness, social, polititical, economic… there is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind forever when they created the state of Israel.23

In Australia, the conservative Liberal/National Party Government and the Labor Opposition both cynically stoke the fires of fear in the community. Every boatload of ‘refugees’ is presented as a threat to our very existence and survival as a nation. This is an old fear in Australia that the politicians have tapped into; it echoes the White Australia Policy that was enacted by the newly created Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. This policy was designed to exclude all people who were not of British —meaning white—heritage, but was particularly aimed at the Chinese. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the Chinese had begun to migrate in large numbers to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, drawn by the discovery of gold. They were willing to work harder and cheaper than whites, which created deep resentment in the local populations. The term “yellow peril” became widely used, not only in Australia, but also across Europe, Canada and the USA, as a shorthand way of describing the fear of a country being overrun by Asians. This is not unlike the current use of the term “illegal arrivals” in Australia.

The realtity is that most of today’s immigrants or refugees are fleeing countries that are caught between religious extremists, who wish to impose a theocractic state or dictators whose brutality knows no bounds. One only has to think of Saddam Hussein and his genocidal use of chemical and biological weapons on the Kurds in Iraq in 1988. This was for the most part completely ignored by the Western media, as were the regular beheadings of men and women in public by the Saudis. However, now we see frenzied bloodlust in the reporting of the beheading of Westerners by Islamic State. Of course part of the explanation for this is that the USA and her allies, including Australia, at one time or another propped up many of these regimes. Then, as they fell from grace because of their economic or political capriciousness, these same countries invaded them, using lies to create fear and loathing —and thus support for those actions—in their own populations. But when the digital veil was lifted by Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange and many others, a very different story emerged. ARTISTS Perhaps one way to understand these geopolitical tensions is to consider how artists in many countries, but in particular Israel and Palestine, deal with conflict. What does it mean, for instance, to be a Jewish or Palestinian artist in Israel or a Palestinian artist living in Gaza or the West Bank, or an artist of the Gulf States, or the Horn of Africa? What of artists who were born in the West of Middle Eastern parents, or artists who have chosen or were forced by circumstances to leave their countries of birth and move to the West, and what of the global Jewish diaspora? How do these artists pierce the veil when there they are surrounded by a complex tissue of lies and the deliberate conflation of history, religious belief and local tradition or custom, often mixed with a heady dose of nationalism? These large questions are beyond the scope of this text, but to give some context to one of the many global wars, one can turn to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is worth briefly revisiting some history: in 1922, with the fall of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the British were granted, by the League of Nations, what was called the British Mandate, essentially a trusteeship that was designed to prepare a “national home for the Jews” without affecting the civil and religious rights of the indigenous Arab people.25 Therein lies a conundrum, for

how do you create a homeland for one people without disenfranchising the others? The British deceived both the Arabs, to whom they promised a country covering most of the Middle East, and the Jews, to whom they promised a homeland in Palestine. These deceptions have created an unresolvable conflict that we sadly witness every day in the mass media.26 What we need to remember is how artists, like everyone else, tend to forget or erase the complex aesthetic, cultural and political links between the past and the present. All of us in this world of post-MTV, Facebook, iPhones and Instagrams find ourselves in a permanent state of shifting circumstances, vulnerability, and unstable bonds. We are living in what the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has recently called the “liquid society”. This world is also full of war and sociocultural and political calamities, particularly in the Middle East, where the results of religious and sectarian schisms seem to be never ending. However, artists everywhere share this globalised world, which is still dominated by the intricacies and tensions of late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries’ representations of the past. These are fundamentally traceable to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s key notion of “the excess of history”—archival as well as monumental history. He criticised the idea of the past as a burden, which was popular in the nineteenth century, with its unstoppable fever of historicism, in the second of his four Untimely Meditations (1874). More recently, and relatedly, is Andreas Huyssen’s influential idea of “the hypertrophy of memory”, which develops this idea further.27 So how do artists, irrespective of their art form, culture, space and time, penetrate the daily narcotic veil of their lives in the light of our obsession with cultural amnesia and erasure? New ways of conceptualising and living with temporality in everyday life are called for. Consequently, how do we understand and deal with the apparent contradiction of a post-computer culture that multiplies narratives of ‘past-presents’ but is, at the same time, a culture of erasure, consumption and obsolescence? For the German-born, Americaneducated philosopher Andreas Huyssen, what is at stake here is the need to draw a distinction between what he calls “usable pasts and disposable data”.28 Essentially, our contemporary concern with the loss of an immutable past—and its corollary, the memory of existing in a more stable and


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clearly delineated place with equally stable time-space coordinates—as expressed in our fear of forgetting and oblivion, is far too simplistic. Memory is always elaborate, unreliable and complicatedly connected to forgetting. What we have is a situation of too much and too little at the same time. What we are now confronted with in the accelerating space-time compression of globalization is, according to Huyssen and others, an urgency to locate ourselves within time so that we may extend and enrich our everyday life. So artists seeking to question the narcotic veil of their lives, in the Middle East as much as anywhere else, are experiencing not only a radical displacement of the classical Freudian discontents of metropolitan modernity —guilt and superego repression—but an immense tension between slowing down and seeking comfort from memory discourses of the past and an unstoppable hurtling towards the future. Further, at this historical moment, and speaking about cultural amnesia, it is noteworthy to remind ourselves that this subject is not new: see authors such as Philip Rahv (who once wittily described America as “Amnesia”), Gore Vidal, Curtis White and George Steiner, to cite just a few. In fact, a critique of amnesia as a mass-mediated malady of capitalist culture goes even further back, to the inter-World War writings of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Martin Heidegger on culture’s obsession with memory and the fetishist nature of mass cultural forms. Artists engaged in critiquing the fictions, myths and stereotypes of their turbulent world of economic rationalism, war, class, poverty and terrorism would do well to read the French philosopher Paul Ricœur’s magisterial Memory, History, Forgetting (2004). Ricœur is concerned with defining an ethics of remembering that is developed from history, narrative and temporality.29 To achieve this he focuses on the problem of the representation of the past, and the way in which it is connected to the phenomenology of memory, the epistemology of history and the hermeneutics of the historical condition. This is closely related to the question of memory and the representation of the past: the enigma of the image (eikon as discussed by Plato and Aristotle). For Ricœur, the importance of the eikon continues to grow.

Examining the complexities of erasure, collective memory and remembrance —aesthetically, culturally, ethically and historically—one is always alert to issues of linearity, periodisation, Western binarism, global paradigms and ahistorical modes of thinking. And when it comes to the human need for remembrance, we should be constantly vigilant. As the American writer David Rieff recently observed, we need to carefully weigh up how we are living in a world of incompatible values, savage wars, globalization, grief and mass migration, and ask whether remembrance itself stands in the way of the goals of peace, justice and truth.30 Both Ernest Renan, the French expert on ancient cultures, and Nietzsche questioned the ideological and historiographical fictions and myths involved in collective historical memory, nationalism and politics. Ultimately, Nietzsche debunked historiography dressed up as remembrance and positivism, and famously argued that “there are no facts, only interpretations”.31 To echo Plato’s notion of philosophy that is worth its name, contemporary art that matters must be an awakening. How often do we encounter contemporary art that is not a ‘microwaved’ recycling of artworks, ideas and contexts from the previous one or two or three decades or longer? If we are to make art that will add something to life itself, that will pierce our narcotic veil of orthodoxy, conformity and yea-saying and heighten our understanding of the relational nature of reality itself, then what Alain Badiou has to say about philosophy transcending its own disciplinary boundaries is applicable to contemporary art as well.32 Now, more than ever, this is the challenge for anyone who claims to be an artist. Notes 1 Susan Sontag, ‘Art and Consciousness’ interview [1977], Bonnie Marranca and Gautani Dasgupta, Journal of Performing Art, 27.2, 2005: 1-9 2 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2003: 156 3 David Cole, quoting Judge Damon Keith, in ‘Must counterterrorism cancel democracy?’, New York Review of Books, 8 January 2015: 28 4 Ian Buruma, Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War, New York Review of Books Inc., New York, 2014: 410 5

Sontag, op cit: 1-9

6

Paul Virilio, The Administration of Fear, Ames Hodges trans, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012: 41–68 7 Jacques Rancière, ‘In what time do we live?’, in Marta Kuzma, Pablo LaFuente and Peter Osborne eds, The State of Things, London: Koenig Books, 2012: 9–38 8

ibid: 11

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9

ibid: 13

10

ibid: 23

11

ibid.

12

ibid.

13

Hannah Arendt, interview with Roger Errara, 1974, ‘Total totalitarianism, lies, contingency and history’, New York Review of Books, 26 October 1978, www.nybooks.com/ articles/archives/1978/Oct 26/; accessed 28 January 2015 14

Cole, ‘Must counterterrorism cancel democracy?’: 28

15

ibid: 26

16

David Rohde, Beyond War, New York: Viking, 2013: 106

17

Mario Perniola, 20th Century Aesthetics, Massimo Verdicchio trans, London: Bloomsbury, 2011: 83-85 18

ibid: 83

19

ibid.

20

ibid.

21

Dave Hickey, Karsten Schubert and Dore Globus eds, Farmers and Pirates: Essays on Taste, London: Ridinghouse, 2013 22 Melissa Eddy, ‘In Sweden, the land of the open door, anti-Muslim sentiment finds a foothold’, The New York Times, 3 January 2015, A4 23 http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2015/0116/ For-French-Jews-Hebdo-attacks-are-just-latest-sign-ofanti-Semitism-s-rise-video; accessed 25 January 2015 24 Roger Cohen, ‘What will Israel become?’, The New York Times, Sunday Review, 20 December 2014: 1 25 Avishai Margalit, ‘Palestine: How bad, & good, was British rule?’, New York Review of Books, 7 February 2013, http:// www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/palestinehow-bad-and-good-was-british-rule/; accessed 26 January 2015 26 For a discussion on the history of Palestine and the British Mandate see Tom Sage, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000 27 Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, Daniel Breazeale (ed.), R.J. Hollingdale trans, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 [1874] 28 Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsest and the Politics of Memory, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2003: 3 29 Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, and Forgetting, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009 30 David Rieff, Against Remembrance, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2011 31 Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, Maudemarie Clark (ed.), R.J. Hollingdale trans., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 32 Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, Philosophy in the Present, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009: 24


i am, you are, we are australian Rex Butler | A.D.S. Donaldson The “lesson of Sydney” is always to put Deleuze in your title. Sarah Wilson, email to author, 12 October, 2012 Recently one of us was watching the BBC comedy series Rev., starring Tom Hollander, set in a small parish in Hackney, East London. The Rev (Adam Smallbone) is a liberal, innercity priest, happily married and thinking of having children. One night, after a busy day of church business, he is lying in bed with his wife Alex, both of them reading. He is reading Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop, a choice that is meant to indicate his sensitivity and commitment to the job, but more tellingly for us his wife, in the context of their wanting to start a family, is reading Christos Tsiolkas’ international bestseller The Slap. Putting her book down, Alex suddenly announces to Adam, “I’ve decided we shouldn’t have a child”. Received in Australia as a novel about North Melbourne, seen through the eyes of Rev. The Slap becomes a universal narrative about the challenges of modern family life. This use of The Slap in an international comedy series tells us something revealing about ourselves. Against all of our attempts to localize and nationalize its message, even if leavened with a sprinkling of multiculturalism, seen from the outside it is shown to be coming from anywhere and speaking to everyone. Inner-city Melbourne is transported to the East End of London in a way Tsiolkas could not have imagined, even though he may secretly have dreamt of it. And the joke is sealed in Rev. when, even though Reverend Adam does not recognise Tsiolkas’ book and thus why Alex is telling him this, the audience does and laughs both at the fact they do and at their insight into Adam’s unworldly character. But let us take another example from perhaps the other end of the literary spectrum. The other of us was recently reading a book to one of his children, Hergé’s Flight 714, originally

in French Flight 714 to Sydney. Consistent with Hergé’s penchant for exotic settings (Tibet, America, the Congo), here he imagines Tintin, his intrepid boy reporter, travelling to what might have been understood to be the other end of the world, in order to attend a supposed Astro-Nautical Congress. Of course, he doesn’t quite manage to get there, with the illustrated novel ending with Tintin and Captain Haddock reboarding their plane at Jakarta after a series of alternately comedic and dramatic incidents. However, in another way, Tintin—or at least the young readers of Hergé’s book—were already in Australia, already imaginatively inhabiting the place he was travelling to. Or, to put it the other way around, Australia, as with Rev. in England, was already in France. (In some ways, indeed, the trip Hergé was imagining here for Tintin was reprising the real world travels of Paul Gauguin, who visited Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland on the way to Tahiti in 1895; and, inversely, the famous Melanesian room Gauguin erected in his studio back in Paris after he returned from his first trip to the Pacific was something like the cartoon Hergé would have drawn of Tintin’s Australian adventure.) For Hergé, at least this is the joke of the book, Australia is so far away that, like a kind of magical kingdom, Tintin can never actually get there. But, in fact, by the time Hergé wrote Flight 714 in 1968 that magical land had been in France for more than 150 years, since at least the time of Nicolas Baudin’s 1800-03 expedition, which brought back to France the fauna and flora of what was then called Nouvelle-Hollande. Indeed, between 1803 and 1814, hundreds of species of Australian plants and animals made their way to Napoleon’s wife Josephine’s primary residence, the Château de Malmaison outside Paris. The first kangaroo arrived in 1804, followed soon after by black swans. Acacias, melaleucas and eucalypts were planted, and were thereafter introduced and made popular throughout the South of France. Indeed, on the windswept island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean after his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon cultivated the first time two more

Antipodean specimens to remind him of Josephine: the Sydney Golden Wattle and the Australian Everlasting Daisy, both still thriving on the island today.1 It should not be surprising, therefore, that the Australian tradition of landscape painting, dominated as it is by representations of the gumtree, from the Port Jackson painter through von Guérard, the Heidelberg School and up to Fred Williams, should also be a French tradition, even a European one. We only have to think of Frenchman Henri Matisse’s Landscape with Eucalyptus Trees and River (1908), with its thickly painted deep greens and royal blues, to see him responding to the Australian landscape. But Matisse was not the only European artist to paint the gum tree, and we can even write a certain stylistic history of its depiction in twentieth century European art. We would pass here from the Belgian Theo van Rysselberghe’s Neo-Impressionist Eucalyptus at St Tropez (1906), which offers a view of the Mediterranean seen through distinctive sunlit gums set vertically in the foreground, through the Dutch Piet Mondrian’s post-Cubist Eucalyptus (1912), which has the twin branches of a flowering gum rising out of a vase, through the Frenchman Paul Signac’s pointillist The Eucalyptus Tree (1913), which features a single dotted blue and yellow gum in a vertical format, and on to Italian Giacomo Balla’s Futurist Incandescent No. 5–Eucalyptus (1914), which employs a colour scheme of hazy blue, green and yellow, so often said to be the distinctive colours of the Australian landscape. (It is, indeed, a tradition extended up to World War II, first by the French Raoul Dufy with his striking A eucalyptus [1926-27], then by the German Hein Heckroth, whose surrealistic Australia [1941] reflected his internment as an enemy alien, and finally by the German Kurt Schwitter’s collage Out of the Dark [1943], with its cut-up images of Tasmanian apples.) What is all of this to suggest? Certainly, what we see is that, if there has been a long-running tradition of gumtree nationalism in his country, carried on after Federation by Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton, there has


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been an almost equally long-running tradition of gumtree internationalism, taking place in many countries. (And we have not even begun to touch on the proud tradition in America of gumtree painting.) However, this whole history of twentieth century Australian landscape painting in Europe is really only an extension of the first European cartographers of Australia, who after Plato imagined a counterbalance to the known world in the Great Southern Land, even though it had not yet been ‘discovered’ by Europeans. A hypothetical continent named Terra Australis Incognita continued to change in shape, size and location but also in style according to the latest artistic tendencies, as the European exploration of the Pacific advanced throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.2 And this tradition of depicting an Australia not yet seen but only imagined carried on even after Schwitters. An unknown and unvisited Australia was to be found, for example, in New York School sculptor David Smith’s breakthrough work Australia (1952), for Clement Greenberg and those who followed him one of the foundational instances of Abstract Expressionist sculpture. Indeed, recognising its importance, it was the first piece Smith placed in the fields outside his studio at Bolton Landing, New York State, now the home of the David Smith Foundation. Up to that point his largest work, Australia traces a broadly horizontal skeletal steel line in space, atop which sits a floating ovoid, filled with vertical strips. Often understood to be a depiction of a kangaroo, the work as much as anything can be seen as indigenous, with its X-ray quality and incisive linearity. In this regard, there are several existing speculations concerning the sources for Smith’s piece. The first is that Greenberg, a close friend of Smith, passed on some images of cave paintings to him (we believe these would have been images of the Obiri Rock in the Northern Territory, which the Australian anthropologist Charles Mountford first brought to public attention after his Arnhem Land expedition in 1948). The second is that Smith might have seen the catalogue for the important 1941 exhibition Art of Australia 1788-1941, which toured America and Canada, and whose display of works as well as catalogue essay (written by Preston) both begin and end with indigenous art (notably barks from the East Alligator River).3 Along the same lines, in terms of the relationship between American and Aboriginal art, we might think of the extraordinary project of the Texan painter Forrest Bess, who in the early 1950s began a

remarkable self-transformation in his hometown by the Gulf of Mexico at the same time as he was exhibiting at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. Bess was undoubtedly part of the general fascination with the “primitive” that marked the New York art world at the time. His work, which was said to “connect threads of Jungian theory, alchemy and Aboriginal rites”,4 included iconographic elements that are reminiscent of boomerangs, Aboriginal body painting and roundels. Bess, however, took his identification with Aboriginal culture much further. Inspired by an article by renegade anthropologist Wilfred Hambly, ‘Australian Tribal Initiations’, appearing in the June 1953 edition of the journal Sexology, Bess sought to become a hermaphrodite by creating an orifice in the base of his penis, so that he could be entered by another, in a procedure he identified with Aboriginal initiation ceremonies.5 Bess today is a returned figure in American art history, his paintings along with extensive notes and photographs depicting his self-inflicted medical procedure from his archive being curated by New York sculptor Robert Gober into the 2012 Whitney Biennial. But, if from the early 1950s an American artist was turning himself into an Aborigine, from 1957 an Australian artist was turning himself into an American. The sculptor Robert Klippel moved to New York that year, before taking up a position in the Sculpture Department of the Minneapolis School of Art between 1958 and 1962, after which he returned to New York, before expatriating to Australia the following year. It was this experience that led him to invite the young New York School sculptor Richard Stankiewicz to come to Sydney, where in 1969 he made a series of fifteen simplified steel sculptures, all called Australia. As with Smith, they were breakthrough works for Stankiewicz, who like Klippel had previously been welding together leftover foundry parts to create his assemblages. With his series Australia, however, Stankiewicz began to work much more in step with thencontemporary Minimalism. These Stankiewicz Australias are today to be found in museums and private collections throughout Australia and America, standing without plinths, their welded masses and stripped-back volumes in surprising balance. In Australia during this period, American sculpture was of course clearly visible, most notably in Some Recent American Art, which toured Australia throughout 1973 and included the work of, amongst others,

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Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and Carl Andre. In fact, Andre was some six years later to put on a two-person show with the Melbourne Minimalist painter Robert Hunter, which toured several cities in Australia. But equally the reciprocal tradition of Australian sculpture in America continued, perhaps at the time a little less visibly, with the work of the Maryland-based sculptor Anne Truitt entitled Australian Spring (1972). Truitt, who could be said to represent an alternative feminine version of Minimalism (and whose work has recently been recovered for this reason), in fact only toured Australia for the first time in 1981, though before coming had exchanged ideas about the country and its particular light with Greenberg.6 (Greenberg, of course, had already been out to Australia in 1968, giving the second Power Lecture in Sydney.) Truitt’s Australia Spring is a vertical rectangular column, almost like an obelisk or skyscraper, for the most part painted off-white, but with a thin blue strip running around its top, reminiscent perhaps of a lighthouse.7 We have narrated here a certain American tradition of Australian sculpture, but it is a tradition, like that of painting the gumtree, that European countries have also participated in. In 2012, some forty years after Truitt, the Danish artist Jens Haaning made another sculpture called Australia (2012), exhibiting at the David Pestorius Gallery in Brisbane. It was a large wall painting of the word “Australia” in bold sans serif type, the first two letters beginning on a purpose-built wall outside of the gallery and the remainder running on the same plane back into the gallery through a slide glass window. Obviously, Haaning’s point was to bring together interior and exterior spaces, not only perhaps the spaces of art and non-art but also Haaning’s native Denmark and Australia. Described in the gallery notes as “a bit like encountering a mirror”,8 the work reminds us that we here in Australia are a productive idea not only for ourselves but also for others. What to conclude? Looking at all of those various gumtrees what is clear is that none is alike. Each is different from the next, with arguably no commonality between them. Matisse’s gumtree is different from Mondrian’s is different from Signac’s is different from Balla’s. Which is only to remind us of the difference between Heysen’s gumtrees and Preston’s and Williams’. We previously referred to a gumtree internationalism as opposed


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to a gumtree nationalism, but perhaps the real distinction is between a conception of the gumtree whose depiction would reveal some underlying commonality (nationalism) and a conception of the gumtree whose various depictions would have nothing in common while still all being of gumtrees (internationalism). Let us turn now to our various Australias. They too have nothing in common with each other. And if we can construct a certain history or genealogy connecting them—a lineage of style, influence and formal development, arising in a notional centre and spreading outwards—there is also no such thing. Each appearance of Australia is singular, inexplicable, unpredictable. Nothing truly does connect Smith, Bess, Stankiewicz and Truitt (let alone Haaning), for all of they’re being American and even part of a supposed New York School and its aftermath. As with Bess and Aboriginal art, their encounter with Australia was decisive for their careers. By which we mean that, having created their Australias, their art was not the same as before, that nothing they had done previously either explains or predicts their subsequent imagining of Australia. Its appearance in their work simply marks a break in the causal or chronological unwinding of things, like a small crack in the world through which other possibilities can enter. The histories, then, of Australia and American art need to be denationalised. There is no single Australia, just as there is no single America. What should instead be recognized is that art happens everywhere; that Australian, even Aboriginal, art is happening in Texas, just as American art has happened in Australia. We would say that, precisely to the extent that, according to provincialism, Australians can make American art, so French artists like Matisse and Signac can make Australian art or American artists like Smith and Bess can make

Aboriginal art. In fact, we might even say that it is only by looking at Matisse’s gumtrees that we can begin to re-imagine our own art history, just as it is only by taking into account Smith’s Australia that America might re-imagine its own art history. We are undoubtedly now at a low point in Australian art historiography. Australian Art History courses are disappearing in our universities; museums largely shun alternative stories in their big survey exhibitions and are blind to individual artists outside the mainstream as defined by their own collections, preferring to treat the usual nationalist tropes and figures; the narrative of 1962 when Bernard Smith published his canonical Australian Painting is still the Australia we tell the world we are. For when the Royal Academy in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia’s Australia appeared in 2012 in London, it was criticised both here and there for reprising Smith’s exhausted nationalist story, which attempts to assert a special Australian case, based on the landscape tradition. Against all of this, we are trying to write another history of Australian art. Denationalized and made metropolitan, it would take as its subject art’s many divergent, incompossible Australias—an Australia, as those works we have looked at reveal, without an obvious commonality or something in common, whose story, to begin to use the philosopher’s language, would have to be written not as the elaboration of an underlying essence, but as a series of “family resemblances”, provisional, partial attempts to engage with material that cannot all be put under one head and yet that is called the same thing. UnAustralian art, the name we have given our project, is not simply anti-Australian, nor does it refuse to acknowledge where we are writing from or to whom we are writing. It is, as we recognize, Australian, and perhaps even more Australian than the usual Australianist histories (that is, it is more a history of our present, of how we became the Australia of today). It does not straightforwardly exclude Australian art (which has obviously existed and has a history of its own), but is something like a parallel and complementary history that, in Deleuze’s words, “redoubler la doublure”,9 that is, repeats what is to bring out something different about it. In fact, our real point here would be that, just as UnAustralian history is more “Australian” than the usual Australian histories, so our nationalist histories were always secretly underpinned and made possible by the international. At this low point for

Australian art historiography, what we hoped to have shown is that Australia has been a source of inspiration not only for artists here but for artists living and working around the world. To see ourselves from the outside in, from their point of view, is to realise that Australia can still be productive for our time, is an idea that is very far from being exhausted. In one way, what we have been writing is a past history of our present, but in another way what we seek to demonstrate is how a new thinking of our past should also change our present. Notes 1 See on this Ted Gott et al., Napoleon: Revolution to Empire, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2012 2 The classic text on this is Paul Foss’ ‘Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum’, in Peter Botsman, Chris Burns and Peter Hutchings eds, Foreign Bodies Papers, Local Consumption Publications, Sydney, 1981 3 See on the possible sources for Australia, David Smith: Sculptures, Tate Modern, London, 2006; http://www.tate.org. uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/david-smith-sculptures/ david-smith-sculptures-room-guide/david-smi-3; and Daniel Thomas, ‘Aboriginal Art: Who Was Interested?’, Journal of Art Historiography 4, June 2011; https://arthistoriography.files. wordpress.com/2011/05/daniel-thomas-document.pdf 4 Chuck Smith, Forrest Bess: Key to the Riddle, New York: Powerhouse Books, 2013: 77 5 See on this Smith: 66. See on Bess’ practice in general, Clare Elliot, Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2013. Elliot’s book also includes an essay by Robert Gober, ‘Forest Bess: The Man that Got Away’ 6 See on this ‘Oral History Interview with Anne Truitt’, April-August 2002, Archives of American Art; http://www.aaa. si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-annetruitt-11857 7 The authors are grateful to Melinda Harper for bringing this Truitt work to their attention 8 See ‘Jens Haaning’, 2 March-27 April 2013, Pestorius Sweeney House; http://www.davidpestorius.com/archive.html 9 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, London: Continuum, 2004: 192

Left Jens Haaning, Australia, 2013 Photo courtesy the artist and David Pestorius Projects, Brisbane Above David Smith Australia, 1951 Photo courtesy the Modeum of Modern Art, New York


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an internet of things Richard Grayson Some thirty-five years after Tim Berners Lee, sitting in his office at the Cern Laboratories in France, had the notion to combine hypertext with both the Transmission Control Protocol and the Domain Name system and invent the Internet, the contemporary artworld has picked up on its operations big time. It has become excited by the ways that the World Wide Web and digital technology shape our experiences. From Warsaw to Beijing, from the Frieze Art Fair to forums at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Serpentine Galleries to the Whitney, galleries and gallerists, writers and curators are engaged in debating and representing the productions of what is being called ‘’PostInternet Art”. Over the last few months in different exhibitions, I have come across works and projects by Hito Steyerl, Ed Atkins, Simon Denny and Ryan Trecartin, which have been talked about in terms of the “post-internet”, exhibitions that have bought artists together under titles, which in one way or another echo the phrase in their titles. Art, Post-Internet at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2014 featured works from Dara Birnbaum, Corey Arcangel and Hito Steyerl, Harm van der Dorpel, Simon Denny, Katja Novitskova and Kari Altmann, while Art After the Internet in Warsaw exhibited works by DIS, Harm van der Dorpel, Ed Atkins, Ryan Trecartin and others. DIS, a New York-based collective have been approached to curate the next Berlin Biennale. The release announcing this states; The cultural interventions of DIS are manifest across a range of media and platforms, from site-specific museum and gallery exhibitions... to ongoing online projects which most notably include DIS Magazine, a virtual platform that examines art, fashion, music, and culture, constructing and supporting new creative practices. Recent ventures include

DISimages, 2013, a fully operational stock photography agency that enlists artists to produce images available for private and commercial use, and DISown, a retail venture aimed at expanding creative economies. Across its various endeavours, DIS explores the tension between popular culture and institutional critique, while facilitating projects for the most public and democratic of all forums—the Internet.1

In DISown – Not For Everyone (2014), DIS collaborated with over thirty artists like Ryan Trecartin, Bjarne Melgaard and Amalia Ulman to create a month-long exhibition in New York where, “Collectors, consumers and viewers alike can view (and in some cases, purchase) salad bowls from Hood By Air or custom body pillows by Jon Rafman, all within a gallery environment that pretends to be a store.” Or maybe it’s the other way around. 


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“In the art market, artists’ names take on the characteristics of luxury brands and artworks act as high-end retail goods”, says DISown co-curator Agatha Wara. “DISown tests the current status of the art object and presents a new mode for artist production.”2 Part of the problem of getting your head around what might be meant by ‘Post-Internet’ is the contradiction in the term: after all we’re not ‘post’ the internet in any discernible sense. It’s still there, all around us—at least if we’re anglo-phones in the West—and we’re using it all the time, and one of the riffs running through the concept is internet ubiquity... The rationale for the exhibition in Beijing, curated by Karen Archey and Robin Peckham explains: “This understanding of the post-internet refers not to a time ‘after’ the internet, but rather to an internet state of mind—to think in the fashion of the network. In the context of artistic practice, the category of the post-internet describes an art object created with a consciousness of the networks within which it exists, from conception and production to dissemination and reception.” They go on to say: Just as twentieth-century modernism was in large part defined by the relationship between craft and the emergent technologies of manufacturing, mass media, and lensbased imagery, the most pressing condition underlying contemporary culture today —from artistic practice and social theory to our quotidian language—may well be the omnipresence of the internet... this exhibition presents a broad survey of art that is controversially defined as “postinternet,”which is to say, consciously created in a milieu that assumes the centrality of the network, and that often takes everything from the physical bits to the social ramifications of the internet as fodder. From the changing nature of the image to the circulation of cultural objects, from the politics of participation to new understandings of materiality, the interventions presented under this rubric attempt nothing short of the redefinition of art for the age of the internet.3 People who have been following the long engagement of artists working with and in the realms of the networked and the digital, some of which predate the birth of the internet itself—the Australian Network of Art and Technology for instance had its first iteration in 1984—may ask why is this happening now. Artists, programmers, writers and thinkers

have been involved in a radical exploration and critique of new technological modes of production, understanding and dissemination for decades, to the blanket indifference of mainstream arbiters and exhibitors of contemporary art. However, rather than being articulated and (dis)embodied by shifting and novel experimental media, as happened with many of the earlier investigations by artists seeking a radical engagement with technology to allow new ways of operating outside the exchange of commodities and capital, the current wave of work is far less located in the technology itself. It tends to look pretty much like ‘art’, be this sculpture, manifesto-type text, autistic design or post-Pop assemblage. In those cases where the technology is in your face—in the camera-phone, YouTube aesthetic of Ryan Trecartin’s installations, or the shiny CGI videos of Ed Atkins—it has a signifying function, as if to say ‘look!’ this art work is made using the technology that is also shaping the world out there! So this isn’t just about tech, it’s about the ‘real’! The diverse formal outcomes may support the re-iterated thesis that technology is now seamlessly insinuated into all areas of production and embedded into the material world, which informs these art works. It also has the useful outcome that these productions can also get on with the (relatively unproblematized) functions of being cool ‘art objects’, which operate in the spaces of the white cube and the commercial gallery. PostInternet is the first internet-related practice to be identified as a trend by the contemporary art world and supported by an international network of commercial galleries. Such shifts obviously track the movements of technology, it is smaller, atomized, absorbed and integrated into all sorts of objects; we’re talking now about an internet of ‘things’, and its ubiquity means it has become integrated into artists’ productive processes. A visit to an art school or an artist’s studio, more often than not centres on the computer screen, the place where projects and works are not only displayed, but have been assembled in the digital space to be actualized elsewhere when needed. In media that can operate in time and space outside of the computer, as digital images, as 3D prints, or video. This mode of work has been accelerated by economic factors. In the case of art schools, the use of computers as a site of production allows institutions to allocate less real estate space to the students, sometimes going as far as ‘hot-desking’, so that spaces can have many users, thereby boosting

the economic efficiency of the institution, an idea far from the traditional constructions of the artist’s studio. Of course, the temporary clients of the studio use technologies that allow migration and do not require a lot of space—the computer rather than the canvas and stretcher, and so patterns of behaviour develop and reinforce. Once an artist leaves the academy, it is usually to work in cities where similar dynamics prevail, conurbations where physical space is an increasingly expensive and rare commodity. Such models of production also serve to subtly privilege the operations of the individuals or institutions, which have the resources to provide the physical space for the concrete manifestation of the digital labour, enmeshing the gallery (and its economic requirements) intimately as part of the delivery process of the practice. The operations of the internet have also shifted. From its early promises of operating as a platform of open communication beyond legislation and control, a technology that offered the possibilities of a revolution of knowledge and social hierarchy, it has become an ubiquitous medium for messaging, shopping and surveillance. Images of objects and commodities are circulated and viewed, which at the click of a button and the sustraction of money from a bank account, become materialized and delivered to a doorstep as possessions and components of an international economy. Users and purchasers document and display their lives and each interaction is tracked and recorded, commodified and monetized. Their actions and social relations are articulated in the network, generating ‘content’ for the site, generated (for free) that has value to other parties and drives the multi-million dollar stock market-traded operations of the digital corporations. Producers become elided with consumers, and feedback loops—between the individual and the networked platforms that operate as sites where the individual communicates and which simultaneously communicate to the individual—shape the subsequent behaviour of the individual. Some of the artists working in recent web-inflected practices work with the logics of these operations in ways that would seem startling to those pioneers of net-art inspired by post-Marxist/critical theory or anarchist tendencies. Katja Novitskova makes sculptural installations using stock images from the internet. She focuses on digital photographs of animals and landscapes—both of earth and other planets—as well as graphic forms: logos, diagrams, graphs and arrows. These are then


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brought back into the physical world by being printed onto aluminium panels or turned into objects, to stand in combination in the gallery space. According to Frieze magazine, “Novitskova’s works demonstrate and literalize a contemporary shift in which digitally circulated images come to take on lives of their own, evolving and moving forward with their own agency. No longer mere representations of nature, penguins and giraffes become representations of the image coming to life.”4 She is also the author of the Post-Internet Survival Guide (2010), which has become a reference point in the debates around the label. This was a book and an installation, which encouraged collaborators to believe that being online should be treated as a new terrain for habitation, and as a space that might allow a renegotiation of ways of being human. The project was collected under headings such as ‘Learn Basic Skills’ and ‘Remember Where You Are’. She has written; My own series of sculptures, Approximations (2012–ongoing), is an attempt to visualize new products for the economic expansion, which will inevitably follow the current global crisis. Instead of showing the formal elements of these future brands, I propose certain emotional/ neurochemical reactions that they might trigger in the human psyche. My tools are both the Internet and a neurological bridge to our ancestral realities—my brain… What the history of life on Earth tells us is that climatic catastrophes and mass extinction are always followed by the expansion of new forms. What will be the forms of the postausterity and new-prosperity world (from species to art works), and where will we locate the main sources of growth?5 In this strange, neo-liberal Darwinism we might feel as if the internal logics of the web —as currently constituted—are internalized and introjected and then returned into the world. It is becoming a given that these platforms and exchanges represent not only new forms of economic activity but new constructions of individual and social identity, a rupture in human relations, which is both essential and generational. Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director of Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan and the curator of the 2013 Venice Biennale, said that Ryan Trecartin’s 2007 video I-Be Area opened up a world he knew nothing about. “It was like a cultural watershed... I felt this was the voice of a different age and a

different time, a different sexuality, a different kind of behaviour. There’s this idea that a character can be many people at the same time. And the act of communication becomes the subject of his videos. We’re all trying to communicate, and what we communicate about is less and less relevant. When I watch his videos, I feel a speeded-up version of what we’re all doing.”6 In the Venice exhibition, Trecartin —in collaboration with Lizzie Fitch—built an installation combining different video works shown on a number of screens. Although shot at different times, they shared locations and actors and featured groups of young people partying, shrieking out, doing the sort of weird shit that young people do, and which they now video and post on social-media. The works develop and script these actions to take on shifting properties, from being engaging and cute to being utterly feral, quotidian and other-worldly, malicious and knowingly erotic. Alliances are generated, identities shift, there’s an orgiastic energy and things keep on getting broken, smashed and hit with hammers by characters chugging energy drinks. The footage is choreographed and re-articulated in the editing with a head-spinning energy and a knowing kinetic edge. Voices have a Minnie-Mouse edge, texts flash, images glitch and stutter and windows within windows generate and swipe. In its native state (i.e. the sort of footage that this footage draws on/echoes/maybe to a degree is,) these images weren’t primarily intended to be screened in a public space with the Pradahipsters of the international contemporary art world swishing by; they were to be displayed on a computer, to be ‘shared’ either with friends in peer-to-peer communities, or to friends that are as yet un-met on other arenas of other social media. Trecartin reframes the material into the spaces of contemporary art and art practice. He refers to the works as movies and foregrounds the extent to which they are written, scripted and designed to work in ways that draw on other high art practices, poetry as much as film. In the commentary around the work much significance is given to the posting of the footage on YouTube and Vimeo in addition to its incorporation into large sculptural installations. As far as Trecatin is concerned, this is to demonstrate that there is more than one way to approach and experience the practice. It also usefully signals that he is using contemporary platforms, which operate outside the constraints of the traditional operations of the art-market and galleries,

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thereby reinforcing the work’s identity as an artefact of a new cultural space, which adds lustre and particularity, especially for buyers and curators still in the traditional operations of the art-market and galleries and for whom these platforms are still to some degree exotic. So despite such innovations, this practice gets represented by a blue chip American dealer and proudly shown by millionaire arms dealer collectors, such as the Zabludowicz collection in London. In contrast Ed Atkin’s installations focus on the individual, or in the case of his recent vast, multi-screen work Ribbons at the Serpentine Gallery in London, an avatar of an individual, called Dave. Dave is a computer generated and 3D modelled, naked figure of a young man who apparently looks quite a lot like Ed. We see Dave drink, as he sits at tables stubbing out cigarettes in overflowing ashtrays. Dave soliloquizes in a woozy reflective stream of consciousness way and sings, a varied repertoire, varying from Purcell to Randy Newman. Sometimes in the background music plays, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Down Where the Drunkards Roll. It’s a sort of bohogarret world through which Dave moves; he’s moody, he’s getting drunk and smoking lots of cigs and he’s sort of deep in a sort of incoherent way. At the end Dave lays his head on the ashy stained table and the shiny, skinhead volume of his cranium deflates, as if this moody monologue has finally voided his brain. It’s an enclosed solipsistic universe and were it not digital, you feel that you might be able to smell the socks and the self-pity. And here of course lies the trick, the hinge around which the work rotates. All this subjectivity, all this searching, all this expression of self is a simulacrum, as Dave is an avatar, which to some people is tremendously exciting. The polymorphous, perverse activities of Trecatin’s actors, and the angry and sensitive adolescent musings of Dave echo previous representations of the young in the twentieth century avant-garde and the wider culture. Trecartin’s gurning painted faces, the intertwinings and enclosed exchanges, recall the films of Harmony Korine—Gummo (1997) and Trash Humpers (2009), or Larry Clark, or the Warhol factory films or Flaming Creatures (1963) by Jack Smith, or the airless, incestuous eroticisms of Bataille’s Story of The Eye (1928) or distantly the queer, ecstatic demimonde of Jean Genet. Ed Atkins draws on romantic iterations of doomed youth, the poète maudit, the eternal misunderstood, a dying digital Chatterton but


AN INTERNET OF THINGS

this time with punk attitude. The earlier texts and films worked as bulletins from enclosed hermetic zones, an underground of social, erotic, pharmaceutical and psychological actions enacted by those other than the bourgeois adult. Even in their representation they (seemingly) resisted or denied the mainstream gaze and operated as some sort of a reproach—for lost innocence, wildness, sexuality. Freedom, impulsiveness, whatever—and as a threat and a challenge to the constructions and conventions of adulthood. These readings were animated by the ghosts of Rousseau and his noble savage and given charge by the investigations of Freud and his constructions of the Unconscious and the id. Trecatin and Atkins draw on these historic constructions, but articulate them at a time when all such activity is made immediately visible, in fact in many ways only exists because it is made visible. The internet though, means that contemporary identity increasingly is an amalgam of data tags. In a cybernetic relationship with a public that constantly reaffirms them, the actions and their representations become part of the exchanges of a sort of atomized celebrity, rather than a social or political force. Over the last century, the demographic shifts of the post-war baby boom meant that youth cultures became significant forces in the West, first as models of identity, culture and social possibility and latterly as markets and groups of consumers. Now the West is witnessing another shift in its demographic, as the baby boomer generation, now

outnumbering the young, moves into old age, having amassed wealth and property and the (new) young are increasingly excluded from political debate and the operations of capital. Youth unemployment in the West has soared since the ‘Global Financial Crisis’, access to money and property and education is increasingly rationed and youth participation in traditional political mechanisms, such as voting, is reduced. Public policy is directed at the interests of an affluent grey vote and above this, is shaped by the interests of a generation of international rich, who have concentrated and expanded their wealth and power. It is from this small class that the important consumers of contemporary art are drawn and whose needs increasingly determine its operations. Given these exclusions from the physical or political world, the digital arena becomes a mechanism where the cultures of the young are articulated and a stage where they are enacted and seen. Despite this wide-spectrum erosion of political agency and economic marginalisation, the idea of ‘youth’ remains a valued commodity. Perhaps this is owing to the power that the foundation myths of the baby boomers exert. It is at this intersection of political powerlessness and psychic/social resonance that much of the post-internet work operates. The arenas of technology seem to operate in contradiction to the wider economic and social depredations. The people working in start-up companies, designing apps, generating content etc, are young (even if their shareholders and financial backers are not), they are affluent, and the arena in which they work is seen as the primary site

for future economic expansion. Their values and attitudes become the gods and goddesses, the graces and virtues of late capitalism. Over the period of the emergence of ‘post-internet’, the phrase “digital native” has gained currency. First coined by Marc Prensky in 2001, it denominates a person who, since gaining awareness has known no other world than that which is digital and networked. This is in contrast to a “digital settler”; a person who grew up in the analogue world, but who has driven developments in the digital sphere and the “digital immigrant”—someone, who may use email or social networks, but remains insecure and foreign in these strange new realms. Given the inevitable fact that the non-natives are going to die sooner than the rest, it is perhaps the last moment that such a neat generational divide, with all its exciting romantic resonances, can be constructed in the art market place. No matter what else the Post-Internet may be doing, it is working as a branding device. It allows the art world to act out much of the rhetoric of an avant-garde at a time that no avant-garde can operate, allowing earlier models of youth, of rebellion, otherness, innovation, on-the-edgeness and revolution to be re-launched and re-articulated through the prism of the operations of the digital universes. And in doing so, they seem to be following the strange logics of commodification that play in the digital economy. The (post-internet) art arena becomes a place where these ideas are represented and aestheticized, as affectless signifiers, becoming representations of themselves that become commodities. Notes 1 http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/allgemein-en/disappointed-curatorial-team-of-the-9th-berlin-biennale-forcontemporary-art-35986 2 http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/19049/1/ disown-reveals-the-new-normal-in-this-infomercial-video 3

http://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/art-post-internet/

4

http://frieze-magazin.de/archiv/kritik/katja-novitskova/? lang=en 5

http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/beginnings-ends/

6

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/24/ experimental-people

Page 75 Katja Novitskova Patterns of Activation (installation view), 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and Gallery Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin Above Hito Steyerl Is the Museum a Battlefield (video still), 2013 Photo courtesy the artist, Andrew Kreps, New York and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam


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cultures of complaints

ALAN CRUICKSHANK A small sign at the front counter at the entrance of Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row, London stated that patrons to the gallery should be aware that the content of the exhibition within might be offensive to some and thus caution should be exercised in entering. The American artist Paul McCarthy’s exhibition WS SC (September 2014)—being further iterations of his White Snow

and Stagecoach series, featured large canvases and drawings of, according to the exhibition flyer, “archetypal American narratives pitched against human drives and desires”, which also noted that they were “informed by his own tradition… [of] scatological performative practices… in a charged, gestural painting style motivated by material experimentation and psychological processes”. The WS and SC painting titles included Brad Pitt; Robert Redford;

Robert Duvall; Jeff Bridges; Leonardo DiCaprio; Dolce & Gabbana; Christies, K; Chanel, Dreaming; Masochism, Erection, Statueism, Frozen, Pose file, Spiritualism Philosophy; Dior; Bar Singularity and Luncheon on the Grass (Déjeuner sur l’herbe). Some of these works presented bacchanalian, sex-party variations of multiple protagonists, face-shitting, shit-eating, mouth-fisting, sodomy, fellatio, hangings, beheadings, embellished with three-dimensional objects resembling penises


CULTURES OF COMPLAINTS

and gaping orifices, amongst others, close-up pornographic magazine photos of anuses, vaginas, shit-smeared orifices (indiscernable which), hetero and gay penetrative sex, fellatio (again), Walt Disney, cover pages from Cowboys & Indians, Tinkerbell and Frieze, and magazine advertisement pages for Maybelline, Canali, Christies, Dior, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, with painted texts that read “cut his throat”, “suck his penis”, “cut off the head”, “cut off the penis” etcetera. A room of drawings, which related to both White Snow and Stagecoach paintings, presented similar “contemporary motifs that expose latent desire and exploit

the uncomfortable space where childhood innocence meets adult knowledge” (the flyer again), with captions that read; “cut off the foot”, “cut off the dick”, “slit the throat”, “shit on his dick use the shit to jerk him off”, “bombs away” (fisting), “cut of…” etc., to name a few. As pencil drawings they informed and mimicked the paintings, the most sinister amongst this discordant, serpentine hieroglyphics of shitting, fucking etc., being of a rabbit cutting off the penis a prone naked man with a knife, another prone naked man having his head held while the same is being done to him, and a dog with a meat cleaver cutting off the head of another naked male.

Hauser & Wirth is sited in Savile Row in Mayfair, long renowned for traditional English gentlemen’s clothing and fashion. In its adjoining gallery Pierre Huyghe was exhibiting. The Beatles played their final live performance on the roof of Apple’s office at number three, Savile Row in 1969. Incongruously, there is a police station across the road from Hauser & Wirth. Even more unlikely was that the exhibition sustained hardly a murmur in the press and The Independent appeared to be the only mainstream paper to cover the exhibition. Zoe Pilger (now there’s a family name), who also writes for Frieze magazine, cited McCarthy’s paintings and drawings as “shocking and frequently nauseating”, but with the caveat “crucially they also have something to say about the dark heart of our society… McCarthy touches on something powerful and true in our culture”. Pilger went further; “His work concerns violence, hyper-sexuality, and humiliation… So much of capitalist culture seems to depend on a fetishisation of inequality; he expresses it, and reflects it back in weird form… The large-scale acrylic works are obsessive and oppressive, manic and terrible… They continue to scream their obscenities at you until you can’t take it anymore. They are abject with a vengeance.”1 While certainly the paintings with their “violence, hyper-sexuality, and humiliation”, orifices and protuberances were literally in one’s face, more sinister were the smaller drawings of bestiality and torture. A writer for THEUPCOMING website wrote; “They ask for reflection on how we have been desensitised to explicit images but probably simultaneously disconnected from the many less glamorous layers of sexual desire and fantasy.”2 While McCarthy’s attempt at benumbing the viewer via such unambiguous imagery sat mutely opposite the Savile Row Police Station, elsewhere in London at the time the art loving public was not so benign. At the Barbican (billed as Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue presenting a diverse range of art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events), the awardwinning performance from the Edinburgh International Festival Exhibit B, which featured “black actors chained and displayed as a commentary on the horrors of the colonial era” was cancelled according to The Times, by “‘extreme’ protests by demonstrators who believed it promoted racism”.3 From the Barbican’s website;


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Described by Peter Brook as “an extraordinary achievement”… Exhibit B critiques the ‘human zoos’ and ethnographic displays that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity through the 19th and early 20th centuries… they confront colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of the immigrant today.4 Under the headline “Protests shut ‘human zoo’… gallery cancels display about race exploitation amid fears for safety of its actors and audience”, The Times went on to state; “The withdrawal of the performance… is the latest example of a protest that has sought not only to make a point, but to prevent audiences from seeing a show… Performers… said that the work has been censored by people who had not seen it and did not understand that it was a critique of colonial attitudes.”5 In a statement explaining the cancellation, a spokesperson for the Barbican said; it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff… We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work… We respect people’s right to protest… We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.6 The leader of the protesters, a Birminghambased, black activist and journalist claimed “victory” at the cancellation, declaring; “Our ancestors would be proud. Their memory will not be used for art”7 (emphasis mine). A black poet named in The Times article, who believed the campaign against the work was “misguided because the story of slavery should be retold by artists regardless of their race”, described the banning of Exhibit B as “arrogance of despotic proportions”, while a British-born, mixed-race actor from the performance stated, “I never once saw it as a… racist piece. It was about dehumanization and objectifying people… to me [the protest] is an act of censorship.”8 Activists further commented that in being white, the South African director of Exhibit B (who was brought up under Apartheid) had no “legitimacy” to present such an artwork.

Unlike the McCarthy exhibition in London, Exhibit B accumulated expansive media attention and razor-sharp, polarised public response. In a conversation between a black performer from the production and a black sociologist and activist who protested against it, published in The Guardian in the article, ‘Is art installation Exhibit B racist?’, the latter confirmed his stance with a telling final interjection; “…the success of this campaign was that a grassroots movement started in the community, rallied widespread support including academics, artists and politicians, and took control of deciding what constitutes racism and the bounds of acceptability.”9 Page 79 Paul McCarthy Tree Place, Place Vendôme, Paris, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London

In acknowledging that, like his “community”, he hadn’t actually seen Exhibit B, he was ardent in his denial (read intolerant) of his black colleague for her lack of “responsibility” for her decision to partake in the performance. The Barbican sustained criticism in the media for executive myopia (concerning its “program envisioning”), and a lack of will once the brouhaha started. English actor, musician, writer and theatre director Simon Callow wrote to The Times editorial pages saying that the Barbican and theatre in general had become subject to “mob rule” and that it “had failed to fight for freedom of expression”. Opposite Production still from Exhibit B, 2014 Photo courtesy the Bariban Centre, London Photo Sofie Knijff Above Exhibit B protest poster


CULTURES OF COMPLAINTS

The protesters sustained greater criticism. African-American British playwright, novelist and critic Bonnie Greer was quoted in her article ‘I wanted to make my own mind up about Exhibit B’ in The Telegraph, after her inability to see the production; Above Paul McCarthy SC, Jeff Bridges, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London Right The “offensive” Banksy mural removed by the local council in Clacton-on-Sea

…the demonstrators who opted for complete censorship are also to blame here. Some vehemently protested and signed petitions without actually seeing the work, and some are even using that archaic term “Uncle Tom”—and worse —to describe anyone who disagreed with them. These people largely reacted from hearsay, ideology, photos and the reactions of others who had seen it—not their own experience.10

The following week a much smaller paradoxical episode occurred in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. A Banksy artwork was scrubbed from a wall after the local council, without knowing who had made it, responded to “a complaint” that it was allegedly “offensive” and “racist”. The mural was painted a week before a byelection, activated by a local Conservative MP, who defected to the UK Independence Party, or Ukip (immigration being their major political ticket), perceived by some, if not many, to be a party playing havoc with the binary-equanimity of UK politics, much like PUP and the Greens in Australia. The artwork commented on current anti-immigration sentiment and depicted five rock pigeons holding banners with texts reading “Migrants not welcome”, “Go back to Africa” and “Keep off our worms”, towards a more exotic-looking bird beside them. Amongst the public online reaction, for and against, one blogger to The Independent wrote; “The erasing of this mural says more about our current society than the piece itself. So it ‘Might be deemed offensive’ (to people with no awareness beyond their own entitlement)... When our ability to parody goes we are all well and truly screwed.” Numerous public responses endorsed this sentiment and the failure of the Council if not others to see the satire and parody of the work, as per this twitter; “people pretended to take offense at face value when they were actually offended by the truth satire reveals so well”.11 No media or blog comment was made though at the singularity of the complaint, while some questioned how it might be racist —towards the “exotic-looking bird”? There was greater consternation, when it was discovered that it was a Banksy artwork, the smell of money in the air. The Communications Manager for the Council in question said in its defence: “The site was inspected by staff who agreed that it could be seen as offensive and it was removed this morning in line with our policy to remove this type of material… We would obviously welcome an appropriate Banksy original on any of our seafronts and would be delighted if he returned in the future.”12 (emphasis mine). Not to be outdone by the English, immediately after the erasure of Banksy’s pigeons, across the English Channel the French, or at least Parisians, had their ire raised to a point of high dudgeon at the instigation of the omnipresent Paul McCarthy, with his inflatable twenty-four metre high Tree, designed specifically for the FIAC Art Fair’s “Hors Les Murs” public art program installed throughout


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Paris. Situated in Place Vendome, home to the French Justice Ministry and the Ritz Hotel, it apparently offended residents and passersby, one even hitting the artist repeatedly in the face for its uncanny resemblance to a certain sex toy, a “plug anal”, being the more polite French term for a butt plug. According to artnetnews, “an unknown assailant accosted McCarthy, allegedly screaming that his sculpture did not belong on the Place Vendôme, before hitting him in the face at least three times. He was apparently additionally upset by the fact that McCarthy is not French”.13 The work drew an immediate outcry from nearby residents, who said Paris had been “humiliated” by McCarthy’s installation. Complaints twittered that “McCarthy was corrupting and misusing the ‘sacred symbol’ of the Christmas tree”, while others, including right wing protesters, decried it as an “affront to French culture and the country’s children”. Less than a day after its erection, it was vandalised after its creator “admitted being partly inspired by a joke about an anal sex toy”. According to McCarthy, “It all started with a joke. Originally, I thought that a butt plug had

a shape similar to the sculptures of Constantin Brâncusi. Afterwards, I realised that it looked like a Christmas tree… People can be offended if they want to think of it as a [butt] plug, but for me it is more of an abstraction.” Deciding not to reinflate the sculpture, McCarthy told Agence France-Presse, “I don’t want to be mixed up in this type of controversy and physical violence, or even to keep taking the risks associated with this work.”14 It seemed evident that the London public either had no issue with or were anesthetised to McCarthy’s imagery of violence—perhaps it had seen enough of that at home on the television news or online? Whereas Exhibit B’s shutdown was labelled “puritanism” amongst other qualities. When asked whether anyone had been offended by McCarthy’s exhibition, the blank response of the Hauser & Wirth front desk staff was “one little old lady who didn’t read the sign”. Both the Banksy and McCarthy-Paris incidents exposed their respective community’s lack of a sense of humour if nothing else, the former demonstrating an inability to grasp the notion of political satire through the miasma

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of (it would seem) industrial-strength offence-taking, the other through an ingrained chauvinism and cultural arrogance of known histrionic proportions. (As one seer bloggist responded to The Independent online; “Amazing that so many people know what a butt plug looks like.”) The fallout over Exhibit B was at the other end of the Richter scale. Despite the entrenched shouting matches across the colour and political barricades, at a distance one simple fact seemed to elude those objecting to the performance, an actuality similarly circumvented by activist groups earlier this year in Sydney over its Biennale, that such dissent to deny the opportunity, and the right, for other people to see and make up their own minds about a particular art event, revokes the same freedoms and rights of individuals which are righteously and virtuously demanded by those who are protesting. David Aaronovitch, in an opinion piece for The Times not long after this imbroglio, quoted Frederick Douglass, an exslave who became a leader of the movement to abolish slavery in America, who in 1860 addressed a disrupted Bostonian meeting on the topic of “How shall slavery be abolished?”.


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Aaronovitch referred to Douglass’ speech as “one of the greatest defences of free expression in the English language” from which he quoted, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong… it violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak as it would be to rob him of his money…” He finished his article with a warning, “when you attack the freedom of others, you imperil your own”.15 As background to this UK mood of activist protest, and to quote The Guardian at the time, “the temper of our divided nation”, the previous month, anti-Israeli protesters forced the closure of several theatre performances funded by the Israeli State at the Edinburgh Fringe, while The Guardian published—to public and parliamentary outrage—an imaginary story by Hilary Mantel about her fantasy assassination of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Aggrieved offence-taking over such issues—and more—is not confined to the UK and Europe of course. It can be easily imagined how an Australian version of Exhibit B might be greeted given an enveloping social-media driven cotton-wool culture, and how McCarthy’s Tree might be howled down in any major city by a frenzied media and a public incited to ridicule. The Charlie Hebdo massacre in France might have seen universal calls for greater tolerance concerning freedom of speech and the right to offend, but in Australia a publication of such content could not be published under the existing restrictions on free speech according to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and with an ever-expanding national marketplace of minority group or individual outrage ready to act against the slightest hint of provocation or “offense”. Consider for example, the Andrew Bolt case in 2011, whereby the polemic columnist was found to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act according to Judge Mordecai Bromberg, in that “fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed in the newspaper articles [by Bolt]”16 published in the Herald Sun newspaper. Bolt’s response was, “This is a terrible day for freedom of speech in this country… It is particularly a

restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves… I argued then and I argue now that we should not insist on differences between us but focus instead on what unites us as human beings.’’17 Australian history and politics author Michael Sexton wrote of freedom of expression, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, that “[In Australia] There are, in fact, a lot of people who don’t believe in freedom of speech at all—except for the expression of opinions that accord their own… No one likes being the subject of offensive or insulting attacks but these have always been legitimate tools of debate on political and social questions.”18 In November 2014, a Tree-sized ‘controversial’ public artwork of a pink condom slipped over the Hyde Park Obelisk, in Sydney, purportedly to “raise questions about the relationship between activism and art and how it can be used as a social and political tool”, proved to be a public storm-in-a-teacup, but not without activists trying of course.19 (The media whimped out.) As another domestic cultural example of unnatural sensitivity late 2014—the tour de force episode being the canting artist-activist hoopla surrounding the Biennale of Sydney20—the West Australian Opera (at first) planned to remove the smoking scenes from Georges Bizet’s famous opera Carmen—the first act, which opens in the Seville town square outside a cigarette factory being integral, as is universally known, to the setting, action, direction and the libretto of the opera—as it had a two-year partnership with the State Government health promotion agency. Following public incredulity West Australian Opera then decided not to run the opera at all, prompting further ridicule. The WAO management justification, seemingly uttered oblivious to its contradiction to and subverting of its mission was, “We care about the health and wellbeing of our staff, stage performers and all the opera lovers throughout WA, which means promoting health messages and not portraying any activities that could be seen to promote unhealthy behaviour.”21 (emphasis mine). To quote one riposte that hit the mark—“opera is an exaggeration and if we are running around looking to take offence or… to spread some politically correct message, just about every opera would be forbidden… We don’t stop the theatre from running Macbeth because it promotes killing kings”.22

***

As a test for grievance and protest maybe McCarthy’s Tree should be installed in Adelaide, a self-feted city of culture through its surfeit of festivals, though still suffering from some lingering traces of sectarian parochialism and a complaint or two apparently. Tree might be destined to provoke offence (for being international, eschewing the local perhaps?), and in today’s narcissistic social media realm no doubt sustaining ‘death by a thousand tweets’. Or would that be twits? I’d be offended if it didn’t. Notes 1 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/ features/paul-mccarthy-ws-sc-exhibition-the-nakedtruth-9731973.html 2 http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2014/09/21/paul-mccarthyws-sc-at-hauser-and-wirth-exhibition-review/ 3 Jack Malvern, ‘Protest shut “human zoo”’, The Times, 25 September, 2014: 21 4 http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID =162260 5

Jack Malvern, op cit.

6

http://www.barbican.org.uk/news/artformnews theatredance/barbican-statement-cancellation7

Jack Malvern, op cit.

8

ibid.

9

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/27/ is-art-installation-exhibit-b-racist 10 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/11121203/BonnieGreer-I-wanted-to-make-my-own-mind-up-about-Exhibit-B. html

11

https://twitter.com/Independent/status/517376561495154688

12

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/ offensive-banksy-immigration-mural-in-clacton-scrubbedfrom-wall-by-council-9768354.html 13 http://news.artnet.com/art-world/paul-mccarthy-beatenup-over-butt-plug-sculpture-136129 14 http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/20/ paul-mccarthy-butt-plug-sculpture-paris-rightwing-backlash 15 David Aaronovitch, ‘This attitude to freedom leaves us all in chains’, The Times, 2 October 2014: 25 16 Michael Bodey, ‘Andrew Bolt loses racial vilification court case’; http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/ andrew-bolt-x-racial-vilification-court-case/story-e6frg9961226148919092?nk=727f21fb456436121d2d41dfa369e54b 17

ibid.

18

Michael Sexton, ‘Those who say they are Charlie should support changes to 18C’, The Australian, 12 January 2015 19 http://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/features/all-arts/ giant-pink-condom-sexualisation-or-safety-246449 20 see Broadsheet volume 43.2, especially pages 14-19, 22-25, and 69-71 21 https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/ 25205693/carmen-loses-out-to-smokes-deal/ 22 http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/09/ australia-opera-drops-carmen-smoking-scenes


In the Gallery With a spring in my step 24 Feb – 20 Mar 2015 New works by 6 recent graduates of the School, in conjunction with the 2015 Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Associate Degree of Visual Art

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Bachelor of Visual Art

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Bachelor of Visual Art (Hons)

Adelaide Central School of Art is a school of art practice. It is an independent, not-for-profit, accredited Higher Education Provider, delivering intensive training for students looking to develop careers as practising artists. Our studio-based teaching program cultivates sophisticated practical skills, underpinned by intensive conceptual investigation. Small class sizes and focused one-on-one interaction with lecturers ensures you have the ideal opportunity to develop as an artist. The School offers both day and evening classes, with flexible study plans catering to both full-time and part-time students over an extended 34-week academic year. Start your journey and enrich your future; mid-year intake applications close 9 June, classes start 13 July 2015.

Announcing the new Atelier Academy This program of specialist courses delivered over 12 weeks is for artists and students looking to extend their practice. Lecturers in Semester 1 include Daryl Austin, Louise Feneley and Rob Gutteridge. Call the School on (08) 8299 7300 to find out more.

Charles Horton Cooley

Arkaba Commission Auction & Gala Dinner 23 April 2015 | 7pm Three paintings by Kate Kurucz (one illustrated) will be auctioned on the night. Proceeds will support a BVA (Hons) scholarship for 2016. Contact the Arkaba Hotel on (08) 8338 1100 to reserve your seat.

In the Teaching & Studio Building Solo | Rob Gutteridge 24 Feb – 20 Mar 2015 A survey exhibition of paintings and drawings following Gutteridge’s residencies in Malaysia and China. AEAF | Satellite Exhibition PP/VT (Performance Presence / Video Time) 31 Mar - 1 May 2015 Presented by the AEAF at Adelaide Central School of Art, curated by Dr Anne Marsh.

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one

images | left top, bottom left - right Rob Gutteridge, Double Max (detail), 2007; Louise Fenely, Who Am I? (detail), 2007; Daryl Austin, Los Angeles 1936 (detail), 2014; Kate Kurucz, Celloprofane III (detail), 2014

Glenside Cultural Precinct | PO Box 225 Fullarton SA 5063 T 08 8299 7300 info@acsa.sa.edu.au www.acsa.sa.edu.au


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Contemporary Visual Arts + Culture BROADSHEET 44.1  
Contemporary Visual Arts + Culture BROADSHEET 44.1  

Volume 44_1 BROADSHEET is honoured to announce that this edition has media partnerships with both ART BASEL HONG KONG and ART DUBAI this mon...

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