JOURNAL 45.2 art / criticism / Theory
8 October to 27 November 2016 70 Welsford Street, Shepparton VIC 3630 e firstname.lastname@example.org w sheppartonartmuseum.com.au p (03) 5832 9861 FREE ENTRY Nell, QUIET/LOUD, 2015, single channel digital video, 16:9, colour, Videography: Tina Havelock Stevens, Sound: Ingrid Rowell Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for Transmission curated by Carrie Miller, Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Â© the artist
OFFICIAL OPENING 8 OCTOBER
CONTRIBUTORS Pedro de Almeida is an arts manager, curator and writer and has been Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art since 2012. His writing has appeared in ArtAsiaPacific, Art Monthly Australasia, Broadsheet Journal and un Magazine among others. He is currently undertaking a MPhil degree at UNSW Art & Design where his research focuses on antagonisms in art and social housing. Erin Brannigan is Senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales and works in the fields of dance and film as an academic and curator. Her publications include Moving Across Disciplines: Dance in the Twenty-First Century, Sydney: Currency House, 2010; Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011 and Bodies of Thought: 12 Australian Choreographers, co-edited with Virginia Baxter, Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2014. She has published articles in journals such as Senses of Cinema, Writings on Dance, Brolga, Dance Research Journal. Rex Butler teaches art history in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University. Gary Carsley is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Art & Design at University of New South Wales and is active in the domain of Artist Initiated Projects. Gary has a special interest in the hand made principally as a way of resisting conformity and of theorising labour as a form capital. He is currently working on a commissioned project for The National – New Australian Art, and is represented by Thatcher Projects, New York and TORCH Gallery Amsterdam.
Ivan Muñiz Reed is an independent curator, writer and researcher with a keen interest in Latin American practices. He is a founding member and Associate Curator at The Curators’ Department, and was previously Assistant Curator at the MCA Australia. Forthcoming projects include an exhibition of Yoshua Okon’s work at Artspace, Sydney (2016) and Tony Garifalakis and Joaquin Segura at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne (2017). He is currently based in San Francisco completing a PhD on decolonial aesthetics. Chris Reid Adelaide-based freelance writer on contemporary art and music; has an MVA from the University of SA and briefly lectured there. He is a former Board member of the CACSA. Verónica Tello is Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW Art & Design. Her forthcoming book (2016) is entitled, Counter-Memorial Aesthetics: Refugee Histories and The Politics of Contemporary Art (Radical Aesthetics, Radical Art series, Bloomsbury). Her writings appear in Third Text, Contemporaneity and Afterall.
editorial advisory board Claire Bishop (USA) Rex Butler (Victoria) Robert Cook (Western Australia) Pedro de Almeida (New South Wales)
Helen Hughes is Research Curator at Monash University Museum of Art, and Assistant Lecturer in Art History and Curatorial Practice, Monash Art, Design and Architecture. She is co-editor and co-founder of Melbourne-based contemporary art journal, Discipline, and this year is the co-curator, with Victoria Lynn, of TarraWarra Biennial 2016: Endless Circulation.
Léuli Eshraghi (Kulin Nation Territory) Alexie Glass-Kantor (New South Wales) Helen Hughes (Victoria) Carol Yinghua Lu (China)
Djon Mundine is a member of the Bandjalung people of northern New South Wales and a distinguished pioneer Indigenous curator. He is well known as the concept curator for the Aboriginal Memorial  installation permanently on display in the National Gallery of Australia. Mundine was awarded an OAM (Order of Australia, Medal for services to the visual arts) in 1993 and was Senior Curator for the Gallery of Aboriginal Australia, National Museum of Australia, Canberra until 2000, after his position as Senior Curator of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. His workshop and performance-projection exhibition Bungarees Farm won the Australian Museums and Art Galleries Exhibition of the Year Award in 2015.
Executive Director Editor Production Manager Designer Layout Publisher Printing
Liz Nowell Wendy Walker Sarita Burnett David Corbet Justin Chadwick Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia Inc. Newstyle Printing
ISSN 0819 677X © Copyright 2016, Broadsheet Journal, the authors and artists. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Print post approved PP53 1629/00022 Editorial inquiries, advertising and subscriptions may be sent to the Editorial Office: Broadsheet JOURNAL 14 Porter Street, Parkside, South Australia 5063 Tel +61  8272 2682 • Email: email@example.com • www.cacsa.org.au
Broadsheet Journal can be viewed and downloaded, cover to cover, from www.cacsa.org.au
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2
Jacqueline Millner (New South Wales) Djon Mundine (New South Wales) Brigid Noone (South Australia) Maura Reilly (USA) Terry Smith (USA/Australia) Vivian Ziherl (Netherlands/Australia)
The views and/or opinions expressed in Broadsheet Journal are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the editor, staff or Board of the CACSA. Front cover image: Daniel Mudie Cunningham, True Colours, 2016, 4K single channel video still with sound, 4:06min. Production still Susan Stitt. Courtesy of the artist. This magazine is produced on Titan Gloss 250gsm FSC Mix certified cover and Grange offset 120gsm PEFC certified text. Both papers are Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) and using ISO 14001 certified mills. Product is printed by an ISO 14001 certified printer using vegetable based inks.
Broadsheet Journal is assisted by the Government of South Australia through Arts SA and the Australian Government through the Australia Council and supported by the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory governments.
BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2 CONTENTS GARY CARSLEY
The image in the shadow of music
IVAN MUÑIZ REED
Thoughts on curatorial practices in the decolonial turn
Pedro De Almeida
‘Who’s James?’ Digging a Hole in China at OCAT Shenzhen
Positively unassertive: Dancing in the Art Gallery of NSW
Performing crisis: Critical solidarity in/with the Silent University
Sensing rhythms: Recent collaborations between periodical exhibitions and publications, including 2016 TarraWarra Biennial: Endless Circulation
Philosophical investigation as studio practice
Biting the Clouds
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The Image In The Shadow Of Music
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he music video as it emerged in the 1980s shared many of its formal and conceptual proclivities with post-modernity, not least a disavowal of authenticity as any meaningful measure of artistic value. Presently music videos cohabit a material language and approach to authorship with atemporality, particularly when seen from the perspective of what has become a habitat natural to both, YouTube. The links between art and popular music have been examined at great depth, producing much scholarship and their nexus is now a heavily trafficked intersection for artists and curators. Popular music and its tributary expressions generate motifs articulated across various media and have been the subjects of important exhibitions here and elsewhere. Writing in the second half of the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold argued that the sensibilities of individuals and nations were abidingly shaped by the philosophical and economic forces preeminent at the time of their birth. Although many recording artists had made promotional or documentary films prior to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, its release in 1975 is generally regarded as the moment at which the ascendency of the music video within visual culture commenced and the (moving) image likewise attained equivalence with the music itself. Coincidently, that same year colour television was launched in Australia and in the maternity ward of a Melbourne Hospital, Daniel Mudie Cunningham entered the world. For many reasons before beginning to think about his work, it is important to acknowledge that the music video genre was born at the same moment and shares a timeline with the artist, who for typographical economy is occasionally referred to here as DMC. Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 song True Colors was a worldwide hit and its accompanying film clip subsequently nominated for the 1987 MTV best female video award. In April this year, Daniel Mudie Cunningham reauthored True Colors, presenting it as a single screen installation at Alaska Projects in Sydney. The landscape format HD screen, floated in/
Left: Daniel Mudie Cunningham & Stephen Allkins, Boytown, 2012, detail, production still, Zan Wimberley. Courtesy the artists.
on a sky blue wall (dis)playing a more or less frame-by-frame translation of Lauper’s 30-year-old precursor. Three piles of Cronulla Beach sand on the ground in front and to the side of the monitor objectively localised one of the most intractable international political and social issues of our time. In truth, True Colours (2016) is more palimpsest than remake and in it the artist meticulously transcribes the context of the Patricia Birch directed original from the vilification and demonisation of (predominantly but not exclusively) gay men – at the apogee of the AIDS hysteria in the late 1980s – to that of the refugee or asylum seeker today. The beach holds a singular place in the cultural construction of Australian identity. As a sub-genre of landscape, the beach is where Cook landed and the ANZACs stormed ashore; it is the fountainhead of bogan culture, ‘yet strip away its visionary or functional character and what is uncovered is a psychological need in relation to the idea of Australia, not some ultimate “real” nature or “authentic” Australia’.1 In the short history of second settlement Art the beach has evolved into a contested rhetorical site. Neither really nature nor culture, pictorially it is a narrow sun-bleached stretch, where suburban ennui evaporates like metho off glass. Many artists have used – and continue to represent – the beach as a horizontal proscenium arch for staging the eugenic fantasies of white Australia, making it an appropriate locale for critically engaged, socially committed artists to pick at the scab of nationalism and culture. True Colours transforms the symbolic vacuity of the beach, peopled but still somehow empty, into what Terry Smith in his article on David Bowie’s music video Let’s Dance (1983) terms ‘a domain of local history.’2 As a discourse on race and place it is to Let’s Dance that True Colours best relates. Both highlight the continuing privileging of whiteness in Australia as a benchmark against which ‘otherness of others’ is measured, while developing a narrative structure actualising hope ‘that a de colonising art is possible.’3 In both these works the disjunction between image and lyric, the rupture that in most music videos normally results in the death of context is bridged, by what David Bowie describes as a ‘very simple, very direct statement against racism.’4 BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2
Gary Carsley Generally speaking, Smith argues that the music video ‘throws in associative material to increase semantic density’.5 Similarly, John Conomos and Carolyn Symonds refer to the alluvium of borrowed images and cinematic quotations central to music video’s alluring veneer and claim it ‘can be conceptualised as an “assemblage” (to use Deleuze & Guattari’s notion) of rhizomatic discourses: it is a rhizome-text.’ They cite music video as ‘a site of multiple utterances appropriating quotations from a far-ranging array of aesthetic, cultural and artistic sources.’6 If this attitude to authorship is analogous to promiscuity, then DMC’s approach to his source material is monogamous. He is touchingly faithful to Cyndi and it is an interesting exercise to view his and hers, side by side. Daniel takes the role played by Cyndi Lauper; he is she from a parallel universe. In an ink dark, night sky the constellation of the Southern Cross as it appears on the Australian flag twinkles, below it a yellow and scarlet harlot wigged, heavily saturated Pauline Hanson-esque creature stands, back to the camera. The flag motif – further echoed as a patriotic tattoo on Daniel’s right shoulder – is visible under his black, low-backed gown. A sprig of flowering wattle to his right, the beach inferred by canvas tarpaulins. A shirtless Abdul Abdullah strums a guitar and nods his head. Nell Schofield is adrift on an acetate sea with Rubana Huda. They mime drinking tea but
The music video is a curiously pervasive vessel for meaning in Australian art. tellingly do not speak. Adonis, a Sydney alternative scene familiar, plays the recurrent male role of angel or zephyr and Rei Robinson gambols on the sand. The set and costume design by Sarah Contos create a series of images with the visual honesty of Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003). For those who know True Colors, it’s all verisimilar familiar. The penultimate scene shows a puddle of blue sky and cloud-clotted water resembling the map of Australia, further cartographically refined when Daniel supine, creates the Gulf of Carpentaria by bending his head. The artist’s face reflected, doubling up upon itself, his tequila sunrise wig and bare back with its Southern Cross tattoo floating in a beige skin sky: a classic image that heartaches with affect. Daniel grew to adulthood in a Christian household. Not allowed to gorge on television like his peers, he had to watch old Countdown clips on Rage in private, at night when everyone else was asleep.7 The pop clip for him was a furtive nocturnal emission, onanistic, sublimated and hermetic, late night VHS lubricant that miraculously didn’t stain the sheets. Conceivably, the residual claim that popular music has to rebelliousness and as a conduit for righteous anger is more circumstantially palpable for Daniel than others of his generation. Perhaps this explains why much of his oeuvre proceeds from the capacity of music videos to (re) address issues of injustice, marginalisation and angst. Recent video art in Australia can be divided into two dominant stylistic tendencies – the moving picture, or more accurately the very 8
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slowly moving picture, in which the afterlife of painting bleeds out at significantly fewer than 24 frames a second and those videos produced by artists experimenting with a more prosthetic aesthetic.8 In its most elemental, the former is straight and the latter queer; generally speaking one pheromonally nourishes the dominant white, heteronormative culture, while the other chooses to look to some utopian, inclusive future in which it is more than OK to be, (in the words of Cyndi Lauper) ‘so unusual’. It is in this category of video art that the family tree of Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s practice has its roots. The work of Philip Brophy is seminal for any consideration of the prosthetic aesthetic in Australia and his influence is one of the few examples of a new media practice transmitting its formal language and methodologies intergenerationally. His 2004 work Fluorescent, devised as a ‘mock video clip’, instructively elided elegance, sophistication and vulgarity for many younger Australian and East Asian video artists. Its lurid light, flattering in the illuminated path it lay for a particular type of heightened individual trying to navigate the boring miasma of baggy jeans and inverted baseball caps. The Kingpins are also honoured antecedents. They preternaturally hacked music video clips’ corporeality and made it their zombie concubine. Conflating the disconnectedness of image and voice in the music video with the distinction Roland Barthes made between the geno-song and the phenol-song9 was exemplary badass theory as practice. True Colours is a breakthrough work because it builds on nearly a decade of the artist’s engagement with music video as both subject and object. In 2007, the year that YouTube set up its Australian subsidiary, DMC recorded the first of his regularised renditions of Tina Turner’s signature treatment of Proud Mary.10 Shaking like a dashboard wobble doll, the not quite perfect lip-sync, tight head-and-shoulders close-ups and the way the camera slips in and out of focus like it’s filming amateur pornography anticipates much of the formal language of artists working currently with the degraded and poor image. Having decided to reperform and re-record the work every five years, in 2012 he completed a second iteration of Proud Mary with a third due next year. Boytown (2012), a collaboration with cult DJ Stephen Allkins was commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for the exhibition Transmission and posits issues of juvenile anxiety, isolation and queer politicking as the larval stage of many memorable music videos. This gorgeous work, a same with same incubus on the hot teen body of Bronski Beat’s 1984 Smalltown Boy mashes together tracks from Do-Ré-Mi, Kate Bush and The Eurogliders, among others. In it DMC makes an appearance – evasive but recognisable under a Magnum P.I. moustache and baseball cap. Working at the Campbelltown City Bowl, he serves the protagonist and slips him one of those looks your mother warned you about. Boytown is an interesting evolutionary ancestor to True Colours, almost a stepping-stone in the way it coheres fragments of popular music into a visual narrative. It uses the moving image as text and spools back to the originating loci of the epic in oral rendition, which as we know from Homer was accompanied by music.
Above: Daniel Mudie Cunningham, True Colours, 2016, 4K single channel video with sound, 4:06 min. Production still Susan Stitt. Courtesy of the artist.
symbiote on the history of music’s accessibility and translatability. As Lindy Morrison, the drummer in legendary Queensland band The GoBetweens reflected, ‘Music is opposition.’11
The music video is a curiously pervasive vessel for meaning in Australian art. It now has a significant history of achievement, a genealogy of distinguished practitioners, its own elders and a self-renewing cohort of ingénues. Perhaps it is the special status of Countdown in the history of the development of the genre of music video. In normal circumstances it would be unusual for a locally produced TV program to exercise influence in the development of a globally significant mode of creative expression. Rage, which shows overnight on Friday and Saturday, is the longest running video music program in the world. Music is central to the life of Australians in a way in which Art is not. Making music and getting it before an audience is less mediated than Art. It does not carry the baggage of elitism, nor is success so overwhelmingly determined by the opaque and venal world of prizes, competitions and patronage. Above all, music’s recent history of effectively pushing back against power and the catalytic role that the music video has played in projecting that, probably recommends it to artists. All recent work uses music. It is perhaps more central to DMC’s practice than that of any other Australian artist. As a fulcrum, music has allowed him to leverage progressively complex discourses into the realm of public consciousness. The intentionality of his social justice advocacy, particularly of queer causes are opaque topics made transparent by his practice being a
ENDNOTES 1 Ian Burn, National Life & Landscapes, Sydney & London: Bay Books, 1990: 8 2 Terry Smith, ‘Nationalism and Culture: Let’s Dance,’ Anzart, Hobart, 1983, supplement to Island Magazine, issue 16, Spring 1983: 26-29. 3 ibid. 4 Interview with Ian Meldrum, Countdown, ABC, November 1983. 5 Terry Smith, op cit: 26. 6 John Conomos and Carolyn Symonds, ‘On Rock Clips: Music in the Shadow of Image’ in On The Beach Magazine, issue 3/4, October 1985: 59. 7 From a conversation between the artist and the author, Macleay St, Sydney on June 25, 2016. 8 I have borrowed the title from an essay The Prosthetic Aesthetic: An Art of Anxious Extensions by Tiffany Funk, Chicago University Press, 2012. 9 Roland Barthes, ‘The Grain of The Voice’ in Image-Music-Text, New York: Hill & Wang, trans. by Stephen Heath, 1978: 179-189. 10 Proud Mary, written by John Fogerty and first recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, peaked at number 2 in the top 100 of March 1969. It was later re-recorded by Ike and Tina Turner and more recently Tina Turner, for whom it became a signature tune. 11 Lindy Morrison on Berserk Warriors, Episode 4, It’s a Long Way to The Top. Australian Broadcasting Commission (first broadcast in 2001).
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C ur at ed by ViC toria Lynn and HeL en HugHes / disCipL ine
19 AugusT â€“ 6 NovEmbEr PubLIC PROgRAM TarraWarra Biennial 2016: endless Circulation Special Lecture Series See website for details
this project has been assisted by the australian government through the australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Rd, Healesville, Victoria T +61 (0)3 5957 3100 E firstname.lastname@example.org
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ImaGe: Robert andrew Information Transfer 2015 (detail) ochres, oxides, water and electromechanical components, 240 x 210 x 40 cm Courtesy of the artist
2 JULY â€“ 9 OCTOBER 2016 FR E E A D M I S S IO N
ART GALLERY OF SOUTH AUSTR ALIA artgallery.sa.gov.au GOV E R N M E NT PA RTN E R S
F O U N DATI O N PA RTN E R S
FIR ST F RI DAYS PA RTN E R
The Robert Hannaford exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation. image detail: Robert Hannaford, Australia, born 1944, Self-portrait, 1966, charcoal and white chalk on paper, 54.1 x 42.7cm; Private collection, courtesy of the artist
RECORD LIGHT KINGSLEY NG
ADELAIDE FESTIVAL CENTRE AND CACSA PRESENT:
10 SEPTEMBER – 16 OCTOBER CONTEMPORARY ART CENTRE OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA 14 Porter Street, Parkside, South Australia 5063 • www.cacsa.org.au
Image: Kingsley Ng, Galaxy Express (still), 2013, 10 channel video installation, duration 7:20 mins. Image courtesy the artist and Osage Gallery, Hong Kong.
CACSA is supported by
Ivan MuĂ‘iz Reed
Thoughts on curatorial practices in the decolonial turn
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oloniality is ever-present. Even decades after the period of formal colonisation has ended, it has persisted through structural forms of privilege and bias. Beyond their more obvious economic and social manifestations (such as the racial stratification of labour and the proliferation of inequality and racism), these oppressive hierarchies also pervade the realm of culture; but so much of the modern world we know and experience has been constructed out of western imperial categories that the coloniality of knowledge is perhaps harder to discern and much more insidious to overcome.
Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano has described coloniality as a ‘matrix of power that produces racial and gender hierarchies on the global and local level, functioning alongside capital to maintain a modern regime of exploitation and domination.’1 He argues that if knowledge is colonised, then one of the tasks ahead is to de-colonise knowledge.2 What are the implications for contemporary curators and museums, who are responsible for interpreting contested histories and whose prime matter is knowledge? How are curators and art institutions positioned within the colonial matrix and is it possible for them to restructure knowledge and power – to return agency to those who have lost it? In order to imagine a decolonial curatorial practice it’s important to define the context and parameters from which decoloniality emerges. While decolonisation refers to the completed socio-historical process of independence from colonial powers, decoloniality is an ongoing ethico-political and epistemic project, which seeks to de-link from colonial structures that have persisted throughout modernity and which underpin Eurocentrism and systems of discrimination.
The concept can be traced back centuries, but a brief genealogy elicits the work of Quijano as a central starting point, followed by a number of scholars and thinkers from across Latin America, who generate critical theory from an alternative perspective: the perspective of the colonised and the oppressed. Most of this literature either emerges from – or is framed within – the third world and is considered the most valuable contribution from Latin American scholars to the fields of critical theory, philosophy and ethnic studies. As such, it has gained international attention, attracting many contributions from around the world, and constituting what has been identified as a decolonial movement or decolonial turn in the domain of knowledge. The aim of decolonial theory is to re-inscribe histories and perspectives, which have been devalued through ‘radical exercises of un-thinking, dedisciplining, and re-educating’3 that reformulate fundamental questions in the realms of philosophy, theory, and critical thought. In the field of art theory, the main contribution is the term decolonial aesthesis/ aesthetics, which has recently gained currency primarily through the work of Argentinian semiotician Walter Mignolo (and his collaborators). Mignolo argues that aesthesis, an ancient Greek concept, which broadly describes the senses – ‘an unelaborated elementary awareness of stimulation, a sensation of touch’ – was absorbed in the seventeenth century into Immanuel Kant’s concept of aesthetics.4 Mignolo suggests that Kant’s theorisation of aesthetics was the cognitive operation that marked the colonisation of aesthesis, a process that led to the devaluing of any sensory experience conceptualised outside of European aesthetic categories. Kant’s aesthetics emphasise sensing the beautiful and the sublime. According to Mignolo, Kant’s work established European standards, which were then projected universally. Mignolo’s counterconcept, decolonial aesthesis, therefore becomes a ‘confrontation with modern aesthetics, and its aftermath (postmodern and altermodern aesthetics) to decolonize the regulation of sensing all the sensations to which our bodies respond, from culture as well as from nature.’5
Left: Brook Andrew, Splinters of Monuments, 2014-2015, (installation view) Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid Spain. Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.
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Ivan MuÑiz Reed
Although Mignolo doesn’t apply his theory specifically to curatorial practice, his criticism of Kantian aesthetics could be easily extended to the authoritative role curators and art institutions exercise as gatekeepers of the beautiful and sublime. Curators, who have become central figures in cultural production within the art canon, have the power to decide which (and how) histories are told. Perhaps Mignolo’s biggest criticism of western art institutions (and the work of curators/critics such as Nicolas Bourriaud) is that in their articulation of a post-modern or altermodern aesthetic they often omit the violence perpetrated throughout modernity in the name of ‘progress’, ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’, and thereby propagate the silencing of suppressed histories. A decolonial critique of postmodern and postcolonial discourses is that although they both focus on understanding the aftermath of colonialism, this is all effected within the framework of European philosophy with little regard for the exploration of problems arising outside of Europe. Although postcolonial theory is considered very valuable for analysing and critiquing imperial structures, decolonialists argue that ultimately, by operating within the academy and through European-generated categories, they construct a ‘Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism.’6 In this sense, Mignolo regards Bourriaud’s attempt to proclaim an altermodern aesthetic (his 2009 exhibition at London’s Tate Gallery), as comparable to Webber or Habermas’ formulation of modernity, whose philosophical frame is still ‘drinking in the fountains of European Renaissance and their Enlightenment “secular” imperative.’7
But in order to imagine a decolonial curatorial practice it’s important to define the context and parameters from which decoloniality emerges.
histories and indigenous cosmologies, but in the way it challenged the notion of globalised artistic parameters, which have cast the shadows of primitivism and ethnography onto cultural production from nonwestern culture. It illustrated the decolonial principle that there is no single universal aesthetic, but rather a pluriversality of aesthesis.8 Although many curators around the world have since assumed comparable politics of inclusion, there are colonial structures that persist at an institutional level. Systematically including oppressed histories into the museum has proven to be insufficient, and in fact, when not carefully enacted, has led to an institutional tokenism, which has only served to reinforce imperial power hierarchies. These institutional conditions, together with the unhelpful use of separatist categories, such as folk or outsider art, are a product of the colonisation of aesthesis and inexorably affect and restrain curatorial practices. An example within Australia is the obstinate dominance of white, male artists in state galleries and their collections, and the segregation of nonwestern artistic production into different exhibition spaces. As curator Chandra Frank notes, it is a responsibility of institutions and curators to create ‘policies that guide towards the dismantling of normative paradigms that privilege certain ways of knowing, seeing and curating over others.’9 This principle should extend well beyond the more overt binaries of coloniser/colonised, western/non-western and into all other spheres with implicit inequality. On the issue of gender, for example, feminist discourses exist within a decolonial framework, since many of the normative principles of male dominance have been propagated by the same matrix of power. Viewed under this logic, the day the Art Gallery of New South Wales reaches an even gender representation in a collection hang will mark a significant decolonial triumph – a step forward for the institution, its curators, artists and audiences.
Decolonial thought, on the other hand, is not constructed from or in opposition to European grand narratives, but rather from the philosophical, artistic, and theoretical contributions, which originate from the global south. Many important decolonial concepts are articulated within Transmodernism – a philosophical and cultural movement founded by Argentinian-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussell – in addition to the work of Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals, such as Martinique-born, Afro-Caribbean writer Franz Fanon and Martinican Aime Cesaire, who are its historical backbone. With this in mind and using Mignolo as a framing device, a decolonial curatorial practice would advocate for an epistemic disobedience, replacing or complementing Eurocentric discourses and categories with alternative perspectives.
Exposing these institutional biases, however, is not an easy task for curators, since they are working from inside the marble pillars. It has often been artists working with collections – who are better positioned to criticise the institution – that have perpetrated some of the most interesting examples of epistemic disobedience. As discussed by Mignolo, Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum (1992-93) is a quintessential example of decolonial artistic praxis. For the exhibition, Wilson incorporated objects from the museum’s collection (the Maryland Historical Society) and rearranged them in ways, which exposed the biases of museums to under-represent the uncomfortable histories of the oppressed. His intervention offered a new viewpoint of colonisation, which forced viewers to confront a muffled perspective of their colonial past.
It’s hard to avoid mentioning Jean-Hubert Martin’s seminal 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre in this context. Beyond assigning pride of place to art scenes developed beyond the west, it bore the decolonial stamp, not only through its inclusion of a wide range of silenced
Another example mentioned by Mignolo is Black Mirror, an ongoing series by Mexican artist Pedro Lasch. For the 2008 iteration of the series – commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art to accompany its blockbuster exhibition El Greco to Velázquez – Lasch selected sixteen pre-hispanic figures from the museum’s permanent collection, which
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he then positioned on plinths with their backs turned to the audience. In front of each of the pieces, large sheets of reflective black glass acted as mirrors, as though the indigenous figures were silently contemplating their own existence. On closer inspection, behind the reflective surfaces a different set of images - European colonial era paintings - could also be seen. Thus in a single plane, indigeneity, coloniality and the self collide, implicating the audience through their moving reflections. The work of both Lasch and Wilson involves the selection of items from pre-existing collections (comparable to the approach of an institutional curator) to further a decolonial agenda. In an Australian context, artist Brook Andrew has created a series of projects, which have similarly relied on the collections. Andrew is himself an avid collector and in many of his recent projects he has combined his own archive with objects sourced from collaborating institutions. In each of his collaborations he breathes new meaning into these items, either through suggesting alternative readings of the past or challenging the supposed neutrality of the archive. Having collaborated with a number of institutions locally and internationally – such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Powerhouse Museum, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – Andrew’s work is testament that re-framing or recontextualising objects can be a powerful curatorial decolonial tool. In a similar vein, Tony Albert’s series Rearranging Our History (2002-11), derives its power from re-contextualising a different kind of archive: kitsch souvenirs and items from popular culture representation of Indigenous culture in Australia, which the artist has gathered over years. Although in isolation these objects could appear naïve or harmless to some, their toxicity comes to the fore when brought together.
he is not a specialist in art history or criticism, and hence his analysis of the strategies used by the artists and curatorial approach is narrow. In my view, the most interesting example of a decolonial curatorial strategy, and far more radical and illustrative of the decolonial ethos, is Cuauhtémoc Medina’s Biennial program Dominó Caníbal (Cannibal Dominoes, 2010) at PAC Murcia in Spain. For this year-long series of overlapping solo exhibitions, Medina broke with curatorial convention by using a counter-model as the central framing device: each artist
Returning to Mignolo and the Latin American decolonial movement, there have been a few curatorial attempts at representing decolonial aesthetics, but in my view they have fallen short. An exhibition of decolonial aesthetics at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá was followed by a second exhibition and workshop – presented in 2011 at Duke University in Durham, USA – which expanded on the earlier exhibition by incorporating participants from East Asia into the dialogue. Although these exhibitions have been successful in defining a theoretical and historical framework, they failed to identify the way in which artistic practices might fit into such a framework beyond a very obvious connection to coloniality. From a curatorial perspective there is no apparent epistemic shift in the curatorial process. The exhibitions do not seem to do justice to the ambitions of the critical theory, or at least they fail to illustrate its breadth and complexity. The majority of the artists included are men, for example, and the entire premise seems to be reduced to works that directly reference colonialism. The format skews toward the didactic and illustrative, and seems oblivious to the difficulties of ‘absorbing’ non-western art and global south discourses into the museum context. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Mignolo begins by admitting that
Above: Pedro Lasch, Coatlicue and las Meninas, 2007, Black Mirror series 2007-present. Courtesy the artist.
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was asked to start from his or her predecessor’s work; adding, removing or modifying something from the previous exhibition, thereby ‘cannibalising’ the previous efforts. Historically, Medina positions his biennial within a transmodern context, which acknowledges the geo-political complexity of memory making in the postcolonial: My starting point is the operation of the game of domino, which is a very widespread transcultural point of production. Based on games of Chinese dice, it was then taken to Italy, from where it spread to the new world with the Spanish and Portuguese colonisations, becoming very popular in Latin America. From a historical viewpoint, it reflects the migratory route of the game from Cathay to the Caribbean, passing through the European routes of early capitalism; it is a map of the historical process that led to the modern world. Furthermore, the domino effect refers to the chain of historical and argumental moments that define the links between colonisation, post-colonialism and capitalist globalisation. Dominó Caníbal is an epistemic rebellion that disregards the traditional biennale model and shifts the power from the institution and the curator towards the artists. In addition, the equal gender balance and diverse geographical origin in the selection of artists is in accord with the decolonial agenda.10 As Medina notes: ‘It’s not based on any autonomy or individual identity, but rather on a continuous negotiation of languages, materials and aesthetics.’11 Moreover, there is the allusion to the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ (Cannibal Manifesto), wherein he describes Brazil’s conflation of foreign influences as a sort of cultural cannibalism, which gives rise to something new and unique. By using antropofagia as the core principle and frame of reference, Medina favours an alternative, non-European viewpoint and at the same time nods to a cultural condition experienced by the colonised world in its peripatetic search for origins.12 Although all of these instances are crucial steps towards healing the colonial wound, decoloniality is not limited to academics and curators. Decoloniality is a cultural call for arms, an invitation to rearticulate our collective past experience, questioning its weight and biases, in the hope that with every step forward, we might make increasing sense of our condition and contribute to the possibility of a world without coloniality: the world otherwise.
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ENDNOTES 1 Aníbal Quijano, ‘Colonialidad del poder, cultura y conocimiento en América Latina,’ Anuario Mariateguiano 1997; Aníbal Quijano, ‘Colonialidad y modernidad/ racionalidad,’Aníbal Quijano, ‘Colonialidad del poder, cultura y conocimiento en América Latina,’ Anuario Mariateguiano 1997; Aníbal Quijano, ‘Colonialidad y modernidad/racionalidad.’ 2 ibid. 3 Nelson Maldonado-Torres, (2014), interview for Ku Leuven [https://theo.kuleuven.be/ apps/centr_bevrijding_newsletter/view/145/]. 4 Walter Mignolo, Aiesthesis decolonial, Calle 14: Revista De Investigación En El Campo Del Arte, 4(4), 2011:10-25. 5 Walter Mignolo, ‘Decolonial AestheSis: Colonial Wounds/Decolonial Healings’, Social Text: Periscope, 2013. 6 Nelson Maldonado-Torres, (2014), interview for Ku Leuven [https://theo.kuleuven.be/ apps/centr_bevrijding_newsletter/view/145/]. 7 Alanna Lockward, Marooning the White Cube as Epistemic Disobedience: BE.BOP. BLACK EUROPE BODY POLITICS 2012-2016. 8 Pluriversality is a concept used by Mignolo that can also be traced back to Enrique Dussell’s writing on Transmodernity. 9 Chandra Frank, (2015), Policy Briefing: towards a decolonial curatorial practice [http:// discoversociety.org/2015/06/03/policy-briefing-towards-a-decolonial-curatorialpractice/]. 10 Artists included were Francis Alÿs, Bruce High Quality Foundation, Tania Bruguera, Jimmie Durham, Kendell Geers, Cristina Lucas and Rivane Neuenschwander. 11 Cuauhtémoc Medina, Domino Canibal curatorial statement, Sala Veronicas, Murcia, Spain, Proyecto de Arte Contemporaneo Murcia, Spain, 2010. 12 Sam Thorne, Domino Canibal, (2010), Frieze.com [https://frieze.com/article/dominocanibal].
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‘Who’s James?’ Digging a Hole in China at OCAT Shenzhen
As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow once in this town who undertook to dig a hole to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made. Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East—to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them—who were above such trifling. Henry David Thoreau1 As far as exhibition titles go, no one can deny Digging a Hole in China is memorable. Artistic directors of bloated biennales and their obtuse attempts at marrying intellect and poetics in too long titles take note: this is how it should be done. Working on the level of instantly digestible description, while ingeniously mimicking the language of 1960s conceptual art’s programmatic dictums, Digging a Hole in China only gains further expressive traction in reference to the question that seemingly every inquisitive American child asks at some stage: ‘can you dig a hole to China?’ A lesson in the unfeasibility of cartoon physics aside, this hypothesis turned idiom is commonly attributed to a passage from Thoreau’s Walden, Or A Life in the Woods (1854) that appears amidst one of the great American transcendentalist’s many statistical audits of the minimum of tools and supplies required for a self-sufficient life lived in nature at deliberate remove from society and its deadening effect upon the human spirit. For Thoreau not digging, not seeking escape via holes in the ground, nor immortality in towering monuments, is the paramount moral objective. In Western art Courbet preceded Thoreau’s sentiment with surely the most infamous hole ever depicted on canvas. In A Burial at Ornans (1849-50), which the painter himself famously offered as the burial of Romanticism, all was laid bare on canvas: a hole in the ground signals the death of the individual; the nation state and its multitude passively take up watch. Presenting eighteen works by twelve Chinese artists who explore complex connections to land, Digging a Hole in China at OCAT Shenzhen
Left: Zheng Guogu, Liao Yuan, (previously titled Age of the Empire), 2004 – present, (installation view) video installation 16’31”. Courtesy of the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and OCAT Shenzhen. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2
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‘attempts to expose and analyse the discrepancies between this genre of work and “conventional” land art understood in the Western-centric art historical context.’2 OCAT’s enterprise, curated by Venus Lau, explicitly does not try to square a circle by claiming direct art historical (and much less socio-political) connections between the West’s development of land art in the late 1960s, which responded to ‘established systems of consumer society, capital, and rigid art institutions through their geographical retreat,’ and the stark realities of the ‘Down to the Countryside’ (shang shan xia xiang) movement in China at that time.3 Instead, Lau presents a keenly observed selection of works that tackles the ‘hidden trajectory of land’s conceptual evolution’ by artists ranging from Beijing-based Wang Jianwei (b. 1958, Sichuan), as the eldest, whose practice is marked by firsthand experience of the Cultural Revolution, through to younger contemporaries such as Zhang Liaoyuan (b. 1980, Shandong). Supported by superb exhibition design and packaging – from the configuration within a hangar-like space that deftly balances associations and breathing room between works, to the distinctive graphic branding of its banners, signage and catalogue – Digging a Hole in China will likely remain an important curatorial interpretation of the field for some time. That such an historical marker should take place in Shenzhen, the city most dramatically shaped by state policy as China’s first decreed Special Economic Zone, is deliciously apt in its abundance of domestic and global significance in manufacturing and trade.
Digging a Hole in China will likely remain an important curatorial interpretation of the field for some time.
In keeping with its title, the exhibition literally does what it says. Propitiation (2016) by Liu Wei and Chen Haoyu (Colin Siyuan Chinnery) excavates the exhibition hall’s polished concrete floor in shapes taken from traffic symbols, creating six-foot pits, which reveal the subterranean dirt on which modern Shenzhen is built. A specially commissioned iteration of the act first undertaken by the duo in 2007 at Beijing’s 798 Art District, these holes are placed adjacent to a temple-like structure in which gallery-goers are invited to enter. Designed as an offering to Tudigong, the Taoist Lord of Soil and the Ground, Propitiation signals the problem of extrapolating non-materialist meaning from an undertaking that might otherwise be easily underappreciated as a mere formal concern by those not primed for its cultural specificity. And so for this Australian visitor at least, Taoist spiritualist concerns were the last thing on my mind. Disappointingly, my thoughts landed on Marxist cliché: all that is solid melts into air. Similarly, while my attention was immediately drawn to Li Jinghu’s Square (2016), a two-metre high pyramid comprised of layers of marble flagstones scavenged from public squares in nearby Dongguan, the symbolism of societal hierarchies in its form led visual enquiry to a cul-de-sac. In direct visual and spatial connection to Jinghu’s sculpture is an installation by Zheng Guogu that presents a large pile of dirt on the 22
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gallery floor, above which sits an analogous-shaped timber pyramid funnel. Based on his deeply personal project Liao Yuan (2004-ongoing, translating to ‘Accomplished Garden,’ though formerly known as Age of Empire), Zheng’s contribution to the exhibition is founded on his purchase of a significant amount of land in his hometown of Yangjiang on Guangdong’s coast, the site of the deeply introspective artist’s idiosyncratic excavations, exploitations and construction that are purposefully tenuous in their legality. In a country by now recognised for its market capacity to support artists’ studio compounds and business operations at a scale that would make Factory-era Warhol weep, Zheng Guogu’s Liao Yuan is without doubt the most enigmatic site of the lot. Moving on from the physically monumental, a rich vein that Lau expertly tapped was the abundance of seminal performance, or otherwise site-specific interventionist works that Chinese art of the 1990s is particularly recognised for, especially within the highly coded yet hiding-in-plain-sight dynamics of that decade. Beginning with Zheng Guogu’s early work Planting Geese (1994), in which the artist with some friends buried geese to their necks before releasing them, through to more recent examples, such as Beijing-based Xu Qu’s Upstream (2011), which tracks the artist’s journey in a rubber dinghy up a polluted urban waterway leading into the capital, these and other works based in performance were represented via photographic, video or written documentary records that were sensitively displayed with the use of custom-built screens and showcases. Admittedly, this approach did not work so well for the suite of three works by Wang Jianwei. In particular, his almost hour-long video works Production (1996) and Living Elsewhere (1999) – marked by their hard-headed, sometimes bleak, study of the harsh realities of displaced farmers, migratory labour patterns caused by a post-planned economy, and the increasing political invisibility of the peasant class – faced major difficulties in transferring their poignant act of witness via small LCD screens mounted in a knee-high plinth with ubiquitous tinny headphones. These works need to be digested in a more secluded setting, uninterrupted by peripheral distractions, or not at all. Recognising the chasm between geographies, not simply those upon which stand the ‘monuments of the West and the East’ as Thoreau dismissively categorises, but within single countries as fantastically varied as China, remains a difficult proposition for global art world auditors with vested interests in minding the gap. Overriding this line of thinking, on the occasion of my visit to Shenzhen I could not help but laugh out loud at the blunt honesty underlying the authenticity of children as inadvertently captured in Cao Fei’s East Wind (2011). In this video work, presented alongside two others by the only female artist in the show, Cao Fei tracks a road journey made by an anonymous driver in a truck-sized, Thomas the Tank Engine replica vehicle. The sight of this novelty – heading down newly built freeways navigating Beijing – is a familiar example of the artist’s tactic of exploiting the humour in the everyday tensions and absurdities that arise from breakneck urban development and its affect upon increasingly atomised citizenry.
When the vehicle pulls up to a small crowd of families gathered by the roadside, debate ensues. ‘Oh, look, it’s Thomas,’ says one, to which another responds; ‘No, it seems to be Thomas’s friend’. ‘Is it James, or who?’ asks another, as a doting mother kneels down to ask of her young son, ‘Do you want to have a photo with James?’ Innocent and deadpan, the boy replies; ‘Who’s James?’ Contemplating Digging a Hole in China in relation to James Turrell’s Roden Crater, as Venus Lau briefly does by way of reference in her introductory text to the exhibition, is instructive, though perhaps in unintended ways.4 A volcanic cinder in Arizona’s desert landscape acquired by Turrell in 1977 at a time when China was barely emerging from the convulsions of its Cultural Revolution, Roden Crater is about as monumental a meditation on the spiritualist urge to commune with land and light and space and time as one can imagine in the art historical canon of the American West. It’s an absurdly small thing when addressing a fantastically big thing, yet I hesitate to expand even the American West to ‘America’, much less America to ‘the West,’ as a certain kind of hegemonic habit prompts us to do. As Cao Fei’s East Wind boy well knows, if you’ve never laid eyes on James, why pretend? And does it even matter? Perhaps James is not as universal as he might imagine, much less above such trifling.
Above: Liu Wei, Chen Haoyu (Colin Siyuan Chinnery), Propitiation, 2007, 2016, (installation view), mixed media. Courtesy the artist and OCAT Shenzhen.
Digging a Hole in China, OCAT Shenzhen, 20 March–26 June 2016. Artists: Cao Fei, Colin Siyuan Chinnery, Li Jinghu, Lin Yilin, Liu Chuang, Liu Wei, Wang Jianwei, Xu Qu, Xu Tan, Zhang Liaoyuan, Zheng Guogu, Zhuang Hui. Curator: Venus Lau.
ENDNOTES 1 Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods, , Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 2007: 38. 2 Digging a Hole in China ex. cat., edited by Venus Lau and Qu Chang, Shenzhen: OCAT, 2016: 4. 3 ibid. 4 Lau refers to Roden Crater and ‘a Nietzschean retreat to the desert’ in relation to comments made about the work Zhuang Hui Solo Exhibition (2014) which documents several separate works by the artist presented in deserted areas at the China-Mongolia border. Ibid: 5-6.
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The Elaine Bermingham National Watercolour Prize in Landscape Painting 2017
THE ELAINE BERMINGHAM IN LANDSCAPE PAINTING
$20,000 MAJOR PRIZE ENTRIES OPEN
Monday 19 September – Friday 4 November 2016
Queensland College of Art Webb Gallery 226 Grey Street South Bank, Brisbane 07 3735 6106
SEPTEMBER 7th - 24th CURATED BY POWERHOUSE (BRIGID NOONE & KATE POWER) VOTE FOR ME OCTOBER 5th - 22nd TEELAH GEORGE A MEASURE OF THE EFFECT OF DOSE ON TASTE DAVID ATTWOOD LOVE BENJAMIN PORTAS IDOLATRY RATIO NOVEMBER 2nd -19th EDWINA COOPER PORT-ALL HANA HOOGEDEURE & LUKE O’DONNELL KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU www.feltspace.org email@example.com
Hana Hoogedeure & Luke O’Donnell, Shut Your Cake Hole, 2014, Still from HD Video (12 min), Flour, Eggs, Milk, Cake Mix 24
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Positively Unassertive: Dancing in the Art Gallery of NSW
t the end of the Choreography and the Gallery one-day Salon, and during the Art Gallery of NSW’s public program Art after Hours, choreographer and dancer Lizzie Thomson enters the white, open space of the central foyer as Shelley Lasica and collaborators walk slowly backwards out of it.1 Thomson is improvising ‘with’ Virginia Woolf ’s The Waves – the novel that dances.2 She had memorised parts of it for Mette Edvardsen’s 2016 Biennale project, Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, programmed by curator and dance theorist André Lepecki. Thomson also has in mind Roy De Maistre’s Rhythmic Composition in Yellow Green Minor (1919), which hangs in the Art Gallery of NSW. Thomson is expanding into the space around her with her whole body, an assertive but sensitive presence, preoccupied by her score yet determinedly in the now. Her gaze is soft and elsewhere, but her body finds the shapes and rhythms that it wants with a delicate rigour. She settles into a dreamy, swinging pace, her weighty limbs making soft curves around her. Then she moves to another part of the foyer and the pace changes – she’s chasing at something or riding a sensation. Sweaty, and finally laughing with exhaustion she stops. Thomson’s intriguing quality as a dancer is her embodiment of the contrary qualities of vulnerability and strength, softness and power, suspension and commitment. She manages the place between deciding on a movement choice and committing to that action with a delicacy and virtuosity that comes with practice. She is a dancer at the peak of her skills and embodies the quality of contemporary dance as positively unnassertive. To finish the Salon at this ‘pointy end’ of what curator Corinne Diserens calls the ‘désir désespéré du musée pour la danse’3 – the dancing body in the gallery space – draws attention back to that tough interface, where the technologies of dance as a medium meet with the largely unsympathetic conditions of the museum. In this way, Thomson and Lasica’s presentations on the day connect with the three European-based choreographers curated by Adrian Heathfield as part of his Biennale program at the gallery: Ghost Telephone; Chrysa Parkinson, Benoît Lachambre and Philipp Gehmacher. While some of their attention may have been elsewhere – on a book (Thomson),
a body-archive of movements (Lasica), imagined characters conjured collectively (Parkinson), or other art work (Gehmacher who was dancing with Daniel von Sturmer’s Material from Another Medium  or Lachambre who was dancing with installations by Columbian artist Doris Salcedo) – ‘the work of the work’ manifested as dancing in the gallery.4 Such gallery-based practices connect with recent work by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/ Arbeid (2014), in which she spread her piece Vortex Temporum (2013) over a six-week occupation of WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, and US-based choreographer Sarah Michelson’s important partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the work of both artists there is a strong commitment to dancing as such. But the work in Sydney in 2016 also connected back in time to curatorial experiments in 2008 across dance and the visual arts by curators Corinne Diserens and Mathieu Copeland, which followed the work of Simone Forti and her peers in mid-century America.5 Facilitating the Salon as part of the 20th Biennale of Sydney was my response to the impossibility, for those of us working in dance today, of ignoring the question of the gallery or museum.6 There was a collective desire to place local artists and commentators into public discussion with the international artists and curators of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, which had an unprecedented focus on dance and choreography under the artistic direction of Stephanie Rosenthal. The Salon focused on exploring the creative and discursive territory between ‘the choreographic’ and the institutions and practices of art: the gallery or museum as a destination and organisation; the circumstances, conditions and objects one is surrounded by in these places; and the work of artists. Participants included artists Thomson, Lasica, Brooke Stamp, Deanne Butterworth, Jo Lloyd, Justene Williams, Emma Saunders, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Phillip Adams and Helen Grogan, as well as curators Tang Fu Kuen, Anneke Jaspers, Left: Lizzie Thomson, TACET: Rhythmic Composition (After Roy De Maistre’s Rhythmic Composition in Yellow Green Minor, 1919), 2016. Choreography and the Gallery, a one-day salon at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented in partnership with the School of the Arts & Media, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography.
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Bree Richards, Stephanie Rosenthal and Hannah Matthews. Of course, there is a long history of choreography contributing to, and drawing from, visual arts since its birth at the turn of the century.7 Being a deeply intermedial form, dance was central to the postdisciplinarity of the largely New York-based innovations involving Judson Dance Theater, Neo-Dada, the Happenings and John Cage’s music revolution. Carrie Lambert-Beatty and Meredith Morse’s books, on Yvonne Rainer and Forti respectively, have been important in recuperating dance as a major force within those significant aesthetic developments that continue to reverberate within the contemporary arts in its post-disciplinary condition.8 Prior to this recuperation, accepted accounts of this period describe dance’s subordinate role to the other arts, which has lead me to describe dance, in this context, as unassertive. Of course there are negative aspects to this state – being taken for granted, largely invisible, unacknowledged, under-resourced. However there are also many positives: being open and cooperative, sociable, inclusive, non-competitive, unbound in many ways. Despite such an undisciplined profile, dance has a solid disciplinary basis in corporeal research, consolidating at the turn of the twentieth century.9 This material aspect of the discipline is at the heart of the visual arts’ interest in dance; the objecthood of the body, but also its characteristics such as kinetic contagion, instability, force and presence. Ironically, this is the dancing that many visual arts curators, artists and theorists subtract from the term choreography, so that the latter term might circulate in the service of many and varied activities. For this reason, my current research with collaborators Thomson and choreographer Matthew Day focuses on the contributions of dancebased knowledges to the rich exchange of compositional practices between dance and the visual arts; how tone, form, shape, energy, surface and figure might translate across all kinds of media. So we are looking at diverse art practices across disciplines. The gallery’s interest in dance is also couched in the ‘crisis of visibility’ as defined by Jacques Rancière: …contemporary art is, quintessentially, art defined by the erasure of medium specificity, indeed by the erasure of the visibility of art as a distinct practice.10 I would add, perhaps also the erasure of the visibility of works of art themselves, as the gallery and its artists embrace the ephemeral dimension of art – and to such an end, dance is the perfect partner. As choreographer Yvonne Rainer says, dance is ‘hard to see’; it decentres vision to make way for other modes of experiencing and apprehending the world.11 The dancing body operates with and through sensation, energy and sociability. Such things can often be felt rather than seen. One practitioner who has been occupying this creative territory for around 30 years is Australian choreographer Shelley Lasica, who created her first work for a gallery space in 1986.12 For the Salon, 28
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Lasica presented How How Choreography Works for 2016 with co-creators Deanne Butterworth and Jo Lloyd, an iteration of How Choreography Works which premiered at Melbourne’s West Space in 2015.13 The latter ‘took place over six weeks and included current and archival performance, both onscreen and live, existing between bodies and objects.’14 How How Choreography Works for 2016 continues Lasica’s interrogation of the medium of dance; the nature of choreography, costume and collaboration. But also the rich ground between concrete bodies and non-representational work, which recalls Robert Rauschenberg’s comments on dance: My relationship to dance is … directly responsible for my new interest in the spectator’s active role. I learned that a work of art – say, a painting or a piece of sculpture, is an elusive quantity – that is, the fact that it’s concrete makes it elusive. The dance, on the other hand – is really concrete, not elusive at all … both parties are in a critical relationship in terms of immediacy and spontaneity. They combine to create a living, palpable force of contact.15 Immediacy, spontaneity and contact are good descriptions of what Lasica, Butterworth and Lloyd brought to the AGNSW foyer. Lasica begins typically: unannounced, just a slight shift in her attention, a movement beyond the pedestrian, something playful. She is running on the spot, little flicky runs that pitter-patter. The audience drops from a babble to silence, as the exhibition space also becomes a performance space. Lasica’s energy ripples across the onlookers who freeze or move out of the way, negotiating the transformed conditions. Two other women emerge from the crowd, moving together but differently. They dance close to us in the audience but their gaze is soft as they attend to the action with their other senses, unlike Lasica who makes direct eye contact with us. The difference between us and them stays slight – their dancing is not spectacular, but casual, relaxed, matter-of-fact. The tone is easy; they don’t care whether we watch, giggle, chat or walk away. Assured, but unassertive. The dance unfolds like a serious game. The three dance artists move in and out of contact with hands gently resting on each other, taking off quickly down the room with twisting running steps, sitting with legs apart and thrusting their pelvis, frozen in standing shape-clusters. Sometimes Butterworth and Lloyd appear like Lasica’s back-up dancers, rocking in rhythm before she joins them regally on the floor at their feet. Choreographic commands are mumbled between all three and they listen for more than words. They are tuning their attention to other things: unseen forces, an expressive charge, potential pathways, familiar gestures, repeated phrases. What can we see? This ‘pointyend’ of dancing bodies in gallery spaces is sensational in the Deleuzian sense; as the corporeally-grounded aspect of perception where ‘the imagination [is] freed from the legislation of the understanding’ and remains with the terms of the work itself.16 We complete that work with our presence and attention.
ENDNOTES 1 Choreography and the Gallery one-day Salon, part of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, AGNSW, 27 April 2016. Facilitated by Erin Brannigan and part-funded by UNSW. I’d like to thank Melissa Ratcliff, Curator and Manager of Public Programs and Education, for her support of this project. 2 Lizzie Thomson, ‘TACET: Rhythmic Composition (after Roy De Maistre’s Rhythmic Composition in Yellow Green Minor, 1919’), 2016. 3 Corinne Diserens’ email correspondence with the author, 27 Aug, 2013. Translation; a ‘desperate desire of the museum for dance’. Boris Charmatz explains this desire as emerging where ‘contemporary art galleries ask themselves the question of the transition from a movement of objects to a museum of ideas, a museum of movement… to become a living museum again.’ (‘Boris Charmatz in conversation with Mathieu Copeland, Paris, 28 Oct 2011’, in Choreographing Exhibitions, Copeland and Pellegrin (eds), Dijon: Les presses du reel, 2013:105. 4 On some occasions, in all of these works, the dance artists spoke as well. 5 See Brannigan for an account of this recent curatorial geneology in ‘Moving Across Disciplines: Dance in the Twenty-First Century,’ Platform Paper no. 25 (Sydney: Currency House, 2010); and Meredith Morse on Forti’s ground-breaking, choreographic installation work of the 1960s (Soft is Fast: Simone Forti in the 1960s and After, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2016). 6 A clear sign is the programming at two major forums for discourse on dance this year; a dance-visual arts focus at Impulstanz in Vienna with Tino Sehgal programming dance workshops, and Boris Charmatz as keynote speaker at Tanzcongress in June.
7 Here I follow French dance theorist Laurence Louppe who sees contemporary dance as an art form of the 20th century breaking with classical ballet (Poetics of Contemporary Dance, trans. Sally Gardner, Alton: Dance Books, 2010: 17). 8 See Morse 2016 and Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2008. 9 On dance as ‘undisciplined’ see: Elizabeth Dempster, ‘Undisciplined subjects, unregulated practices: dancing in the academy,’ in Dance rebooted: Initializing the Grid, Melbourne: Ausdance National, 2005:1-11; and Brannigan 2010. 10 Jacques Rancière, ‘Art of the Possible’, in conversation with Fulvia Carnevale and John Kelsey, Artforum, 45:7, 2007: 259. 11 Yvonne Rainer, ‘A Quasi Survey of Some “Minimalist” Tendencies in the Quantitatively Minimal Dance Activity Amidst the Plethora, or an Analysis of Trio A,’ in What is Dance? ed. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983: 331. 12 Shelley Lasica, Describing the Perspective of Time, It Promises You Nothing, Reconnaissance Gallery, Melbourne, 1986. 13 http://westspace.org.au/event/how-choreography-works/ 14 Shelley Lasica, program notes, Choreography and the Gallery: one-day Salon. 15 Robert Rauschenberg quoted in John Gruen, ‘Painter Dancing in the Dark’, New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine, January 2, 1966: 34. Cited in Nancy Spector, ‘Rauschenberg and Performance’, in Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson, eds., New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1997: 233. 16 Daniel W.Smith, ‘Translator’s Introduction,’ in Gilles Deleuze Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002: xvii. Below: Shelley Lasica, Deanne Butterworth & Jo Lloyd, How How Choreography Works for 2016. Choreography and the Gallery, a one-day salon at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in partnership with the School of the Arts & Media, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Photograph: Document Photography.
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SAUERBIER HOUSE culture exchange
ARTIST/WRITER IN RESIDENCE PROGRAM 2017–18 Expressions of interest are now open for visual artists and writers interested in undertaking a supported three month site-responsive residency.
SAUERBIER HOUSE IS DEDICATED TO THE CREATION OF LIVING CULTURAL DIALOGUES AND LOCAL CREATIVE EXCHANGE
MORE INFORMATION Contact Jaynie Langford, Coordinator Sauerbier House on 8186 1393, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.onkaparingacity.com/sauerbierhouse
SAUERBIER HOUSE culture exchange 21 Wearing Street, Port Noarlunga
Applications close Monday 31 October
MONOGRAPH RELEASE TERRITORIAL ENCOUNTERS: JAMES TYLOR Featuring words and images from Tylor’s recent exhibition held at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia. For more information contact on email@example.com or visit: www.cacsa.org.au.
CACSA is supported by
Image: James Tylor, 1836 Port Adelaide Kaurna Nation, 2016, scratched daguerreotype. Image courtesy of the artist.
Performing Crisis Critical Solidarity in/with the Silent University
Call for papers: performing crisis The call for papers (CFP) for this year’s Performance Studies International conference suggests that we need to become attuned to a precarious and volatile climate; a volatile climate which seems to present itself as the permanent condition of our era.1 As the CFP suggests, performance studies have the capacity to operate effectively in such a climate: this is because through interdisciplinary collaborations – between art and science or art and NGOs, for example – performance studies can offer ‘innovative methodologies’ and ‘concepts’ to ‘act [upon] and interpret a variety of circumstances’. This language, to my mind, reflects an incessant cry in and outside the arts for the need to ‘adapt’ to the pressures of the current era and contribute to the resolving of ‘crisis’.2 I want to analyse the extent to which such language, not uncommon in cultural and economic discourse, emerges out of a neoliberal logic, which propels an entrepreneurial spirit in order to resolve and perform during crisis; but which, contra all good intentions, exploits and further perpetuates crisis, foreclosing radical alternatives for how to be in the present and future. To analyse this relationship between the call to ‘perform’ during crisis and an entrepreneurial spirit, I will draw on my research into a performance-based project called the Silent University (SU). Broadly, the University recognises the academic qualifications of asylum seekers and refugees and appoints them as faculty, even if they are without the language or permits to work in the country in which they reside: the events that take place at the University mostly include lectures, but also some workshops. The SU was established in 2012 by the Kurdish, Amsterdam/Berlin-based, artist Ahmet Ögüt in close collaboration with the Tate and Delfina Foundation in London. Since then one could say that the University has matured, as it now has campuses in many European cities – London, Stockholm, Hamburg, Mulheim/Ruhr and Athens. And most recently it has been established in the Middle East, in the Jordanian city of Amman. To analyse the phenomenon of the SU, I will draw on the work of Marina Vishmidt, a theorist of the political-economy of art, and to a lesser extent the writings of the Marxist art historian José María Durán and the postcolonial thinker Gayatri Spivak, before coming to some conclusions regarding what it
means to endure and sustain crisis in and outside the boundaries of a neoliberal subjectivity during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’.
Neoliberal performance: social practice as business model In a 2013 essay published in e-flux Marina Vishmidt articulates the cultural, political and economic dynamics at play in a particular strand of contemporary art, which she terms: Social Practice as Business Model.3 For Vishmidt, this is a model of art that emerges in a neoliberal paradigm – characterised by art’s, and more specifically art activism’s, systemic absorption by commerce and critically, its participation in capital accumulation. The idea is that communities affected by crisis – austerity, poverty, statelessness – attract sub-contractors or freelancers – including artists – to come and propel recovery or elicit ‘empowerment’. In such a scenario, Vishmidt contends, the community is often put to work in a kind of ‘non-politics of inclusion’ where art, in lock step with business, gives the impression of empowerment, but which actually inhibits the capacity to question systemic structures that maintain inequity. In this instance, the solidarity required to organise effectively against exploitation or marginalisation is difficult to locate as the discourse around recovery and crisis becomes one about exploiting market resources to address the crisis but never to protest the ongoingness – that is, the making and perpetuating – of crisis. When Vishmidt is describing the concept of ‘social practice as business model’ – which can also be thought of as parasitical practice – she has in mind the work of, for example, the celebrated artist Theaster Gates. Gates is well known for ‘adding value’ to derelict African-American areas in Chicago by means of his practice, including through putting the affected, or target, community to work on urban regeneration. In a (reasonably) cynical analysis, Vishmidt argues that Gates uses his projects to celebrate the capacity for collective ‘labour’ to elicit social change; but to be frank, the labour that Gates devotes himself to is centred around negotiating with NGOs, real-estate developers and circulating objects based on his social practice projects in the art market, under his authorship.4
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The SU may not quite fit Vishmidt’s ‘social practice as business model’ model, or be such an extreme profit-making enterprise as Gates’ projects. Nonetheless, I want to use Vishmidt’s notion as a means to think through the way in which the SU struggles to allow for radical alternatives to the systems that perpetuate crisis by holding onto problematic concepts of labour and by possessing an entrepreneurial spirit.
Proviso Firstly, I want to make clear that I am not suggesting that there is some explicit exploitation of refugees or refugee bodies within the SU. From my research at SU branches in Mülheim an der Ruhr, London and Stockholm, and from conversations with coordinators and lecturers from all the branches, it is clear that (generally speaking) the University has created a structure to at the very least provide a solidarity network for and by refugees to communicate their knowledge, or have their knowledge recognised.5 In Hamburg, the refugee activist collective, Lampedusa in Hamburg, use it as part of a broader series of strategies to protest border protection and xenophobic policies. In Stockholm, Fahyma Alnablsi, a Syrian refugee and teacher who has been living in Sweden for 23 years, leads a language circle twice a week, re-activating her pedagogical knowledge, which has otherwise been without use since her arrival in Europe. In the small town of Mülheim an der Ruhr in Germany, Bridget Fonkeu and Justin Fonkeu, who are trained as a political scientist and chemist respectively, and who after living in Germany for 17 years and working as cleaners for many of them, use it in various ways to understand and bring to the fore the potentiality of the African diaspora and its exclusion from the political process in Germany. At its best, the SU is an education platform for solidarity and resistance led by refugees against colonial ideologies that affect institutions at all levels in Europe and European settler-colonies, such as Australia, through the systemic exclusion of non-Europeans.6
Performing value Yet, the SU is inevitably implicated into a complex economy of art. It circulates as a borderless form – or borderless art commodity – across two continents often via partnerships with various cultural (art/ theatre) institutions (the Tensta Konstall, the Ringlokschuppen, the Impulse Theatre Festival, and previously the Tate Modern and Delfina Foundation).7 It reinforces its identity across these sites via the use of logos and branding – these logos reappear on the SU’s lecture podiums, reading rooms (at the Showroom, for example) and publications (produced by Tensta Konstall, the Tate and Sternberg/Impulse Theatre Festival). At the very least, this branding accumulates cultural capital if not also surplus value for the artist (more on this below). And it almost certainly reiterates Ögüt’s claim over the SU (as the artist behind a recognisable image, concept, icon of social practice even). As much as Ögüt may (at times) protest naming the SU an artwork,8 its funding streams and key institutional partnerships, as does the constant
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attribution of the SU to Ögüt (as an artist), suggest otherwise. As an artwork – if not authored then ‘initiated’ by Ögüt (a nebulous term I discuss further below) – to my mind the SU is clearly a subject of the political economy of art. For José María Durán, the intimacy between artwork and commodity is secured by the valuing of the artist’s intellectual labour, a labour that the market dictates cannot be alienated from the commodity, because of the artist’s distinct personality and talent.9 If the SU is read as an artwork authored by Ögüt, how does one read or value the labour of the refugees and asylum seekers, who constitute the University’s faculty, or of the many (female) coordinators, who run each branch of the University? At what point can the SU embody a critical relationship to authorship and open itself up to actually critical modes of collaboration, which would lead, for example, to a self-determined University led by the faculty of refugees and asylum seekers, or which might better allow the coordinators – who are all women and who do the majority of the day-to-day labour in running the various branches of the SU – to have equal access to the means of production? A first step, I suggest, would mean doing away with what I perceive to be a hollow critique of authorship within the University. The term ‘initiator’ (rather than artist) is repeatedly deployed by Ögüt in relation to his role of conceptualising this long-term, collaborative project; a role that in his vocabulary is ephemeral, if not also foundational; as the project progresses the ownership is meant to be passed onto the faculty. However, after four years in operation, the University is consistently attributed to the artist.10 This occurs not only in every discussion of the project by critics but also by the project itself, which continually repeats Ögüt’s name (as ‘initiator’ of the University) in its website, marketing, publications. In the recently published SU book, the dramaturge Florian Malzacher11 asks Ögüt a blunt question regarding his ownership of – or claims over – the University in light of the collaborative nature of the project on the one hand, and all the symbolic capital the project has accrued for Ögüt on the other: Ögüt gives a dual response: first; ‘the question of shared ownership really has a lot to do with who is actually more engaged and more involved…’, so there is a linking of responsibility and ownership here; and secondly, Ögüt states; ‘I have been…concerned with fighting [the] potential misuse of the surplus [profit] that we [the SU] may produce and fighting against my own title as an artist.’12 But, almost in the same breath, Malzacher and Ögüt start to unpack how deploying Ögüt’s name as author of the SU is a key strategy in obtaining funding for the project. There may be an understandable rationale for this – that is to allow the project to keep going – to be set up in different cities. How does this ‘funding strategy’ not only maintain hierarchies of authorship, ownership and power, but also maintain
inequity (a concept closely linked to crisis)? Or to put it another way, if the rationale of continually allowing problematic concepts of authorship to prevail within the SU is a means to keep the project going – what exactly is being maintained here? What is one to make of the precarious, casual labour on which the SU operates, which only values refugee bodies/knowledge in ‘fragments’ and leaves them without economic support in the ‘in between’ temporalities between SU ‘public programs’, where refugees ‘perform their knowledge’?13 Furthermore, if we continue to read the SU as it always is, that is, as a project conceptualised, or even authored, by Ögüt, what is one to make of the (reproductive) labour of the SU coordinators, who perform the role of setting up and running the various SU branches, including the vital role of establishing and maintainable sustainable relationships with asylum seekers/refugees/ refugee networks. Given the various roles that are fundamental to the existence of the SU – and the by now largely symbolic role that Ögüt plays – is it possible to move beyond an individualised concept of subjectivity and move to something more collective within the SU?
Unproductive/reproductive labour, and horizontality In an attempt to answer this question, I have a few speculative remarks (speculative as this is the beginning of a larger research project). The work of the coordinators and faculty represent the kind of labour that is difficult to value – because their labour is detached from the artist’s persona and falls within the categories of the labour of care (or reproductive labour) and migrant labour.14 This labour is often made invisible and/or precarious (de- or under-valued) in structures like the SU, which in spite of everything that the project utters about itself, depend on the presence and involvement of the author/artist.15 As long as the SU is framed and operates as an artwork by discourses not only formed by the University, but also in performance studies and contemporary art, as well as education and migrant studies, the problem of authorship and who has the means of ownership over the project will continue. This is because as an artwork/concept that has a distinct author, it would be incongruous to name the collaborators – such as the female coordinators who inform and shape the way in which each SU manifests in each city, including re-thinking the foundational concepts of the SU; and incongruous to acknowledge the faculty’s labour/knowledge as something more than a performance (in the form of a lecture) for the SU, but rather as playing a role in the making and sustaining of the SU. As one of coordinators from the SU, observes: ‘The artist performs the artist, the refugee performs the refugee, the coordinator the coordinator. The question is, can we transcend these normative roles and put them into question as well?’16 One way to think through this, and the problem of who has the means of ownership/production in the SU, might be to advance existing
critiques of art historical (et al) discourses that relentlessly value the artists’ personality over the efforts of collaborators, especially in participatory art. Such criticism has been the focus of theorists such as Grant Kester, and while I strongly support this effort, perhaps another (simultaneous) way forward for projects such as the SU is to start to implement the concept of ‘shared ownership’ (as Ögüt’s raises above) based on invested time (labour) within the project in a more formal manner – that is, by buying into the concept of the author as the art market and art discourse demands – but playing with it: that is, to adopt the modus operandi of pseudo-collectives (Pamela Lee’s concept) like the Invisible Committee, which work together as a means to critique the idea of authorship, to render opaque the connection between the artists’ personality and the art ‘work’, and to demand a collective/ collaboratory existence and body, through which the specificity of types of labour are diffused (and thus valued horizontally).17 Without a horizontal work structure, the labour of the refugees and the coordinators are necessarily read as part of a larger studio project (after Warhol’s factory, or akin to the studios of Olafur Eliasson), where to be blunt, assistants work toward developing an artwork with and for an artist.18
From neoliberal subjectivity to collectivity In her canonical 1985 text ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?,’ Spivak argued that the postcolonial strategy of ‘giving voice’ to the subaltern and oppressed was flawed, since such postcolonialists failed to sufficiently recognise or critique their own subject position in this process. That is, to put it simply, they failed to recognise how by talking about or for the signified without referring to the signifier, they repeated hegemonic class and racial structures which perpetuate inequity. Opening up who has the means of ownership – and creating a radical platform for solidarity – within the SU is contingent on critiquing conventional concepts of authorship, closely tied to a neoliberal, individualised subjectivity, and opting for a collective body. This shift puts pressure not only on the project itself, and its stated strategy for accumulating funding, but also (and perhaps even causally) how such a project is read by discourse – and perhaps needless to say, funding bodies and philanthropists. A shift from a single to collective authorship will be necessary if the SU is to be something more than a parasitical practice – to invoke Vishmidt’s discourse – which uses the hollow rhetoric of inclusion, while devaluing specific kinds of labour, all the while projecting a vision of a ‘useful’ or ‘innovative’ solutions to ‘crisis’. Neoliberalism exploits and creates crisis and if crisis is not addressed systemically, then it only continues to demand recovery through participation in such projects. An earlier version of this text was presented at the Performance Studies International conference in Melbourne, July 7, 2016. BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2
* I would like to thank everyone from the Silent University network I met, especially Kirsten Ben Haddou, Christina Thomopoulos and Toleen Touq (coordinators from the SU branches in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Athens and Amman, respectively) for their generosity and critical spirit, through which many interesting and productive conversations were had about the SU with the author.
ENDNOTES 1 For the 2016 Performance Studies International conference CFP see: http:// www.psi2016.com/#!cfp/c17nh 2 As Agamben argues, the concept of crisis is advanced/instrumentalised by governments and corporations as instrument of rule/oppression: Giorgio Agamben, ‘The Endless Crisis as an Instrument of Power’, 2016: http://www. versobooks.com/blogs/1318-the-endless-crisis-as-an-instrument-of-power-inconversation-with-giorgio-agamben 3 Marina Vishmidt. ‘“Mimesis of the Hardened and Alienated”: Social Practice as Business Model’, e-flux journal, 2013. http://www.e-flux.com/ journal/“mimesis-of-the-hardened and-alienated”-social-practice-as-businessmodel/ All key terms placed in quotation marks in this analysis of Vishmidt’s discourse come from the same article cited here. 4 ibid. 5 I spoke with various representatives from all the SU between January and June 2016 – I am especially thankful to Kirsten Ben Haddou (coordinator of the SU Mülheim an der Ruhr) for inviting me to participate in the first SU network meeting at the Impulse Theatre Festival, as part of their Learning Plays – A School of Schools program. 6 For reports from all the SU branches see: Florian Malzacher, Ahmet Ögüt, Pelin Tan, ed. The Silent University: Towards a Transversal Pedagogy. Berlin/Ruhr: Sternberg Press/Impulse Theatre Festival, 2016: 72-139 7 The irony of the incapacity of many of the SU to travel, while the project proliferates across many borders, is not lost on the SU coordinators or the author, but given the parameters of the article and its limited wordcount, this topic cannot be discussed at length here. 8 See for example: Ahmet Ögüt and Göksu Kunak, ‘The Silent University.’ Sleek (2013). http://www.sleek-mag.com/2013/11/26/the-silent-university/. Further, Ögüt does not list the SU as an artwork in his website, but acknowledges his role as initiator in his biography: http://www.ahmetogut.com/ahmetweb_ bio.html. However, in other articles Ögüt does acknowledge the SU’s function as an artwork: Ögüt, Ahemt. “The Pitfalls of Institutional Pedagogy” World Policy Blog: Arts Policy Nexus (2013). http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2013/06/12/ pitfalls-institutional-pedagogy. 9 José María Durán, ‘Artistic Labor and the Production of Value: An Attempt at a Marxist Interpretation,’ Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 28, no. 2 (2016): 220-37. 10 It’s worth noting that other artists such as Tania Bruguera, Jonas Staal and Renzo Martens also use the term ‘initiator’ to distance themselves from the concept of authorship in their respective long-term collaborative projects: Immigrant Movement International, New World Summit and Institute for Human Activities.
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11 Malzacher is the co-editor of this book (with Ögüt and Pelin Tan), and also commissioned the SU branch in Mulheim/Ruhr. 12 Ahmet Ögüt and Florian Malzacher, ‘How Can We Imagine a School Culture Based on Solidarity?’ in The Silent Universtiy: Transversal Pedagogy, edited by Ahmet Ögüt Florian Malzacher, Pelin Tan, 12-23. Berlin/Ruhr: Sternberg/ Impulse Theatre Festival 2016. 13 I am invoking Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi’s discourse around precarity and labour today. See: Franco Berardi, After the Future, Edinburgh: AK Press, 2011. 14 In the recently published SU book, the (often unpaid) reproductive labour that drives the SU is not recognised by the editors (Malzacher, Ögüt and Pelin Tan). However, Pelin Tan does recognise that the volunteer labour central to some of the SU branches (Amman and in Athens in particular), as well the oftenprecarious status and labour of the lecturers is not as distinct from voluntary labour practices in NGOs as it could be. Tan notes that this is a problem that needs to be redressed. Pelin Tan, ‘The Silent University as an Instituent Practice,’ in The Silent University: Towards a Transversal Pedagogy, edited by Ahmet Ögüt Florian Malzacher, Pelin Tan. Berlin/Ruhr: Sternberg Press/Impulse Theatre Festival, 2016, 28. Yet, the labour/contributions of the women, who adopt the role of the coordinators is neither acknowledged on the website, or on the book cover (by naming them), where said critique of voluntary labour is discussed. 15 This is seen, for example, in the numerous (and consistent invitations) that Ögüt receives to talk about the SU at conferences and symposia on experimental pedagogy in the art industry. For a different reading of the dependence of the SU on the artist see: EC Feiss, ‘ A critique of rights in We Are Here’, Jan Van Eyck Academie Open Studios, Maastricht, Jan Van Eyck Academie, 2015, np. 16 Email conversation with author, July 19, 2016. 17 Pamela Lee, ‘On Pseudo-Collectivism; or, How to a Collective in the Age of the Consumer Sovereign’, in Forgetting the Art World, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2012: 147-84. 18 This is discussed in-depth in: José María Durán, ‘Artistic Labor and the Production of Value: An Attempt at a Marxist Interpretation’, 2016: 229-30.
he Brisbane-based artist Michael Zavros has had a charmed run. Soon after graduating from the Queensland College of Art in 1996, he started selling work. His photorealist drawing of men’s shoes, Secret Men’s Business (2000), an excerpt of an ad for Ferragamo, drew early attention. He started exhibiting at the small Smith + Stoneley Gallery in Brisbane, was taken up first by dealer Stephen Mori in Sydney, then by blue-chip Philip Bacon in Brisbane, then by Bacon protégée Sophie Gannon in Melbourne and finally by the hip Starkwhite in Auckland. He was on the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council from 2007 until 2011 and has undertaken a number of overseas residencies. A painting of his daughter wrapped in an Alexander McQueen scarf won the Doug Moran Portrait Prize and $150,000 in 2010. He won the Bulgari Art Award, given out by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and a further $80,000 in 2012. He regularly features as a panellist and guest speaker at Australia’s various art fairs. At the Melbourne Art Fair in 2014, he put on a performance in which he handed out chocolate gold coins embossed with his initials to the audience in honour of his 40th birthday in the company of two lookalike male models. He is the ambassador for a number of luxury goods brands, for example, Balenciaga, for which he does in-store promotions. He routinely appears on the front covers of local art magazines – last year, two at a time. A retrospective of his work, organised by the Rockhampton Art Gallery, The Prince, toured in 2013, showing amongst other places at QCA’s Dell Gallery. It is a flawless career, taking place seemingly without resistance. With both him and his work receiving almost immediate approval and recognition. It is not even in the end a matter of critical evaluation. The work appears to circumvent that. In a way, the unreflective narcissism of the artist and his objects is repeated in the relation of the artworld to the work. There is a kind of reflection of each in the other: Zavros loves himself because the audience loves him and the audience loves him because he loves himself. Self-reflection indifferently as mirror and mise en abyme. And so the work endlessly allegorises itself and its reception, ceaselessly taking it into account and reflecting it back at itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that critics have coined the term ‘post-critical’ to describe Zavros’ work, for it seems to account first of
all for the work’s own fate in the artworld. The destiny it originally proposed for itself has largely come to pass. There is the sense that critical judgement or evaluation, both of the world by the work and of the work by the world, is no longer relevant or even possible. The critic and the work of art are no longer antithetical or stand outside of each other, but are part of the same system: something like the PR the art produces for its subject matter replays or is replayed by that of the artworld for the art. Undoubtedly the most elaborate attempt to characterise this ‘postcritical’ in terms of Zavros’ work is that by Robert Leonard, in an article entitled ‘Michael Zavros: Charm Offensive’, published in Art & Australia.1 The article begins by speaking about how postmodernism, for all of its supposed opposition to modernism, is in fact a continuation of it. If opposed to the ideas of originality, art standing outside of society, formal innovation and difficulty, it merely replays them in a different form. It does so by ironising their opposites – unoriginality, mass culture, commerce and compromise – which ends up with the same result. It is just that post-modernism states its values negatively not positively. It does not put forward an actual alternative, but undermines what is. It does not directly contest the way things are, but rather insinuates a distance between things and themselves. This is the ‘criticality’ that currently dominates the artworld. In which curators are able to justify the most vaguely thought-through shows by arguing that they are somehow about some issue, with no requirement to say what either it or the work in it actually says about it. Just that it is about it is enough. For example, in the recent case of Melbourne artist Paul Yore up on an obscenity charge, the proof of the validity of the work, the fact that it was a work of art and not pornography, was that it was about something. From the ABC Arts coverage of the case: ‘Max Delany, a senior curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, who included Yore’s work in the NGV’s 2013 summer exhibition Melbourne Now, testified that Yore’s installation was a comment on the “commercialisation of teenage sexuality”’.2 And it enters the way artists speak about their work, where again there is no engagement not only with the pros and cons of the actual issue but even with the specifics of the artist’s execution in relation to it. All of this is BROADSHEET JOURNAL 45.2
evacuated in asserting that the work – indifferently, it seems, it could be a work of art or an academic essay – is about a topic, addresses it in some way. The post-critical is meant to break with this. Art is no longer about, we might say, but is. It would manifest the literalness of porn, as in Koons’ Made in Heaven (1999-2001), or a shark about to eat you, as in Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death (1991). And in Zavros too there is not any critical distance from the objects he depicts – handsome men, expensive cars, horses, designer objects, himself – but the work directly re-presents them. And instead of standing unlocatably behind the work, as in post-modernism, the artist is explicitly centre stage. He is not only the subject of the work, but subjectively expressed by it. He is directly to be identified with it. It is auto-biographical, we might say, not merely in the sense that it is expressive of some actual being and desire of the artist, but in the sense that it is calculated to bring about the things it represents. It is the strategic – but not in any second-guessing, calculating, back-door way – attempt to realise what he wants. As Leonard writes, drawing an implicit contrast between the neurosis of post-modernism and what we might call the psychosis of the post-critical: ‘As a proud pervert, Zavros knows exactly what he’s into: this type of sports car, this kind of horse, his own reflection’. Hence the extraordinary emphasis on the materiality of Zavros’ work: not so much as skill or technique – in fact, he copies from photos or computer composites, often evidently a little clumsily – but as the artist literally lying in every interstice of his work. In all of this, that is to say – and this is where the paradox or selfcontradiction of the post-critical begins to emerge – Zavros is seen as standing against the current requirement for art to be critical. He is antithetical in not being antithetical, radical in not being radical. As Zavros says in an interview: ‘Everyone wanted to be alternative [at art school], but they all looked the same’.3 Or, as Leonard states towards the end of his essay – and we cannot help but be sympathetic to the position he attempts to enunciate: one certainly does want to think an alternative to a by-now exhausted post-modernism and its regime of aboutness, of artists and critics seeking to justify their practices with reference to the topics they address, but without the necessity to say anything concrete about them – ‘For me, what is so sharp about Zavros’ work is how utterly, rigorously and deliberately uncritical it is. In its sheer affirmation, it calls for a different kind of reading’. There are, as we suggest, certain ambiguities and contradictions in this theorisation of the post-critical, but they perhaps only become apparent in the light of the work of another artist. Leonard published his essay on Zavros in Art & Australia in Spring 2011 and, as if in response, some three years later the journalist Susan Johnson published in the weekend colour supplement of Brisbane’s Courier-Mail an article entitled ‘C.J. Hendry Shows How Artists are Finding Fame and Riches by Using Social Media’.4 The subject of the article was the 26-year old Brisbane artist C.J. Hendry, who makes large, photorealist drawings on paper using a Uni Pin pen. Hendry, it is tempting to say, is even 36
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more ‘post-critical’ than Zavros, coming after him and considerably younger than him. If part of the meaning, almost the mystique, of Zavros is that he is not really to be judged, circumvents the usual mechanics of making an artworld reputation, in Hendry there is a total absence of anything like critical evaluation. If Zavros still went to art school, Hendry almost immediately dropped out of architecture and enrolled for a while in a business school, before deciding that art was a better way of realising her ambition. If Zavros has powerful art dealers, Hendry has a manager. If Zavros copies photographs, Hendry copies it seems Zavros. If Zavros manufactures an image and appears in fashion magazines and the social pages, Hendry is entirely, as Johnson’s article makes clear, a product of social media, bypassing the art system altogether and selling directly online. Indeed, as Johnson’s article reveals, if the rise of Zavros was meteoric, that of Hendry was almost instantaneous. Just months after setting out her plans for success with her manager (who, in many ways, must equally be considered the artist), she was selling her work for some $50,000, and has commissions lined up for the next several years. And Hendry’s plans, it seems, just get keep on getting bigger. As she outlines them to Johnson, in a manner akin to a product launch: ‘I knew the brand I wanted to build from the start. If I’m going to go into this, I’m going to play with the big boys’. In other words, she avoids the entire art-critical apparatus – admittedly, already understood by Zavros as merely reflective, part of the machinery of publicity and self-exposure – instead relying on her 100,000 Instagram followers’ ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ to tell her what is working and what is not. But it is here that a fascinating tension emerges. It is at this point that we come close to thinking the contradiction in – indeed, something like the impossibility of – the post-critical. For Johnson’s article goes on to record Zavros and his dealer Bacon’s displeasure at Hendry’s practice. It is evident, of course, that in many regards Hendry’s work is like Zavros’: highly rendered, photographically-derived images of consumer items and horses and even horses as consumer items. It is the same in a manner that Hendry has reluctantly (if self-flatteringly) to admit to: ‘Yeah, he does great work, but that is where the similarity ends. I mean, we both live in Brisbane, we both do photorealist work. I mean that is about as close as you are going to get’. It is something that Bacon, Zavros’ dealer, denounces beneath a thinly disguised politesse, with a warning (the worst an art dealer can apparently give) that buyers of Hendry’s work might not get their money back: ‘We did discuss and consider legal recourse, but we decided against it. Who knows? She might get an idea that’s new and fresh... Because Hendry’s works weren’t sold through a dealer, it will be hard to resell them for what was paid’. And it is something that Zavros himself says he does not want to discuss, while making his own opinion clear and letting others do the talking for him: ‘I see versions of my work everywhere, although the work is now unanchored from its authentic
Right: Beaziyt Worcou, Untitled, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
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origins’. But all of this raises the question of what exactly it is that Zavros and his agents are defending, and on what basis they think they are able to do so. For, after all, Zavros’ practice – until, we suggest, forced by the sudden appearance of Hendry – was often itself a straightforward copying of other images. And even his idea of reappropriating works of post-modern appropriation, if this is what we can understand him as doing, has been done before (Mike Bidlo, Michael Mandiberg). So what then is original about Zavros’ work? What is specific about his images so that they are not simply to be mistaken for what they are of ? That is to say, what means that when you copy them or at least the look of them you are still not copying them? What is that particular thing about Zavros’ images not captured by Hendry, beyond Bacon’s assertion that buying them online is not like buying them from a dealer? It is here that a fascinating ambiguity or prevarication or even stepping back from the ultimate consequences of his argument is to be seen in Leonard’s article. On the one hand, as we have seen, Leonard argues that Zavros is psychotic. He makes his work with no ulterior motive and no sense of the other. The work is complete in its self-love and self-involvement without any need for an audience. But, on the other hand, Leonard suggests that Zavros is neurotic, makes his art for the effect it has on others. Indeed, that he undertakes his actions, like all narcissists, only to attract the gaze of the other, because they would otherwise have no meaning for him. In other words, Zavros in this second reading does not undertake his actions in themselves, as in that first, but only for the effect they have on others. This must be Leonard’s point that Zavros’ lack of criticality upsets some in the artworld, makes them react negatively. And that this strategy is meant to be recognised by others (that is, Leonard himself) and would not exist outside of this recognition. It is what Leonard means by entitling his article ‘Charm Offensive’ and when he says there: ‘The neurotics are not only shocked by this shamelessness, sooner or later this also forces them to confront their own shame. Which is why Zavros – without being in the least bit critical – accidentally [this is the key word here: Leonard has to mean something like ironically] engenders a critique of criticality’. (It is the same vanity at stake when Zavros remarks that all the other students at QCA in their difference and non-conformity were the same and only he in his apparent conformity was different. For if he were actually conformist, he would not attempt to draw our attention to it in this way.) It is also what is at stake when Leonard speaks, very insightfully, of a ‘rigorous non-criticality’ being evidenced by the particular items Zavros chooses to fill up his paintings, which are selected exactly to provoke some critical response. For example, his painting of tiger and zebra skins with an Emily Kngwarreye stripe painting in Body Lines (2011), knowing full well the debates that go on concerning the trophy status of Aboriginal art for white collectors. To put this another way, the vacillation arises in Leonard’s article because, insofar as he recognises the phenomenon of ‘post-criticality’ 38
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at all, it cannot but appear as meant for him. That is, even though Leonard’s point is that Zavros is ‘shameless’, unaware of or even indifferent to being seen, in pointing this out he cannot but make it seem as though intended by Zavros. Its recognition by an audience (even if only of one) does appear to be the intended outcome of the work, that outside of which it would not take place at all. But it is also this remarking or recognition that becomes the difference of the work from itself, that which takes it out of the flatness of its literality, its apparent non-strategy. Now the artwork precisely only appears ‘flat’ and ‘non-strategical’, that is, it is ironic. This is the necessary contradiction if not of Zavros’ art at least the writing about it, in which we could no sooner speak about non-criticality than do away with it.5 But it must be admitted that criticism does seem most attracted to that which appears not to recognise it. The greatest challenge for a critic is to double what is, so that what was previously absent is now present, just as the greatest challenge for an artwork is to appear uninterested in its audience, when in truth it would not exist outside of it. We see this doubling in the relationship between Zavros and Leonard, for it is impossible to say there who comes first. Is it what Zavros does that allows Leonard to recognise it, or is it Leonard who thinks he can see something in Zavros that is not actually there? For, remember, the point Leonard is making is that, unlike post-modern irony, Zavros is doing something that is not meant to be recognised. He is dong no more than bringing about an image, and it is just this that is notable. It is a nothing that is able to be imitated by the critic and turned into something, but it is also only from the point of view of this something that this nothing is able retrospectively to be recognised. In the end, it is perhaps not so different from post-modern irony, for there too there is a necessary moment of non-irony, a matching up of the work and its spectator. Take, for example, Jean Baudrillard’s well-known analysis of the smile in ‘Pop: An Art of Consumption?’, in which he describes a certain alternation between irony and nonirony. As he writes of the smiles in such works as Warhol’s Marilyns: ‘With many the works provoke a smile of derision, and it is difficult to know whether this judges the object or the painting itself. A smile that readily turns accomplice: “This can’t be serious, but we are not going to be led astray, and perhaps after all?” More or less all contorted in the shameful desolation of not knowing which way to take it’.6 In other words, we could no sooner say that the work is smiling with us, that we are one of those who get it, than it would be shown that the work is smiling at us, that it is our response that is the real subject of the work. But, equally, we could no sooner say that the work is smiling at us and try to take this into account than it would be shown that there is no such distance between us and the work or that behind that first distance there is still another. Or this at least is what the example of Hendry allows us to see about Zavros’ work. For what we might observe with her is precisely that equivalence between the artist and the work and the work and itself that we say Zavros aims at. In this sense, she operates as something like the unconscious of Zavros, that place from where he is spoken.
We might even say that she is that ‘smile’ Zavros seeks to embody, interpret or otherwise occupy. But, of course, we must also say that she is that difference that allows the post-critical equivalence in Zavros, that irony that allows him to be equal to himself. In other words, as did actually happen, she represents the objective hypocrisy of Zavros, what he has to repress – non-art, non-consciousness, the reduction of art to its object or the price paid for it – in order for Zavros to make his post-critical argument within art. Or to put this another way, Zavros can only aspire to Hendry’s lack of irony, but he also fails to attain it, inevitably going either too far or not far enough. Zavros’ art is never truly post-critical, but merely critical of criticality. He is not less but in fact more ironic than post-modernism, not unironic but ironic about irony. And what of Hendry herself ? She, of course, does not exist outside of Zavros’ work, as a kind of fugitive, even illusory, possibility within it. She and her work perhaps do not even exist as such – her work is, to be frank, as close as possible to nothing artistically speaking – but only as the endless attempt to speak of it, what allows us to say that we always fall short of it or to accuse others of doing so. Again, she is not so much anything spoken of as that place from where we speak, that in the name of which we speak. Perhaps the post-critical was never anything more than our ability to remark upon a certain exhaustion of post-modern irony, which is also itself soon exhausted. Indeed, in a way, Hendry is nothing else than our ability to describe Zavros’ work as ‘post-critical’, which is no sooner said than it is contradicted, turned into its opposite. In other words, as took place in reality, Hendry is necessarily called up by the possibility of remarking both Zavros’ post-critical project (Leonard) and its failure (me). In the end, as both Zavros and Henry admit, it is all just business. Hendry simply makes another version of the same product, cheaper and more efficiently, in greater quantities that people want to buy. But, in fact, business is never just business. As Warhol taught us long ago with his Campbell’s Soup Cans (the logic of which Zavros repeats in his 2013 series of designer ties, Charmer), consumer difference is also aesthetic difference, which is also necessarily ironic distance. Read the latest theories of marketing, such as Donald R. Kirk’s ‘Franchise Dual Branding: The Irony of Association’ or Kirsten V. Brown’s ‘Rejecting Earnestness for Irony: Marketing-Savvy Millennials are Bringing New Passion to Agencies’, and one will see that the strongest brand differentiation today is made not simply in terms of the products’ respective use values or even their sign values but ironically, something no sooner asserted than withdrawn, put forward almost as a parody of such differentiation, so that hip consumers can flatter themselves that they can see or make the difference between them.7 That they are the insiders who can observe the distinction even when nobody else can.
This essay was originally delivered as the first of a series of lectures on the subject ‘Why Painting?’ to accompany the Matthys Gerber retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in September 2015. The author is grateful to Blair French for the invitation to deliver this lecture.
ENDNOTES 1 Robert Leonard, ‘Michael Zavros: Charm Offensive’, Art & Australia 49(1), Spring 2011: 100-109. All further references to Leonard are from this article. 2 ABC Arts, ‘Pornography Charges against Paul Yore Dismissed’, 7 October 2014 (http://www.abc.net.au/arts/blog/arts-desk/Artist-Paul-Yore-acquitted-ofpornography-charges-141001/default.htm). This is not to say anything against Delany here, who grasped in his rhetoric not only the aesthetic but also the legal requirement for the work of art today. 3 Sharne Wolff, ‘Everyone Wanted to be Alternative, But They All Looked the Same’, The Artlife, 12 November, 2013 (http://theartlife.com.au/2013/michaelzavros-everyone-wanted-to-be-alternative-but-they-all-looked-the-same/). 4 Susan Johnson, ‘C.J. Hendry Shows How Artists are Finding Fame and Riches by Using Social Media’, Courier-Mail, 15 September, 2014 (http://www.couriermail. com.au/news/queensland/cj-hendry-shows-how-artists-are-finding-fameand-riches-by-using-social-media/story-fnn8dlfs-1227058642864). All further references to Johnson are from this article. 5 Indeed, it is telling that, in a catalogue essay written for the Starkwhite gallery stand at Art Los Angeles in January 2016 after this paper was delivered, Leonard is able to suggest that Zavros has ‘a profound sense of irony’ (http://robertleonard. org/michael-zavros-daddys-girl/). 6 Jean Baudrillard, ‘Pop: An Art of Consumption?’, in The Jean Baudrillard Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 2008: 23. 7 Donald R. Kirk, ‘Franchise Dual Branding: The Irony of Association’, DePaul Business Journal 10 (1), Fall-Winter 1997:1-25; Kirsten V. Brown, ‘Rejecting Earnestness for Irony, Marketing-Savvy Millennials are Bringing New Passion to Agencies’, Adweek 53(30), September 3, 2012: 20-23.
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RECENT COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN PERIODICAL EXHIBITIONS AND PUBLICATIONS INCLUDING 2016 TARRAWARRA BIENNIAL: ENDLESS CIRCULATION1
n recent years we have seen a number of high-profile collaborations between periodical art publications and recurring exhibitions (i.e., biennales, triennales and quinquennials like documenta). In 2015, the online journal and advertising database, e-flux commenced a major email newsletter project titled ‘Supercommunity’ as part of Okwui Enwezor’s 56th Venice Biennale, All the World’s Futures.2 Also in 2015, DIS – the collective behind the popular online DIS Magazine – was appointed as the curatorium for the 2016 Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, which it titled The Present in Drag. And more recently, Athens-based arts journal, South as a State of Mind released its second special issue as the official journal of documenta 14, titled Learning from Athens, curated by Adam Szymczyk, and set to open in 2017. From a much more local vantage point and on a smaller scale, in August of this year, the 2016 TarraWarra Biennial – titled Endless Circulation and co-curated by the Museum’s director, Victoria Lynn and the Melbourne-based contemporary art journal, Discipline of which I am a co-editor – opened. Before it, the National Gallery of Victoria’s major 2013–14 exhibition Melbourne Now included an installation of articles and artworks featured in previous issues of the local un Magazine within its sprawling installation, and earlier in 2016, the 20th Biennale of Sydney: The Future is Already Here It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed, curated by Stephanie Rosenthal, included the open-ended ‘Bureau of Writing’ program, in which a select group of participants produced writing, attended workshops, and delivered lectures throughout the show. This trend has origins in Conceptual art projects of the 1960s and ’70s, where artists collapsed the site of the exhibition into the site of the publication in projects like Dan Graham’s Homes for America of 1966 published on the pages of Arts Magazine. By 1969, Seth Siegelaub was able to pronounce: ‘The catalogue can now act as the primary information for the exhibition, as opposed to secondary information about art in magazines, catalogues, etc. and in some cases the “exhibition” can be the “catalogue.”’3 Through projects like Homes for America, Graham, along with other Conceptualists, forced the question: what happens when an
article becomes an artwork, and a magazine becomes an exhibition? What are the effects of collapsing an exhibition, which presents or makes public an artwork, and an art magazine or journal, which – at least traditionally – functions to interpret or historicise artworks, artists, curators and exhibitions? For commentators like Benjamin Buchloh, the answer lay somewhere in the vicinity of a tautological exercise in self-definition, an exercise that, via its ‘aesthetic of administration,’ participated in the logic of capitalism – even when (in the cases of Piero Manzoni or Yves Klein, for instance) the artworks in question intended to operate as a critique of capitalism.4 This complex heritage plays out in the aforementioned recent collaborations between critical periodical publications and recursive exhibitions. Here, artists, writers and curators engage in bifocal analyses - at once introspective and outward facing, critical and self-critical. These vantage points loop endlessly, as if locked in the groove of a Möbius strip, whose surface is a continuous, circular belt that is both an inside and an outside.5 Indeed the Möbius strip is complete surface. Notably, Szymczyck’s documenta 14 will take place in two locations: Kassel and Athens, where it will be both a host and a guest. To more readily communicate its extensive research, documenta 14’s curatorial team has partnered with local Athens journal, South as a State of Mind (henceforth South) edited by Marina Fokidis, with the journal acting as a textual platform for the exhibition. Though it remains to be seen how the journal may or may not permeate the documenta 14 exhibitions themselves, over four issues in the lead up to the opening in mid-2017, documenta 14’s editor-in-chief, Quinn Latimer and its artistic director, Szymczyk, will reorient South’s typical focus on critically dissecting attitudes related to ‘south’ or ‘southernness’ towards the not-unrelated concerns of the exhibition. To this end, issue 2 considered masks and silence as forms of political resistance that sidestep the ‘pitfalls of representation,’ whereas issue 1 engaged the themes of ‘possession and dispossession, displacement and debt.’
Left: 3-ply x Centre with Joseph Geagan, HEROES - Fanfiction - Publication [excerpt] - Joseph Geagan. Image courtesy of the artist.
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The questions as to whom a globalised economy and austerity measures fail – and what modes of resistance survive to protest the hegemonic economic world order – will be key to Szymczyk’s exhibition. But Greece’s precarious economy, and its attendant precarious relationship with the European Union, is also the geopolitical condition for one half of the exhibition – one that is directly impacted and implicated in the staging of the exhibition. Szymczyk’s gesture of ‘bi-locating’ documenta 14 in both Kassel and Athens opens up the possibility for localised economic renewal in Athens through the prism of international tourism—one that harks back to the founding of documenta itself in 1955 by local Kassel artist and curator, Arnold Bode. As is well known, documenta 14 was established in Kassel with a view to restoring post-war German cultural life, as well as reviving the city after heavy World War II bombing and ground fighting destroyed almost all of its downtown area, killed over ten thousand people, and injured over one hundred thousand more. Back to Greece: Aegean Airlines recently declared its official sponsorship of documenta 14, announcing direct flights between Athens and Kassel for the duration of the show.6 Pamela Lee describes this type of scenario all throughout her 2012 book Forgetting the Artworld, arguing that the work of art (by which she means the many forms of labour associated with the industry of art, not the singular artwork) is ‘both object and agent of globalisation.’7 e-flux’s Supercommunity project performed a similar role to South’s within Enwezor’s Venice Biennale, regularly emailing a curated program of essays out to e-flux’s vast subscriber base. As well, e-flux established a discursive space within the Italian pavilion in the Giardini – functioning as if an invited artist of the Biennale. e-flux’s continuously unfolding editorial throughout the show complemented Enwezor’s broader curatorial vision, which set out to chart the political agency of art along the axes of labour and inequality, globalisation, conflict and resistance. The first Supercommunity missive, dated 6 May 2015, was an editorial written by e-flux editors, Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle with Brian Kuan Wood, which introduced the focus and the form of Supercommunity in memorable terms that are worth quoting here at some length: Having no body and no name is a small price to pay for being wild, for being free to move across (some) countries, (some) political boundaries, (some) historical ideologies, and (some) economies. I am the supercommunity, and you are only starting to recognise me. I grew out of something that used to be humanity. Some have compared me to angry crowds in public squares; others compare me to wind and atmosphere, or to software. Some say they have seen me moving through jet-lagged curators, or migrant laborers, or a lost cargo ship that left a trail of rubber ducks that will wash up on the shores of the planet over the next 200 years. I convert care to cruelty, and cruelty back to care. I convert political desires to economic flows and data, and then I convert them back again. I convert revolutions to revelations. I don’t want security, I want to leave, and then disperse myself everywhere and all the time.8
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In this and many subsequent email-outs, Supercommunity describes the almost ineffable contours of neoliberal capitalism and how it inheres within, underwrites and extends the reach of the contemporary artworld. This complex and multi-authored analysis of neoliberalism, late capitalism and contemporary art performed by Supercommunity was in equal parts outwards looking and introspective. Even as it performed its critique of contemporary labour and globalisation paradigms, it attempted to unpick its own complicity as a handmaiden, to borrow one of Charles Green and Anthony Gardner’s possible definitions of contemporary biennale culture, to ‘the spread of transnational capital and imperialist politics associated with globalized neoliberalism.’9 As Supercommunity put it, itself: ‘I have a lot of work to do for the Biennale. I have a lot of work invested in the Biennale.’10 Likewise, DIS is a highly reflexive critical project that examines the contemporary artworld’s proximity to corporate finance, tourism, imploitative labour, and globalisation more broadly. In suitably circuitous fashion, it has, at times, manifested as a high-end shop that performs a critique of consumer culture,11 or an online image archive that critiques the oversaturated i-conomy of the Internet at others.12 Detractors have lamented that DIS appears to be self-referential to the point of navel-gazing. (Anna Uddenberg’s 2016 Journey of Self Discovery, part of her sculptural installation for the 2016 Berlin Biennale, has become a metonym for criticism of DIS’s Biennale. The work is a figurative sculpture of a lithe, able-bodied, long-haired, designer sportswear-clad woman contorted upon a cushioned seat, using a selfiestick and smartphone to photograph – perhaps Instagram – her own arse.)13 But, of course, DIS has also been instrumental in subjecting the acute machinations of twenty-first-century narcissism to scrutiny; a major part of its project has entailed dissecting the contemporary obsessions with ‘wellness’ and self-imagining. (Though, as my colleague pointed out, the subjection of narcissism to scrutiny is perhaps ‘doubly narcissistic – some kind of folding, recursive narcissism…’.)14 The term ‘accelerationist,’ which describes the deliberate hyperactive use/abuse of the capitalist system to more quickly bring about its exhaustion or collapse, is often associated with the collective. Accelerationism departs from the position that there exists no viable oppositional system to capitalism, therefore the path out of capitalism is through capitalism – not revolution, i.e., communism. (‘#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO’ authors, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek write: ‘The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed, but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism.’)15 DIS rearticulated this strategy in its curatorial statement for the Biennale, writing: ‘Our proposition is simple: Instead of holding talks on anxiety, let’s make people anxious. Rather than organizing symposia on privacy, let’s jeopardize it.’ Their rationale: to ‘give a body to the problems of the present where they occur so as to make them a matter of agency – not spectatorship.’16
Discipline’s collaboration with TarraWarra Museum of Art and its director, Victoria Lynn for TarraWarra Biennial 2016: Endless Circulation takes the pulse of these rhythms – of endless, 24/7 work-consumption cycles, of the notion that ‘capital must circulate or die,’17 of critique winding evermore tightly around self-critique and vice versa, in a doublehelix or Möbius strip-like formation. In the Biennial, Sarah crowEST perpetually re- or up-cycles older works and scraps of materials kept in her studio in a process that reveals a continuum between work, life and art. Ryan Presley mints an Aboriginal Australian monetary currency and enters it into circulation, thereby spreading the portraits and stories of celebrated Aboriginal activists and resistance fighters (such as Vincent Lingiari, Gladys Tybingoompa, Pemulwuy, Jandamarra) in lieu of Queen Elizabeth II. Masato Takasaka incorporates an exhibition model of TarraWarra Museum of Art into his installation, and Christopher LG Hill stages an ‘artist-facilitated biennial’ within the Biennial. The exhibition derives its themes through self-reference to the structuring principles of the journal and biennial that co-curated it: those of being an edition, iterative, and punctuated by pause. Vincent Namatjira presents a new serial painting project: portraits of every Australian Prime Minister who has held office since his birth. Susan Cohn presents a carpet made of shredded daily newspapers – remnants of news reports on refugees seeking asylum in Australia. 3-Ply and Centre for Style start a fashion magazine, titled Heroes. Other artworks radiate outwards from the exhibition, dispersing through circulatory systems. Debris Facility places soap containing activated charcoal particles in the TarraWarra bathrooms; thus the Facility’s artwork exits the building through its drains and pipes. Brian Fuata stages email performances to selected members of his address book. Endless Circulation looks both outwards and inwards, it moves in both centripetal and centrifugal directions, with many artworks bringing both their past and their future into purview. This biennial-journal collaboration facilitates such a Janus-like, split vision precisely because it recognises its necessity – for navigating the neoliberal, deregulated capitalist systems mapping themselves evermore thoroughly across the face of the Earth (as well as inhabiting our bodies and mentalities), and understanding art’s very particular place within them.
ENDNOTES 1 This essay is based on a paper I delivered on the panel ‘Publication as Curatorial Form’ organised by Fayen d’Evie/3-Ply at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne on 1 May 2016, for the 2016 Melbourne Art Book Fair’s public programs. 2 Over the duration of the Biennale, subscribers to e-flux received essays by Supercommunity contributors like Raqs Media Collective, W.A.G.E., Nina Power, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Antonio Negri, Jonas Staal, Jan-Luc Nancy, and many more. These are archived at: Supercommunity, http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/, accessed 28 July 2016. 3 ‘The catalogue can now act as the primary information for the exhibition, as opposed to secondary information about art in magazines, catalogues etc. and in some cases the “exhibition” can be the “catalogue.”’ Seth Siegelaub, ‘On exhibitions and the world at large,’ interview with Charles Harrison, Studio International, Dec.1969. 4 Benjamin HD Buchloh, ‘Conceptual Art 1962-1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions,’ October, no. 102, Winter 1990:105143. 5 Thanks to Briony Galligan, who is undertaking research on the form of the Möbius strip at Monash University, Art Design and Architecture. 6 ‘Aegean Airlines Sponsors Documenta 14 and Announces Direct Flights between Athens and Kassel,’ 11 March 2016, Artforum, http://artforum.com/news/id=58762 http://artforum.com/news/id=58762, accessed 28 July 2016. 7 Pamela Lee, Forgetting the Artworld, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012. 8 Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood & Anton Vidokle, ‘Supercommunity (Editorial), Supercommunity, 6 May 2015, http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/texts/ supercommunity/, accessed 28 July 2016. 9 Charles Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennales, triennales and documenta: The exhibitions that created contemporary art, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2016: 1. 10 Aranda et al., op. cit. 11 In March–April 2014, DIS presented the exhibition DISown – Not for everyone, an art exhibition disguised as retail store (or a retail store disguised as an exhibition) in the Red Bull Studios in New York. DISown continues now as an online shop that is frequently updated with new items for sale made by contemporary artists and designers. 12 In 2013, DIS established DISimages, a stock photography agency that enlists artists to produce images available for private and commercial use. 13 Jason Farago, ‘Welcome to the LOLhouse: how Berlin’s Biennale became a slick, sarcastic joke,’ The Guardian, 13 June 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/ artanddesign/2016/jun/13/berlin-biennale-exhibition-review-new-york-fashioncollective-dis-art, accessed 28 July 2016. 14 David Wlazlo, email to the author, 31 July 2016. 15 Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, ‘#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics,’ Critical Legal Thinking: Law & the Political, 14 May 2013, http:// criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationistpolitics/, accessed 29 July 2016. 16 DIS, ‘The Present in Drag,’ in The Present in Drag: 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Berlin: KW Institute of Contemporary Art, 2016: 57. 17 David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014: 73, as referenced by Nicholas Mangan in his recent exhibition and publication, Nicholas Mangan: Limits to Growth, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, KW Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin, and Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2016.
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philosophical investigation as studio practice
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I’m trying to get at whether an art practice is the control of objects, or whether objects might have their own ‘being’ that we just listen to. Stan Mahoney 1 Artists have long explored philosophical issues using artistic processes, stimulating our awareness of objects and materials and their form and location in space, to precipitate a heightened understanding of our relationship with them and thus of ourselves. This article examines a sample of work by artists who consider significant cultural and philosophical questions through the selection, use and display of objects and materials and the examination of materiality itself. Sue Kneebone researches and rewrites personal, cultural and political history using combinations of found objects, such as animal bones, domestic goods including antiques, cloth and crockery, and photography. Some of her installations resemble museum displays, but recontextualised and often modified, the artefacts are repurposed to carry alternative symbolic significance. Her contribution to Border Crossings (2016), which investigates Anglo-Irish colonisation and settlement in Australia, is also a personal archive and family history.2 Spell dust and moral ruins (2015) evocatively considers the form and character of nineteenth-century asylums, making pointed references to contemporary moral positions on incarceration and mental illness.3 By interrogating the accepted meaning of found objects, Kneebone reconsiders social and political history and policy and raises questions about the way in which we understand and appreciate historical objects. Julia Robinson considers the idea of mythology and its function in society and addresses human spirituality. Her work evokes mythical beings, legends and rituals celebrating procreation, life and death, as for example in her fascinating solo exhibition One to Rot and One to Grow (2015).4 In her imaginary world, sheep and goats, which are typically domesticated and commodified by humans, stand in for humankind and represent primal urges, implying that we are no different from the animals we dominate. Her use of wool harvested from sheep attests to our dependence on them. Rutting Creature 1 and Rutting Creature 2 depict two animals copulating, (except that the animals are) partly covered by an elaborate curtain, beneath which they appear headless and thus mindless. These sensuous and beautifully made works resemble high quality interior furnishings and, by symbolising the domestication of carnality in modern life, they speak of our attempt to limit the power of our biological drives over our rational minds. Robinson’s concern with resurrection captures our desire for redemption and renewal.
Left: CACSA Contemporary 2015, Anna Horne, (installation view) GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide. Photo: Sam Roberts. Image courtesy of the artist. BROADSHEET BROADSHEETJOURNAL JOURNAL45.2 45.1
By contrast, in his series Endless Golem (2015),5 Ben Leslie combines prefabricated steel, bronze castings and sawn timber into striking works that have a totemic character, representing spiritual beings — the golem of Jewish folklore that is magically summoned from the earth. The work’s title is a play on Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column sculptures (c.1918) which epitomise high modernism, and Leslie thus identifies our modernist predisposition to iconise high art in a secular world. Leslie’s works reference manufactured objects and building, but in a rough and unfinished way, suggesting landfill brought to life in the image of humankind. Despite its rugged appearance, his work induces a feeling of impermanence, as we too are fashioned from the earth and will return to it. In describing these sculptures as golems, Leslie satirically positions himself (the artist) as their divine creator and viewers as acolytes. The weight, texture and presence of these dramatic forms are confronting, but they are mute aside from the symbolism that we choose to project onto them. They refer to the reductive, possibly futile search for ultimate spiritual truth about the origin and nature of the world.
By casting cement to resemble other, softer forms, she challenges the idea of softness, while the use of faux domestic building materials, such as wood veneer, alludes to the faux, contrived nature of domesticity. Anna Horne’s assemblages of materials emphasise weight, texture, and the use of space; she connects, for example, weighty objects to the ceiling and wall via rope, as though the objects are anchors for a building that might float away. Horne’s exhibition Lightweight Heavy (2015)6 considers the concept of weight in the sense both of physicality and significance, as does her contribution to CACSA Contemporary 2015.7 Perceptions of solidity, depth, gravity, the internal structure of materials and the nature of matter are commonly addressed. By casting cement to resemble other, softer forms, she challenges the idea of softness, while the use of faux domestic building materials, such as wood veneer, alludes to the faux, contrived nature of domesticity. As demonstrated in her work for the Grid Festival (2013), objects may also create optical illusions.8
From Materials to the Immaterial: Dug and Digging With There arises the question of whether materials exist separately from our awareness or are artefacts of our perception (phenomena), an issue addressed in Dug and Digging With (2016), curated by Katie Barber and Stan Mahoney, and involving seven Adelaide-based artists: Matthew Bradley, Matea Gluscevic, Ray Harris, Matt Huppatz, Julia McInerney, Riley O’Keeffe and Tom Squires.9 Undertaken through the Australian Experimental Art Foundation’s Curatorial Collaborators program, this project was partly inspired by Tom Squires’ text, Replacement of the Model,10
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in which he attempts to identify what he calls ‘the constant thread of art’, an essential characteristic of an object that might unequivocally identify it as art. Citing Aleksandr Rodchenko’s triptych Pure red colour, pure yellow colour, pure blue colour (1921) as the reduction of art to its logical end-point, Squires uses as his investigative model a conceptual work which is in fact a void, nothingness – the ultimate dematerialisation of the art object.11 He refers to Robert Ryman’s view that art lies in the process of producing the work, rather than in the resultant work.12 Dug and Digging With is similarly driven by this view of art as process. One of Squires’ works for Dug and Digging With is The Malady of Death – a blue neon loop resembling a zero lying on the gallery floor adjacent to a bicycle pedal mated to the handle of an unplugged electric hairdressing appliance – a suggestive but useless combination of found (discarded) objects that creates a conceptual polarity paired with the luminous zero. While the numeral zero can represent nothing, it is itself something, and while an artwork comprising nothing can be conceived, it cannot be isolated. Julia McInerney’s contribution extends her long-standing consideration and poetic use of materials. For her (Op. 48) Nocturne no. 1 in C Minor (spectacle frames ground to dust and applied to a wall), she has painted a gallery wall with a thin colloid of fine metal powder mixed with water. The effect is to darken the wall slightly and highlight imperfections in its surface, but the idea of reducing metal to particles represents a search for the atomic, the irreducible, at which point it resembles cosmic dust, the origin of all substance in the universe. This work’s title references music (the wistful Chopin), which is immaterial and also absent from the work, and it also suggests the challenge to vision implied by the presumed annihilation of the spectacles. In fact, the metal powder was commercially sourced, so that the painting deliberately opposes the symbolically loaded concept of spectacle frames ground into dust to the prosaic reality of manufactured metal powder. In McInerney’s second work, Madness of the Day, two large glass plates rest on their sides at right-angles – appearing to prop each other up – from which is suspended a pair of broken sunglasses, which she found and had chrome-plated; that is, also painted with metal. Missing a lens, the chrome-plated sunglasses thus imply a monocular view. The glass plates, which create a nearly invisible barrier in the gallery, might be interpreted as new lenses. McInerney’s work speaks generally of the failure to see reality. Matt Huppatz’s Smoke & Mirrors comprises two large glass boxes on pedestals, one with a mirror finish reflecting everything in the gallery (including the viewer’s gaze), and the other of clear glass. A thin metal tube, through which incense smoke is pumped, gradually reducing visibility and staining the glass, connects the two. Matea Gluscevic’s DEVELOPMENT is a confronting piece of plumbing fabricated from cardboard and smothered in what looks like dark green camouflage,
inside which are fan-driven chimes that emit a gentle tinkling sound. The floor next to it bears a large brush stroke-like smear of pink sand. The enigma of a gas pipe emitting sound is made poignant by the inclusion of a chime, which has sentimental value for the artist. Gluscevic also exhibits APT, a bottle of urine draped with a cloth from which two silicone eyes survey the viewer — a self, reduced to a bodily fluid capable of vision.
probing investigation of the phenomenology and ontology of art. That year-long developmental process, which is the crucial element of the exhibition, is recorded by Stan Mahoney in a witty and revealing essay that is the exhibition’s exegesis. The essay appends a transcription of a conversation between Mahoney and O’Keeffe, which captures the essence of the project’s agenda, and O’Keeffe’s summation reflects on art practice generally:
Matthew Bradley’s Palomar (named after the astronomical observatory at Mt Palomar) features two wall-mounted gas cylinders, balanced on top of which are chunks of what appear to be Adelaide Hills’ quartz. In fact, while some of the beautiful, pale pink quartz is genuine, other chunks are made of polyurethane resin, which Bradley has cast from moulds of quartz crystals. The facsimile is almost indistinguishable from real quartz. Like Huppatz’s and Gluscevic’s work, Bradley’s fake crystals prompt us to question the authenticity and value of everything we see and understand.
But in fact there isn’t necessarily a causal relationship between perception and reality – our perception is a function of ‘fitness’ rather than accuracy. We don’t need to know the truth, we only need to survive by way of a crude interface. And that interface doesn’t have to be even slightly accurate. It just has to have a functional relationship. So potentially reality is radically different, completely aside from what we think is around us.15
At the exhibition opening, Ray Harris gave a performance, Momentary Release, in which she released thirteen helium balloons – twelve black and one pink to match her black outfit and pink hair – from a large black bag and then enclosed herself within the bag, implicitly equating herself with the appearance, volume and weightlessness of the balloons. Harris’s articulate and engaging work addresses the construction of the self through interaction with the world and the fragility of the resulting ego. The dissolution of the self as a life strategy is an abiding theme throughout Dug and Digging With. McInerney is quoted as saying; ‘An artist is partially empty... enough so as to receive in abundance, but there enough to sense that which is being received.’13 In Riley O’Keeffe characteristic sound work, The Last Report from an Unidentified Space Station, the sound issued by three microphoned fans is amplified to become a deep polyphonic drone, which permeates the gallery, altering our perception of the sound and reinventing them as musical instruments. Positioned in the middle of the gallery floor, O’Keefe’s Hypothetical Bibliography for a Hypothetical Project is a carton containing the project’s reference texts – books with titles such as The Absurd Universe, The Ontology of the Object, How Real is Reality? and Quantum Physics and God. His photographs of planes flying overhead, reproduced in the Dug and Digging With essay, are slotted almost out of sight between the books.
In their individual ways, the artists discussed in this article all illuminate this ‘crude interface’.
ENDNOTES 1 Stan Mahoney, Dug and Digging With, exh. cat., Adelaide: Format Press, 2016:4. 2 Border Crossings, South Australian School of Art Gallery, Adelaide and Galway Arts Centre, Ireland, 2016. 3 Spell dust and moral ruins, Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery, part of CACSA Contemporary 2015. 4 One to Rot and One to Grow, solo exhibition, CACSA Contemporary 2015. 5 Endless Golem, West Space, 2015, elements of which were included in CACSA Contemporary 2015. 6 Lightweight Heavy, Fontanelle Gallery, 2015. 7 Anna Horne’s contribution to CACSA Contemporary was shown at Greenaway Art Gallery, 2015. 8 Anna Horne’s contribution to Grid Festival, Fontanelle Gallery, 2013. 9 Dug and Digging With, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, July 22–August 27, 2016. 10 Tom Squires, Replacement of the Model, unpublished Master of Visual Arts thesis, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 2015. 11 ibid: 8. 12 ibid: 35. 13 Julia McInerney, quoted in Mahoney, Dug and Digging With, op. cit: 37. 14 Katie Barber, foreword to Mahoney, Dug and Digging With, ibid:14. 15 Riley O’Keeffe, quoted in Mahoney, Dug and Digging With, ibid: 91.
Acknowledging the intention of AEAF’s co-founder Donald Brook for the EAF (as it was then known) as a place of experiment, the curators set themselves and the artists the challenge of interrogating ‘the big issues’ including the idea of Being and the self. Katie Barber states; ‘... These artists were selected for their desire and their ability to talk about the mysteriousness of Art and Being – they are not always easy topics...’14 They debated these issues in group discussion for a year, while the artists developed their work independently, resulting in a
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BITING THE CLOUDS
…[S]ystematically and with due Parliamentary legislation, they proceeded to eliminate all the things that made this man unique and that gave him the strength they so feared… and, in one blow smashed forever, the system of his clan … thus they reduced him to an unwanted homeless oddity, and finally forced him in his hundreds of thousands to leave the land of his birth …1 The English were already well practised in their colonial task when they began the invasion of Australia in 1788. In 1746, the English Crown had begun a century-long campaign enacting increasingly repressive laws against the Scottish Highland clans. There, as in Australia, it involved clearing the country of people, who were carrying on a traditional independent life, for the more profitable running of sheep for a few; in both cases causing many thousands of deaths and the near obliteration of a society and culture. Fiona Foley’s work Pontificate on this in the exhibition Kurlkayima Ngatha – Remember Me at FORM in Perth, links the colonisation of her home state of Queensland with that of Western Australia and with two Chinese phrases – ‘biting the clouds’ and ‘death by a thousand cuts’. The former refers to the practice of opium smoking, the latter to a method of slow painful execution, which opium both ameliorated and prolonged. Britain fought to solve an unfavourable trade balance with China by trafficking opium in two nineteenth-century wars. Their success meant that millions of Chinese became addicted to the drug. The first Opium War ended in 1842, the year Western Australia was established as a British colony. Likewise, in Australia, opium (and alcohol) were given to Aboriginal workers in lieu of wages (or food) to trap them into addiction and slave labour, disrupting their society in a perverted form of ‘carrot and stick’, working subtly, silently, outside the public notice that outright killing might attract.
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For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night.2 ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ is a Chinese saying and a practice of execution up to the end of the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in the twentieth century. Often the prisoners would be given opium to deaden the pain, but also to keep them alive till the end to fulfil the gruesome spectacle. A number of varied cuts were made by different people on the body of a restrained condemned person until death occurred with a final, often small, cut. Everybody is responsible but in the end nobody is responsible. Two key acts of Parliament in the Australian colonial story of death by a thousand cuts were passed in an attempt to break up Aboriginal society – they are the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897 in Queensland and the Aborigines Act of 1905 (Western Australia). Queensland drafted its Act from recommendations made by W. E. Roth and Archibald Meston, respectively North and South Queensland Protector of Aborigines. Despite Queensland including opium – with its already sensationally racialised associations – in the Act’s title, Meston actually found that alcohol was the most destructive drug in Aboriginal communities. (He conducted some of his research on K’gari/Fraser Island where Badtjala artist Foley’s ancestors lived.) Roth’s report to the WA Government on the conditions of Aboriginal people in that colony helped structure that state’s Act. One cannot overstate the restrictive and repressive nature of the clauses in both Acts. They legally defined who was an Aborigine, and authorised movement and containment in designated reserves (on land not wanted by British colonists) to allow the exploitation of fairer lands.
Effectively they moved Aboriginals off the land as a final colonial act. Paternalistic ‘protective’ clauses about work, payment and care were also set out but rarely enforced, and the Protectors had complete and arbitrary final say. Aboriginal society persisted however in other forms, both off and on the reserves, and worked out differing strategies of resistance. In 1946, 41 years after the WA Act was enacted, more than 800 Aboriginal workers – both stockmen and female domestics – took part in the Pilbara strike for recognition, human rights, fair wages and reasonable working conditions. The strike lasted three years and many participants were jailed for their ‘crime’. People may seem to disappear from a place but can leave powerful traces of their lives in simple things. On a trip through the Pilbara, Foley noticed emblematic discarded objects that linked the region to her own country on the other side of the continent. At Roebourne Old Gaol she noticed prisoners’ clay ‘eagles claw’ tobacco smoking pipes, and later had 66 cast in aluminium by the Urban Art Projects foundry based in China using a new eagle’s claw pipe from New Zealand as the model. These she’s used to embody the
Above: Fiona Foley, IOU and Pontificate on This, 2015, installation view for Kurlkayima Ngatha - Remember Me, 2016. Photograph Bewley Shaylor. Courtesy of the artist and FORM, Perth WA.
66 clauses of the 1905 WA Aborigine Act (just one ‘6’ short of the Biblical ‘mark of the beast’ and exactly twice as many as the 33 clauses of the Queensland Act). The smoking pipe in white western society is tied to the persona of an elder, a deep thinker, an intellectual – think Sherlock Holmes or the anthropologist Professor Ronald Berndt; think of white males smoking a pipe of tobacco, while pondering how to solve the ‘Aboriginal problem’. In the lead up to and during World War II, Australian authorities completely erroneously suspected that all Aboriginals would assist any Japanese invasion, and comically, that they would send information through ‘smoke signals’ from their fires. In the Pilbara, Foley learnt that the fine ash of the dense West Australian snakewood (Acacia xiphophylla) could be mixed with tobacco or pitjuri (a native tobacco) to enhance flavour, or for medicinal purposes when chewed. This practice references another involving the residual ash left in the bowl of a smoked opium pipe with enough of the active ingredients for considerable narcotic effect. Aboriginal people addicted to opium would mix this ash with water and communally share the drink.
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On a Pilbara cattle station Foley found a metal ring, a metal rod curved in the shape of a ’U’– both bringing to mind tethering and tying up animals or human prisoners – and a straight metal rod completing the familiar acknowledgement of debt – the colonial IOU. Aboriginal life could be described as a song and a singer is a most important being in Aboriginal society. Singers not only connect the people together in action, but to the articulated land and spiritual cosmos. Three pairs of boomerangs represent the singing land of the three language groups Foley met in the Pilbara, the Ngarluma, the Nyiyaparli, and the Banyjima. There are around 1,500 species of native bee in Australia and approximately 800 species occur in Western Australia, of which around ten are stingless.
The Pilbara is a region of immense mineral wealth and one of the highest money making districts in Australia. Huge profits are made here, some of which now go to traditional land owners. But what type of society comes out of these big injections of money and vicious power struggles? What have I become? My sweetest friend Everyone I know Goes away in the end You could have it all My empire of dirt I will let you down
Foley learnt of the song of the honeybee spirit, who travelled across the land and a recording of this is in the exhibition along with portions of honey, ash, and areas of wall in ochres from the Pilbara. The name Pilbara (or bilybara) is said to mean dry in Pilbara languages – a curiously negative description for an Aboriginal person to make I thought, given that the area is now recognised as having among the widest biodiversity in the world. Another meaning for pilbara is the flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) and by extension Pilbara Creek, a tributary of the ephemeral Yule River, which discharges into the Indian Ocean. The Pilbara Creek lent its name to the Pilbara Goldfield of 1885, which then became the regional name.
People may seem to disappear from a place but can leave powerful traces of their lives in simple things. Aboriginal names relate to the land spatially, or to species of plant, fish or fowl or climatic force and to human beings as a manifestation of God. To name a person or a place is a powerful, serious action. In the 1960s the Dampier Archipelago in far north Pilbara returned to its Aboriginal name, Murujuga, but came to be known by the dominant culture as Burrup Peninsula from Mount Burrup after Henry Wood Burrup, a local 1885 non-Aboriginal victim of an unsolved murder. The Burrup Peninsula contains over one million religious rock art sites, like ‘bits’ in a computer hard drive, many of which pre-date the last ice age thirty thousand years ago. In 2015 it was deregistered as a sacred site and the definition of ‘sacred’ is now being recontested in law through new guidelines to section 5(b) of the state’s weak Aboriginal Heritage Act.
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I will make you hurt. ‘Hurt’ Trent Reznor, 1994 Early in her career, Foley spent considerable time roaming the shores, sandhills and rainforests of K’gari. Michael Riley’s 1988 documentary Boomalli: Five Koorie Artists recorded her wandering the island’s beaches seemingly searching or auditing. Each bit of flotsam and jetsam found, she would later re-image on paper, mapping the physical and social memory of her homeland in distance, charting in topography, naming in taxonomy, in weather, and emotion. This exhibition shows her searching still.
Kurlkayima Ngatha – Remember Me, FORM Gallery, Perth, WA, 22 February–31 May 2016.
ENDNOTES 1 These are the final words spoken in the 1964 film Culloden, directed by Peter Watkins and written by John Prebble. The film chronicles the British army’s defeat of the Scottish clans at the 1746 Battle of Culloden. 2 From Robert F. Kennedy’s speech on violence at the Cleveland City Club following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 5, 1968.
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acsa.sa.edu.au image | Installation view of work by Sue Kneebone at the Art Gallery of South Australia, August 2016. Photograph by James Edwards
MONASH UNIVERSITY MUSEUM OF ART PRESENTS IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE MELBOURNE FESTIVAL
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Gerard Byrne Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli (Film inside an image) 2015-16 (still) Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London
Published on Sep 13, 2016
Published on Sep 13, 2016
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