Entries Tagged 'CONTRIBUTORS' ↓

Australia at the Royal Academy

Iconophilia is pleased to post the text of Ian McLean’s talk given at the Royal Academy symposium on November 1st, 2013.

‘Anxious identities: Reinventing Australia in a changing world’

A child of the Enlightenment, the conception of Australia was inadvertently set in train by the Royal Society 245 years ago, coincidentally the same year that the Royal Academy was established. I say inadvertently because the Royal Society had its eyes on Venus, not Australia. An afterthought of Cook’s secret mission to explore the South Pacific after the transit of Venus, Australia was unintended and unloved from the beginning. Be that as it may, the result was its birth as an idea and eventually a nation.

Beginning with these thoughts is my way of acknowledging this venerable institution, the appropriateness of the exhibition ‘Australia’ being here, as well as a mentor, Bernard Smith. He believed Australian art began under the sign of the Royal Society not the Royal Academy, by which he meant it was about nature and science, not neo-classicism and fine art. I think he put too much weight on this difference. For me they were essentially the same institution: each an arm of the Crown and Empire. Nineteenth-century Australian art is a happy alliance of neo-classicism, naturalism and science, and so has a natural home here, in Burlington House, which the Royal Society and Royal Academy shared for 100 years. Half the art in this exhibition, the first half, really belongs to it. It is the art of Empire, not Australia, which conveniently narrows my topic to the other half of the exhibition. Continue reading →

The Origin of the Dot in Art History

Nobody owns the Dot. Whether by Damien Hirst, by Indigenous Australians, by their PoMo Appropriationists, or as far back as the Pointillists, the Dot has a serious Art History. Here the eminent art historian John E. Bowlt introduces us to its roots in the revolutionary moments of Soviet Constructivism. Or perhaps, as in this case, Productivism. Here is his exegesis of the work ‘Kinetic Composition’, (1920), by Alexander Michailowitsch Rodtschenko (1891-1956):

The most remarkable aspect of Rodtschenko’s work is the multitude of artistic media and forms. [In] 1912-13 he created works with exotic dancers and femmes fatale in the style of Jugendstil. However, already  in 1915 he had made his first laconic (concise?) abstraction drawn with compass and ruler. Since 1923 Rodschenko concentrated on photography because of its documentary exactness. However , in the same year he created his eccentric often cryptic photo montages for Wladimir Majakowski’s love poems “pro eto”. With other works, like many of his colleagues  of the Russian avant-garde (Iwan Kljun, Kasimir Malewitsch, El Lissitzky), Rodtschenko moved continuously in an unexpected way between the objective and the subjective, what  the art critic Waldemar Maywei called the ‘non- constructive’ and the ‘konstructive’ pole of the artistic experience. This dynamic correlation in Rodtschenko’s aesthetic expression is particularly visible in his oil paintings of the 1910s. On one hand he created monochrome reductions like the series ‘Black on Black’ (1918) or ‘Red, Yellow, Blue’ (1921), and on the other hand he painted his nervous, galvanic expressions as, for example, in ‘Resolution of the Plain” (1921). [This work] ‘Kinetic composition’ can in fact be connected with the non-constructive as well as the constructive impulse. But without doubt there is a direct connection to the series of the cosmic ‘abstractions’, which Rodtschenko created in 1919-20. Generally, the work is in close connection to the topic of (outer) space like many experimental artists of the 1920′s imagined and depicted it (Kjun, Alexander Lobas, Wladimir Ljuschin, etc).

This interest in space developed through the tremendous popularity of Jules Verne and H G Wells in Russia, through the closeness of Komstantin Tziolkowski, the father of the Russian rocket science and through the belief in the abilities of technology.  It inspired many depictions of the stratosphere and space, for example, Malewitsch’s ethereal Suprematism (1918-19), Ljuschin’s drafts of an inter planetary space station from 1922, Iwan Kudriaschew’s forces racing through space (1923-25), and Michal Plaksin’s ‘Planetarium’ (1922).

Rodtschenko was also inspired by these journeys through space. Some of his abstract paintings can be interpreted as depictions of planetary bodies, of eclipse’s, or meteors against the infinite night sky. The painting ‘Kinetic Composition’ has a visual connection to Rodtschenko’s cosmic use of forms from 1919-20 and can at the same time be seen as a formal painting that foreshadows his action paintings of the 1940s. Although microscopic, what fascinates Rodtschenko is recognisable: the interplay of spheres on a monochrome background (black, brown, or grey), or the confrontation of unequal masses and the tension of an asymmetric composition and their symmetric formats. The result is a moving whole that vibrates and oscillates in a breathless tension like the Milky Way in an immaculate night sky.

How this particular “painting” made the transition to the truly kinetic form of the necktie may be lost in history. However, the exegesis above came with the tie. I am obliged to my friends Weston Naef (for the gift) and Christiane Keller (for the translation) for helping me plug this significant gap in our Art Historical knowledge.

shopping for authenticity: the global reach of dot-painting

Move over NY subway grafitti style! Here comes dot-painting…  And if you want to bulk-order your boomerangs, you can go here. These treasures (and the background research) is thanks to Bill Kruse, in Djakarta airport.

Ai Weiwei: the person people will need to remember “when they have forgotten”

Iconophilia is pleased to welcome Thomas Berghuis to its pages, where he reflects on conversations he held with Ai Weiwei in 2008, and the difficulties in keeping his disappearance in mind.

The following thoughts have come to mind over the past four weeks, as the news surrounding the arrest of Ai Weiwei continues to mount, so long as there is no clear information of his whereabouts, nor that of others, including some of his close friends and staff. The underlying issues are indeed complex and certainly deserve further attention. At the same time our attention needs to focus on remembering when people go missing. Let it not be our thoughts that are forgotten. It would be too easy to forget, or worse still, to ignore.

The initial reports on the arrest of Ai Weiwei, such as in the New York Times on April 3rd, raised the concerns of human rights advocates with the “ominous sign” of an increase in detentions and that a “crackdown on rights lawyers, bloggers and dissidents is spreading to the upper reaches of Chinese society.”

Four days later a Letter to the Guardian contained a petition urging the UK government to respond to the arrest. This was sent by email on 7 April, and published and signed by many people on the next day. The petition mentions the release of another great artist, and a great mind, Wu Yuren, on the very day that Ai Weiwei was arrested, and disappeared. It was thanks to the organisers of the petition that the news of Wu Yuren’s incarceration (and release) was published in the Guardian.

Think about it, before forgetting. People get arrested in China, and they do disappear. The first part may be considered familiar, even expected perhaps, especially for those who like their authorities to rule. Yes, it is also true people get arrested in Britain, and have to wait for their charges to be expedited. But do these people just disappear? Continue reading →

Aboriginal Art Centres on Nicolas Rothwell’s Frontier

For this post Iconophilia is pleased to draw on the recent essay by Darren Jorgensen, “Bagging Aboriginal Art: The Intervention and the community art movement” first published in Arena #111 (March – April 2011) pp 38-42.

Jorgensen writes: “In the wake of a 2007 Senate Inquiry into the shoddy ‘carpetbagging’ practices that work to rip off remote Aboriginal artists, one would think that the ethical alternative of remote art centres would be looking good. Yet in the mainstream media at least the centres find themselves more embattled, and the journalist whose work sparked the enquiry, The Australian’s Nicolas Rothwell, has changed his mind about the centres’ place in the greater Aboriginal art industry. After supporting the work of art centre co-ordinators across the deserts and Top End of the country for many years, Rothwell’s writing now holds art centres responsible for a deterioration in the quality of Aboriginal art.

“The reason for this shift, however, appears to have less to do with Aboriginal art than its changing political context. In “The Intellectual Class should support the Intervention,” Rothwell complains about welfarism and the chattering leftist class (Australian, December 3 2007). It was also in 2007 that Rothwell shifted his longstanding support for art centres. His writing was always a touchstone of positive news in a newspaper otherwise dedicated to constructing the most troubling representations of Aboriginal people. And this style of reviewing has continued, contributing valuable accounts of artists’ work in remote Australia. However Rothwell has also begun to pen another kind of position, coincident with the government’s own. My argument here is that this position has spilled into his writings on the work of Aboriginal artists themselves, in a worrying conflation of the politics of the moment with opinion about the quality of art from remote communities.”

Iconophilia has also commented on Rothwell’s perverse usage of the figure of death in his writing from this period, (cited here, referencing back to April 1, 2006) and his later more pessimistic view of the contemporary developments in Aboriginal modern art – a concept first articulated by Ian McLean, from which Nicolas Rothwell would surely resile.

Jorgensen marks June 2007 as “the turning point in Rothwell’s writing, …the month that the Senate inquiry made its recommendations, and the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was released and served to justify the Intervention. When Rothwell released his first pessimistic essay about the future of art centres, “Colour fades into Shadow”, on June 22, the Howard government had just announced its intention to stage the Intervention on 20 June. He argues that few art centres “are profitable, and making large new funds available to them will not automatically change this picture,” and that “the policy map in place today is really a subsidised culture industry program.” The real crunch comes later in the essay, where Rothwell somehow aligns the death of a young artist with his argument about the Aboriginal art industry:

The attempt to fund, and fence, and define this creative current carries its subtle, inevitable costs. Deep in the Western Desert, at Kintore, the heart of the Pintupi painting movement, and the source of the Centre’s most collected art, a young man died of a heart attack in the smart new clinic building a week ago.

Continue reading →

The Apa Kenge National Bilum

I’m pleased to welcome Nicolas Garnier as a new contributor to Iconophilia. He is the author/editor of Twisting Knowledge and Emotion: Modern Bilums of Papua New Guinea, (Alliance Francaise de Port Moresby/University of Papua New Guinea, 2009). Dr Garnier is Senior Lecturer in Visual Anthropology at the University of Papua New Guinea. What follows is a further significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of collaborative art works and issues of authorship elsewhere on this site, and reveals a great deal about the social and political economy of such ventures.

In November 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a brief but symbolically important visit to Papua New Guinea. Her visit lasted hardly two hours during which her core activity was a visit to the National Parliament. On this occasion, the Speaker decided to hang in the Grand Hall a very large string bag that was offered by the University of Papua New Guinea on Mother’s Day in May 2010. The architecture and the art decoration of the Parliament House is socially and politically meaningful and has been the result of successive attempts to build a national identity thus creating a common platform from more than a thousand independent local political units speaking over 800 languages and who manifest some of the most socially and culturally contrasted features.

The creation of the bilum: The project originated at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby. Following a discussion with Dame Carol Kidu, Minister for Community Development, I had realized that the Parliament, which was about to vote an important bill to give women easier access to politics, did not display any art work in relation to the world of women and their values. While we prepared the launch of a volume dedicated to string bags that included several important contributions of Papua New Guinea prominent academics, we thought we could also plan the creation of a very large bilum which could be displayed in the Grand Hall. Such a creation was intended to be a tribute to women’s contribution to the country. After discussions held within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Mrs Ruth Dom and I were appointed to conduct the project. Under the recommendations of Mrs Dom we invited a little more than 20 women from the neighbouring regions to attend an information meeting in the presence of the husband of one of the invited ladies who appointed himself as representative for this newly formed group of women. During the meeting we presented the main lines of the project and we particularly emphasised that there would be little money available. We also highlighted the fact that despite the project being commissioned by the University we wanted to let the women be the authors of the project. We didn’t want to impose upon them any form of program. We had only three requirements. The first concerned the timeframe. We had only a little more than two months since the artwork was due to be presented in May on the occasion of Mother’s Day. The second was the size. We wanted an artefact which would be really large. The third constraint was financial: we had very limited funds and for many of the women we believed at first that this might be very discouraging.

The context of its creation: The monumental string bag was made in a settlement called Morata which is located at the north east border of the University land. For Ruth Dom and myself, it was an easy task to pay women daily visits. It was also easy for us to provide them with yarns whenever they required them. As suggested by Ruth Dom, it was also decided that food should be prepared or at least made available as often as we could arrange it. Several times, we bought rice bags and tinned food for the initially 20 and then 17 women who worked on the project. Providing food is a necessary requirement in most collective work. This marks an alliance and a reciprocal dedication between those who order the work and those who were appointed to do it. It often symbolises more than a relationship of trust and reciprocal recognition but a form of symbolic adoption. On this occasion the food providers, as “parents”, demonstrated that they intended to look after those who worked, their new “sons and daughters”. The final payment was to compensate for the labour provided and acknowledge the importance of the work. The final contribution was also intended to put an end to this temporary adoption and split again the group and send back everyone to their previous activities and previous relationships.

“The baby is too young yet, it is not ready…” The women soon started to organize themselves. The self-appointed male “women’s leader” was politely asked to step down. We all argued (the university and the women who decided to be part of the project) that a man who does not know how to make string bag can be of little help and moreover can be a kind of nuisance in the conduct of the project. We all argued that only bilum makers, Mrs Dom and I should be part of the project. Actually it didn’t really happen this way but while the making of the bag was progressing none of us noticed that some newcomers were building arguments to share the authorship of this incredible experience.

To ensure women had a shelter and a place where they could work without dispute, Mrs Dom generously proposed to host the project under her newly built house in Morata. In doing so, we reminded everyone that this project was a University project and that women should not fear any form of threat linked to where they are working. After a month or so, Tibe Philip, the newly appointed women’s representative asked us to advertise the name of the group as Apa Kenge. The term was made of two words borrowed from the two main languages used by the participants. Part of the women came from the Southern Highlands Province while others came from the region of Goroka. For the launching of the book at the Parliament we invited the 17 women. The bilum was brought to the Parliament, but carefully hidden in a box. It was important to show that the work was in progress but also as important not to reveal anything about it until its completion. Tibe Philip and the other women also feared that some witnesses could “steal” the idea and therefore diminish the impact and the importance of the ongoing work: “the baby is not ready yet, we cannot show it yet”.

The launching: The days preceding the deadline were frantic under the house of Mrs Dom. The excitement and pride grew day by day. The first half of the payment we gave them was spent in nice traditional gowns and for many women their first pair of shoes. In the Grand Hall, the TV and newspaper crews were interviewing the “big shots”: ministers and a few members of Parliament, and the Speaker of the Parliament Jeffery Nape. Quite a large number of the diplomatic body was also there with their spouses. It was also a great day for the University since it was their first contribution to the embellishment of the Parliament. The Speaker and the dignitaries stood on the steps of the monumental stairway. The women who first hid at the back arrived with the bilum following a choreography they had rehearsed a hundred times. The crowd was astonished. The Speaker had prepared a kind but polite discourse. He left his written paper after reading the first lines and improvised an enthusiastic speech in which he said that this bilum was the most beautiful thing he ever saw. It fully deserved a first place in the Grand Hall and was a very strong and convincing embodiment not only of women’s skills but of the nation as a whole. To show his appreciation he promised a gift of 20,000Kina to the clever women.

The end of the project: The gift of the National Speaker was a great relief, since Mrs Dom and I felt a little embarrassed to offer women a very little amount of money for such a tremendous work. And yet it was precisely at that time that dissention re-emerged. Ruth Dom and I were first approached to seek advice about this unexpected gift of money. But neighbours, plus the self-appointed male “women’s leader” claimed their share under several aggressive pretexts. About a year later, the women admitted that they felt disempowered by their very confrontational relationship with the new claimants. Within two days the amount of money had just vanished leaving many with anger and disappointment. The sudden fame and unexpectedly high amount of money offered to the group of bilum makers was probably the cause of this unfortunate ending of the project.

This monumental bilum is an example of a modern creation deeply rooted in tradition. It illustrates the capacity of public institutions (a University and the Parliament) to initiate and acknowledge the creativity of women who live in particularly harsh conditions. It also shows that the creation of a monumental bilum, otherwise a modest artefact, by a group of women living in a neglected settlement of the capital city, could generate national pride and be taken as an example to demonstrate the talents of PNG citizens to the rest of the world.

The Apa Kenge group was composed of: Ruth Kinsley (Southern Highlands), Saina Andrew (Chimbu), Helen Pima (Southern Highlands), Sera Hove (Eastern Highlands Province), Jenny Assi (Eastern Highlands Province), Jenny Hove (Eastern Highlands Province), Margret Hove (Eastern Highlands Province), Linet Hove (Eastern Highlands Province), Rose Inaru (Eastern Highlands Province), Elisabeth Bai (Chimbu), Cicillia Lucas (Chimbu), Livore Kevin (Eastern Highlands Province), Botani Boas (Eastern Highlands Province), Esta Philip (Eastern Highlands Province), Priscilla Andrew (Eastern Highlands Province), Tibe Philip (Milne Bay Province), Vavine Andrew (Gulf Province), Vite Abol (Eastern Highlands Province). Ruth Dom and Nicolas Garnier were coordinators of the project.

qualia interalia

“What’s the color of the wind?” Such are the questions the mini-poet Ned Moore Bonyhady asks. And such are the qualities of the works of art that have motivated our qualophile Matthew Shannon, who is the curator of Margaret Seaworthy Gothic. Which is? It’s the title of the current exhibition at the VCA’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery, with works by Colin Duncan, Nigel Lendon, Andrew Liversidge, Dane Mitchell, and Matthew Shannon himself.

What follows is Matthew’s account:

Margaret Seaworthy Gothic is the custom typeface Lawrence Weiner created and has used in his text works since 1968. It’s a bold sans serif, a bit like Impact, and is not open for the public to license or use.

Weiner’s early texts works made use of default typefaces used in sign writing, Franklin Gothic Extra (the default typeface on pre cut letters available at stationery stores) and FF Offline (a default typeface sometimes used for stencils).  These fonts are obviously potent with a burdensome context, they speak of Fordism and in general aesthetics of standardisation that grew out of the Bauhaus and Vkhutemas. Weiner’s concerns, however, at the time of designing the Margaret Seaworthy Gothic, were more immediate: how to escape the signature association of his work with these default typefaces and how to stabilise the context of his work.

By creating his own typeface, Weiner created a context of pure signature – one, however, not wholly devoid of a relationship to Weiner’s thinking, with its keen interest in Wittgenstein and Freud. Margaret Seaworthy Gothic individualises the body of Weiner’s work within the context of the 20th Century, not simply as a signifier of its geist.

As an artist intrinsically associated with the period, it may seem strange that Weiner has always argued against his work being considered ‘Conceptual Art’; rather, he sees himself resolutely as a sculptor (and, in his words, his work can ‘fuck up your life’). What’s implicit in this way of thinking is that ‘language can represent material without explicit form’ [fn]. As such, words can be as potent in representing, for example, wood as a piece of wood itself. Wood comes forth from the letter forms that make up the word in the same way as the physiological effect of a lover’s presence can be conjured from seeing their name written – their presence coming through the kerning and spacing of the letters. Maybe it could be said it is only in the context of art and love, where the separation of left and right hemispherical brain function is so collapsed, that letter forms can provoke the qualia of a physical presence.

It’s this channelling and conjuring capacity, the magic of translating, that brings the artists Colin Duncan, Nigel Lendon, Andrew Liversidge, Dane Mitchell and myself together. Each work in this show in its own way occupies the gallery as a conceit of relationships, a cybernetic atmosphere and a theatre of aliases. Matter is not banished in the world, but it does take on spooky properties – its scale and identity having been permanently displaced by the network of communications within which it exists.

Colin Duncan’s flat two-dimensional high reliefs render the history of art into a new kind of wingdings; each one is a communicational icon, much like an emoticon, that condenses a huge amount of information into one ultra-recognisable form. These works communicate the entire existence of another work into a complete signifier and, writ large, they fill the gallery with the presence of works that are far removed.

Nigel Lendon’s air works, Maquette for an Invisible Sculpture (1993-2011) and Untitled Invisible Work of Art (2011) [above], directly affect the gallery’s breathable atmosphere, carving in it invisible forms that can only be felt. The architecture of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, the life sustaining air it contains and Nigel’s work merge as one succinct system of interdependence.

Andrew Liversidge’s molten forms made from $1,000 worth of one dollar coins (the artist’s fee) fugues the form of money, turning it back into mere nickel, copper and aluminium alloy – from gold into lead. The actual value of this alloy, know as a ‘melt value’, is roughly $0.01 per $1 coin. Only the circumstance of a system of shared values allows such magical inflation – almost literally turning lead into gold. By taking the alloy of money as a sculptural material, this work transforms financial currency into an artistic one; a transmutation of one economic structure into another, eradicating one value system and replacing it with another through a crude modification of form.

Dane Mitchell’s way-finding devices inscribed with ‘Do Not Enter’ rendered backwards work directly on the institution of a gallery as public space, where the behaviour of the crowd needs to be choreographed with signage and controlled with surveillance cameras along with specialist staff members. Galleries are spaces where the crowd is free to roam, within limits: they are spaces open to the public, but have codes and privacies that are indicative of the invisible structures that control the presentation of art. By reversing the word ‘Do Not Enter’, Dane puts the viewer on the inside of this system of control. Initially, this may seem overly critical of the institution and the audience’s place within it, however I keenly believe the work uses its gallery context to explore ideas around objective vantage point and certainty of presence.

My work – the Manga comic about the white paint that is the default setting of all gallery walls –  highlights the paint itself to probe its infinite depth as a surface, to see its body come to life. In cybernetics every ‘body’ is in commutation with another; there are no inactive elements, no silences. It seems there is an implicit relationship with Conceptual Art of the twentieth century: when art becomes information, every contextual dimension becomes information, too (hence Lawrence Weiner’s struggle with pre-existing typefaces.) And, in much the same way, each of the works in Margaret Seaworthy Gothic seeks to animate the information in what appears to be silence.

Works illustrated above:

Dane Mitchell: Stanchion 1-5, 2011, Chrome plated steel, mylar, laser prints

Colin Duncan: Shadow, Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson, 1915, 2006, Acrylic

Nigel Lendon: Untitled Invisible Work of Art, 2011, Radial fans, motion sensors

Andrew Liversidge: FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT (QUID PRO QUO AND THE GOLDEN TORPOR), 2011, 92% copper, 6% aluminium, 2% nickel

Matthew Shannon: Weave and Gravity, 2011, Risograph prints

footnote: Weiner, Lawrence. ‘Interview: Lawrence Weiner.’ Artkrush Issue #73.  2007. Flavourpill. 8th December 2010 <http://artkrush.com/155783>

Photographs by Pamela Faye and Christian Capurro.

Indigenous art in a Chinese frame

As introduced in a previous post, Quentin Sprague was recently involved in the No Name Station project, a residency for a number of Chinese and Australian artists and curators (and a writer) in the remote Gija community of Warmun in the North East of WA. The resulting exhibition opened in October at Iberia Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which will travel to Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne in 2011. Here Quentin pursues some pertinent issues raised by the experience of the project:

“A project like this raises a number of questions about how remote Indigenous Australian works of art operate when seen from outside the established framework that exists in Australia. In a broad context of contemporary practitioners, without the presence of didactic wall texts, and across the barrier of language that exists in a place like China, an audience can only approach these objects as art – or so the logic goes. That is, in its Chinese frame, an awareness of relevant traditional, historical or contemporary contexts cannot be assumed to underlie any reading. So, what’s left when these various groundings are removed? What are other cultures seeing when we present remote Indigenous practice as a dynamic contemporary form?

Zuo Jing photographs Alex Hall, Great Northern Highway near Warmun, WA (author’s photograph)

For the Chinese artists and curators during the residency in July this year, it was perhaps hard not to approach Gija practice as a kind of ‘folk art’, and draw comparison to the practices of minority groups in China. So while dialogue with the urban based Australian artists was fairly easy to establish within the common grounding of International contemporary art, the practice of the Gija was much harder to place, at least in similar terms to how key practitioners are seen in Australia. This is not necessarily meant as a criticism – rather it is a response that I feel highlights differences in production and representation which, let’s face it, still presents challenges in the Australian art world, let alone in International contexts.

Representing cultural difference now forms a significant part of a global contemporary art discourse. This fairly recently emerged willingness on the part of artists and curators to actively explore points of cultural exchange can sometimes be a difficult process. As the No Name Station residency group discovered, actual cultural differences can be fundamental and although art practice can present a common grounding in these contexts it doesn’t necessarily offer up easy resolutions.

Installation view of No Name Station at Iberia Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing, (L-R), Rusty Peters, Berrngalanginy, 2008, Newell Harry, Lloyd Treistino, 1967-2009 (installation in progress) (author’s photograph)

The image above shows Gija artist Rusty Peter’s work alongside the installation in progress of Newell Harry’s work Lloyd Treistino, an exploration of his family’s story of migration shown through selected family photographs and related archived materials presented in vitrines, including letters, watercolours and objects.

The desire to explore this area in regards to the representation of remote practice within wider frameworks raises a series of valid questions, often resulting directly from such difficulties. Like how to negotiate the contemporary in ways that resonate across truly different cultural contexts. And, what does ‘contemporary’ really mean when applied to remote practice anyway? Simply that the art is being made now? Maybe the term is best seen as a particularly Western one – one that emphasises innovation and change – rather than a concept projected onto a totally different tradition of cultural production that has largely emphasised the relative immutability of cultural forms. Does its use set up expectations that aren’t necessarily helpful when considering the real position of the work in question?

The argument can be made that the complex series of exchanges that the indigenous art object represents is perhaps its most interesting aspect in a contemporary art context. When presenting remote indigenous practice in an International arena, or anywhere really, the question of how to articulate its various realities in relation to broader notions of contemporary art is ever present. Maybe without this area being explored in the exhibition context, or at least without it being apparent to some extent to the audience, the work is presented with an unescapable element of artifice…”

Made in China

Iconophilia is pleased to welcome Quentin Sprague as a contributor. Here he is writing about a recent visit to Beijing. Amid much Chinese contemporary art which is flashy and over-scaled lies some truly fantastic art practice. Visiting a country with such a rich and ever present cultural history, it’s hard not to be a bit jealous of the wealth of material available for artists and other cultural producers to draw on, and also of the opportunities presented by a dynamic, entrepreneurial art scene and an international appetite for things Chinese. Here the ‘contemporary’ often presents as a particularly dense proposition. Ai Weiwei is perhaps currently the best-known contemporary Chinese artist internationally. His current Turbine Hall commission at the Tate Modern has occupied the space with 100 million hand–painted sunflower seeds in a work which comments on Chinese history, globalisation and the human labour that fuels China’s transition into a contemporary world power.

Zhao Zhao’s “EURO” (2008), a set of eight “Euro coins” made of lead sheath taken from Anselm Kiefer’s “Volkszählung” (1991)

Maybe most interesting is not only the relationship an artist like Ai Weiwei displays to his country’s cultural history, but to the position he now occupies in China’s cultural landscape.  For instance, a work by the younger generation artist Zhao Zhao (b.1982) presents a group of thirty toothpicks tooled from wooden shards taken from one of Ai Weiwei’s reconfigured temple sculptures, itself made from pieces of Qing dynasty temples salvaged from the wreckers ball in ever modernising Beijing. As well as completing a material transition from the sacred to the mundane Zhao’s work highlights a complex intergenerational exchange, one that I read as particularly Chinese in character and lacking the attendant irony one might expect of a similar work in an Australian context. Illustrated here is a 2008 work – a series of replica Euro coins pressed from lead stolen from Anslem Keifer’s “Volkszählung” (1991) similarly presenting a riff on value and the role of the young artist in existing networks.


View of courtyard 104, Caochangdi, Beijing, designed by Ai Weiwei for Fake Design, 2006

In July this year Zhao attended an artist’s residency in the Gija community of Warmun in WA along with a small group of curators and Australian and Chinese artists as part of the No Name Station project (I took part as a curator). During the presentation of an exhibition in Beijing resulting from this exchange the project group attended a BBQ at Zhao’s apartment in the Caochangdi district of Beijing. This was notable for a number of reasons, but is relevant here because of the architecture of the compound-style network of privately funded galleries, studios and apartments where it was held. The compound itself seems to architecturally embody some of the density of contemporary art in China, representing some of the framework against which its production and engagement plays out. Designed by Ai Weiwei for his own architectural firm Fake Design , it is in a style that effortlessly blends new Chinese modernism with its ancient antecedents. Walled like a commune, the various buildings are linked by a network of alleys linking larger communal areas to smaller internal and external spaces, just like a traditional Chinese courtyard house or the hutongs (alleyways) which used to be a major part of Beijing’s urban space but which have largely been destroyed in the lead up to (and following) the 2008 Olympics. Ironically, at the time of our visit it was unclear whether this development, and others like it in the area, would survive proposed demolition. Fingers crossed it does.

Postscript: the demolition of Ai Weiwei’s studios is reported here at ArtObserved.

Quentin Sprague has a background as a practising artist, arts administrator and curator and has held positions with a number of organisations including Jilamara Arts, NT and Artspace, Sydney. From 2009-2010 he worked directly with a number of senior artists in the East Kimberley region of WA. He is currently developing a curatorial project, Groundwork, for the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne in 2011.


there’s no photographing The Modern in PNG either!

I asked my friend Anthony Mason to check out the markets for signs of modernity in contemporary art while he is in PNG for these three months. His first blog report makes interesting reading. It was this John Siune in the AusAID offices we both liked best!