What makes public art fair game for political graffiti? This 1969-1972 monumental untitled sculpture by Margel Hinder occupies a courtyard space in Woden, Canberra. In its time, such art was resolutely apolitical. In those days, such examples of public art were a source of cultural pride. Untouchable. However one might now say that the concept of the public in the space of public art enables the kind of transgressive political action we see here. I’m not sure I know how to unpack the ethics of anti-aesthetic actions such as these. Graffiti on works of art maximises attention, as we see from recent examples around the world. But does it also diminish the politics of the action? And today there’s a topical piece at Hyperallergic. Food for thought in every direction…
Entries Tagged 'IN PERSPECTIVE' ↓
The Cariou vs Prince case is discussed here and here and here at Hyperallergic. But street art by Mr Brainwash was judged (elsewhere) to be insufficiently “transformative”. And then there’s Barbara Kruger… And then there are those images that are declared to be “orphans”.
In his cover story for The Weekend Australian Review, Tim Douglas interviews Marina Abramovic in Abu Dhabi. However the account of her experiences in the Australian desert three decades ago leaves a seriously problematic trail for its account of her cross-cultural relationships. (“Primal Performer: Artist Marina Abramovic was transformed by a desert epiphany.” Weekend Australian Review, March 30-31, 2013, pp. 6-7.) In this promo piece for the upcoming Kaldor project, Douglas gives us the latest version of Abramovic’s story:
Following an appearance at the third Sydney Biennale in 1979, Abramovic and her artistic collaborator and lover Ulay – German artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen – trekked out to central Australia and requested to meet the indigenous people of Western Australia’s Little Sandy Desert, near Lake Disappointment [according to Douglas’ interview]. That meeting [he relates] would become the best part of a year living with the local Aborigines. “For me, Aborigines are the most natural human beings: they live not in the past or in the future but in the present. They have a story and a meaning for everything, “ she says. “In that desert I spent a lot of time just sitting down: meditating, listening to the silence. This is what opened my universe.”
According to Douglas’ interview, it was in the desert that Abramovic had her epiphany:
…what she terms a “non-rational extra sense of perception”. “I walked out of that desert after a year and had this realization that, ‘Wow. I see things differently. I am new.’”
The historical account tells it somewhat differently, as history is wont to do. In The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism (Sydney, 2001), in a chapter devoted to these artists, author Charles Green concludes his description of Ambramovic and Ulay’s experience as a form of contemporary “primitivism.” What follows is how he comes to this conclusion: Continue reading →
Nearly two decades ago Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term ‘relational art’ to describe “a set of practices which takes as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (Bourriaud 2002: 113) Relational artists are, he said, orientated towards collective rather than individualistic expression, and envisage their art as a political rather than aesthetic project. Nowadays everyone is a relational artist, or so it seems.
With the latest acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia of the work ‘A–Z homestead unit’ by the Californian relational artist Andrea Zittel, it is the presence for ten days of the Canberra/Melbourne artist Charlie Sofo that will provide the work with its social context, as he “customizes” the work, (according to the Gallery blurb) and blogs his experiences. Sofo has been invited to inhabit this diminutive “dwelling” – on his own terms – using it either as a space for work, for thought, or to sleep over.
In itself, habitable art has been around for a lot longer that relational art. In the mid-seventies, the Californian/Australian artist Marr Grounds, together with his two dogs Mutt and Pete, “inhabited” a sandbag bunker (entitled the “art thing”) that he had built under the stairs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
People visited, and contributed to his evolving concept of a participatory art practice: visitors to the “art thing” poured sand onto prepared “art bit” cards, and took them away as their own work. Grounds’ motive was as much a commentary on the elitist climate of the art world as it was an experiment in a “democratic” mode of practice.
Like the later work by Tim Burns and Michael Callaghan in the same museum, living in the gallery space was a deliberately disruptive gesture aimed at challenging the prevailing modernist dogma of art’s autonomy from its social context, intending instead to re-conceptualise the gallery as a social space.
If these were some of the precursors of relational art in Australia, Zittel’s work occupies another world indeed. Like a piece of DIY backyard furniture, if it were more functional, and a lot less expensive, it’s the kind of thing you might buy at Bunnings, the local hardware store. More like a commodity than a piece of sculpture, it gestures towards lived spaces, without having to function in anything but a nominal manner as a space in which anyone might actually live.
Made of steel, glass and chipboard-based building materials, it’s about the size of two double beds, and contains the kind of basic equipment you’d need for a camping holiday. However its functionality leaves a lot to be desired. There are no windows to open, no screens, and the mosquitoes are free to come and go through the gaps around the roof. The glass walls are enhanced by printed imagery which depicts a kind of abstracted reflection of a surrounding landscape. Other than the print imagery, there is nothing to suggest that this is a sculptural object, or a work of art in any recognizable sense. It is so loaded with other kinds of referents (to homelessness, to isolation, to incarceration, even) that it functions both as a kind of inversion of an aesthetic discourse as much as it suggests its impossibility as a space to live in.
While this work has been located on the lawns of the NGA sculpture garden, for it to have any kind of longevity it will ultimately have to be moved to a sheltered environment, or the galleries indoors. In that context its aesthetics will be rendered even more bizarre. One wonders in what context this could be shown… as some banal parody of Utopian Design, perhaps?
Perhaps it is only its rumoured price tag of $150,000 that will signify its institutional significance as a work of art. Clearly relational art is no longer a zero-sum game.
Author’s disclosure: Pete the dog also belonged to your iconophile.
Here’s Robert Rauschenberg speaking about his erased de Kooning drawing at SFMOMA. And, alas, you can also see what is missing…
on triplecanopy, by Alix Rule and David Levine. If you’ve ever wondered about that “particular kind of linguistic weirdness” that has taken over the artworld, read on…
Simon Gende is Goroka’s history painter. Goroka is as far as you can get from the Syrian conflict, and yet Simon is compelled to record the world’s historical events as he sees them, via CNN. You can find the rest of his exhibition at Damien Minton Gallery, or on the website. Don’t miss.
PS And more here in a review by Tracey Clements in Art Guide Australia
Drawn away from their core principles by the manipulative strategies of the ACT Liberals, apparently the ACT Greens have completely forgotten their commitment to Indigenous culture. With an election on the near horizon, their recent behaviour with respect to their Arts policy (as much as they have one, given the weird pronouncements of the last few days) would suggest that in their political strategies they take no notice of their published policies. Not that they have much to strategise about. Other than a “belief” that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures “make a vital and continuing contribution to arts and culture in the ACT” their Arts Policy contains nothing of a strategic nature in relation to Indigenous matters. The final (twenty-second) point in the ACT Greens Policy on the general interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples suggests that the ACT Greens will “support” actions “promoting the understanding of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through community education and information strategies.”
Let’s compare words and deeds. Given the opportunity to support a local organization (yes, I mean Megalo) that has a long and eminent national track record working with Indigenous artists, they give their support instead to an opportunistic rag-bag of community musicians and other organisations who have voiced no apparent interest in, or have no track record of support for Indigenous anything. None of the proponents supporting the Liberals and the Greens political strategy to block the occupancy by Megalo of the Fitters Workshop have shown the slightest interest in promoting Indigenous arts in their dreams of a Fitters Music Hall. By contrast, over many years Megalo has supported and conducted residencies and programs playing a vital role in supporting and producing one of the most significant aspects of the development of contemporary Indigenous (visual) arts. And so, let me ask Ms Le Couteur (who is the Green Voice of the Arts) which group should you be supporting, to be consistent with your “policies”?