One of my favourite works in the Australian National University’s sculpture collection used to be Witness, by the renowned Indonesian/Australian artist Dadang Christanto. Comprised of aluminium forms attached to the skeleton of a eucalypt tree, it looked for all the world like a flock of Sulphur-crested cockatoos that had lobbed into the branches of the tree, as they do. Commissioned in 2004, when Dadang was artist-in-residence at the School of Art, for quite some time it stood in splendid isolation overlooking the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Subsequently, in a wind storm, some of the aluminium forms detached themselves and fell to the ground.
For the last five years there has been a dodgy star-picket and wire fence to keep spectators at bay. Now (shock! horror!) the whole area has been surrounded by a vast backyard fence! It is now framed in a way such that the original work has a radically inappropriate new visual component. Now I know (and I’ve argued on this site) that reframing is a particularly Canberran discourse – witness the way the experts and architects at the National Gallery have redesigned and reframed The Aboriginal Memorial – but this is example of what is technically known as outsider design. Or is this Occupational Health and Safety gone mad? In which case, what about the psychological health of the artlovers like your iconophile who have to walk past it every morning?
There are ethical and moral rights issues at play here. Was the artist consulted? If so, we will need to reconsider whether the work has been transformed in some way into a sad statement about art in the public domain. Was anyone asked whether this was an appropriate addition to the work? If so, there is an interesting question of curatorial responsibility at play. Alternately, perhaps this is a test case for public art more generally? The Skywhale, for example, could be flown behind a giant fence, and then nobody would be unhappy. Except me.