I have been wondering about how I might deal ethically with things I can’t quite understand, such as the state of things in Syria, extra-terrestrial phenomena, recycling, the activities of the IMF, the meaning of misogyny, what it is like to be an asylum seeker, what is in my yoghurt, where my coffee comes from, how much the guys who made it were paid, where they live, etc etc. Contemporary consumer angst of an educated Melbourne-born artist lucky enough to have acquired, by pure coincidence of birthright, a Dutch citizenship, and therefore the best of many worlds (in this case, Berlin).

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A few questions raised by social practice

Meetings between strangers are orchestrated inside a photo booth. One hundred people are invited to stay up all night and think of five new beginningsA display case under Flinders Street station becomes a notice-board for the ideas of commuters about love and selfishness. These are just three very local examples of the current impulse in contemporary art to build and meditate on relationships, an impulse that has been increasingly prevalent in artworld events worldwide ever since French curator Nicholas Bourriaud opened discourse on artistic practices dealing with “the realm of human interactions and its social context”, naming this work “Relational Aesthetics” in his 1998 pamphlet of the same name.

What follows are a few things I have been turning over my head due to the lovely Modern and Contemporary Art Reading Group’s session on Claire Bishop andLiam Gillick, and the Centre for Cultural Practice’s Symposium The Turn to Community in the Arts. 

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Complex Negotiations: some thoughts after the “Seeing into Ubiquity” panel, Adelaide Biennial, 4/4/12

In high-school I covered the inside of my locker door with apple stickers. I am reminded of this today: all the flagpoles lining the lefthand side of the Art Gallery of Adelaide are decorated with museum stickers, the residue of so many visitors performing the same gesture.

I am sitting in the Adelaide sunshine contemplating this, whilst turning over and over in my head a panel I attended between Shaun Gladwell, Danae Stratou and Professor Jennifer A. McMahon. The topic of the panel was Seeing into Ubiquity, and the subtitle clarifies this somewhat vague title into a question: When the image is everywhere and its author is invisible, what are the implications for critique and aesthetics?

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Fast Food vs Slow Art

Grace McQuilten, guest curator of mis-design, a lovely six-part festival located in commercial venues and the Ian Potter Centre, writes that “…art is unique for its ability to unravel and undermine preconceived notions of ‘purpose’, ‘utility’ and ‘value’. It is this capacity to anti-design that gives art a future in an increasingly commercial visual world.”

Art set in the thick of daily life, rather than in a gallery space, is often vaunted as effecting a dissolution of the boundaries between art and life. The constructed work the artist creates is a a useless thing in a world that apparently functions by extracting the the peak performance, highest yield, the greatest profit, the most efficient machine. In this context, the public artwork, forced to weather the unruly forces of public engagement, provokes (at best) the revolution of consumer society through the subversion of the commodity and (at worst) ridicule and/or vandalism. So when an artwork is described as “dissolving the boundaries between life and art”, this description is a form of high praise because it means it pushes a non-productive activity into a world obsessed with utilitarianism.

I wonder, though, whether it’s a bit more complicated than that. Curiously enough, vandalism itself is a far more bluntly effective non-strategic approach to overthrowing consumer society than any strategic public artwork I have seen so far. Continue reading

Big Yam

Every few years I go on a pilgrimage to visit Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Big Yam Dreaming (1995) at the Ian Potter National Gallery. It’s an indecision thing, turned tradition. It started after the hiatus post-exams at the age of seventeen. I went to decide which uni course to enroll in. I went before breaking up with my first boyfriend. Then I went after breaking up with my second. I went, doggedly, after getting plastered on picnic wine in the Fitzroy gardens one hot summer day (no-one would come with me). I went after returning to Melbourne from Berlin. And I tried to go, yesterday, but the NGV has moved the painting, a three by eight metre white-on-black tendrilled monolith, into storage.

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[This post is an adventure; it has a little less to do with art and a little more to do with ideas I’ve been reading up on in relation to an upcoming solo exhibition.]

What do rivers, the air, the internet, the moon and other celestial bodies hold in common?

They are THE COMMONS. It’s not just a failed pun: the commons are  things accessible to all that can’t (by nature) be exclusively possessed by an individual or a government because they are apparently too big, too faraway or too dispersed. This quality is not shared by the above goat, whose genetic make-up is owned by a corporation.

Before I started reading up on the commons I linked it to peasants in medieval Europe somewhere sharing a plot of land where they farm stuff — grow crops, feed their livestock — and also hold festivals, sports, and fetes, generally living out some sort of communal ideal I’ve imbibed somewhere along the line. I think it’s interesting that this agrarian ideal exists, and I’m fairly sure it’s shared by many of us in the form of nostalgia for that golden age, which may or may not have existed, when communities had a direct relationship to the environment unmediated by technology.

It’s important to recognise, however, that the commons as an ideal has relevance to other non-tangible spaces (such as cyberspace, or outer space). Equally importantly, the commons now has relevance to a global community rather than a local one, whether we’re talking about clean air or a cure for AIDS. Continue reading