Sunday, June 11, 2006

Biennale Bullshit Bingo,20867,19409349-7583,00.html

Yesterday I went to a seminar organised at LOOSE space - which consisted of a group of artists and arts workers sitting on chairs cushions and beanbags, in a cozy white room, sipping exquisite tea and whining, theorising, postulating, pontificating and having a good old civilised chinwag about this year’s Biennale of Sydney, the openings of which, many in the room were still nursing hangovers from. (for a good review of BOS opening night go to

I'll discuss the content of discussion and the BOS so far - hell the BOS is so big I could keep a daily blog for the next 2 months just of BOS events - but for the moment I want to draw readers attentions to other pressing extraneous factors to the big art bonanza that is the Biennale

As stated in last week’s entry, I reckon the BOS is not so much interesting for the stuff that gets swept up inside the phenomenon of international contemporary art fest - but for the weird porous extraneous events. The loose show, seminar and catalog on CONES of ZONTACT; profiling contemporary art in Sydney, was one. The Mori gallery intervention; exhibition of protest, was another - particularly the guerilla style gaggle at the BOS party giving out DVD's and catalogs of the event, and the current sodden SAFARI circuit of 6 artists run initiatives is another.

But then there are the other 'reactive interventions' which kind of make me feel less hearty and cheery about the whole contestation thing. If you click on the title of this entry - you'll go directly to Friday’s editorial of “The Australian”. Lambasting the Biennale and cultural studies as part of the whole postmodern conspiracy that threatens to undermine good old Australian values like Gallipoli, pulling up your socks and getting on with the job - I was tempted for just a minute to regard it as a joke - but it's not. This is the paper that had Giles Auty as its art reviewer.

As I said at the LOOSE forum - whatever the problems and limitations of the Biennale, it is conducted in the context of a federal government that hates it and everything it and contemporary art purportedly represents and would like to achieve. Most coalition ministers and most of their constituents regard Charles Billich as Sydney's most important and valuable contemporary artist. A few of the more civilised ones like to collect Norman Lindsay paintings, or maybe the odd Brett Whitely print to show how hip and with it they are. The shadow of Dargie and his heirs looms large. T S Mith and Co. may well devise elaborate theories of provincialism, but the current rulers of Australia are unashamedly ignorant fatuous anti intellectual anti cultural colonial blockheads. Whatever lip service is paid to cosmopolitanism, these people like football, cricket and contiki tours. and they hate me, and probably most my friends and any readers of this blog. They'd like me and you to go away and breed, or get a poor paying job in the service industry, in retail or the army. They don't care what lies or cliches they have to bluster about in order to do it. They don't care if Australia becomes a minor economic outpost of china, the US or whoever. If they can keep going to the races, drinking shit beer, and buying real estate, they'll be right mate.

On a lighter note, I received an invitation from Michael Carr art dealers to "our biennale show", with opening drinkies on saturday arvo. Featuring 2 slightly frightening reproductions of largely defiant paintings (intended no doubt to be a bit of a dig at the lack of the drippy stuff at BOS) and an artists list of the following: Annette Bezor, Pat Harry, James Smeaton, Michael Taylor, James McGrath, Ron Robertson Swann, Justin Balmain, Tony Lloyd, Yifeng Tan, William Eichholtz. All look woozily familiar to anyone familiar with the call list of Australian Commercial Galleries Association, Pat Harry is Michale Carr's mum and did that pink punky metal love seat in newtown, and Ron Robertson Swann was the wunderkind of New Modernist Sculpture back in the 60's or something. He's like pre whitely vintage new modernism (yep that’s meant to be oxymoronic) and still trucking on.

Now I usually don't give a lot of coverage to the ACGA galleries, and it isn't only because most of woollahra and paddo shopfront art gives me an odd twitch in my left eye and a strange feeling of queasiness. It’s also because ACGA has its own established network of publicists, writers, and public institutional support. I do art reviews on a community radio station, and write on this blog all from the goodness of my heart and desire to promote and support critical dialogue around the types of spaces and artists that are also marginal, underfunded, emerging, dying, gasping, or you know, out there.

The above is patently obvious but becomes more interesting in view of something like the Biennale of Sydney, which I think highlights the extent of difference between the various art worlds – not to mention the odd bit of cross fertilization and hybridity (T.M) . Many of the people sitting in the room at Loose were whingeing about the distinctly crapped on sense of exclusion generated by the cavalcade of international art stars, brought to us by the 12 pages of BOS corporate partners and plopped into 16 art institutional boxes, propped by nice curatorial rhetoric of community building and collaboration, while staggering around jetlagged for 1 or 3 weeks, attempting to generate a certifiable contemporary art product within the confines of cosmopolitan cultural tourism.

Fair enough I say, but it reminds me so much of so many other conversations I’ve heard among artists excluded form the Archibald, or sculpture by the sea, or from an ACGA stable, or from firstdraft, or from COFA, or the old and boring whinge of painters being excluded from the MCA and contemporary art in general. Or even Pro Hart – given a state funeral but still whining in the grave about his rejection by the champaigne sipping chattering classes anti ocker conspiracy.

And artists are quite intensely imbued with good old nietschian ressentiment (resentment with a French accent and I know he was german but his ressentiment stuff got repopularised by Deleuze who is French so now we say ‘rizontimont’ and look knowing) at every single level of the game and in every circuit.

This was stated by the man who should be bingo master at yesterday’s discussion. However rather than taking a diagnostic view of the artist as some kind of special case of neurotic nervous nellydom. (particularly as expert accounts have it that our good man Deleuze was really against any of this sort of psychoanalytic bullshit). I’m going to cite my fave man Derrida and that nice bit in the truth of painting abut parergons and margins.

Firstly – a quick paraphrasing tribute, in the spirit of the ALP conference held at Sydney town hall this weekend. Apparently one of the BOS artists went there looking for the Australian left and emerged looking not entirely unlike his work in the ground floor of the MCA before being rescued by a bunch of ex-squatters and some hearty chinese soup.

Raise your glasses and sing the following to the tune of “unions forever”

There is Power in the Margins
Power in the Frame
Power in the edge
Of the picture

That was Derrida’s argument in a nutshell. He reckoned that a pictorial meaning was not generated by the implicit meaning of what was generated within the internal structure of the picture but largely from the (social, physical, semiotic even) structures that separated the thing designated as ‘art’ from the stuff around it designated as not art.

In the open field whacky out there postmodern whirl of the 21C – defining such margins becomes a little bit more tricky than sussing out a gold gilt frame – and things all get a bit rhizomatic and swarmy. (think of deleuze, a plague of rats and a mound of clumpy roots. This is the image of contemporary reality evoked by a thousand plateaus, and it’s MEANT TO BE CONFUSING).

Here some lashings of Bourdieu and the sociology of art can come in handy. The art world is a serious of worlds, of fields, of possibilities. Art is the cultural imagination of capitalism, and is why it survives even on a vapid level amidst the most extreme ideologies of economic rationalism. (Ask yourself why all the hot biennale art comes from CHINA). Economics is not rational, but profoundly playful, irrational and strange. Capitalism thrives on speculation, which is little more than dressed up gambling. Gambling is a tax on people who cannot do maths, it makes no sense, its not meant to, and yet this is what our society is based on. No wonder whacky art practices fit in so well. And isn’t the ‘avant-garde’ the perfect model of capitalist entrepreneur? As much as we loathe the beast of capitalism, we area all, and artists are especially, absolutely immersed in it, sunk in it swallowing it up to our ears. It is our dreaming space as much as we are part of its.

I don’t find this as depressing as it would seem. I am quite content to occupy the little niche known as PROTEST and accept the likely inevitability of everything I do being recuperated by some opportunistic arsehole looking for a mortgage on a meriton dogbox and a spending spree at IKEA. As long as it’s not me dreaming of a Bunnings Xmas I’m happy eating out of bins. What interests me more than the threat of my own failure is looking at what types of institutions framing of the recuperation, exclusion or containment of imagination and revolt exist. I am interested in the permeability of the membranes between outsider and insider artists, between the contemporary and the reactionary, between the success and the failure. I am interested in the flows, the exchanges and the possibilities across these membranes. I am interested in my own levels of seduction incorporation and rejection of the various establishments and institutions that can be called ‘ART’, and how these relate to experiences of my peers. The painters, the squatters, the posers, the academics, and that poor guy falling in the mud in the video called THAW.

A product of the great gab fest at loose was a proposal for a big game of Biennale Bullshit Bingo. Squatspace is into it and so is SLAC. Send me your favourite artspeak words and lets lampoon em on a lawn somewhere.

As for the BOS itself; the MCA has some great stuff which I’ll write about later on. This week I’ll go to Ivan Dougherty, the NAS and the ACP and also check out Sarah Jamiesons opening at KUDOS – which I’m sure will provide more interesting versions of Emotional Architecture than the rather disappointing installation at the MCA. I hope to get down to Artpsace and Agnes Wales next week, but I’m a bit scared of the Performance space.