In the upcoming federal election it is a Rudd vs Gillard contest for the seat of Lalor. Artist, Van Rudd is running for the Revolutionary Socialist Party against Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister of Australia. But this is not simply a story of amusing names and a political sideshow – this is art. I am not a political pundit – I am an art critic interested in art with political content.
Van Rudd is the son of the Prime Minister’s older brother, Malcolm and a Vietnamese immigrant mother. He is an artist with a political focus to his work; he has never held public office. Julia Gillard, the incumbent has held the seat for the last 4 terms, since 1998 and won the last election by 31%. Will she win a 5th mandate to represent the people of this seat in Melbourne’s west? It is hard to imagine that an artist could defeat her, even if he does have a familiar name and more humanitarian policies. Regardless of the differences in political weight between the two candidates, the poetry of politics makes this a perfect contest. Perfect for the name, the issues and the all important “underdog” status in Australian culture.
This work of art is viral, occurring in the minds imagining this political scenario, reading and seeing the news media. When I heard about his election campaign I started to exchange emails with Van Rudd as I intend to write a couple of blog entries about this art event. Van Rudd was keen to emphasis that running in the election is an art project inspired by Bueys, “ It is not a piss take,” Van told me.
Joseph Bueys is a good example of a politically engaged artist; he invented the name of the German “Green” party, which he co-founded in 1980. He also stood for political office as a Green Party candidate. Beuys created social sculpture, points of interaction that attempted to heal with the application of layers of theory, felt, metal and fat. (This mix of theory, felt and metal is rather like Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator, a device that was also intended to heal.)
I’ve heard about Van Rudd’s art and politics before but I hadn’t seen any of it for myself. This is not the first time that Van Rudd has taken his art to the street and this is not the last time it involved politics. Van Rudd has been courting controversy for years and although the Australian media love an arts controversy they don’t like mixing art and politics. On Invasion Day/Australia Day (pick a side) of this year he and a friend were fined for “offensive behavior”, in what the Age newspaper described (26/1/10) as an “anti-racism stunt”. Both wearing white KKK outfits and placard the word “racism” and the Australian made logo outside Melbourne Park at the Australian Tennis Open. Van Rudd has also had a painting banned by the Melbourne City Council (but nobody noticed because it happened on the same day that the Bill Henson controversy broke). There is an article about it in Peril magazine.
I went to see Van Rudd’s ‘Used Car Part from Afghanistan’. It is on exhibition at Australia on Collins, (level 5 260 Collins St Melbourne) near the “Self Centered Day Spa”. It is part of the Spectrum Migrant Resource Center’s Creative Cultures Art Exhibition, a typical community exhibition in a shopping centre. Van Rudd’s installation stands apart from the paintings, woven baskets and drawings – it is a black rubber shard of a Goodyear car tire on a plinth with text in a silver frame above it. Now you might not believe that this is a piece of an Afghan civilian car destroyed by a NATO AGM-114 Hellfire Missile in the city of Kabul – but did you believe the politician’s reasons for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq?
I will be covering Van Rudd’s campaign as a work of art, a social sculpture with political comment, rather than a political campaign by an artist. This is just the foundations of a social sculpture; see part 2, Political Junkies.