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Tag Archives: Australia Day

Counihan Politics and Protest

Thursday evening as I am going to the Counihan Gallery on the tram along Sydney Road. I am thinking about the theme of the exhibition: ‘people – politics – protest’ and Noel Counihan in a cage demonstrating the lack of free speech in 1933. Thinking that if I don’t see the police, or ultra-conservative demonstrators then the art isn’t great protest art… and then I saw the sandbag barricade out the front of the Brunswick town hall. Have the battle lines been drawn? Has Moreland seceded from Australia?

Rushdi Anwar

Rushdi Anwar, Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it?

Too good to hope for; the barricade were just an art installation. It wasn’t even part of the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award. It was Kurdish Australian artist Rushdi Anwar’s Art Like Morality, Consists of Drawing a Line Somewhere… is it? and it was part of Morearts 2017, the annual temporary art exhibition. It made me consider the possibility that the best art about people, politics or protest in Moreland was possibly not in the Counihan Gallery’s Moreland Summer Show.

Perhaps, the most best protest art this year in this local came, not from artists but from the Moreland City Council. This year has been a turning point in Australia as sections of society, represented by three inner-city Melbourne councils are officially no longer celebrating Australia Day/Invasion Day. This symbolic act of removal is a clear protest that has not been ignored by the politicians Canberra or by other elements of the far right. Iconoclasm destroying the sacred and creating absence is part of a long tradition in contemporary art as in Marcel Duchamp’s rasée L.H.O.O.Q or Robert Rauschenberg’s work Erased DeKooning. So does the influence of the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys on organisation and political action as contemporary art.

Noel Counihan would not have understood that kind of post-modern art. Nor do the Moreland City Council consider that their removal of budget items for Australia Day/Invasion Day as a work of art; they weren’t even at the exhibition opening as there were holding a council meeting at the night. However, although they did not intend to be art, it maybe art, just as Noel Counihan’s famous protest locked in a cage may be the best thing he ever did, certainly it what he is most remembered for. It is not a functional thing; it is symbolic, a beautiful and culturally significant creation.

At the opening the artists, their friends and visitors drank wine and had a good time. Compared to what was happening outside the art inside the gallery was summed up with the metaphor of a silent readymade megaphone hung on a white gallery wall. Not that Kate Davis and Hannan Jones Study for the Speaker is that simply, it included an audio and text installation but I didn’t download those elements at the opening.

Looking around the exhibition at the Counihan Gallery at the work of the fifty local artists in a wide variety of media, commenting on a great variety of issues from identity politics to environmental. Amongst these the inaugural Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award went to Carmel Louise for her work Suicidal Tendencies; a photographic, mixed media collage reflecting on how most people have been watching climate change on TV from the comfort of their lounge. Maybe the media is not the message but a distraction. The judges praised Louise for her dealing with the issue of apathy and her use of contemporary collage. Second guessing the judges is not the role of either the critic or reporter; my role as a critic is to raise larger issues and to point out that rejecting the celebration Australia Day/Invasion Day maybe the most important piece political art in Moreland this year.

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Van Rudd vs. Julia Gillard

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.


Australia or some other Day

What is today – Invasion Day or an official holiday to celebrate a nation state or just another long weekend?

“Spud thought that it must be really crap to live in Australia. The heat, the insects, and all those dull suburban places that you see on Neighbours and Home and Away. It seemed like there were no real pubs in Australia, and that the place was like a warm version of Baberton Mains, Buckstone or East Craigs. It just seemed so boring, so shite. He wondered what it was like in the older parts of Melbourne and Sydney and whether they had tenements there, like in Edinburgh, or Glasgow or even New York, and if so, why they never showed them on the telly.” From Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

The post-modern nation state is a brand name to be marketed to tourists as a holiday destination and multi-nationals as a place to do business. The old quasi-religious image of the state has to be re-branded with a new more marketable image that emphasises the product. The Australian Export Tourism Council spent $40m to fund Baz Luhrmann’s movie epic “Australia” to create a hyper-real version that is more marketable than the reality. Patricia Goldstone in Making the World Safe for Tourism (Yale University Press, 2001) examines the relationship between tourism, international politics and big business. She looks at how countries are marketed as a brand and the influence that this has on the governments of those countries.

The aesthetics of the modern nation state itself is a shabby patchwork assemblage with a few tatty old items bought from a junk shop, glued together and freshly painted.  A modern state decks itself out in the old regalia of a feudal sovereign with a banner and the coat of arms. Without the blessings of priests, the state must make a religion of itself, with hymns and holy days. So, I am not celebrating Australia Day (I had better things to do today). I would take a day’s leave from a corporation, if they employed me, but I would not celebrate that corporation. I am sure that certain international corporations have had substantial influences on my life but I do not celebrate this.

I support Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson’s suggestion to change the calendar date of Australia Day. I can guarantee that everyone would be celebrating Australia Day if it were January 1. The Australian constitution came into force on 1 January 1901. And if celebrations started at the stroke of midnight the party has already been primed. This subversion of already popular celebrations is the one way to ensure that new holiday is celebrated: it worked for the Christians when they converted Mithras’s birthday into Christmas.


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