Advertisements

Tag Archives: Australia

The Great Australian Lie

brun-flags-not-snags

unknown, stencil, Brunswick

“Australian history does not read like history, but the most beautiful lies.” Mark Twain wrote and he knew how to stretch the truth.

There are so many lies; Australians aren’t racist but yet have managed to commit genocide and have racism in it constitution. The bullshit piles up so fast you’d be buried alive if you only listened to Australians.

Remembering that the The Commonwealth of Australia exists as nothing but words. The country that calls itself The Commonwealth of Australia is built on the lie of terra nullius; everyone knows that the Aboriginals were the true owners of the land. The only things that is definitely Australian is the word ‘Australian’; everything else is disputed territory.

“Indeed, what we think of as Australia is a species of fiction – as, in essence, is any nation. Hoaxes lie at the foundation of the European discovery and settlement of the Australian continent and familiar myths like that of the Anzacs, Bodyline and the Kelly Gang all have a substantial, if often overlooked, hoax component.” (Simon Caterson Hoax Nation (Arcade Publishing, 2009, Melbourne, p.15)

Australia does have not much history, instead it has lots of ‘legends’; sporting legends like Phar Lap, folk legends like Ned Kelly, ANZAC diggers, lots of legends. The word ‘legend’ is widely used in Aussie slang to denote a superlative. No truth implied in the use of the word ‘legend’; the story is better than the facts, better than history. Nobody expects a legend to spawn imitators, who could expect to repeat to legendary achievements? A legend quarantines the subject whereas history has effects that are felt today.

“I said at the time, if only half of what is written about Australia is true, it must be lovely there; but all these reports are lies and deception. My advice is: stay at home and provide for yourself in an honourable way.” Carl Traugott Hoehne, 1851 (The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia)

When I first arrived in Australia I’d never encountered so many people so keen to lie to a stranger before in all my travels around the world, I had already lived in three other countries and had visited half a dozen more. I remember thinking how stupid all these Australians liars must be to think that I’ll believe this stuff. And I am not the only one Rudyard Kipling was amused the quantity of lies that he was told on his visit to Australia. (The Birth of Melbourne p.358)

Australians enjoy lying to foreigners but more numerous were the lies told by new arrivals to Australia about their own pasts. Coming to a new country is a process of re-inventing the self and the self is just a story that we tell ourselves. The great Australian lie that masks the deep Australian insecurity. The great Australian lie fosters anti-intellectualism and other aggressive responses to feelings of inadequacy.

Too often art is supporting this fiction but there are artists producing great art that attacks the Australian fiction. “Fictional beauty & beautiful lies” by Gemma Weston (Art & Australia v49 no1 2011) discusses the art of Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont. Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont’s video Gymnasium, that won the Basil Seller’s Art Prize in 2010, beautifully and knowingly recreates an example of the fascist lies of white Australia (see my blog post). There needs to be more art exposing, exploring and explaining the dishonesty of the Australian fiction. There is also a need for art to tell a better story.

 

nationalism

Graffiti dialogue in Brunswick

I have accepted the call from Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance for #7DaysOfResistance, Jan 20th-27th in the lead up to #InvasionDay. This post is part of the resistance.

australia-pasteups

Advertisements

Art and Social Security

At a party in the early 1980s I heard some guy answer the question “What do you do?” with “I’m on a government arts grant.”

As I was young and ernest about my career in the arts I asked. “How did you get that?”

“I’m unemployed.” He replied.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, many aspiring artists and musicians in Australia were on the dole. Nick Cave was handing in his fortnightly unemployment form along with many other artists, musicians and writers. At the time unemployment benefits were easy to obtain with the minimum of bureaucratic hoops to jump through and even the meagre unemployment benefits meant time to paint, write or play music. This self-initiated low grade arts funding was a very productive time for the arts in Australia, especially Australian music. Unemployment benefits provided a very wide funding base for the arts, it was non-elitist and possibly not as economically reckless as it sounds.

The downside was that it did lead to the arts being undervalued in the wider community, artists, bands, photographers were all expected to work for very little or free because everyone knew that they had the social security safety net to fall back on.  And artists and bands were repeatedly ask to work for free to raise funds for one cause or charity.

The question back in the 1980s was how to survive and make long term unemployment part of a bohemian artist’s career path. Justin Heazlewood, aka The Bedroom Philosopher, discusses being ‘funemployed’ and how it really isn’t that much fun. It requires financial risks on a very low budget and no stability, with a society that assumes that because you have achieved a modicum of fame that you must be rich.

Arts funding needs to be completely re-examined and changes need to be made at the most basic level. This is still an issue and tougher requirements for unemployment are not going to make it any better. What is needed is a living wage for artists; for more about this read David Pledger’s “Social security for artists” NAVA June 27 2016.

The first fact that must be remembered is that it takes time to get an arts career going; decades often and during those decades the starving aspiring artists needs food and shelter, training, materials, equipment, time to experiment, to learn, to develop. It is not going happen overnight, if ever. Fortunately for any government that is serious about funding that arts, art education and students are inexpensive investment that return money directly to the economy and in the long run they can make big returns.

“When I was last unemployed in Newcastle in the mid 90s there was 47% unemployment, so I literally didn’t know anyone with a job. There was a big economic transition and a lot of people with time on their hands. I think of all the people that I know – some of who have gone on to be quiet successful artists – and we all got good at what we were doing because we had the time to do it.” Marcus Westbury (Interview by Rose Vickers Das Super Paper #20, August 2011)


Future of Arts in Melbourne

Imagining that Melbourne would become the centre for the arts and literature in the late 1970s could only be done with assistance of copious amounts of alcohol or other drugs. The post-industrial future of Melbourne was not secure and sections of Australia society was still openly hostile to any arts. The arts were considered a foreign, effeminate, waste of time and money compared to the macho occupation of exploiting natural resources by farming or mining. At the time Australia was suffering from ‘the cultural cringe’ that rejected any local cultural achievement as automatically inferior, the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ that strived for a mediocre undistinguished population and, consequently, a brain and creative exodus. It is amazing that Melbourne got this far, after all it could have become like Detroit.

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

The “Future of Art in Melbourne” was public forum on Thursday 13 August held on the upper floor of Melbourne Town Hall. There were about two hundred people were there but for anyone who missed the event the City of Melbourne has put three videos of it on YouTube.

Keynote by Councillor Rohan Leppert

Panel One: Ben Eltham, Eleni Arbus and Tony Yap (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Panel Two: Fiona Tuomy, Lynda Roberts and Christian Thompson (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Not that you missed much. Ben Eltham pointed out the eternal fault line between the underground and mainstream culture in Australia but then Luke McManus at the forum representing graffiti and street art, so it is not a major fault line.

The plan for the future of the arts in Melbourne does not address the megacity that Melbourne has become, it is just a plan for the City of Melbourne. What is needed if for the multiple local councils, at least in the inner city (is there life north of Bell Street?), to have a united plan for the arts. Actually the City of Melbourne’s plan addresses only a small part of the City of Melbourne; most of the focus of planning is on Melbourne’s cultural precinct. Even with a percent for public arts from the developments at Docklands the area has been written off as a cultural wasteland, well, what could you expect from Yuppies?

The biggest mistake of the forum was to think that future of arts in Melbourne is about art; it is not, it is about culture, life and everything else. It is not just the millions of cultural tourist attending major events in the city, the arts in Melbourne effect the shopping and hospitality sector and real estate prices. Although underground artists are very familiar with their impact on real estate prices, as they are slowly price them out of the areas that they first colonised, it appears from Eleni Arbus’s talk that some real estate developers remain ignorant.

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

At the risk of all that interstate rivalry bullshit, Melbourne is in competition in the culture stakes with all the other capitol cities in Australia, except for Perth. At first only Melbourne and Sydney were really in the race although Adelaide has the long established Arts Festival. Canberra has the national central position but lacks the history. Queensland has recently started with major exhibitions at GOMA. Hobart is also in with a running with MONA.


Alan Bond and art: a posthumous review

After winning the America’s Cup in 1983 Alan Bond toured the piece of silverware around the country where it was displayed in state and national galleries. Sitting in the middle of a gallery the Art Gallery of NSW in a glass case it was an ugly display of a public institution bowing to corporate power.

Also in 1983 Bond’s family company, Dallhold Investment Ltd. paid US $3.96 million for Edouard Manet’s Le Promenade at Christie’s New York. The painting was previously owned by the American financier, Paul Mellon. This purchase received little attention at the time but later the purchase would became a significant fact in Bond’s trial.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

In 1987 Alan Bond got a lot more attention when he purchased Van Gogh’s Irises. The painting was previously owned by John Whitney Payson who had inherited from his mother, Joan Whitney Payson, a business woman and avid collector of Impressionists and Post Impressionists.

Bond had paid a record amount for the painting, US $53.9 million, making it still one of the most expensive paintings ever sold, but most of the money was a loan from Sotheby’s. The timing of the purchase was suspicious, just a few weeks after the Wall Street crash of Oct. 19, 1987 and it made headlines around the world. Had Bond and Sotherby’s Inc. colluded to create an artificially high benchmark for a painting and create confidence in the art market? It was enough for rival auction house Christies to make a complaint to the financial regulator about the deal. But who was manipulating who?

Alan Bond did not have control of Irises for long but he made the most of it parading it from the media. It was displayed in his Perth penthouse office for seven months. It then toured five Australian cities just like Bond’s prized America’s Cup. In his speech at the National Galley of Australia Alan Bond had the audacity to compared himself to Van Gogh as “free spirits ahead of their time”.

Sotheby’s then put Irises into storage in mid-September 1988. In 1989 in response to allegations in the British press that Sotheby’s was about to foreclose on the sale, Sotheby’s Financial Services Inc. claimed that Bond was meeting all of his repayments on Irises. In November that year, to help pay Alan Bond’s debt Sotheby’s auctioned Manet’s Le Promenade for US $17 million. There was just small problem, Alan Bond didn’t own the Manet as had been purchased by his family company, Dallhold Investment Ltd.

A few months later, in 1990 Sotheby’s sold Irises to the J Paul Getty Museum for an undisclosed sum and in 1992 Bond was declared bankrupt. In 1996 Bond was jailed for three years for fraud, part of this fraud involved the sale Manet’s Le Promenade.

However, these well known deals was not all of dodgy deals involving art that Alan Bond was involved in. When his business empire collapsed Bond arranged for 13 paintings and sculptures moved from Perth to London to avoid the liquidators as Colin James reports in the Adelaide Advertiser.

Alan Bond cannot be described as an art collector as he saw art as another market to play, high commodities to be traded. Art was something that he could by that would bring him many things that he lacked: attention, respectability and class. His corrupt and self-serving involvement in art and culture was of no significance except to the art market, who if Alan Bond hadn’t come along would have found another mug putter/dodgy businessman to help inflate the market price.


The Australian Ugliness

Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness was first published in 1960. It is mostly a complaint about Australian suburban taste and its insecurities. It is an angry rave against ‘featurism’; Boyd’s word of complaint about the myopic focus on features without an overall aesthetic consideration or design. Basically is a rejection of the previous generation’s love of decoration and patterns, as well as, a rejection of the superficial modernism that Boyd identified as American.

Victorian Artists Society - Romanesque Revival building

Victorian Artists Society – Romanesque Revival building

Parts of the book are still, unfortunately, a very accurate description of Australia, even prescient in spite of being written fifty-five years ago. Boyd’s critical view of Australian culture is accurate and psychologically astute from arborphobia to insecurity, however he appears psychologically inept, telling an insecure population that they are unable to produce good design because they are too insecure. But then, much of late modernism was appears totally psychologically inept imaging that everyone would adopt their utopian vision.

Some of what Boyd was writing about has been, in part, rectified particularly with the planting of trees in the suburbs and better urban design. Although not by his snobbish dislike for American culture that has perniciously grown in Australia. Australian arborphobia has some practical reasons with many eucalypts shedding not just leaves and bark but whole branches making many Australian trees unsuitable for a city.

Cherry picking evidence to support his claims Boyd fails to mention the first ‘garden suburb’ was built in Australia. In 1901 the Garden Suburb Movement established  Haberfield in Sydney. It was Australia’s first planned model suburb with no lanes, no pubs and Edwardian homes with height limits. (See Art and Architecture.)

Many architects and designers, along with Boyd have dreamed of a unified aesthetic but he stumbles at the first hurdle. How to adapt, rather than simply replace, the entire history of European architecture in Australia. Boyd is a modernist hoping that “…gradually, the family itself would become the designers of its own pattern of standardised units, as suggested by Walter Gropius.” (p.137) However, he is practical enough to realise that know that there are not enough designers and architects to complete his vision.

Boyd and other architects who write about aesthetics are like astrophysicists writing metaphysics, both are only playing a philosophy. Playing in that they have no training or experience, imagining that it is as easy as they think. Boyd has an underlying belief in “universal” objective aesthetics of design. When he finally gets around to trying to define ugliness (p.235) we quickly find that featurism doesn’t fit his definition, announcing on that “if beauty were all there is to architecture, Featurism would be enough.” (p.239)

Boyd’s ugliness is not what I think of Australian ugliness? In contemporary architectural design the pastiche of patterns and textures has returned to feature in both suburban homes and urban tower blocks. Some of Boyd’s ugliness is simply a difference in taste. For me the Australian ugliness is the empty, run down waste-land, a cultural wasteland of aboriginal genocide, detention camps and environmental destruction on an industrial scale leaving the land denuded of any natural features, exploited and abandoned like the mullock heaps of the former goldfields.

Although Boyd believes that aesthetics and good design is independent of culture, politics, and the beliefs of the population because he believes that it is objectively good. It is Australian politics that planned and created the vast suburbs that Boyd dislikes, it is the politics of inequality, the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment that created the Australian love of features.

The Australian ugliness is more than just skin deep as Robin Boyd claimed, it goes, if I can continue anthropomorphising of the amorphous entity known as Australia, to the heart and soul. Boyd knew this, his contempt for the White Australia policy and the treatment of Aborigines is clear throughout his book.

All quotes from Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness (Text Publishing, 2010 Melbourne)


Performprint Spectacular

“Extreme printmaking and macho ritual fuel Performprint – a ten-hour exploration of masculinity, live art and print reproduction in the 21st century.” Publicity promised a spectacular event from 9am to 7pm at the Arts House/Meat Market as part of the Festival of Live Art on Sunday March 23rd in Melbourne, Australia.

DSC09551

The first question that I asked Joel Gailer, when I saw him a weeks ago. Joel looked relaxed, he was leaning on the cast iron lace railing of his terrace house veranda. “Are you in training for Performprint?”

“Yes, I did some training earlier today,” Joel replied. He had been in training. A few days later he and Michael Meneghetti, painted silver and orange, staggering through the Bourke Street Mall, in the centre of Melbourne with very large BBQs strapped to the backs. The ‘Stations of the BBQ’ was a live performance in the lead up Performprint. The masculine domain of the BBQ are locally believed to be quintessentially Australian; “throw another prawn on the barbie” comedian Paul Hogan would say in old Australian tourism advertisements.

DSC09506

At Performprint, in the historic setting of the old Melbourne Meat Market printer, Joel Gailer and his old friend and collaborator, performance artist, Michael Meneghetti were both in sunglasses, t-shirts, black jeans and boots. They were constantly working with a silent concentrated intensity for the ten hour event except when Gailer would, megaphone in hand, would climb to the top of a ziggurat of half finished copies of Warhol’s Brillo Box to announce his print manifesto and laugh at painters. Gailer proclaimed that “the truth is a copy”, “the copy is primary” and “Warhol is our god”.

DSC09567

Joel Gailer is an experimental printer; he presses hard up against the boundary of the definition of printing to get a good print of its relief. He has printed in many different processes from etching to commercial printing in art magazines for which he won the the Fremantle Acquisitive Print Award for Hot Process, a page of paid advertising in Art Almanac magazine. Action printing was the next logical step; the LPG gas fire in an iron grill for branding on slabs of pig skin. Branding is a form of print making.

DSC09530

DSC09522

Gailer and Meneghetti were using many different printing processes from the traditional cast iron printing press to using a lawn roller to make giant prints with large plywood letters. Printing on a giant scale you need a casking gun of tar for ink and a line of rope strung across rigging.

DSC09520

DSC09523

Meneghetti’s performance art a lot of stilt walking while wearing masks; see his YouTube page. As well as, assisting Gailer with the printing Meneghetti was occasionally walking around in several different versions of the stilts including one made crutches and broken surfboards. There was a video loop of two of his four legged creatures walking around on the rocks of the tidal zone as the water slowly came in.

Other looping videos showed Indonesian fighting cocks being prepared for battle, a man with a spectrum of coloured underpants and a hand holding sprigs of wattle flowers above a flame. The wattle is a reference to both the right-wing nationalist, Australia Natives Association’s ‘Wattle Day’, as a symbol of Australia, and Monty Python’s parody in their Bruce Sketch. Together Gailer and Meneghetti have refined and redefined ideas about Australia and country boy machismo into masochistic endurance performance art. Machismo and masochism are very close.

DSC09541

There was skateboarding on two ramps at your own risk, with t-shirts printed with legal waivers for the event. The skateboard wheels were carved with letters and the ramps were covered with the printed word. There were many carved wheels and tires that Gailer and Meneghetti pushed around printing words onto the bluestone cobbled floor.

DSC09527

It was somewhere between print making and rock’n’roll; smoke machines, spot lights, multiple TV sets, video projectors and Harley-Davidsons. This was an event with a bar, a coffee bar and a catering van.

At the end there was the cacophony of competing bands, MY ‘Michael Yule’ Band and Coffin Wolf, and the human branding. At 7:59pm Michael Meneghetti that night posted a photo on Facebook of Joel Gailer at the emergency ward. Gailer went to hospital on Arts House staff advice worried about alcohol poisoning after he consumed a bottle of gin too quickly during and post branding. He sat around for a while and then left before being examined.

A video of a 2013 outdoor version of Performprint.

A video on UStream of the Meat Market event that will make you head spin.

DSC09535


Prolegomena to Australian Culture

The terrible “Australian” identity debate continues to stumbles around like a drunken bogan. I feel forced to comment because of the subtitle of this blog (the “cultural critic” part) and because of the pathetic nationalist culture statement made by the imbeciles and criminals based in Canberra.

I don’t want to dignify anything that they have said by even commenting on it. Instead this will be a partial prolegomena (I don’t believe the spell checker knew that word – “you know, prolegomena, the clarification of the ground in preparation for further discussion, as in Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” – thanks to Richard Meltzer’s Aesthetics of Rock for clarifying that). So before anyone says anything more there are a few things that need to be clarified.

Recently the word “culture” has been applied to many things from the “work culture of Systems Administrators” to “deaf culture”. Discussion of “Australian culture” assumes that culture is a singular noun and this may be a grammatical error. The word “culture” may be a collective noun like “water”, “wool” or “dust” so that you have “some culture” or a “lots of culture” and not “a culture” anymore than “a water”, or “a wool”. A quantitative examination is a better foundation for discussion of culture rather than an examination identifying a unit.

Culture is more than the arts; it includes language, education, science, ethics, etc. It is the way that people behave in business, in medicine, in government etc. The limited understanding in Australian major political parties culture policy reduces culture to the arts. This is a narrow, limited understanding of culture and it is typical of the lack of depth to most Australian politicians understanding. Artists are culture workers, that is people working directly on their culture and not as a by-product of a culture.

A culture has material expressions, e.g. fashion, food, figures of speech, activities that identifies and defines the culture to both it members and others. That is cultures have identifiable clothes, food, dance, customs and practices. Vague claims about “mateship” or “ANZAC spirit” are not evidence of a culture. Furthermore, while I am stating the obvious, neither are national constitution (flag, etc.) nor geography evidence of a culture.

A language, in and of itself, does not constitute a culture. There are many languages that have no culture: trade languages do not belong to any one culture but facilitates communication across cultures. Likewise computer languages facilitate operations and communication without belonging to a culture. English is a language that has become free, in the processes of attempting to global dominance, of its original culture. As a language, English, does not necessarily signify any culture but particular expressions can identify the culture of the speaker. Slang, in itself, is not evidence of a culture; a person speaking Singlish is no more authentically Singaporean than a person speaking standard English.

There is so much that could and should be noted: Why have a culture? How do cultures develop? Are all cultures equal? This will have to be part one of this prolegomena.


%d bloggers like this: