Tag Archives: Van Rudd

Van Rudd at Work

“I wanted to be a conservative painter but something…” Van Rudd pauses, searching for the best way to explain his life and the world. Van Rudd, the nephew of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is a politically engaged socialist artist who installs provocative street art sculptures, exhibits the stolen forks of the ultra-rich and parts of exploded vehicles from Afghanistan.

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I wondered what he had been up to since he ran for parliament against Julia Gillard in 2010. As it turns out he is painting a mural the Trades Hall carpark.

It is hard to believe that Van was ever a conservative painter but he was shows me some photos of his early paintings, they are very good but conservative in style. In his late-teens he was painting plein air Impressionist paintings of Brisbane. He then shows me some cool paintings that he did of exploding figures in stylish lounge rooms; paintings that looked like a mix between Geoffrey Smart, James Gleeson and Brett Whitely. He tried the fine art and contemporary art audience and he didn’t get the response was looking for, so he went in search of a different audience.

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Now his audience is not into contemporary art or street art. Now his audience is the union member who has no interest or time for following artists on Instagram or buying art in galleries. It is the person in the street or someone looking at the news. Van sees himself as a propagandist, even though he freely admits that the power of art is minimal compared to economic power. His art is there to support and illustrate the message.

Considering Van’s diverse art practice, from illustrating a children’s book to street art installations, I wanted to know what he did with most of your time as an artist? Did he work in a studio? He doesn’t really have one. When he is not an artist his hobby is indoor football. He also goes to a lot of left wing meetings because he finds that is a condensed way of doing research and getting information.

The carpark walls at Trades Hall are covered in graffiti and Van has had to buff back two large concrete sections. The graffiti in the carpark is a mix of the most basic tagging, by writers like Pork and Nost, along with political slogans: “Unions are part of the detention industry.”

The large mural that he is painting in Trades Hall carpark is just at its outline stage. Van says wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

Work progresses slowly, especially with me asking questions. Van with a paintbrush is not as fast as the street artists with their spray cans. He is critical of what he calls the “proletarianisation” and the “hyper-exploitation of street art.” The artist as sole trader has no protection, from exploitation and hazardous conditions especially the street artists working at heights. He tells me that has recently got his CFMEU white card for working on elevated work platforms; scissor-lifts, booms lifts, etc. Not that he is going to be working at height with this mural. He puts on a fume mask to protect against both the paint and car exhaust fumes and gets back to painting.

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Scandal Shock!

“… as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.” Australian Cultural Terrorists claim of responsibility for the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV in 1986.

Melbourne love an art scandal. This is assisted by having some top rate scandals, for example, the unsolved theft of the Weeping Woman. Although sometimes these scandals seem to be borrowed from US culture wars, as in the case of the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in 1997.

Art scandals have been ruined careers and lives, some of them were crimes and art has been destroyed. Melbourne never gave Vault a fair go. Juan Davila sighs at yet another repetition of the cry of ‘obscenity!’ Some of the unfortunate victims of these scandals and some naive realists might be thinking: “what has this got to do with art?” but this discourse is part of what defines art.

In the wake of an art scandal, even people who have not been to an art gallery in decades will express an opinion. The media is full of the story and more comments and from the informed comments to the mad ignorant rants it is this discourse that, in part, defines art. The year of debate about Ron Robertson-Swann’s modernist sculpture Vault in 1980, although driven by local city council politics, inspired the next generation artists to think hard about art and express their ideas not just in their art but in public forums.

This love of art scandals has created its own artists, CDH and Van Rudd for example, who create their own mass media interactive art works by provoking police, politicians or the public. These artists and their art are well known, although not exactly popular. Creating a scandal that goes viral is not the easiest thing to do and not every attempt succeeds in being both a scandal and art.

It has also helped create the environment that fostered Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene by giving their contentious and audacious actions a wider public eager to discuss them and collect them.

These accidental and deliberate scandals are interesting because they expose the cracks in the facade of our culture and deep divisions in the airbrushed idea of a united society. These scandals raises more questions than they answers prompting further thought, action and creation.


Boycott the Sydney Biennale

Examining ethics of the boycotting the Sydney Biennale and the reply from the Board of the Sydney Biennale to the calls for a boycott. If you need a background on the issue see the links on Leg of Lamb.

“The Biennale’s ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bipartisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our founding partner, the Biennale will no longer exist,” the letter in reply to the artists stated. “Consequently, we unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family – and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale – must override claims over which there is ambiguity.” (Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald 21/2/14.)

Attempting a utilitarian argument the Biennale’s board believe that their show is more important than the lives of refugees fleeing persecution only to be persecuted by the Australian regime. They can’t admit that the Australian government and Transfield have and will continue to commit crimes against humanity. They claim ambiguity when they are participating in distorting the facts about their association with criminals. It when they used the word “loyalty” exposing that their sense of duty is based on patronage rather than morality; loyalty, like patriotism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

According to the Sydney Biennale it is better to do nothing other than talk because the outcome of further pressure on the government is uncertain and unlikely. The makers of SodaStream could use the same argument as not buying their product and Oxfam dumping Scarlett Johansson as its good will ambassador is unlikely to get Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank. (See Ryan Gilbey’s article in The Guardian 16/2/14)

The threat of the Biennale ending is an empty threat and only threatens their status. It is the equivalent of saying that if you don’t buy SodaStream then you and your friends won’t enjoy sugary carbonated water. If the Biennale ceases to exist then another biennale will take its place in a few years, if a biennale was really needed by the hundreds and thousands of people, as the Biennale’s board claims.

When in 2003 Nelson Mandela refused to have dinner with George Bush and spoke out against him it was a symbolic action. It was not because Mandela thought that it would stop the invasion of Iraq but because he did not want to associate with an evil person. I would urge all Australian artists to follow the moral example of Nelson Mandela to avoid and speak out crimes against humanity rather than the amoral example of board of the Sydney Biennale.

Just as Mandela condemned George Bush’s invasion plans Australia’s treatment of refugees is something that we should also condemn without reservation. We should condemn both the Liberal Party and ALP and hope that one day that all members of these parties serve time for their crimes in slightly more humane conditions than they hold refugees indefinitely in. We should condemn Transfield and the Biennale chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis without reservation and all people should avoid any kind of association with them even if this is only a symbolic action. Artist, above all people, should understand the power and importance of symbolic actions for art is a symbolic action.

Artists and the public should boycott the Sydney Biennale. Not only should artists and the public boycott the Sydney Biennale but they should picket it. I have to give credit to the artist Van Thanh Rudd for being the first artist to protest about Transfield’s links to the Biennale in 2012. Visitors to the Sydney Biennale need to be aware that they are giving aid and comfort to people who commit crimes against humanity. Who, besides its board and Transfield, really cares more about the Sydney Biennele than people’s lives and dignity?

For further reading on the issue see: The Biennale Boycott and Diversity of Tactics


Street Art Sculpture III

I love street art sculpture; this is my third post about it (see Street Art Sculpture and More Street Art Sculpture). Not all of the street sculptures that I’ve written about are still there; some have weathered well, some have been painted over and others have been removed. Such is the nature of all street art. But there are some new ones around, especially the rainbows by GT who saved the best one for Hosier Lane.

 

GT spectrum sculpture, 2012, Hosier Lane

This is an amazing time in the history of Melbourne’s sculpture. 40 years ago the old sculpture that Melbourne would accept were figures of people or horses made of bronze or stone and placed in a park or out the front of a prominent building. Now there is the joy of discovering a Will Cole cast squashed can or a Junky Projects hidden in the streets. It is another reason not to sleep walk through the city but to explore it.

Will Coles, can, 2011, Corner Elizabeth & Burke

Junky Projects, 2012, Brunswick

Van Rudd, Protest Sign, 2010, Collingwood

unknown, pig face, 2011, Hosier Lane

Malfunction, Leopards, 2011, Brunswick

It is hard to find space for a sculpture in the narrow laneways and crowded streets of Melbourne so some of the best current artists work on a small scale. Not everyone can pull off something as large as Crateman collective or CDH’s Atlas intervention. But more of Melbourne’s street artists like Be Free and Phoenix are thinking in 3 dimensions. Not that all street art sculpture will be successful, some of it just make me cringe.

unknown, kangola australiana, Flannigan Lane, 2011

If anyone with more information about any of the pieces or any other street art sculpture please leave your thoughts.


Urban Intervention @ YSG

Urban Intervention: a street sculpture exhibition and art trail opened on Friday night at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, part of the Sweet Streets festival. (I must declare that I am the festival’s secretary, a volunteer position but it does give me a bias in my reports.)

Opening "Urban Intervention" @ Yarra Sculpture Gallery

People don’t often ask what is the future of street art? Very few people are asking this question because street art is ephemeral and it is perceived as fashionable fad (although the fad has lasted some 30+ years). The whig history of art dismisses street art as a fad because it doesn’t fit with art history’s idea of progress. But there is a lot of progress in street art scene: street sculpture and yarn bombing.  There are other aspects that are not easily packaged like culture jamming and site specific installations.

There are a lot of impressive elements to this exhibition; a whole painted ute was parked in the gallery, a shopping cart covered in knitting and an installation of light, smells and sounds. There was street sculpture from Mic Porter, Nick Ilton, Will Coles and Junky Projects. The Melbourne Light Painters exhibited photographs and the objects that emit light (sparklers, toys swords and other things). Van Rudd exhibited a work protesting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Phonenix brings Banksy’s “The Little Diver” from Cocker Alley in Melbourne back from its destruction with a paste-up that was recreated and documented in the exhibition.

Nick Ilton's "Suggestion Box" and suggestions

Importantly for a street art exhibition the exhibition is not limited to the gallery there is an associated art trail where the artists from the exhibition have work in context with an online collaborative map. I haven’t walked the trail yet but I have looked at it online – the detail in this Google map is fantastic. It is important for this to exist in both the virtual and actual versions because so much of street art scene exists online, as well as, the streets.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t any guerrilla gardening in the exhibition, maybe I will find some on the art trail. I must do that when the weather improves.

Curated by Anna Briers and Kelly Madigan this is an important exhibition about under-represented trends in street art: “site specific installation, culture jamming, underground light painting, yarn bombing…” It also sets new benchmarks in quality in exhibiting street art.


Political Junkies

“The trouble with Nixon is that he’s a serious politics junkie. He’s totally hooked and like any other junkie, he’s a bummer to have around, especially as President.” Hunter S. Thompson

The 2010 Australian federal election campaign is boring. Even the scandals, leaks, debate, stunts, party back fighting are obvious and insignificant – who cares? If this is the best that Australia can do in discussing the important issues then Australia has a major problem.

Van Rudd’s election campaign as art is a very technical exercise; there is nothing utopian, idealistic or humorous about it. Van Rudd is a serious political junkie, steeped in Marxism, even though he is rejecting “the careerist path into the parliamentary system”. The campaign will all be documented as part of his fine art Masters research at the University of Melbourne.

“The significance of this project will be its contribution to the ongoing art world debate regarding the conflation of art and life. Its innovation lies in its direct relationship to the reality of Australian and global politics, while demonstrating that art is on par with every aspect of living.” Van Rudd emailed me.

Making art on a par, an equivalent with every aspect of living is boring. Trying to make every aspect of living on a par with art is interesting, utopian and creative, even though it might not always work. Van Rudd has set the benchmark for art to be on par with life, too low. To be fair to Van Rudd a lot of contemporary art is dull and boring, on a par with the dullest parts of everyday life, but that is no reason to continue this trend.

I thought that covering Van Rudd’s campaign would add some interest to the federal election but his campaign is one of the dullest. Van Rudd’s campaign might be more interesting and effective if it were a prank like the Chaser’s Yes We Canberra on ABC. The Chaser is full of pranks, fun and humor but Van Rudd’s campaign isn’t a prank. You can do both. The Australian Sex Party’s campaign is serious, confronting serious issues like the Internet filter with sensible policies and ending the tax-exempt status for religions.  But they aren’t political junkies and Alexander Gutman (aka: Austen Tayshus whose comedy record, Australiana went to Number 1 in 1983) is their candidate for Warringah. Is there any difference between a serious campaign election and a prank?

Even the serious media is can’t keep a straight face in the election/joke. “Gillard and Abbott go gangbusters over gas-filled shark darts” (Mark Davis The Age July 29 2010) That will put more fear and loathing into the election campaign. I’m trying to bid for a gas filled shark dart now on Ebay at $495US. I’m on a political junk high and I’m channeling Hunter S. Thompson, the great geek of political journalism everywhere. Hell, I might as well – I was going to cover Van Rudd’s campaign as art but he has been dodging my questions. And I’m failing to understand why Van Rudd’s Marxism is focused on consciousness raising when according to Marx the material world needs to change before people’s minds. If running for office is “direct action”, as well as, art, it might simply be a political junkie trying to get another fix.

This is the second part of my examination of Van Rudd’s federal election campaign as art. See the 1st part: Van Rudd vs Julia Gillard. And for more art related election junk read Marcus Westbury (The Age August 9, 2010) on the arts vote in the seat of Melbourne.


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.


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