vol 29 no 1, 2009
Art and time have much in common including the fact that they are both very hard to pin down. Art seems to have the ability to freeze or stretch time; it is a medium for imagining future scenarios and retrieving the past. Philosophical notions of time such as the non-specific dimension of Aboriginal Dreamtime are explored by Ian McLean and teleportation by Melentie Pandilowski. In a special section commissioned by Ben Eltham, authors investigate microtime, deep time, duration itself as a subject of art, together with things that decay over time or relate to memory or death. Ulanda Blair surveys the Yokohama Triennial and its theme Time Crevasse. A major essay by Laurence Simmons places the moving image 'time slice' work of Daniel Crooks in the context of the 19th Century science which first captured movement on film. Adrian Martin explores the parallel careers of filmmakers Victor Erice (Spain) and Abbas Kiarostami (Iran). Other features include Stephanie Radok on the currency of Aboriginal art, Djon Mundine on ethical dilemmas for prize judges and curators and Lucas Ihlein on Donald Brook's new book The Awful Truth about What Art Is.
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At a time when the prickly hackles of gender inequality are raising their ugly hides once again, an exhibition at the Carlton Hotel in Melbourne addressed both the lack, and the plentiful bounty of artwork made by women in Australia. 'Girls, Girls, Girls' presented work by 36 artists and collectives linked by no other unifying context than their gender.
At first glance an exhibition connecting work made by people of either the same gender, race or social status can seem a little tokenistic. However despite what many may believe, current statistics published on the anonymously authored Countess blog (http://www.countesses.blogspot.com/) point out that in Australia's major contemporary art spaces and art journals, feminism may just as well have never happened.
According to Countess' statistics all but one of Australia's key arts institutions maintained a higher percentage of men exhibiting than women. The worst offender being CACSA (Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia) with 77% male and only 23% female artists exhibiting, whereas the most equal distribution was seen at 24HR Art in Darwin, who were actually the only institution to show more women than men, with most of the others spreading within the bell curve of 65% - 35%.
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Narelle Desmond Slutbag.
This tallying and graphing tactic is old hat within the paradigm of first and second wave feminism and has accordingly slipped from favour in recent years. However as was identified at a forum organised last year by Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (60% men: 40% women) entitled 'Feminism Never Happened', many things have slipped from the feminist vocabulary that perhaps are still crying out for resolution and discussion (some examples that come to mind are: equal pay, flexible childcare arrangements and the objectification of female sexuality).
'Girls Girls Girls' seems to enter this problematic terrain with an encouraging irreverence. With the simple act of mustering women of no particular relation together in one rambling, mad exhibition that stretched throughout the many rooms and corridors of the Carlton Hotel's gallery spaces, a conversation formed that was organic and, to an extent, spontaneous. Presented with very little didactic or curatorial intervention (wall labels were more like casual annotations, written in pencil on the walls, or scrawled in biro on post-it notes), this exhibition was akin to listening in on the artists as they ventured their own voices into a discussion that is usually dampened with a cool ambivalence.
On first glance I was dismayed by what appeared to be a simple reiteration of the same old stereotypical feminine tropes of sex, gender and domesticity. But upon my second visit, a strange turning occurred. As I watched the Kingpins run amok in what appeared to be a prim English village in their video work 'Hieronymus Posh', the theme song to the musical 'Annie' sung by pre-adolescent girls (clips found on YouTube and compellingly compiled by Elvis Richardson) sifted in from another room. The mantra of 'Tomorrow, Tomorrow' began to gain a new currency in this context as a jaded revelation of our pioneering femo-sisters' failure to achieve their aspirations. (Not to mention the fact that this bizarre Freudian tale of an orphan girl saved by a super-rich Daddy was the catchcry of a generation of young girls who are today's third-wave feminists). Adding to this was the frustration inherent in Virginia Fraser's maddeningly robotic hula-dancing polar bear in her work 'Blue Room', whose eternal gyrations were coolly lit with fluorescent junkie lights and spoke of a kind of sexualised automatism that is all over women in contemporary culture. All of this coagulated in the hot-red and pink anger of Kate Smith's ironic-abstraction paintings, and the hateful luridity of Narelle Desmond's large red beanbag emblazoned with the word 'SLUT', which together struck me as pleasingly aggressive.
Anger has always been incredibly important as a feminist tool. As an emotion that for generations women were not entitled to express, anger has come to signify the progressive dismantling of patriarchal social structures. However, the twist with this exhibition was that these artists, who are sadly too numerous to discuss in detail, were able to skew the 'reclaim the night' simplicity of the 'all girls show' strategy. 'Girls, Girls, Girls' was imbued with such a delightfully angry irreverence that the usual criticisms of a show that foregrounds gender became difficult to uphold. It didn't care what you thought. It just wanted to talk, and it wanted to talk in whatever accent it felt like. Rather than the carefully considered academism that some exhibitions about feminism attempt, 'Girls, Girls, Girls' was more like an old-fashioned mustering. A reining-up of wild fillies that could possibly encourage mobility forward, beyond and outward, with the herd urged on by the shagirl slogan in Starlie Geikie's work: 'Brave the abyss, child of the wild wind'. And indeed they did.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Book review: Brook's way with kinds, categories and memes
- Editorial: Editorial
- Feature: About visual imagery, intuition, and teleportation
- Feature: Conference of the birds, the trees, the waves, Correspondences: Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami
- Feature: Daniel Crooks: the future of the past
- Feature: dreamTime
- Feature: Introduction to ten essays commissioned by Ben Eltham
- Feature: Joe Felber: Moments of time
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Art and the abyss: Manipulations of time at the 2008 Yokohama Triennale
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Atomic Clock: microtime of the molecular and good old-fashioned molar beer
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Crystalline signs of the small and poetic
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Enduring duration
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Ghost in the backyard
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Life and times: Eternal wake in three chapters
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: OK with my decay: Encounters with chronology
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: On talking walls
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Planning for deep time: Nuclear monuments and Aboriginal art
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Time and motion studies: Twin strategies
- Polemic: Keep your eyes on the prize: Hold on, Aboriginal art competitions, ethical dilemmas and mining companies
- Polemic: The ethnographic present: Aboriginal art today - the gift that keeps on giving
- Preview: Avoiding myth and message: Australian artists and the literary world
- Preview: Jeffrey Smart: The question of portraiture
- Review: Better Places
- Review: Contemporary Australia: Optimism
- Review: Discord: Art from MONA
- Review: Girls, Girls, Girls
- Review: Gooch's Utopia: collected works from the Central Desert
- Review: Lockhart River 'Old Girls'
- Review: Open Air: Portraits in the landscape
- Review: Passage
- Review: Patricia Piccinini: Related Individuals
- Review: Rosalie Gascoigne
- Review: Silver Artrage 25
- Review: The Christmas Tree Bucket: Trent Parke's Family Album
- Review: Trades