Blak on blak
Vol 30 no 1, 2010
Political, satirical, hard-hitting art by blak artists around Australia is assessed and discussed by blak writers. Brought to prominence by the collective ProppaNOW in Brisbane, these works challenge ignorance and racism through deadly blak humour, irony and parody. Queensland, known in the 1980s as the Moonlight State, was the hotbed that bred the confrontational art of these artists.
In a dynamic Australian publishing first both the Editor Daniel Browning, and assistant editor Tess Allas, are Indigenous, and all of the features are written by Indigenous writers. Some like Djon Mundine, Margo Neale and Brenda L Croft are well known as curators and essayists, others are newer on the publishing scene. All engage vigorously with their subjects - the artists Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Fiona Foley, Gordon Hookey, Tony Albert and Jennifer Herd.
Donna Leslie provides a poignant look back at pioneer of political Aboriginal art, the late Lin Onus. The politics of skin, Aboriginality, colonial history and gender are a part of the mix with the works of Dianne Jones, Bindi Cole, Yhonnie Scarce and Gary Lee.
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It was surprising, it was thrilling, it was really interesting. It was rather challenging. There was certainly quality, but it was not what you expect quality to really be. Quality came from making your own festival out of the large and varied palette MONA FOMA offered, deciding for yourself where to go and what to see. You could have avoided every major moment and just gone to the more offbeat events, exhibitions or seminars and done very well; there was no need to see the huge things unless you wanted to. With all but two events free to enter, nothing was compulsory and there was licence to choose - Frank Zappa homages, discussions about the nature of playing music with the generous Jim Denley and Kim Myhr, hypnotic sculpture and the roots of hip hop – what did you want to see and do?
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Projection by Michelle Lee accompanying Michael Keiran Harvey playing 48 Fugues for Frank. Photo: Sean Fennessy. © MONA FOMA 2010.
I tried to do it all and failed miserably. Apparently, I missed some great stuff. Word on the Hobart streets is that IHOS was fantastic. I'm annoyed, but then again, I attended a performance by Ross Manning that others missed that reminds strong in my mind – Ross, maker of clever, funny, noise-making sculptures simply placed objects into the path of a whirling rope, powered by the engine of a standard house fan and let the sound emerge – it seemed chaotic and it was, but there was also a strong sense of composition in the performance – he knew what he was doing, moving the sound from frantic fluttering to a shimmer of bells. Fast and kinetic, this tiny work was striking and memorable.
The fascinating Chrononx installation, taking up the Sidespace Gallery at the Salamanca Arts Centre was a textbook of immersive engagement. A mysterious work that is truly alive in the most alien of ways, Chronox mixed digital animation and projection with specially made vinyl loop records. The claim is it’s a machine for traveling to the present and there’s a very real sensation of frozen time that a loop, playing forever unless interfered with somehow, generates.
Across the way from Salamanca, many of the festival’s enormous performances took place in Princess Wharf No. 1 shed, a vast industrial space that houses the long-running homage to local produce that is the Taste of Tasmania, and that is now slated for a long-overdue redevelopment. MOFO was the last thing that will be in this space as it is, and it made good use of the cavernous room by placing astro turf and immense pink bean bags on the floor of the space, and actual grass on the forecourt outside – making a fake lawn for people to sit, drink and eat on. This space housed a great number of musical performances over the course of the festival – John Cale played one of his many shows here, hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash got people to put their hands in the air and the Dirty Three did their usual astonishing thing.
Early in the festival though, an amazing event that quite defied usual definitions occurred, and that was 'Pursuit', a performance by a bicycle orchestra. Musical innovators John Rose, Robin Fox and Rod Cooper worked with a diverse group of locals to mutate standard bicycles into fantastic noise-making machines, while more Hobartians were recruited to ride the things about the Wharf Shed and the whole thing came together in a very satisfying and participative way. It felt and looked fun and there was a strong sense of narrative and drama in the soundwork. An excellent show that seemed a logistical challenge was deftly realised.
Local involvement also came with pianist and composer Michael Keiran Harvey in the realising of '48 Fugues For Frank'. A homage to Frank Zappa, Harvey created and premiered a lengthy work that riffed on Zappa’s more complex moments, manifesting a huge work that required the physicality of an athlete to play – you could not like the music itself and still be riveted by the fireworks of such a committed delivery. This took place in the Bond Store of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a precious heritage space that was filled with concrete poetry by Arjun Von Caemmerer and Zappa-inflected artworks by Hobart artists Aedan Howlett, Mat Ward, Rob O’Connor and Michelle Lee, all curated by Leigh Hobba. An exciting combination of visual art and music, this event captured many people and became the thing to get to – free, yes, but the limited space meant this one was scrambled to. Strong and fresh, the appeal here was like the bicycle work 'Pursuit' – yet completely different in realisation.
John Cale loomed large over everything. He played diverse sets in different locations, he spoke to people and his video, fresh from the Venice Biennale, was running constantly. There’s no doubt he’s a great musician, and his concerts had highlights for fans of many stages of his career. Yes, you got the obligatory Velvet Underground tunes, but there’s more to it than that – sometimes it was not for me but then I’d get won back by the Warhol tribute Songs For Drella or a nugget from the Nico album 'The Marble Index' – underlining a lengthy and productive career that covers much ground.
'Dyddiau Du (dark days)', Cale’s video, consisted of five screens weaving together empty houses, a spectacular landscape and some very old, broken stone dwellings, Cale breathing hard, haunted corridors and bizarrely, torture. It was bleak and felt incomplete, and I was left hungry.
Anyway, that was some of my MONA FOMA 2010. I have no idea how anyone else’s was and all I really know is that next years will be totally different. All that can be expected is that MONA museum itself will be open, we will finally find out what’s in the thing, and there’ll be an awful lot of really interesting music and art, with something for everyone. I’m pretty keen, albeit exhausted.
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Articles in this issue
- Spotlight on Queensland Indigenous art
- Editorial: Editorial
- ETW: Exhibitions 2 Watch
- Feature: Art of glass: Yhonnie Scarce
- Feature: Beaver Lennon: painting country
- Feature: Casting Shadows
- Feature: Dianne Jones : a little less conversation
- Feature: From Tiwi with love: Bindi Cole
- Feature: Gary Lee: the outsider
- Feature: Gordon Hookey : Flash Gordon's message - language is a virus
- Feature: History is a weapon: Fiona Foley history teacher
- Feature: Learning to be proppa : Aboriginal artists collective ProppaNOW
- Feature: Lin Onus: picturing histories, speaking politics
- Feature: Look good feel good: the healing
- Feature: Not black enough, the politics of skin
- Feature: Nowhere Boy
- Feature: Richard Bell : matter of fact
- Feature: Tayenebe/exchange: Tasmanian Aboriginal women and fibre work
- Feature: Tony Albert: there's no place like home
- Feature: Vernon Ah Kee - sovereign warrior
- Preview: Young artists of Aurukun
- Review: 6th Asia Pacific Triennial
- Review: APT6 another look
- Review: Barks, Birds and Billabongs
- Review: Charlie Sofo
- Review: Critical Generosity
- Review: Culture Warriors
- Review: Danny McDonald
- Review: Full Circle
- Review: Hans Kreiner
- Review: Kim Stanley Medlen
- Review: Menagerie
- Review: MONA FOMA
- Review: Paul Uhlmann
- Review: Sangeeta Sandrasegar