City councils are not generally known for their finesse when dealing with sensitive political issues - or art - and when the two collide the rule of thumb seems to be when in doubt shut it down. Which is what happened in the western suburbs of Sydney in November when Zanny Begg put up her previously approved work for a community exhibition titled [out of gallery] project - part of The Western Front, organised by the Blacktown Art Gallery. Acting on an order by the local Council police stopped her as she was installing Checkpoint, a series of 10 life-sized placards of a soldier on various hoardings, fences, walls and car parks around Blacktown designated as 'checkpoints' for 'weapons of mass distraction'. They told her to remove them: in a climate of terrorism it was inappropriate to show such political messages and that if she did not comply she would be taken to the police station and fined. When Begg rang Adnan Begic the curator of the show he explained that Mayor Leo Kelly had asked that her work be pulled from the show and taken down. Since then both the curator and the Director of Blacktown Art Gallery, Ingrid Hoffman, have resigned their posts. Artists and peace activists have rallied around this issue, with Mori Gallery in Sydney mounting a show opening on Un-Australia Day (26 January) which put on public display the work which was too extreme for local government. Ms Begg was also accused of being a member of a communist organisation - revealing just how on top of world affairs they are in Blacktown. In this farcical situation the serious thing is that the curator was so influenced by the paranoia of his senior officers that he altered Begg's entry in the catalogue to read that the work had never been realised. Since this debacle all community art projects at Blacktown Art Gallery have been either cancelled or rescheduled. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of craven fear has created this situation? Could Councillors imagine a cut-out soldier (notwithstanding the clear satirical intent of his 'mass distraction' sign) could be so potent a fear-trigger in our streets and shopping centres? Or is there pressure on local government from further up the food chain to clamp down on dissidents and anti-war protesters? All who are disturbed by this possibility should write to their federal member, the Attorney General or the Prime Minister with copies to the CEO of the Australia Council to ask the question.
Funding body extreme makeover
All who have a stake in the health and vigour of the Australia Council have been deeply worried since the December press release which announced that it was about to undergo a serious operation. Not only was there an element of shock since not a word had been breathed that it was ailing, but there was a sense of despair that the creature whose continuing vitality means so much to so many in the arts did not share its anxieties with its clients and colleagues. It was not only mere artists and organisations who were blissfully unaware of the move, but also State and other funding bodies, and most of its own staff and board members.
And despite the facts as outlined in the communiqué being sketchy, it seems that scrubbing up has already started for two procedures: a deep excision which will cause the Community Cultural Development Board to vanish altogether, and some liposuction which will do much the same for the New Media Arts Board. So was it a malignancy or just a weight problem? In other zones it seems there is some enhancement happening – a super-managerial section is being created for 'key organisations' to give a more fully rounded profile to their bottom line. No longer will managers of arts organisations have to work out what to do in order to stay abreast and afloat – the super-managers will tell them how to handle their business.
Better government is part of what the Australia Council is advocating, but ideas like consultation and teamwork seem to have slid quietly down the sluice. Looks more like an old-fashioned case of doctor knows best. Are New Media and CCD really being snipped off because their functions will be more effective when absorbed into the other Boards? Where is the evidence that the visual arts, music, literature, theatre and Aboriginal arts boards are ready to deal with these special fields? It is easy to argue that digital media and its many spinoff creations should become part of all of these artforms, but in a realpolitik there are vested interests in the traditional artforms which would take more than a recommendation and a couple of new board members to shift. Similar concern is held for the fate of CCD whose subcultural mores can be hard for mainstreamers to embrace and whose work is so deeply important in a social fabric where the arts are still alien to most people. The impending marriage of CCD issues to the Audience and Market Development Division would seem to have a poor prospect of succeeding without major changes to the latter, which had seemed to be jogging along rather well on its own.
And there is much more on the table including how and whether crucial new research, strategic and advocacy work will be instigated and carried out, and the addition of new government appointees to the Council itself which will mean the Chairs of artform boards will no longer have a majority on Council.
NVACN, the alliance of visual arts bodies, is calling for a moratorium on the changes until much more is known about the implications. The indecent haste with which these very big changes are being proposed (all in place by mid-2005) and the spin this is being given ('to minimise disruption') is disturbing. Sadly it smacks of boardroom decision-making of the most cynical kind, from an organisation which purports to be a model for the rest of us. There is a wealth of expertise amongst arts managers which it would be prudent and sensible to garner.
Contrary to these initial impressions, it may be that the changes will be beneficial in the long term. For the field to work together it needs to be informed of the reasons why and the real outcomes.
" A major UK festival based on the idea that art can be read as poetry and poetry can be read as art is happening in Lancashire 18 March to 30 October. According to its press release Text Festival challenges the boundaries between art and poetry, with a combination of text art and visual poetry. The organisers claim that from advertising to road signs, from logos to global branding to digital communications, text is the visual and linguistic background to everyone's existence and that poets were once seen as developers of language and ideas, the creators of new ways of thinking and expression, but now they are very often seen as irrelevant.
The festival spotlights works by famous text artists Lawrence Weiner, Maurizio Nannucci and Shaun Pickard while also celebrating rarely seen but seminal text works by Bob Cobbing, Joseph Kosuth and a host of other international revolutionaries who challenge the insularity and limitation of the mainstream literary scene. It opens with The Text, a contextual show exploring the overlap in the use of language in contemporary art and the alternative tradition of contemporary poetry. The exhibition aims to challenge the definitions that limit the boundaries by which both art forms are understood. Are any Australian curators working along similar lines?
" Time_Space_Place4 Laboratory will be held at The Centre for the Arts in Adelaide 9 – 24 July 2005. This is the fourth intensive lab of the national initiative that aims to challenge and invigorate hybrid arts practice in Australia, where dancers, choreographers, performers, writers, directors, screen-based artists, sound artists, designers, lighting designers, visual artists, and web artists are thrown together for a fortnight and encouraged to make new work. www.performancespace.com.au/tps Also see Artlink's Hybrid World issue (Dec 2004) for analysis of these labs.
" Aspects of Kings Park is a new showcase and retail outlet for WA craft and design products situated in Perth's beautiful and much-visited Botanic Gardens above the city. A partnership between FORM (previously CraftWest) and the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority has commissioned local makers to present glass, ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, wood, textiles and printed product which relate to this special environment. It has already become a must-see site for visitors. Fraser Avenue, Kings Park, daily 9 – 5pm." gallery ADG is a new Indigenous space in Sydney which opened in November 2004 at 5/546 King St, Newtown. It is operated by Denise Haigh who is a member of the family who have run galleryADG in Canberra since 1989.
" The Centre for Contemporary Photography will soon have a new home at 404 George St, Fitzroy, a building being created within an old shell by Sean Godsell architects, to feature five exhibition spaces, as well as the VISY Education Space, CCP Books and Prints, and areas for workshops and seminars.
" Heide Museum of Modern Art will be partly closed for major restoration and redevelopment during 2005. The original building Heide I will remain open while a new education centre and an expansion of the Heide III building are completed.
" The Dictionary of Australian Artists Online: two scholars have bagged a major ARC LIEF grant for a new online dictionary of art. Initially Joanna Mendelssohn (UNSW) and Vivien Johnson (Macquarie Univ) will publish online versions of three out-of-print titles - Dictionary of Australian Artists, and Heritage: the national women's art book by the late Dr Joan Kerr, and Western Desert Artists by Johnson, and to transform these into major searchable resources on Australian art which will have an ongoing life as they are updated and expanded. They state: 'In the long term it will be possible for the Australian art history scholarly community to be involved in the process of publication (writing, editing, verifying). As well as new entries (and placing Joan's black and white research on line) we plan to add scholarly commentary to existing entries, and to place revised entries on line (without losing the original text).' Partner institutions to date include 3 universities, 2 major art museums and 2 major libraries.
" form is a new craft magazine being produced by FORM Contemporary Craft and Design (formerly CraftWest) and will be published three times a year. Ph 08 9226 2161, firstname.lastname@example.org
" runway is a new Sydney-based journal of written and visual work which encourages emerging artists to present work in a forum alternative to the gallery space. The fourth issue was published in October 2004. Contact: email@example.com
+44(0)207 247 1375
" A book and exhibition in London in an old shopfront gallery/house in November 2004 presented the work of eight Australian artists - Elizabeth Pulie, Elvis Richardson, Mark Hislop, Jay Balbi, Sarah Goffman, Deej Fabyc, Lisa Andrew and Andrew Hurle. The book titled Elastic (after the venue in Whitechapel which is the base for a large group of Australians now living in various countries) also showcases 40 artists' work. Sometimes a gallery, an exhibition, and in this instance a book, Elastic's rubbery platform allows a diverse bunch of artists to maintain the group dynamic and contribute to the evolution of this artist-run gallery project co-directed by Deej Fabic and Joanna Callaghan. Andrew Hurle, the book's co-editor, whose show Schmutzgeld (Filthy Lucre) was on show in early 2005, lives and works in Sydney. More info from: http://elastic.org.uk/currexh.html email: firstname.lastname@example.org
" The biennial 2005 Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Award is calling for entries in both digital and analogue formats. Phone 03 9417 1549 or email@example.com, www.ccp.org.au for an entry form, due in 6 May 2005.
" South Project 2005: residencies and collaborative exchange projects are the focus for the South Project in 2005. Artists will be able to spend time in arts centres in participating countries in the South, including South Africa, Brazil, Fiji, and five centres in Australia. Check the website www.southproject.org/residencies.
A philanthropic act by a Sydney family has enabled the Art Gallery of NSW to acquire five iconic works by Sidney Nolan made between 1941 and 1955. The Nelson Meers Foundation was established in 2001 to support arts and culture under a new Federal Government 'prescribed private fund (PPF)' incentive scheme. In that year they committed to the Nolan quest, and subsequently the works were acquired each year. One of them, Central Australia, painted in 1950 has immediately taken its place at the centre of the gallery's landscape holdings and is regarded as a national treasure.
Asia and the South in 2006
" The first Singapore Biennale will be held Sept – Nov 2006, and an artistic director is currently being sought.
" A very significant survey exhibition of contemporary Chinese art is in the pipeline for Sydney for 2006, curated by Binghui Huangfu, Director of the Asia-Australia Art Centre for the Casula Powerhouse. Titled Critical Mass, it interrogates the strength of current practice, and it will be preceded by a suite of residencies at Casula by visiting artists from China. Casula Powerhouse's exhibitions areas are currently closed for major redevelopment.
" The Asia-Pacific Triennial will be staged in 2006 at the new modern art gallery of the Queensland Art Gallery currently under construction.
" South Project with Craft Victoria will be part of the Cultural Program of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March 2006 with an exhibition of makers from participating countries, including Australia, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Nigeria, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. A number of makers will spend time in Victoria before the exhibition making collaborative work in participating galleries and education institutions. Ubuntu will express the creative energy of cultures where traditional and modern worlds meet. Further information http://www.melbourne2006.com.au/festival/festival.asp
" A serious public education program is in train at the Art Gallery of NSW with its year-long weekly lunchtime lecture series on the religious arts of Asia. It reflects the pronounced interest by the public in the Gallery's Faiths of Asia display, and employs the talents of scholars from around the nation. It can be accessed as a whole course or as individual sessions ph (020 9225 1875 or book online www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/events/courses.
Australian art overseas
" The major Indigenous exhibition Our Place: 60,000 Years in the making.. (?? CHECK) which was seen in Athens during the 2004 Olympics is on its way to Beijing where it will be seen at the National Museum in April. Staff from the organising body, The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, including Deputy Director Jennifer Saunders and Asia curator Claire Roberts, will go with the show.
Indonesia and Australia
The Saraswati Arts Program, named after the Indonesian goddess of learning and the arts, is a new fund providing up to $20,000 each for up to 10 projects p.a. to organisations and individuals who wish to work in Indonesia on collaborative cultural events particularly where there is an existing relationship with artists in Indonesia and where the outcomes will be lively, contemporary and collaborative. The program was set up after a 2004 Parliamentary report on bi-lateral relations with Indonesia found that very little attention was being given to culture and the arts in building relationships with our nearest neighbour. Information on this program can be accessed from the Australia-Indonesia Institute website: www.dfat.gov.au/aii. The closing date for the next round is June 2005. Enquiries to Bill Richardson, Director, Australia Indonesia Institute, 02 6261 3827. A.I.I. Board member Alison Carroll (Director of Asialink Arts program) would also be happy to speak to potential applicants: 03 8344 4800 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"John Bulunbulun from Central Arnhem Land has won the Australia Council's Red Ochre Award for his lifelong contribution to Aboriginal culture, community and art.
" Klaus Moje, the Australian glass artist, has won the prestigious 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the world of contemporary studio glass, presented by UrbanGlass, New York, America's top open-access centre for glass art.
" David Rosetzky (Melbourne) is the recipient of the inaugural $25,000 Anne Landa Award of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for moving image and new media work. His work, Untouchable, will be acquired for the Gallery's collection.
" Alex Spremberg (Perth) has won the $15,000 fourth BankWest Contemporary Art Prize with his enamel and varnish artwork, Horizontal Tilt. Spremberg had previously won the BankWest 'people's choice' award in 2002.
" Tony Nathan (Perth) is the winner of the City of Perth's new $10,000 national PhotoMedia Award for his work Alt Heidelberg.
" Jeffrey Smart, expat South Australian celebrity artist, has given his approval and a donation for the inaugural Jeffrey Smart Art Prize. The prize will be awarded to an emerging artist who is a recent graduate of a Helpmann Academy visual arts partner in SA.
" Dennis O'Rourke is the recipient of the 2005 Don Dunstan Award, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the Australian Film Industry through his distinctive documentary films.
New public art commissions
" Richard Goodwin's latest public sculpture commission is now in place on the plaza adjacent to 30 The Bond at Millers Point, Sydney. The unusual nine-storey commercial building designed by Bovis Lend Lease Technical Services Group and PTW has been given a 5-star energy rating for ecologically sustainable design (ESD), and the client was looking for a sculpture that reflected their ethos. Why did they choose Exoskeleton, an elevated stainless steel rowing boat 4 metres above the ground? Simply, the boat form made a connection back to Darling Harbour and the history of water and people in this place. The work follows a long line of exoskeletal forms that Goodwin has made including his 2004 Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award winning piece. He is represented by Christine Abrahams and Boutwell Draper Galleries.
CAPTION Richard Goodwin Exoskeleton 2004, stainless steel, at Millers Point
" Guan Wei has just installed what may be the largest painting in Australia for the glass foyer of 700 Collins Street, the Bureau of Meteorology's new home in Melbourne's Docklands. The 18 x 6 metre work on 120 canvas panels took him and four assistants about a year to make. The developers who commissioned it said Feng Shui was selected from a shortlist of proposals by four artists because it addresses human life in relation to the environment; according to the artist it contains references to our passion for water, the arrival of Captain Cook, beach culture, and the need for harmony between mankind, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. Guan Wei has made a practice of creating site-specific paintings directly on the walls of art museums and is often away overseas doing just this, but in between these activities is resident in Sydney where he has lived for 15 years after leaving China post-Tiananmen. He is represented by Sherman Galleries.
CAPTION Guan Wei, Feng Shui 2004, acrylic, 700 Collins St, Melbourne.
" Lie of the Land is the title of a book by Paul Carter published in 1996 about post-colonial approaches to land. It is also the title of Adelaide's newest $500,000 public art work designed by Aleks Danko and Jude Walton (both based in Melbourne). A Gateway sculptural commission marking the western entrance to Adelaide from the airport, it consists of 25 head-height stone domes made from local bluestone laid by local brick-layer Jack Colangelo. Seen quickly from the car they look like extremely neat woodpiles or Andy Goldsworthy mounds. Their regularity makes them seem much more like a Lord of the Rings film set than Indigenous dwellings although their shapes are based on wurleys in the parklands depicted in a Eugene von Guérard drawing. The secret impact of the work is that if you take the time to walk around them you become newly aware of where you are, in a whispering dry land with a cemetery and parklands full of complex histories nearby. [Stephanie Radok]
CAPTION Aleks Danko and Jude Walton, Lie of the Land, 2004, stone, west parklands, Adelaide. Photo ???
" Christopher Menz, who worked at the Art Gallery of South Australia from 1989 – 2001 as Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, returned to Adelaide as Director of the Gallery in February. In the interim he was Senior Curator of Decorative Arts (International) at the National Gallery of Victoria.
" Elizabeth Walsh has been appointed Artistic Director of Tasmania's Ten Days on the Island Festival. She has been Executive Producer of the festival working with outgoing Director Robyn Archer since 2001.
" The new CEO of ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) at Melbourne's Federation Square is Antony Sweeney, formerly Deputy Director of the UK National Museum of Photography, Film and TV. He succeeds Victoria Lynn.
" Dawn Casey, formerly Director of the National Museum of Australia, is the new Director of the West Australian Museum.
" Winsome McCaughey has left the Australia Business Arts Foundation of which she was Director for seven years.
" David Hansen has left the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. He takes up a 2-year VACB Creative Writing Fellowship in September and will continue curatorial projects.