Well, it had to happen, and finally it did. The Sydney artworld woke up to find that artists are not all venal, grasping, competitive sluts, and that Australia's shameful policies on asylum seekers have reached a level of culpability that simply cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. And so the Biennale of Sydney became the catalyst for a long overdue debate in this country about the perils of corporate sponsorship in the arts.
The issues are not new. The tobacco industry, generous sponsor of many an organisation and exhibition just 20 years ago, is now a pariah, and the oil industry will follow soon, as will Big Mining, into the realm of the Untouchable. As the news on the situation on Manus Island gets worse rather than better, and it is revealed that Transfield, a corporate sponsor of the Biennale, benefits from the monumental profits from running refugee detention centres, the fallout for the biggest Australian artworld event — host to major artists from around the world – has been dramatic. Not least the response of George Brandis, Attorney General and Minister for the Arts.
Those who would say that all money is dirty, including government grants, may ultimately be right, but the arms-length status of the Australia Council was enshrined precisely in order to allow artists and arts organisations to feel free to express ideas that may be diametrically opposed to those of the government of the day. When that government is so in thrall to the corporate lobby that it dare not offend their interests, shortening the length of the arm may do the trick. Thus, on the back of the sensational boycott of the Biennale by a group of international and other artists, which was only halted by the resignation of Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, director of Transfield, and Chair of the Board of the Biennale, Mr Brandis has instructed the Australia Council to develop a new layer of criteria for funding, involving a requirement for grant applicants to not ‘unreasonably refuse’ corporate support, otherwise they will forfeit their government grant. Unfortunately for this solution, large corporations with unsavoury ways of coining dollars have other ways of distracting the public that do not necessarily involve artists. It will be fascinating to watch what happens if and when the revolt of the artists moves into its next phase. Alternatively the Australia Council may have the courage to bring out a Code of Ethics for funded organisations and individual artists which could lead to a blossoming of ethical philanthropy and patronage in Australia. NAVA is supporting a group of artists who are developing a draft set of ethical criteria themselves to be used by artists and arts organisations in deciding on what grounds they will or will not seek or accept support. Din Heagney, on visiting the Hamburger Bahnhof a few years ago, the Berlin museum which accepted the collection amassed by Friedrich Flick (Nazi who used slave labour in his giant munitions factories and looted artworks), wrote in The Art Life:
“A wonderful art collection built on the suffering of others is not a wonderful art collection at all; it is dirty, and I think everyone suffers in the end. Those who have suffered to provide the means, those who have profited from the means and those bastards who are just plain mean. Is it a stretch to say that this is an indicator of some of the darker forces that play out in the financial aspects of the art investment market? An artist cannot usually choose where their works will end up, but it seems to me these pieces are also a little like prisoners themselves; still serving a greater master and awaiting their own freedom.”
Internet Neutrality under threat
The campaign by corporations like Vodafone and Verizon to overturn the long established and jealously guarded Net Neutrality principles which ensure the internet is not controlled by rich media interests, has been temporarily halted by a huge Avaaz petition. Big internet businesses are seeking to slow speeds or paywall global users such as citizen journalists and not for profit organisations that may present threats to their interests or are not financially profitable. After receiving 1.1 million signatures, and hundreds of thousands of emails and calls to key people, the EU Parliament voted for strong Net Neutrality rules to remain, and the US is having to come into line as well. For the moment at least. The price of a free internet is eternal vigilance.
• Fiona Hall has (finally) been selected to represent Australia in 2015 at the Venice Biennale.
• Angus Trumble is the new Director of the National Portrait Gallery
• Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery of Australia is retiring in September.
• Luca Belgiorno Nettis is no longer the Chair of the Board of the Biennale of Sydney
• Julie Ewington, Curatorial Manager of Australian Art at QAGOMA, has retired. She and Fiona Foley were both awarded Australia Council Visual Arts Awards.
• Michael Fitzgerald is the new Editor of Art Monthly.
• Maurice O’Riordan is the new Director of the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art.
• Marah Bray, CEO of the Biennale of Sydney has been appointed Director of Harbourfront in Toronto.
• Stuart Elliott, Perth artist, won the Artsource Lifetime Achievement Award
• Vernon Ah Kee has won the Redlands Art Prize
• Daniel Boyd has won the third $80,000 Bulgari Art Award, his painting, Untitled 2014 will be acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW.
• Tamara Winikoff has received an OAM and Ian North an AM in the 2014 Order of Australia Honours lists.
Melbourne’s 24 Hour Art
The 24 Hour Experience, which premiered 29-30 March this year as part of Melbourne’s inaugural Festival of Live Art is a vision of a city like few others. Compared with the popular White Night summer event run by the Council where people stay up all night in droves to visit their favourite art cultural venues, The 24 Hour Experience was developed by artists and ordinary people who have been inspired by the poetic minutiae of everyday life. The event offered a new live work at a different Melbourne CBD location on the hour, every hour, over a twenty-four hour period starting at noon, and provided food and drink plus little havens for short naps at strategic points. Designed as a one-off it was booked out quickly by either the superfit or the chronically sleepless, who experienced a playful ‘living documentary’ of the lesser-heard perspectives of a city. It kicked off with participants pairing up and pushing each other around Federation Square in wheelchairs, followed by a marathon of weird, funny and reflective events, including at 4am a forensic pathologist taking you through what happens to a body in the first 24 hours of its death. Titled The Rest is Silence this one was at the groovy Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine at Southbank. At 5am you were having a nice hot cup of tea on the banks of the Yarra, seeing the sun come up and receiving counselling.
The Festival of Live Art is run by the formidable partnership of Arts House, Footscray Community Arts Centre and Theatre Works. http://fola.com.au
Whipping up stuff in a teacup
Songlines of the Western Desert. Alive with the Dreaming! is a major cross-cultural collaborative and inter-disciplinary research project which aims to increase recognition and understanding of Indigenous Songlines as complex pathways of knowledge. It focuses on the two parts of creation ancestor stories: Ngintaka (or Perentie Lizard) and Kungkarangalpa (or Seven Sisters) whose songlines travel a region of 486,000 square kilometres in the remote tri-State cross-border area of WA, SA and the NT as well as the parallels between Indigenous and Western mapping conventions using visual imagery.
The ARC-funded work is a long-term collaboration between the Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples, the Australian National University and the National Museum of Australia organised by ANU and Ananuku Arts, with key researchers Howard Morphy, Margo Neale, Diana James and others. The Ngintaka/Perentie Lizard component currently on show at the South Australian Museum was unsuccessfully challenged by a Murdoch newspaper journalist in April who questioned the authority of the Anangu and partners to exhibit certain allegedly secret sacred images, in the face of copious evidence to the contrary.
Diana James has published a refutation of the Nicolas Rothwell accusations, see For Shame Nicolas Rothwell http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2014/03/31/why-nicolas-rothwell-should-be-ashamed/ and Director of Warburton Arts, Gary Proctor has responded with outrage at the swipe at their celebrated exhibition Tu Di – Shen Ti – Our Land, Our Body, which has been touring China since 2011.
Jeremy Eccles has also responded:
Notwithstanding the sensationalism involved in the two The Weekend Australian feature articles, the secret sacred is an area of continuous debate which dogs the efforts of scholars and Indigenous communities who engage in work to advance public knowledge of Aboriginal culture and history.
Brisbane the poorer
After the Queensland government’s decision in 2013 to cut its core funding, the Queensland Centre for Photography unsuccessfully sought new partners to continue the exhibition program. The venue closed on 28 April 2014, after a decade of tremendously hard and effective work and QCP is now fundraising to open an exhibition venue in Los Angeles for Australian artists. Curatorial Assistance in LA and its principal, Graham Howe, first director of the Australian Centre for Photography is lending a hand.
REMIX 8-9 May at Carriageworks, Sydney was two days of fast talking by people in the creative industries: media, broadcasting, performing arts, entrepreneureship, government, arts funding, communications, plus a few art museums were allowed in too. Not a politician (or artist) in sight. The man from Telstra was able to hobnob with the online manager of the Museum of Modern Art New York, and people from Google with the head of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, and someone from Westpac with the head of ‘Edge’ at Deloittes, plus around 70 more. REMIX started last year in London and this year’s season begins in Sydney followed by London, New York, the UAE and Hong Kong. The great empty spaces of Carriageworks in Redfern were the perfect venue for the mob of speakers and the very large audience who each pay around $400 for the two days of idea swapping, networking and basking in the glow of all that industrial creativity.
ABC and the arts
The ABC has established a specialised Arts Council and a suite of arts programming initiatives that will reinforce its place as home for the arts in Australia. Chaired by Katrina Sedgwick, Head of ABC Arts, the Council has pledged to include weekly half hour of arts coverage on ABC News 24 focusing on the intersection of high art and popular culture. A second series of the excellent Art + Soul program, presented by Hetti Perkins, will launch on ABC-TV in July.
Art and Science
As a recipient of one of the 2014 Australia Council-funded Synapse residencies organised by ANAT just announced, where artists create projects in scientific establishments, performance artist Cat Jones who has been involved with plant signalling research, will work with the School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia to expand non-pharmacological techniques for the management of chronic pain. Other recipients are Jane Baker Tasmanian sound artist: with the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, University of Tasmania; Shelley Lasica Choreographer: with the Centre for Eye Research, University of Melbourne; and Leah Barclay on soundscape ecology and bioacoustics: with the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University. http://www.anat.org.au
ISEA2014 the International Symposium on Electronic Art is being held from 30 October – 8 November 2014 in Dubai, UAE. The Emerging and Experimental Arts division of the Australia Council is providing funding of up to $15,000 to artists or groups selected to present artistic works at this event.