Tuesday, December 19, 2006

After the Honeymoon

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Skanky Jane's MySpace Tribute to The Artswipe, 2006

It's been one hell of a crazy year. I started in blogland as a reader (mostly reading The Art Life blog for my fix of artworld gossip) and when I decided to go global with The Artswipe, I never realised it would make me over into such an important world leader... But you know, stranger things happen all the time.

Perhaps the strangest thing to happen this year, is that I got married. And to a fan! I never thought I'd marry a fan as the whole thing just conjures a major Kathy Bates in Misery moment. But well, Skanky Jane persisted and when she made me an artwork representing our dominant culture institutionalisation I just knew it was meant to be. (After having a performance art moment early October 2006 which featured a combination of Skanky Jane and an organza blindfold, she started organising the wedding... What a BRIDEZILLA!)

Skanky J and I were meant to be... she understands me more than most, and does whatever I ask. I even asked her to take a bath before our Aspen honeymoon, because well, skank sometimes needs a clean. We never fight as most married couples tend to do after ten minutes of marriage. Before she goes to work, she leaves me a comment, and I reply. Some say marriages rarely work when the bulk of your communication consists of leaving notes for one another. But when they're really well written notes, you can fantasise that reincarnation is on your side this time, and that well, thank Christ you got the "reincarna-karma-remix" of Virginia Woolf over Virginia Andrews.

And ironically the name Virginia always makes Skanky J giggle because she's obviously thinking about vaginas. That dirty girl needs to take those dirty pillows to the laundromat immediately! Artswipe is a clean teen! As if reading Skanky J's dirty mind, another MySpace fan "Vibrator" lured me into a dark world of wall socket promiscuity by offering this beautiful visual comment (see below). Never have Double A batteries been so worthy of a Double D titfuck. And as I am a life support system for a soundtrack, I have added Lene Lovich's song New Toy as this week's http://www.myspace.com/artswipe profile song.

It's that time of year when The Artswipe must see more of the world. I have submitted my leave application form to Blogspot Dot Com and while they're hesitant to see me go, they understand that no one can stand in the way of experience. So I will be nomadic over January visiting trailer park conventions to see what I can bring home as a late wedding present for the little Mrs.

Thanks to all for reading this year. I will post a postcard or three over the holiday season and will officially re-launch late January 2007. And if you get lonely, remember that Skanky Jane will keep the home fires burning.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Wish Fulfillment

Betti Pugh of Wales is responsible for climate change

Artswipe has really been going down on the silly season, so apologies if you've been experiencing abandonment issues due to my irregular movements here at blogspot dot com. As most of you have really learnt a thing or two from my special brand of pedagogical blogness, I have been feeling real pressure to come up with something new in a world so secondhand. And all I can think about is some Christmas commentary.

I love this time of year. Christmas albums emerge and you watch middle-of-the-road American singersongwriters deep throat new arrangements of Sleigh Bells for Santa. Suburban street electricity gets amped up while neighbours war over whose fairy light studded anal rope looks best with or without climate change chic. Inhale those greenhouse gases baby! Then there's shopping for presents you want for yourself but try out on others so the novelty can wear thin before doling out the cash for a repeat purchase in the January sales. Carols by candlelight is always moving and this year I will dedicate everything I sing to Belinda Emmett.

Christmas is all about family, and this year Artswipe is going to try harder to workshop lifesize replicas of the family I want to call my own next year. They will be cut from goldleaf and glue with just a little twist of papier-mache. I'll arrange this family like a nativity scene and cradle their mild-mannered muteness. I can't decide if I want to be kin to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Of course it would be nice to let Madonna and Guy take me in but Kaballah is Jewish which means no Christmas presents. And since my art cave rebirthing experience has unleashed what my therapist calls "infantalised eggnog flavoured wish fulfillment" I may as well enjoy Christmas the way I used to when I was actually a child. Meaning, I will fucking scream if I don't get a new fucking iPod or fucking palm pilot this year you people who have taken it upon yourself to call yourselves "parents." You're not my parents! If you were, you'd cut the crap about Santa not feeling so flush this year and spill the consumer culture booty somewhere near where the world is cut in two by what is usually called an "equator", but what I call plain old fashioned self-centredness.

So what will be my new year resolution this year? As I've been negotiating newness and emergence ever since I saw the youngmeat Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art this year, I have decided that Artswipe resolves to be the next NSW young Australian of the year. As art openings are just too cool for cocaine these days I'm not sure if any art anyones have a chance of being any kind of young-anything-of-the-year.

When I think of those three words "of the year" I feel compelled to make a list itemising every goddamn good thing I witnessed in 2006. Come to think of it, journalism actually gets really clever this time of year with the writerly kind clamouring for attention in the taste stakes with their end of year best of lists.

And as I failed journalism at uni but excelled in new media, I've blogged the best things:

1. Bindi Irwin's starmaking funeral speech
2. Ian Thorpe's coming out of the water speech
3. Lindsay Lohan's Robert Altman speech (and she thinks she can play
Stevie Nicks onscreen)
4. Paris Hilton
vomits on stage while trying to sing her own song
5. Oprah episode entitled
"Oprah's Favorite Sandwich in America"
Jason Donovan announcing his 2007 comeback album
7. Tuning into
TVS and other parallel universes
8. Britney Spears' vagina falls out
9. Naomi Campbell hitting her maid on
the head with a mobile phone
10.Celebrity racism ala Mel Gibson and Michael Richards (especially as seen on YouTube)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cave Dwellers

The Wild Boys
installation at Artspace, Sydney
Photo courtesy of the Wild Boys

Artswipe was hanging in a cave last week… a cave at Artspace. No, this was not Plato's cave – Artswipe has already loitered in that dark-hole-in-the-wall and let me tell you, representation has never been so fucked up in its metaphoricality. Yes, that's right, Artswipe's been really getting into ending rather commonplace words with "-ality". Made by a pack of cave dwellers known as the Wild Boys (Trevor Fry as Trix, Richard Gurney as Sonic Yootha and Tim Hilton as La Donna Rama) this installation forms part of the exhibition It's a New Day. Curated by Sally Breen, the exhibition, which explores process-driven art practice, also features Sarah Goffman, Lisa Kelly, Josie Cavallaro, Anne Kay and numerous collaborators.

So I am experiencing this cave, waiting for my own primal moment. There wasn't even any womb or penis envy involved, just a good old fashioned art-cave more glamorous and gimcrack in flavour than Plato could have ever imagined. Having sat on the delicately positioned cushions for awhile, watching a video work about an old man, a seagull and a suitcase – enigmaticArtswipe got a little nostalgic for the old days. You know, back when we all lived in caves, spoke an obscure native tongue, celebrated the loin cloth and waited for the onset of modernity.

It wasn't until I looked at the art-cave's markings that I realised there was no dot painting to be seen. Rather these tribal configurations seemed to derive from Dotti – that girly store franchise that sells dancepartyslutskirts for the tweenywhorebrigade among us. Oh now I get it! This is a gay cave. So this is what it must be like to be inside a rectum, I thought. Those gay boys really know how to break down barriers. When I say "gay cave" I don't mean what the ten-year-olds mean when they say, "That is so gay." I mean gay as in Kylie, Madonna, Cher. The kind of gay that has its own special access to irony; if you don't get the intertextual minutia the door bitch doesn't let you in. And good on her; knowing your popular culture and knowing it well is a rare talent and it's what makes the day gay.

The Wild Boys
It's a New Day opening night, Artspace
Photo courtesy of cactusboy666

Having given up rebirthing because my psychic space hasn't been so great since the last time I tried, I decided to check out what's on the other side of the cave. Otherness is often a trumped up term for the simple fact that some of us don't like anyone but ourselves. But seeing I spent my mid20s getting into community formations and out again, Artswipe decided getting on the other side is exactly the tonic of the hour. So gathering all my strength (and realising the constant move between first and third person makes language very crowded) Artswipe decided to risk entering the white cube. Tunneling through to the other side where otherness comes gay and nubile, Artswipe entered a paradise of amylsoaked whipsmart spatial frenzy.

Some wiccan-lookin drag-chick known as La Donna Rama (Tim Hilton) hulahoops on the big screen (much like she did opening night, as pictured above). A visual alphabet of cheesy disco albums adorn the wall on one side, toy knives and machetes on the other. Silver toy blowup guitars and mallets litter the floor in that casually messy but precise manner (the gays get that balance so right with their hair as well). It's then I find I have fully rebirthed despite myself. Cavorting on the floor – what else do you do when the moment grabs you – I was back in my teenage bedroom with posters on the wall, listening to American Top 40 with Shadoe Stevens on the radio. I am in my own private music video and nobody can take that away from me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Foot in Mouth Disease

The Artswipe
Foot in Mouth Disease, 2006

Artswipe is back in therapy. I've been having a recurring dream. We all know that Artswipe likes recurring themes (Oprah, Bono, Madonna, Philip Brophy) but recurring dreams are just too much to fathom. Especially when in your dream Madonna is signified as a rotting foot and Oprah is the rotting cancer mouth. Like the rotting body parts seen on Australian cigarette packets, Oprah and Madonna have a via-satellite dance-off, tearing up the dancefloor so hard that they merge. Madonna's foot and Oprah's mouth become one big foot in mouth disease. How strange. My therapist has suggested I start seeing someone else because I'm freaking her out.

Thanks to the anonymous Artswipe fan who emailed me this great animation:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Adrienne Shelly 1996-2006

Adrienne Shelly in Trust (Hal Hartley, 1990)

The Artswipe has been in deep grief since Adrienne Shelly died. Earlier this month Adrienne Shelly - who cemented her indie-fame as the lead in Hal Hartley's first two features The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and the amazing Trust (1990) - was found dead in her New York office. Initially believed to be a suicide as she was found hanging from a bedsheet, it was later revealed that a 19-year-old construction worker from Ecuador had accidentally killed her and later made it look like a suicide, all because she complained about the noise. Adrienne was in post-production on her film Waitress, her third feature as writer/director.

One of Artswipe's all time favourite movies is Hal Hartley's Trust and the best scenes are when Maria (Shelly) shooshes Matthew (Martin Donovan) because she thinks she can hear bombs dropping from afar. Maria and Matthew are meant to be together because he walks around clutching an undetonated hand grenade. They don't like noise. And then there's those fabulous scenes featuring an almost unrecognisable pre-Sopranos Edie Falco as Maria's scene-stealing-white-trash-with-pink-ski-jacket sister.

If only we could all go around killing people because we don't like the fucking noise complaints! Shame on you construction worker man.

Read an Adrienne Shelly obituary

Friday, November 17, 2006

Message Received

All week I have been trying to write a song. One in the grand 1980s namedropping tradition. You know the type: Billy Joel mastered the tradition with
"We Didn't Start the Fire": "Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray, South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio..." Transvision Vamp tried to top it with their song "Born to Be Sold." Who? You remember Wendy James – hot snatch indeed! But whenever I put 2B pencil to paper, all that comes out is trite Haiku type pretensions.

The reason I have wanted to trade my 12" blog for the 7" single is quite simple really. Instead of namedropping celebrities in my song, I will sing a laundry list of social causes that I must remember to get behind.

Since Belinda Emmett died last week I have realised that I am not doing enough for breast cancer.

Since the weather went crazy I realised I am doing enough for climate change.

Since I saw that show at Campbelltown Art Centre called
For Matthew and Others I realised I am not doing enough for schizophrenia (let alone bad art promoting awareness).

Since I saw U2 in concert last week (yes Artswipe caved) I realised I am not doing enough for AIDS in Africa or myriad other social issues that I can't recall now.

Since MySpace became a vehicle to stream the
Australian Make Poverty History concert I realised I am not doing enough for the starving kids of the world.

Since Sydney art schools have been disappearing I realised I am not doing enough for the art kids.

Since November was renamed
Movemeber in a bid to get men to grow mustaches to show their support for prostate cancer I realised I am not doing enough for the prostate, let alone the rest of the groin region.

Since Madonna
announced plans to adopt another African baby I realised I am not doing enough to get behind Kaballah.

Since watching Channel 9's
A Current Affair last night I realised I am not doing enough to get behind the more microcosmic of social issues: radical weight loss, gambling problems, people who cheat the dole, feuding neighbours hosing each other and the "love rat" (a man who had eight girlfriends at the same times). Next time Tracy Grimshaw asks, "If you've got a Centrelink story, email us now" I might just do that.

Not being able to write songs, I have instead decided to send protest text messages. Bono asked his congregation at the Telstra Stadium to holding their phone high in the air and text message support to some organisation or another. Was it the United Nations, I don't remember. Eventually I sent the message after illegally using my mobile to film some of the concert for some YouTube distribution. I even took a photo on my mobile phone camera of everyone else using their mobiles for world peace. Message received!

The Artswipe
Mobile Constellation, 2006
Interactive Multimedia Performance

Later I went and bought a bottle of Mount Franklin water for about $5. As it was one of the pink bottles that promote Mount Franklin's partnership with the Breast Cancer Foundation, I didn't mind. Instead of buying (RED) this week I have been buying pink. Even Masterfoods tomato sauce bottles are pink at the moment – admittedly this freaks me out for reasons which I'm sure have psychoanalytic origins.

I suppose it's important to leave the songwriting to those with real musical ability - Actors Turned Musicians (what Artswipe abbreviates to ATM). Why ATM's are the best songwriters – Toni Collette is no exception – is because they spend most of their time performing authenticity. Method acting finds a perfect match in songwriting, especially when the music makes meaning. Reading Michael Idato's
Sydney Morning Herald obituary for Belinda Emmett, Artswipe discovered that her final project was an unreleased album of her own songs. Idato writes: "Though best known as an actress, music was a more defining influence in her life. She had said her taste in music was 'a bit bohemian.' The album, with the working title So I Am, was produced by the John Farnham collaborator and former Southern Sons bandmember Phil Buckle. 'Having written the songs, it really means something to me,' she said."

It's bound to mean something to all of us too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thanks for the Add

One such image that you find when you type
"thanks for the add" into Google Images

It's been almost 6 months since The Artswipe began. In that time, Artswipe has been super busy keeping up appearances, because after all, appearance is the one tool of an artist's trade that gets used the most. Woodwork was never my thing. Instead, I was too busy reading Cultural Theory for Dummies while all the butch kids at school were making wineracks for Fathers' Day.

But back to appearances. As you might notice, Artswipe has taken the lead of
Skanky Jane and moved to Blogger Beta. Why they'd call such cutting edge technology after a redundant form of video I'll never know. But such are the mysteries of life in the cybernetic fold.

And with change comes the desire to rebrand. So I called the offices of (RED) as they're this week's hot dollar brand for Artswipe readers. I figured (RED) could redesign Artswipe and in return I would promise to sign up for Adsense and donate what ever spare change dribbled in, should Adsense actually work. So I looked up (RED) in the White Pages (thinking for a minute that perhaps whiteness was just a little too pervasive). Dialling the long international number, it rang for three times before a woman who announced herself as Sandy answered the phone. I asked if I could speak to Bono.

"Who's speaking, puurleease?"
"Artswipe from Sydney."
There was a pause... It was like Sandy had put her hand on the receiver so I couldn't hear her chatting to a superior.
"Hello, Sandy... Hello (RED)?"
After a minute she returned and in a rather gruff voice told me Bono called me an talentless shit-for-brains Aussie twat and that I was never to call again. "NEVER!"

Now that I have just finished selling my U2 CDs on eBay - Zooropa didn't sell - I have decided to just pick another template because after I finished Cultural Theory for Dummies, I could never get through Visual Communication for Cultural Theorists. It just didn't take. But admittedly, I feel really uncomfortable using a premade template. I feel like
David Byrne might see right through me and know that I have been guilty of using PowerPoint presentations; or that I once made a birthday card using clip art; or that I have forwarded spam emails (the kind that ask you to read some unfunny story, make a wish, choose a number and send it to people equaling the number you chose times 500); or that I have been secretly yearning to start a MySpace page.

You may remember in one of my early posts (again Bono themed) I wrote about resisting the lure of cultivating "friends" in MySpace. From what I could tell at the time, MySpace users usually had a vocabulary of four words, and when put in a sequence they would read:

Thanks for the Add.

If you have a MySpace page you can "Add" friends. Really, it's all about redefining what friendship is. If having "friends" in the 90s meant courting Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, having "friends" today means digging
Lily Allen (because she is like, so MySpace, man!) and - ummm - knowing that you can stalk that 14-year-old kid next door who I think I saw masturbating through the venentians, but I can't be too sure... There was a YouTube or a MySpace logo involved, that's all I can remember. Since then I have had to reacquaint myself with my therapist. You see, the last time I visited my shrink it was because Sarah Cottier Gallery was not having opening night events for her exhibitions. Well, Sarah emailed recently to say that's all changed and that she added me to her mailing list. Thanks for the add, Sarah!

So now I only visit my therapist when I have MySpace cravings. The voyeuristic kind. The kind that make me want to look up all those mofos who I hated at school to see if they have a MySpace profile and then hire that 14-year-old from next door (who is an Internet hacker, by the way) to corrupt their code. But before then I look at how they've let themselves go; how they're miserable fat alcoholics who still work at Wendys or Lone Star (in management of course). But that rarely happens because most of us have pseudonyms these days, and can be hard to track down.

Artswipe shudders at the thought of being so hard to track down, so if we don't connect here, "friendship" comes free at Artswipe's MySpace page: www.myspace.com/artswipe

Be my MySpace "friend" and I promise to stamp you with this homespun handmade treat:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reading (RED)

In today's
Sun-HeraldArtswipe's favourite weekend Bible – Bono defends Madonna's decision to adopt David Banda: "I'm very happy that Madonna should offer succour and more than that to a young boy," Bono said. "He's got a great opportunity now." The article goes on to reveal that Bono was once offered an African child by a desperate father, but was unable to take him home. Apparently the boy's face "haunts him to this day" and is the reason Bono started campaigning for African poverty relief. Surely Bono could have taken the boy on as staff? He does employ a whole fleet of people to attend to his family's every need.

Earlier this year Bono and Bobby Shriver, Chairman of Data, created a product line called (RED), which aimed to raise awareness and money for a global fund to help women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
(BLOG) RED documents the journey, which in recent months has seen Gap, Apple, Motorola, Converse, Emporio Armani and American Express release products associated with the (RED) brand. If you buy (RED) you are helping the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Why "red"? Well, in my last post, I suggested – quite crudely I admit – that red and black work quite well together. Red string works on black skin. Even Coca-Cola know they're onto a good thing with their black and red visual identity. The tension the (RED) campaign raises is the way it purports to be about politics, when really it's about aesthetics. Writing about fascism in the epilogue of the famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin argues: "All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war." Bono is certainly not alone today in his attempts to "render politics aesthetic." Much art and popular culture thrives on this instinct, and certainly, Artswipe believes that aesthetics sparkle brighter than ever when charged by the frisson of political engagement – but only when the machinery of propaganda isn't facilitating such processes.

Buy (RED) and we can feel like we're fighting dire social problems like the spread of HIV/AIDS in poverty stricken corners of the globe. Our rampant desire to shop can now feel justified as charity. We're saving the world when we buy a Motorola phone. Can the receipt for a purchase of a (RED) iPod Nano be claimed as a charitable tax deduction? When we spend big on (RED) American Express and get into monstrous debt, does the exorbitant interest charges also go to help Africans with HIV/AIDS? Even OprahArtswipe's favourite philosopher (after Walter Benjamin) – champions (RED), taking the time and photo-op to
spend big with Bono. Of course she supports it! Oprah obviously has a major shopping addiction. If "EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!" (as her entire studio audience did in one infamous 2004 episode of her talk show) it's only because she feels compelled to momentarily alleviate her own conspicuous consumption.

Charity begins at home and homes always look better when decked out in a wealth of commodities. Consumed with fervour in the western world such commodities become tokens of cultural, social and even intellectual capital, even if their origins derive from non-western sweat shop labour. (RED) labours under the weight of such good intentions to conflate the frenzy of consumer culture with social responsibility.

Why is it branded "red"? Simply because the issue is not as political as it is aesthetic. As aesthetic as blackness is for a white western culture bred on a Benetton "united colours" mentality. Perhaps signifying blood, which with or without the stigma of HIV/AIDS is still coloured red, the (RED) brand reveals its shallow aestheticisation of race as if it's a Dulux colour chart in its revealing manufacturing of blackness.

For celebrities endorsing the (RED) campaign, blackness is a commodity that can be purchased symbolically. Through cash register empathy, blackness can be bought to ensure the privilege of whiteness is momentarily used for good. Kate Moss appeared on the cover of the UK magazine The Independent in blackface with the headline, "Not a Fashion Statement." Touted as "The Africa Issue," this September 2006 edition of The Independent was designed as an eye catching tie-in with Bono's (RED) campaign. In her opinion piece for the
Sydney Morning Herald, Emily Maguire writes:

"The stereotypes in these campaigns range from the banal (African equals beads and face paint) to the offensive (Africa equals AIDS). Both contribute to the biggest Western misconception of all: that Africa is a monocultural mess waiting for Westerners to come and clean it up. Africa is a continent, not an issue. AIDS is a disease, not a cause. And while celebrities may believe they are helping by raising awareness, they are, in fact, telling us what we know and creating a false sense that the problem is being addressed."

Maybe The Independent is right: maybe this whole campaign is a worthy cause and "not a fashion statement." Perhaps Madonna had simply purchased everything in the (RED) catalogue to match her red Kaballah accessories, and after a Sunday afternoon bout of consumer fatigue, simply decided babies over brands.

Whatever the case, white bread has never been so (RED).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Red String for Baby David

The Artswipe
Red String for Baby David, the New Kaballah King
Mixed Media, 2006

The Artswipe never makes it a recurring practice to namedrop but sometimes you just gotta. So here goes... Madonna is actually one of my best friends. OK, there, I've said it. Let's just now move on. To prove it: Madonna is actually No 1 on my speed-dial. Madonna and I have been friends for years. I choreographed those conveyor belt moves seen in one of her late eighties tours. And now I'm in line to be a diasporic godparent.

Madonna has been calling intermittently throughout the year, telling me to "up" my platform: "Move beyond the blog and start a talkshow you fool!" She's always on my case about that, and I always reply: "When you start adding Australia to your tours, Bitch!" Anyway, we always have that kind of banter. But I must admit, she's always crapping on about how far away Australia is, but she never complains about going to Africa if she can pick up a tasty souvenir or two. Sometimes our best friends are really our worst enemies.

To my surprise, I received an email from Guy Ritchie this morning. When the husband is emailing you behind the wife's back, something's definitely up. It's no secret; Guy and I have never really gelled. He's basically a talentless, whinging pom and he's jealous of my relationship with Madonna. He hates anyone who has a longer history with his wife than him. When they got hitched I begged her not to marry him. I even photoshopped Guy in bed with Tom Cruise, but really should have used a pic of Guy that she wouldn't recognise – like one she hadn't actually taken during their honeymoon and emailed to, like, everyone.

So Guy emails me and it was very revealing: "Madge really hates Oprah - she's called Oprah a condescending motherfucker this morning while Nanny No 3 was within earshot changing baby David's nappy. You know, once when Madge was on her show, Oprah waited for the ad-break to tell Madge that she'd never earn as much money as her. Madge fired back: 'Once a fattie, always a fattie!' When the ad-break ended they smiled for the cameras, hugged and shed a few tears while a moving Gregorian Chant version of 'Holiday' played over a slide show featuring never-before-seen polaroids of Madge's dead mother. It was actually a great TV moment and made me think of directing some TV one day. But Artswipe, if Oprah wasn't black, Madge wouldn't have bothered defending the recent media tirade on her stage. But black is our favourite colour this year and Oprah has topped the black charts for years now…"

I was actually surprised that Guy could string a sentence together. His talent obviously knows no bounds. He is a writer/director, after all. After more rambling, he basically confessed that they adopted David because some Kaballah mystic said it would be good for the faith to get more multicultural and that red string works quite nicely on black skin. He signed off by apologising for being a cunt to me over the years and pleading for Artswipe to put some positive spin on their adoption situation.

Well, I can't promise anything. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Hollywood certainly wasn't overtaken by Kaballah propaganda overnight. These things take time. But I really do support their decision to adopt David. Celebrities always look much better when they have a trophy from poverty stricken or war-torn parts. Mia Farrow knew once she made a name for herself in Rosemary's Baby all those years ago that her future babies would never glisten with the Satan-like connotations of whitemeat. Angelina Jolie hands-down wins the Artswipe award for best combined family haircut. And speaking of trophies, Madonna knows more than anyone that black babies are more than just accessories, especially when they're destined for a life of being dressed by Dolce & Gabbana.

It's not the first time Madonna has expressed a desire to mother black "children." Throughout In Bed with Madonna, she goes on about how her she mothers her black gayboy dancers "out of the need in me to be mothered." She was then, quite simply destined to one day have a black baby of her own, to teach him to vogue some of those low-down drrrty Motown moves. Madonna, more than anyone, knows how to manufacture sizzling shit-hot authenticity out of the most base cross-cultural cliches.

So I say: Leave Madonna alone. Kaballah obviously needs the numbers, if not a new poster chile.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Sarah Goffman
Kingswood Swamp, 2004
From Alien Invasion,
MOP Projects catalogue, 2005
Courtesy of the artist and MOP Projects

It's no secret, Artswipe gets pathetically nostalgic for art school life all the time. Oh those were the days. I recall the good times, sitting around in circles biting each others' heads off (or giving some good old fashioned art school head) in "crits" while the lecturers swanned around reminding the kids that art is hard so get used to it!

You can probably imagine then, the anguish I have been experiencing in recent weeks with all this bullshit about the National Art School's potential merger with the College of Fine Arts and the closing down of the University of Western Sydney's fine arts and electronic arts programs.

Where will the kids go to make art? Is it a coincidence that
anti-sedition is all the rage with the Howard government at the same time art schools are a dying breed? Sedition laws, which significantly impact artists, were passed less than a year ago, and now art is being threatened again in a way that's linked to the government. The lifeblood of the arts – its government funded university art schools – are under threat. Higher education itself has never been part of Howard's agenda. Adequate funding to keep alive a culture of educated types is just not relevant in a country that, for instance, celebrates Steve Irwin and shuns Germaine Greer. If Greer gets stung by a bee, has a severe reaction and dies, will her funeral be televised? Will people avenge her by killing all the bees?

The brilliant thing about NAS and COFA is they are such dynamically different institutions. I'm not going to play favourites and say one has a better approach to art education because they both excel in their own unique ways. As for UWS, well that place produces art student powder kegs who come from the west or choose the west for their art education. I've fantasised many a time of what it must be like to make art in the west, or at least show at Casula Powerhouse. Casula features in most of my dark fantasies because Ivan Millat once drove through there picking up a hitchiker. In one of my favourite night sweats, I am a conscientious citizen who jots down the number plate, goes home and paints it, acrylic on canvas.

Oh and all the fantasies I could conjure about UWS. All those parklands surrounding the vast campus. Artswipe would never catch a train all the way to Kingswood without being guaranteed some good old fashioned date rape in those dark woods. So basically I'm yet to catch that train. I mean, really, the Kingswood campus even has a fucking swamp! And the swamp's inspired artists like Tracey Moffatt and Sarah Goffman to make art and I'm pretty sure they didn't study art at UWS. Basically a university with a swamp needs an art school attached to it. Mandatory.

Tracey Moffatt
Artist at Work, 1997
(represented in Sydney by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery)

Swamps bring out the Julia Kristeva in all of us and it's at art school we read that wonderful book, The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982). My favourite line: "During that course in which 'I' become, I give birth to myself amid the violence of sobs, of vomit" (emphasis added). While Kristeva wasn't talking about an art course per se, she may as well accept the fact that we all read this at art school and it became the mess mantra. Remember that old saying that there's a time for everything under the sun? Well, that includes having your perfunctory grunge period, where you go all abject and degenerate, piss all over the car park, photograph it, photocopy the photograph, post it on the noticeboard (the one which is only read by engineering students) and document it all over again but this time with whatever body fluid is your favourite that week. When I went through my grunge period, dandruff was my medium because I was saving my body fluids in a time capsule. The Powers of Horror was my textbook - I was really getting into subverting boundaries, borders and binaries - and I paid enough in library late fines to have been able to buy at least three copies of it.

Well, art school date rape has taken on new highs because it seems UWS has been raped and pillaged of its esteemed arts programs. Sari Kivinen, who was a shortlisted for the 2006 Helen Lempriere Traveling Art Scholarship and reviewed in an earlier Artswipe post (you might remember Sari drinking her multiple personalities under the table, or at least in the kitchen sink) is spokesperson for the blog Save UWS Arts and internet petition. Organised by UWS students, the blog and petition are gaining much momentum and support, which is great. Stay tuned for protests - if you're lucky they may even take place at the campus bar, which I'm told is called The Swamp Bar.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Crocodile Tears

Steve Irwin in Toyota advertisement (2004)

Since Steve Irwin's death, The Artswipe has been engaged in some unofficial vox pop, hitting the streets with a series of really important questions:

1. Did you cry when Steve Irwin died?
2. Did you give a shit about Steve Irwin before he died?
3. What will become of Bindi Irwin?
4. Have you hurt a stingray in the last month?

The answers yielded interesting results. Regarding Question 1, the general consensus was people were devastated their great cultural icon had gone. Not everyone cried, because since Diana, it's been hard to make celebrity grief meaningful. With Question 2, the results were certainly mixed, with most people saying they were so proud of his accomplishments they considered him one of the family. Very few confessed to not liking Irwin before he died, and feeling a tad guilty now he was in celebrity heaven. One angry dame spat in my face for using the word "shit" in the same sentence as "Steve Irwin." Someone's gotta tackle the big issues, lady!

With Question 3 things get really complex. Before Steve Irwin's death, The Artswipe didn't know about eight-year-old Bindi Irwin, having been indifferent to popular culture founded on crocodile cowboys like Hoges and Irwin. Their careers are crassly commercialised clichés made with American audiences in mind. Steve Irwin's fame was rock solid in the US long before it took off here in Australia. It seems Australians only gave a shit about Irwin after he'd been validated by Americans. If a celebrity's image is founded on a renegade touristy stereotype, then how can it have any relevance or authenticity in its originating country? That Irwin had reared a media savvy, delightfully named, crocodile huntress in Bindi had simply escaped me. I was too busy coming to terms with the fact that people eat this myth with a spoon: man tames beast in rugged terrain, film it for network television, package it with merchandising and charity causes. Erase all signs of big dollar network mediation, emphasise how Irwin was actually doing worthy work (helping sick animals and the like) and what you have is instant hit validated by one and all. When Germaine Greer gets on her soapbox, the media jumps on her, reminding everyone she's a cranky old bitch. What would Germaine know? She's an ex-pat which makes her an instant traitor. Despite her wacky ways, she's basically a signifier of any vestiges of intellectual culture Australia has ever produced. Therefore, she is discredited immediately. What would a pioneering radical feminist scholar know? Nothing if her work is not perpetuating cultural dumbness.

Bindi Irwin and mum Terri Irwin at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards

The results to Question 3 confirmed that indeed I'm not alone in only discovering this little miss sunshine in recent times. Bindi made such a beautiful speech at her dad's funeral. Having taped the funeral – I even took out the ads – I often return again and again to Bindi's performance, the svengali in me recognising I could make a wad of cash if I kidnapped her and set her loose on the stage. Perhaps she could be the opening act for Kylie's Showgirl tour? Bindi could at least read from Kylie's new children's book. Such instincts to exploit this little girl have simply become commonsense. When you're born into the media, you perform or be damned.

Presenting Guy Sebastian the Favourite Australian Artist award at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Bindi in her now customary khakis and crimped pigtails, ate up the stage. "Isn't this great?" Bindi said. "I'm the smallest presenter but I get to give the biggest award." When the Awards climaxed with a big slime fight that saw Bindi, Guy and the hysterical tweeny audience smeared in all shades of green, I just knew Steve would have been proud of his number one girl. If you haven't achieved a televised slime fight in your life so far, then you basically haven't achieved anything.

But all this fame has an ethical dimension when one is so young and thrust into a spotlight rendered brighter since the death of a famous parent. Headlines have been preempting what will obviously take place: Bindi Irwin will be a big star. Despite psychologists like
Alison Garton voicing concern over Bindi's emotional or psychological wellbeing amidst the turmoil of losing dad, we all know that Bindi's basically hot media property. The Sydney Morning Herald's headline for their report on Bindi's appearance at the Nickelodeon awards: "Make Way for Bindi the Rock Star." Well, she's already a rock star. In today's Sun-Herald, a two page article on "the Bindi debate," reports that she already sings and dances in a band called Bindi and the Crocmen, has her own line of clothing and will debut in a 26-episode pay TV program in the US.

When The Artswipe reported on
JonBenét a few months back, I was implying how the saturated depiction of such kids whose early success is based on their precocious smarts and their ability to perform as apprentice adults, represents a new kind of media sanctioned pornography. The Artswipe is not trying to sound like a moral crusader, far from it. The Artswipe is just sick and tired of how in death we turn fairly vapid celebrities like Steve Irwin into saints. Before his death, he was just another larger-than-life Aussie whose celebrity was based on a kitschy brand of Australiana.

"I don't want Daddy's passion to ever end," said Bindi in her heartfelt eulogy. Dear Bindi, as long as "passion" can be merchandised (just ask Mel Gibson), you'll never have to worry about that. Just keep on wearing your khaki uniform, conforming to a recognisable visual identity that melds humanitarianism and entertainment, and you'll be Daddy's passion incarnate. And when you're 18 and trying to throw off your youthful image, I'll support your decision should you go the way of Nikki Webster, to spray that raunch in

As for Question 4 about whether anyone had hurt a
stingray. Nobody admitted to human vs nature vengeance in the admittedly smallish sample of people I randomly asked yesterday at work (don't question my empirical research methodologies, ok). Who would even admit to that shit anyway? Oh that's right, I don't think my vox pop sample featured any of the Steve Irwin fan club freaks, who in avenging their master, are really imagining Germaine Greer's face when trampling all over the poor docile stingray.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Art Satan

California Dreams (pre-Philip Brophy makeover)

I'm becoming very predictable. Really, I never thought I'd write another Artswipe post citing the gorgeous man of all things glam -

Philip Brophy. As he's showing at a post-Lempriere Artspace, and there's really not that much else on, I couldn't help but dedicate this next song to Philip.

Featuring three solo projects by seemingly divergent artists, Artspace is like one big salad at the moment. To the left is Gary Carsley doing his drag/daguerreotype thing sealed with a fairly innocuous but knowing reference to Björk's least interesting song "Venus as a Boy". (Note to self: I must get to the fucking Chauvel and see Drawing Restraint... I must also recharge my iPod). In the middle of Artspace, as one enters the gallery is Maria Cruz, that zany den mother of the monochromatic moment unofficially paying tribute to my favourite game: Million Bucks (and everyone has to know). It's a variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. You close your eyes, point to someone ugly in the street and that's the next person you have to have sex with. And everyone has to know. In return you get a million bucks. This game is aka Charity Fuck. Actually, that's not at all what Cruz's work is about, but that's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it.

Performance art moment: Skanky Jane puts a blindfold on Artswipe. Spin around. Of course the blindfold is made out of organza, so Artswipe gets to sit pretty looking down on all creation. At that moment Artswipe knows everything and has power over what's hot and what's not. Biopower, actually. Kant incarnate mulling over the colour chart of life, Artswipe decides what images will be heritage-listed this season. Point and fuck. And if everyone has to know about it, then that's cool because the Press Release is Artswipe's favourite literary genre right now.

Who do I point at? Philip Brophy: Art Satan.

Turn right at Maria Cruz and Brophy's Evaporated Music 2: At the Mouth of Metal is playing. Actually, walk into Artspace and his Dolby 5.1 "aural surgery" can be heard contaminating the whole Gunnery like acne spreading its putrefied pointillism teen crackwhore style. A scene from the early '90s TV show California Dreams is given a Brophy metal remix. I don't recall California Dreams, but it gives off a kind of Hillsong vibe in its peachy pastel glaze of righteous rock.

File under: Inspirational.

In his artist statement, Brophy writes: "Like Satan summoned in the middle of the high school prom, Evaporated Music 2 rescores these vapid TV studio-floor moments with the sound of Metal. Think Disney riddled with cancer. The Wiggles sweating with Hep B. Evaporated Music 2 welcomes the most Other of music – Metal – and amplifies its guttural explosions through the healthy bodies of television's dream of contented pop music."

With hands raised, not to the Lord, but
Lordi (the Finnish monster mash maelstrom who won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest) Brophy's taped-off-tv loop of California Dreams (with its, I think it was Channel 7, watermark still intact) is a glittering tribute to what might happen if Delta Goodrem was raped by a crate of ice cold Pepsi dildos.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Punch Drunk

Sari TM Kivinen
Drunk in the Kitchen Sink Again, video, 2006
Courtesy of the artist and Artspace.

The Art Life has done it again. "What did the Team do?" I hear you ask. "Beat me to the punch with an overview of the Art Award love-in circus currently spreading like a sexually transmitted hybrid media disease." If I ever get around to writing an art theory book, it will be an ethnographic tell-all memoir about how awards have been passed down from ancient civilizations to ensure marginal culture groups (like the artworld) have the opportunity to have a burger named after them at the Burger Bun. And it's about time: there's only so many Logies, Oscars and Aria Awards you can eat. Now artists can stop pretending they'd prefer Sushi Train and feel justified going down to a local food court and purchasing a "Lempriere, hold the lettuce." Primavera artist Julia de Ville would be working in the kitchen making all sorts of taxidermy treasures from the mince patties before they made their way to the bun.

I always thought art was too cool for words, let alone awards. Awards are tres tragic and that's why we use awards ceremonies as a good excuse for a party. For instance, last time the Emmy Awards were on, I had to watch with a bunch a friends and a case of champagne, if only to perform a taxonomic analysis of how many times Hollywood celebrities like Rachel Griffiths and Christina Applegate were sprung turning up to the same do in the same dress.

Well that's exactly what happened to me at the Primavera and Helen Lempriere opening nights held recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Artspace respectively. I turned up both nights wearing the same dress as a very famous art star, whose name I cannot divulge. (You know who you are, bitch!) But true to form I had too much to drink after only an hour or so and spewed Burger Bun chunks all over my Lisa Ho. Never mind, I always have a change of clothes underneath – just in case. Seeing I had not yet invented my Twin Towers costume, the spare change was this slinky denim corset, beaded with "glitter licks" (my term) and hemmed with a deconstructed Tsubi like stitching. Where the fuck is my award for even documenting such minutia, such ephemera, such low down, top grade grandeur?

But no, awards don't come easily when the sun comes up the next morning and you realise your friends haven't SMS'd you in like twenty minutes. You've been dropped. They are too embarrassed to be called your friend, even though they need you because you're a more important artist than they are. It is you who is always being shortlisted – not such much for awards than for jobs at Ikea – but never mind, you've used a few tan-coloured coffee tables in your installation art from time to time to make the whole application process worthwhile. It's when those same "friends" make a beeline for the other side of the street while holding Zanny Begg inspired placards that read "BEING DRUNK IS NOT PERFORMANCE ART." And on the other side of the placard, Mitch Cairns has rendered your image - all nervous line work and naive stylings in vomit coloured crayons. OK, so maybe now I am sounding like that anonymous SLUT who had the nerve on my own comment forum to call me "a spoiled brat" for dissing the Biennale volunteer slave drive. Actually s/he may just be right.

But what is that I see over there, shining its data-projected light onto an Artspace wall? It's Sari TM Kivinen, emerging star of the dark night. The Art Life made brief mention to this little vixen of the yard glass, and I'd like to take the opportunity to elaborate. Frankly, I'd like to thank Kivinen for showing me the way. In her video Drunk in the Kitchen Sink Again, Kivinen does something no one really does anymore: make work about being drunk rather than actually assuming alcohol is an artist's natural adjunct (with or without awards).

In the video, Kivinen sits in the sink manufacturing a slow building intensity that erupts in a train of rabid affects. Seducing with a sweet smile or a butterfly lullaby before growling like a Diamanda Galas banshee gripping the wine bottle in a tightfisted presidential handshake, Kivinen's video climaxes in a fit of "low-fi" toe-eating self-loathing. Searching for this Kivinen lady online to see who she is, what she's on about, and how I can join her AA group, I stumbled on her
website, which details a whole sordid backstory spun around three fictional characters called Jessee-Liina, Caroliina and Starella. Sisters with a hereditary weakness to alcohol, they can be socialites with a taste for the sherry bottle (as in Jessee-Liina, who is seen on the website cavorting with those gorgeous think-pink-tanks, The Motel Sisters) or Caroliina, who is a jealous tipsy bitch unstuck by Jessee-Liina's popularity, or Starella, the mad one who gets all downward spiral on the piss. Starella is so troubled, she bathes in a fruity punch polluted by her own weeping mascara.

Kivinen writes:

"Starella is the youngest of the Liina sisters. Armed with a mean temper Starella often appears out of control and out of sync with this world. As the youngest Starella is infinitely influenced by sister Caroliina's drinking habits- taking it ten folds over the limit without a care about what anybody thinks.

"Starella often comes across like a wild animal caged and confused, however she is completely aware and in control of this primal impression and finds strength in her out of control behaviour and uses this image to protect her true self from the harsh opinions of her older sisters. Starella relishes embracing her own demons and enjoys the fun of never knowing where she’s gonna wake up next."

So I am assuming it's Starella making the appearance in Kivinen's compelling Lempriere video. Or could it be Kivinen after all, muckraking certain reality/fiction distinctions? As her website explains, "Most importantly, Kivinen explores her own fears of becoming an alcoholic, due to her own genetic predisposition. She does this by passing the buck to her characters by exploring how the sisters individually deal with their alcoholic genes."

Now I am totally convinced: Kivinen deserved the Lempriere award because she brings a refreshing honesty to her practice that I haven't seen in years, one that makes me long for sobriety (and then discard that longing as a form of false consciousness). Furthermore, I just know that Kivinen would have used the money for more "art supplies" - the liquid kind.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Terrorism Fatigue

Nine days have passed since the five year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. In those days I have been tossing around the idea of going all social comment on my readers. (Social comment art, after all, is my favourite kind of art and Art Express my favourite annual art exhibition - those art kids know a thing or two about politics). Anyway, can I tackle the twin towers?

I woke up early on 9/11 five years on. Switched on the plasma. Sat narcotised by the looped terror footage. Realised I like short sentences. Decided to call in sick.

"Are you sick?" asked Marcy, the receptionist at work.
"I've come down with terrorism fatigue."
"Oh darl, I know what that's like. If there's anything we can do to help please let us know. We are here for you."

I hung up the phone and put on some Enya to calm my nerves. Valium's never been my thing. A plane flew overhead, vibrating the windows of my house – something I've never noticed as much as accepted, living as I do under a flight path. Gotta move - planes might start falling from the sky and I can't afford house and contents insurance being an artist whose medium right now is the blog. Does that make me new media? Searching through old boxes of old media – VHS to be precise – I found what I was looking for: La Bamba. That scene where the plane crashes in the sky has been like my favourite image since like forever. It has a strangely calming effect – more calming at least than the horror that Lou Diamond Phillips was never a bigger star. Para bailar la Bamba Para bailar la Bamba.

After playing the scene is all kinds of motion – fast, slow, freeze frame, reverse – I switched it off just in time for an episode of Oprah. Thank the Lord for the W channel. Makes my Foxtel subscription worthwhile. This will be the third post where I mention Oprah. Well, dear readers, if you haven't realised by now, she is my favourite female artist after Tracey Emin. Interviewing a 9/11 widow who was paid millions in compo, but then became a big consumer whore much to the chagrin of American taxpayers, Oprah turned to the audience, and said "You have a hole in your soul." The 9/11 widow just nodded, a lonely tear trickling down her botoxed cheekbone before confessing she now throws up after a spending spree. Bulimia has taken new shape. Never one to let a moment pass by without acknowledging what a fattie she once was, Oprah reminded us that, had she lost Steadman to 9/11, she'd have eaten her pain.

"Hardly a day goes by when I don't think about 9/11. It's mainly when I'm getting dressed in the morning that I think about the 3000 who died," said Oprah to her nodding audience of buffed upper middle class whiteys. At that moment, I switched off the plasma, rewound my copy of La Bamba, and got out the art supplies to make some post 9/11 art. Culture is so post 9/11 right now and if I don't make something to secure my relevance then I may as well never apply for OzCo funding again. Using cardboard boxes, I replicated the towers as costumes to wear next time my performance art collaborator helps me crash an art party or two. This piece is called:

Crash parties, not buildings (2006)
Mixed media

Friday, September 15, 2006

Identity Politics

Artswipe has been flooded with fan mail of late. Bags of it. Weekdays at approximately 3:27pm my favourite postie, Maxine, arrives on my doorstep to unload those canvas sacks. It's around the same time of day that the kids in the neighbourhood walk home from school, occasionally stopping to play hopscotch, trade marbles and compare Nike logos. I might paint that image one day. In oils.

The recurring questions my fans ask: "Who are you?" and "What do you look like?" As I stopped buying letter-writing stationary around the time I signed up to Blogspot dot com, I thought I'd reply en mass with a little lesson about identity politics and a collage I made of my name.

Identity is never singular, never constant and is in continual flux. In contrast, a dictionary I consulted defines identity as "the state of being identical or absolutely the same; selfsameness of character or quality."

I prefer flux - or Fluxus, to use her full name.

Strange as it sounds, people regularly consult my homespun take on identity politics. I always use the medium of dance (genre: contemporary) to demonstrate identity's multiplicity because I guess none of us really understood Judith Butler's work, but carry on regardless, daily debating "performativity" at the office watercooler.

My backup dance troop, The Hegemony Dancers, accompany my act (when they're not touring the Westfield circuit). Today we promise to make meaning like never before.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

See Anything Suspicious

Rose Nolan
(Sourced from Sarah Cottier Gallery website)

Welcome back Sarah Cottier Gallery. Elegance returns yet again to the Sydney artscape. Reading an article in the latest Australian Art Collector (issue 27) which interviewed Sarah about the re-opening of her gallery, I experienced a curious sensation of porous nostlagia. As you all know, Artswipe lives for nostalgia, so the news about Sarah's new chic Paddington digs just took me back to those heady days in Newtown (November 1993 - April 1997) when Sarah (and partner Ashley Barber) reigned supreme with a stable of artists that included the likes of Mikala Dwyer, Hany Armanious and Matthys Gerber. When Sarah exhibited Sylvie Fleury's haute-couture rocket ship in December 1994 I was in some kind of transubstantiated heaven. Then they moved to a very epic space in Redfern (December 1998 - November 2003). It was there I got dizzy in John Nixon's monochromes and Maria Cruz's cryptic word play.

So an email is forwarded to me a few weeks ago from an Artswipe fan. Attached is a PDF invite to view the first Sarah Cottier phase three exhibition featuring work by Simon Barney, Stephen Bram, Marco Fusinato, Matthys Gerber, Rueben Keehan, John Nixon, Rose Nolan, Elizabeth Pulie, Andreas Reiter Raabe, Koji Ryui, Gemma Smith and John Spiteri.

Cool. Love them all. Can't wait for the opening. Artswipe, like all serious bloggers, is a major art opening fuckslut. You could never ever know how disappointed I was when I read the next line of the feline-grey-type-on-white-PDF, which said "No opening, but we're open."

Surely, that can't be true. How could I possibly attend during gallery hours? The thought of going to an exhibition and not seeing the work through a haze of overcrowded piss-elegance is just too impossible to fathom. How could I actually claim to have seen art in its true context: through a filter of air kisses, knowing nods, art market mayhem, Fiorelli fashion frenzies, literacies in text-art alliteration.

"Turn your frown upside down," said my therapist when I bared my heart and soul during one vulnerable hour of psychic power. "Being seen at art openings speaks to your inability to let go of being seen seeing, looking at being looked at, among many other cross pollinating circuits of spectatorial desire … And really, you can always go to the Primavera opening." It wasn't until much later that I realised how my therapist, once again, couldn't be more on the money. It's like my therapist looked into my black little heart and saw a desperate pit of nothingness consumed by viewing art through a scrim of mass body contact. Shame on me for being so into group dynamics.

How did I become such a fucking mess? Where did life begin, where does it end if not for a few quality opening nights lightly salted with some shit hot abstraction? How am I expected to engage with meaning without feeling part of a mingling audience that rims the champagne glass of light and dark, court and spark? Never one to brave my own paranoia that serious art commentary is best served with crab cakes and wasabi peas, I decided to visit the gallery, braving the white walls, fearing the slow burning echo of my own shallow presence. And low and behold, Rose Nolan, that brave pioneer of all things red and white, said with finite clarity in three words what most of say in at least ten:

See Anything Suspicious

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Stupid as a Blogger

Rolando Caputo & Juan Davila, Cine-Romance, 1983
Frame from Super 8 Film

I stepped into the post-Biennale, pre-Primavera Museum of Contemporary Art today to reacquaint myself with the work of Juan Davila. Seeing Davila's work again made me nostalgic for the art that made me want to be an artist. Is there anyone out there these days with a fire in their belly not unstuck by the hybridity-flavoured bubblegum that masquerades as identity art? Why at this sudden juncture am I nostalgic for the brash postmodernism of Davila's generation? Oh the glory days when there was a Super 8 collective rather than art made by mobile phones. And just to illustrate my thesis, pictured here thanks to my Nokia mobile, is a still from Juan Davila's brilliant Super 8 collaboration with Rolando Caputo, Cine-Romance (a work not featured in the exhibition).

Art today still seeks recourse to the familiar politics of identity facilitated by postmodernism and certainly evidenced by the MCA's earlier exhibition Masquerade (23 March - 21 May 2006). But perhaps the politics stay the same while the art often loses its edge? I miss the days when art forcefully engaged with the intellectual and political, railing against ideological blind spots where necessary, and could still "make play" without being trivial and light. And if art shocked now and then, well it's done its job. Having your art impounded by the police - which happened to Davila in 1982 for his Stupid as a Painter - is like winning a fucking Academy Award. "I did not include Stupid as a Painter in the current MCA show, but included it in the book. This is not meant to be a sensational show but one that addresses many other aspects of my work," Davila says to Joyce Morgan in a Sydney Morning Herald article (September 8, 2006). Understandable enough, but it would have been great for diehard fans to be able to see this epic work on show again. Or at least I'm waiting for the day someone curates a show called Impounded that brings together artworks banned at one point in history for some reason or other. (The last artist I recall whose work was impounded was Zanny Begg, whose Checkpoint for Weapons of Mass Distraction work was too provocative for Blacktown Council in 2005 but can be seen currently installed on telegraph poles and overpass bridges around Sydney).

Note to self: make a performance work where I visit galleries around Sydney and impound work that is not politically postmodern enough. Commission a famous designer, I'm thinking Sass + Bide, to make an outfit based on one of Davila's pneumatic phallus brandishing quotation whores. Borrow Shaun Gladwell's skateboard for the great getaway – maybe he can document the whole thing? If that idea doesn't work out, I could just go to an art opening (maybe Primavera on Tuesday night) and place well-known Sydney artists under citizen's arrest all the while chanting: "CRIMES AGAINST POLITICAL POSTMODERNISM! CRIMES AGAINST POLITICAL POSTMODERNISM!" I'd sell T-Shirts that say, "The new terrorism is the new conservatism." Juan Davila would buy one and it would match the cream suit he wore on opening night.

But when I think about making new work – the kind of work that made me want to make work in the first place, I think: Will it sell tickets? Should I invent a persona? Can I exhibit my ephemera? Should I engage with negotiation and negotiate engagement. Perhaps I should write my own catalogue essay as a text message sent to everyone at exactly the same time. Maybe I should send some mail art to Lebanon. Paint Kylie Minogue performing for the troops. Should I tour my show to Hillsong? Make a zine that has an ISBN. Turn my iPod into a mobile gallery space. Get Philip Brophy to curate it. Lament that I didn't buy a Davila painting back in 1980. Simulate experience. Reformat blog posts as editioned DVD collectibles. Stop linking Artswipe to articles from the Sydney Morning Herald. Get a haircut and a real job.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Knitted Shit

The Knitted Testament (from Ship of Fools)

Is it any surprise that The Blake Prize for Religious Art accepted an entry by journalists masquerading as artists? Sydney Morning Herald journalists Lenny Ann Low and Jenny Tabakoff created Our Last Supper and it was selected alongside 359 other entries for the tepid annual prize exhibition held at the National Art School.

In a
Herald article published on 7 September 2006, Low details the experience of making work for the Blake, asking the almost ye-olde-worlde philosophical question: "what happens when you have an idea and realise that art is the only way out?" For starters, I'm sure non-artists have this problem all the time. The lady who works at the school canteen suddenly has an idea and she thinks, "Fuck me dead if I can't make some art out of it!" It seems to me Low and Tabakoff are really just demonstrating to the world at large that anyone can be an artist these days, despite Low claiming in a fairly reductive fashion that:

"What some people consider a masterpiece is merely an indistinct scribble or a pile of clay to others. Then there are those who appreciate art, but lack the confidence to give it a go. Art, most people think, is something only artists do: it requires innate talent and years of training. If you have neither, it's hard to believe you can create art worthy of the name."

I long for the day when people start looking at contemporary journalism and say, "My child could write that!" They don't get called "hacks" for nothing. But that's beside the point because if Low and Tabakoff think they're hot shit because they got into the Blake Prize, then they are seriously deluded. Low asks in her article: "Could we concoct a work of art that anyone would take seriously?" And the answer, Lenny, would be no. That's because no one in the artworld takes the Blake Prize seriously. Yes, Artswipe did a psychic survey and everyone in the artworld agrees.

If the Blake judges were really that serious when they selected something like Our Last Supper, which Low and Tabakoff constructed out of their collection of "quirky knitted dolls," then they don't realise that knitted shit in contemporary art post-Mike Kelley is a big fat cliché. When I typed "knitted last supper" in Google Images, the results show a better range of images than what Low and Tabakoff produced. The reason they're interesting is because they highlight how religious art is only good for one thing: kitsch.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Docile Biennales

Resistance is futile. I have spent the last few weeks battling the art demons in my head that taunt, "Write something about the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, Zones of Contact?" I'd reply: "And just how does one stretch the phrase 'I was bored shitless' over several paragraphs when I could instead renew my World Movies subscription – setting the VCR during anthropological documentary hour."

Eventually the demon forced some Artswipe commentary when I encountered a tiny cost-efficient flyer the other day at a Sydney artist run space. The small piece of paper was appealing for volunteers to dismantle Antony Gormley's massive installation, Asian Field, held at Pier 2/3 Walsh Bay. Comprised of approximately 180,000 life-like sculptures, the work is, to quote Gormley, "made by 500 assistants out of 125 tonnes of gritty brick clay in one balmy January week in Xianxian Village, Guangzhou in 2003." Photographs of the villagers who assisted appear in the gallery alongside their pick of the sculptures produced.

In her essay "Grasping the Thistle," which appeared in Zones of Contact: 2006 Biennale of Sydney: Critical Reader published by Artspace, Lisa Kelly succinctly noted how Sydney artists had an opportunity to be part of the event by volunteering for a Biennale where representation from artists in its host city was scarce. Kelly writes:

"Two days prior to the media preview of the exhibition venues, frantic calls for volunteers to assist – particularly with the installation of Antony Gormley’s work Asian Field – were put out to local artists. The pay off for this labour was touted as a chance to work with the artist and a ticket to the exclusive artists' party on opening night. Events this time around would suggest that the Biennale of Sydney holds the Sydney artist community first and foremost as a source of readily exploitable, behind-the-scenes labour."

Perhaps photos of the volunteers setting up the installation should have also been hung somewhere, to rightfully acknowledge Asian Field's multi-faceted dependence on mass-labour? When I viewed Asian Field, I set off an alarm that signified I was too close to the front line of clay creatures comprising the field. Immediately I was apologetic to the gallery assistant, but quickly realised he didn't care because I was part of another mass field of Biennale viewers who had set off that alarm. The sound of tourettic alarms screaming "back off motherfucker" tolled alarm bells of a more critical nature that forced me to read the work as a hermetically sealed environment of cultural otherness. I stood staring out on a world frozen in time and objectified by the time-honoured relationship of handmade artisan labour to an exotic cultural authenticity, however manufactured and trite. Anthony Bond notes in the Biennale catalogue that Asian Field is the first time in the 15 years since embarking on the Field installations that Gormley has pinned up photos of the individual producers. Anonymous mass labour no more – the Marxists in the Village would surely approve!

Having recovered from the embarrassing alarm setting-off experience and exercising my "Sunday best" in panoptic self-regulation, I took the obligatory snaps on my mobile phone camera as all the other viewers were doing. It was then I saw myself reflected in the clay docile bodies staring back at me. Mass responses to the work were mirroring the mass stillness of the field. If the Marxists in the Village can't be pleased, then the Foucauldian scholars among them would be furiously taking notes.

Asian Field certainly works on an aesthetic level, impressing with its monumental and somewhat inherent sense of golden wonder. You can't help but look upon this field as a landscape seen from space because the viewer is imbued with a spectatorial mastery not unlike the kind of experience you'd have if it was downloaded via Google Earth. As spectators we zone in and own the landscape; fields all over the world are brought into sharp focus, their exotic populations reduced to tiny specks of fetishised nothingness. When I saw the Asian Field one viewer said to the guard keeping gallery assistant "What does Communist China think about this work?" The reply was, "You'd have to ask them." Was Asian Field an exercise in commie critique perhaps?

Whatever it aims to do on the part of the artist, Asian Field is racist in the way it reduces Asianness to a generic signifier – much like the way "Asian" food is packaged in Western countries, when in fact you might be experiencing more specific styles of, for example, Chinese or Vietnamese cuisine. It's like Gormley sees all "Asians" as the same and undifferentiated, despite his attempt to showcase the Villager's portraits. Somehow the whole exercise smacks of a sweat shop mentality, and we all know that sweat shops have been particularly criticised for exploiting migrants from Asian countries.

So now citizens in the Sydney art community are being called upon to take down the Asian Field. What do you get in exchange? The flyer says: "We can't pay you but if you stay for 6 hours or more we will give you $10 for food." I couldn't help but wonder if it's $10 worth of food stamps, depression-era style. The thought of a poorly paid Biennale staff member standing there doling out $10 lots of petty cash to wide-eyed volunteers made for a rather surreal image. But no more surreal than the thought of actually wondering where you could dine on $10 in the Walsh Bay / Circular Quay area except perhaps McDonalds. It seems those behind art world institutions like the Biennale of Sydney probably believe in that cruel clichéd joke that artists next to migrants make up a majority of the staff who work at McDonalds. And really artists may as well line up to get jobs at McDonalds if they're expected to support the volunteerism attending large-scale events like the Biennale.