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.