Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mike Parr and a short rant

This Friday sees the opening of Mike Parr’s survey show at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). Or at least I think it does. With no advertising, media attention or announcements I really only have word of mouth (oh and something from a friend on Facebook) to confirm that Mike Parr is indeed having a show in Hobart.

Mike Parr is one of Australia’s most well-known and respected living artists. He is known for his confronting performances (see my previous post for a description of his piece in the Sydney Biennale), where he sews his lips together, cuts the heads off chickens, or holds his finger over a flame for as long as possible. You can probably understand why I’m excited about his three-day performance Cartesian Corpse, which will see the normally fairly dormant TMAG open 24 hours a day for the duration of the event.

I will be writing on Parr’s performance and exhibition (which will be co-hosted by Hobart’s new gallery Detached) later in the week. However I thought I’d just have a quick rant about the lack of advertising on Parr’s show, simply because this in not the first time this has happened in Hobart.

Art events tend to be kept incredibly hush-hushed in Tassie. In Sydney, in contrast, announcements of art exhibitions and events can be viewed in the newspapers, on the side of buses, billboards on the waterfront, and yet down here word of mouth seems to be the preferred method of communication. To the outsider who is denied this game of Chinese Whispers, the Hobart art scene is non-existent, and yet Hobartians complain constantly that it’s hard to get art ‘out there’, that mainlanders overlook this state’s vibrant art scene and that we get little acknowledgement in the country’s numerous art magazines (although I believe that there are notable exceptions, such as Realtime and Artlink).

Take another example, for instance, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Michael Edwards, the director of Contemporary Art Services Tasmania (CAST), at an exhibition opening a couple of months ago, announced that we should be very excited about all the recent developments in Tasmanian art, such as MONA, Detached, the proposed redevelopment of the TMAG, the new Peppermint Bay Gallery, and the possibility of the quarantine shed on Hunter Street being turned into a large art space with the ability to host large travelling exhibitions/ blockbuster shows (that is, if developers, excited about turning every possible building into cafes and boutique accommodation, are fended off). Yet, he said, while everyone on the mainland is excitedly watching Tasmanian, no one down here is talking about these developments. About a month later, The Australian newspaper ran a story on MONA, which alerted the buffoons at the local paper, The Mercury (ironically owned by the same company), to the fact that perhaps art could be news after all (yes, that’s right, The Mercury doesn’t cover art because it’s ‘not news’). Later that week the Mercury ran two gushing double-page spreads in the Saturday and Sunday papers on David Walsh and his impressive MONA.

It’d be wrong to focus on just the Mercury as the reason why the word just doesn’t ‘get out there’. It appears to be a symptom of what I see as an inward-looking local art scene. The Hobart art scene is vibrant, experimental, refreshingly uncommercialised, and incredibly supportive. The art scene has also given me opportunities in relation to curating, writing and my own art practice, that I’d surely not have if I were living in a city such as Sydney or Melbourne. That’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog, and one of the reasons why I bemoan the lack of publicity given to exhibitions such as Parr’s.