Friday, June 12, 2015

On the Recent Changes to Australian Arts Funding

I started this piece at the opening of the Venice Biennale.  It was going to be about all the tote bags I’d scored, the outrageous outfits, and my lack of party invitations.  The fact that Arts Minister Michael Brandis opened the new Australia pavilion didn’t even register until the following week when he announced massive changes to arts funding.

The changes include the establishment of the ‘National Program for Excellence in the Arts’ (it deserves inverted commas), the funding of which will be transferred from the Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco) – a move that will disproportionately and deliberately affect individual artists, particularly visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and small and/or regional arts organisations.  Tasmanian artists and audiences should be concerned.  

In Venice, Brandis basked in the reflected cultural prestige of the world’s largest visual arts event, rubbing shoulders with the Australian art world’s most influential players.  I guess it wasn’t the place to announce cuts to the very organisation that administers Australia’s involvement in the biennale.  To give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he hadn’t decided yet.  One of the stated aims of NPEA is to encourage cultural philanthropy, and as the pavilion was largely funded with private money, perhaps it inspired Brandis’ scheme.  Unfortunately, it's only ever financial donations that are acknowledged on golden plaques and programs, not the in-kind support provided by artists who often go unpaid or underpaid for their essential work.  If we stopped participating tomorrow, the cultural economy would collapse, which explains why last year’s Sydney Biennale boycotts were so threatening to the status quo.

I did attend one party at the biennale by the way.  I wasn’t invited, but the champagne was flowing and the art was terrible.  I guess I was a welcome rent-a-crowd.  The Sheikh had evidently paid a large amount to stage the exhibition (it costs $30,000 just to register as a collateral event), but as the saying goes, money doesn’t buy taste.  Ozco isn’t perfect, but if we leave it to rich individuals to decide what is and isn’t supported, the diversity of Australia’s art scene will undoubtedly suffer.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Paris beckons

In a few months, I'll be off to Paris to stay at the Rosamond McCulloch studio at the Cite Internationale des Arts.  The studio was a bequest by the late artist to the Tasmanian School of Art (now Tasmanian College of the Arts) to allow former students to undertake residencies in the oh-so-cultural city.

My time in Paris will be spent examining the dialogue between pre-Modern art and architecture in a number of key buildings, including churches and palaces, in order to expand my existing knowledge on contemporary site-specific art practice.  My PhD thesis, which I submitted in late 2012, examined site-specific art in Australia’s public museums.  One of the aspects of site-specificity that I have become interested in, but for many reasons was unable to pursue in my thesis, is the pre-twentieth century relationship between art and architecture, as well as other models of site-specificity such as Visionary Environments (large scale installations, often defined by the maker’s lack of formal art training, and are thus often associated with Outsider Art).

When theorists define or describe site-specific art, they usually look at art from the 1960s onwards, viewing the art form as a relatively recent trend that followed the art ideals of Modernism.  However, my belief is that we can extend our knowledge on contemporary site-specific art by examining the way in which pre-twentieth century art was usually made for a particular site, purpose, and most importantly, made in dialogue with architecture.  For instance, the altar pieces that we so often see in museums, cut-off from their original environment, were not designed as stand alone artworks, but as an integral part of the church and site.  My intention for Paris is to examine the relationships between altarpiece and museum (such as the Louvre), and in sites such as the Saint Chappelle, altarpiece and church.

The two other models of site-specificity that sit outside the contemporary notion of the term are the before mentioned Visionary Environments, and the studio as museum.  For some reason France has many of the most famous Visionary Environments.  A few of the sites are close to Paris, so I will also do at least one day trip during the residency period.  The ones high on my list Ferdinand Cheval's Palais Idéal (Ideal Palace) in Hauterives, south of Lyon; Adolphe-Julien Fouré’s Les Rochers Sculptés (Sculpted Rocks) in Saint Malo, Brittany; Raymond Isidore’s la Maison de Picassiette in Chartres (an easy day trip from Paris).  These environments are built around existing structures, often using local found materials, and while they are not site-specific in the critical sense of the term, they have an interesting relationship to site.  Similarly, I am interested in examining the relationship between art and environment in Paris’ studio museums, such as the “l’atelier Brancusi” outside the Pompidou museum, which is an exact reproduction of Constantin Brancusi’s studio as dictated by the artist in his will.

My other key aim is to not turn into a blimp thanks to a surplus of eclairs and cheese. Exciting times.