Rigorous Mundanity, or “Artists of the World, Connect!”

A Conversation between Justin Clemens and Anthony Gardner, 25/9/07

In June 2007 A Constructed World, as part of their exhibition Increase Your Uncertainty at ACCA, hosted a series of Conversations. Around 35 guests and audiences talked about Collectivity, The Changing Audience for Contemporary Art, Losers and Failure and Publishing Without Publishers. The last conversation focused on Art and Politics in Australia and included Anthony Gardner, Michelle Ussher, Jeff Khan, Justin Clemens, Mark Feary, Lisa Radford and Geoff Lowe.

This conversation didn't get to the point, only because their isn't one, focusing more on how "...it's compulsively difficult to talk about anything". "We seem to really lack a skill of repertoire and roles and discussion, racked with fear and guilt before speaking." Perhaps what was really being talked about is are we allowed to talk.
SPEECH invited Anthony Gardner and Justin Clemens to continue this conversation.


Anonymous jacqui said...

Art turning politics into an entertainment value... we don't really know this in Australia yet – but in other places politics is desirable in the market – Claire Fontaine, Hirschhorn. Australia has been through a period of no politics and this is of course reflected in contemporary culture (maybe not so much in theatre). I have a friends who have no interest in politics, and know nothing about politics. Howard nurtured us into a period of no politics, but the Australian people are not stupid, and somewhat fickle, they loved him now they have sacked him. But it's more fickle than that - the Australian people care a lot for money. The unions have been so out, just so out - now they are going to be back in, they are going to save ‘working families’. Pay packets, double pay on Sunday etc has driven people back to the unions (why did they move away from the unions?) - it's about money, not really ethics.

The Facebook frenzy is curious - people searching for friends, their own friends they probably see every other day, or friends they don't really care for that much. A strange sort of narcissism, maximising of potential - putting sexy photos of yourself up on the web and then asking other people you already know to 'poke' you. What does that signify? But it's replacing email to some extent so the way people communicate is changing.

It's interesting your discussion about Beecroft. Is it political? Is it political for the wrong reasons? Her work flips between being courageous and utterly incredulous and it gets so close to advertising. But there is a lot that has to be defended. She has a lot of collectors, works go onto the secondary market, the work has to be protected by all the people in her orbit, the dealers, the collectors, the critics... because if anyone falters it all turns to shit and everyone loses their investment. Maybe this is where the politics is in her project.

I'm also interested that not one Australian artist is mentioned amongst these topics you raise.

12:26 PM  
Blogger michelle said...

justin...as much as i think "we are all treading water and eventually we all will sink" is a poetic statement...i think the relentless pain is that we feel we never really sink..we just keep treading water - and that is death. endlessly treading water.

I like the idea of the revolution in the service of art - but when your endlessly treading water, increasingly desperate for the revolution to ensure you can stop (death or otherwise..) and the revolution never comes....does the art always remain pining for the revolution? I think "suspension" is a really important topic here..Australians are completely crazy about money (too right jacqui), it brings the comfort the Howard govt has helped us all to expect from living here in the middle of nowhere (if you cant be physically close to all the greater western countries - we can be disillusioned and distracted by being comparably affluent) - so what would the revolution be for? why rock the boat? so we can take away our own comforts..thats why i think so much political art in australia is really like soft porn - its edgy but never really gives much grunt.
I think Australia is on the cusp of art turning politics into an entertainment value - Im thinking of recent show GCAS took to Malaysia..party in malaysia "all night long" (in a Lionel Ritchi voice)...what the hell is Malaysia for anyway - if not political art from australia..and kareoke! (under the guise of connecting)..win win situation, encourages political art in Malaysia and makes Australians feel like they are gaining ground on something and someone.

8:19 AM  
Blogger > LIV BARRETT said...

a really interesting conversation.. i think there is a significant difference in what political art is and how art can act in a way that subverts of rejects generic politiccal systems. an example of the latter that comes to mind is ai weiwei's fairytale at documenta- there is no specific policy or partisan agenda being engaged. by taking 1001 chinese people to a central german city he is opening individuals up to an experience that is beyond art and politics, although touches on both of them. he offered a new space for 1001 people to look at themselves within the world; this idea of 'new space' seems like an objective of many artists, to create areas for exploration that sit outside of regulated contexts (but of course art can be another exapmle of a rigid system- and ai weiwei's position of extaordinary, unchallanged power in china is also problematic).

your discussion about George Yúdice is something that came up when i was talking to a homeless man near where i work. when i said i worked at an art gallery which is predominantly publicly funded, he began laying out what he thought about economic policy. i was suprisied when he said he believed in a kind of total advanced capitalism, and that australia was an economic nanny of a state. he said if people were not on welfare and only had access to what they earnt, society would be more independent and ambitious. and he was particularly unimpressed that i worked in a place where the art was just put on show and didn;t require qualification by somebody purchasing it. (having said that, being surrounded by roni horn photographic prints for 2 months i was beginning to feel like the price tag was the only element of surprise and intrigue in the work. and considering she felt she "didn't need" to travel thousands of kilometres to visit australia as she'd already been to america and england and felt it was just anbother privileged white country, i feel regretful that people travelled 10 kilometres to see the work of a privileged american artist who feels it's enough of a practice to ship a box of photos to a gallery with hanging instructions).

back to the converstaion between justin and anthony, the forums that ACW held at ACCA may have not hit on any central theme or entailed any clear resolution, but people feeling like there were alternative ways to cluster, discuss and engage with things that are happening contemporaneously laid out a new possibility for a political platform aside from the ones we find in popular news media. this is why it could be named as art with a political spirit, because, like fairytale, it made so much of mainstream art and politics seem disconnected and stagnant.

3:51 AM  
Blogger Anthony Gardner said...

Really interesting commentary. I too find it odd that neither Justin nor I raised ANY works from Australia - or NZ, Asia, anywhere that isn't a global economic (and thus cultural) powerhouse of the west. I'll leave Justin to psychoanalyse that one.

As for art and politics - it's curious seeing my shifts about this umbilical cord of gold in recent years. I'm coming to the end of a PhD at UNSW's Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, and I'm increasingly frustrated by the emptiness of the connections that are being made - in art, in universities, in conferences, in writing - between the two. A willingness to use art, or forums about art, to talk about politics and not really about art. Sometimes not about art at all. *Politics* becomes a tool of legitimation, potentially giving art a social relevance that is forged, forced, a little desperate – especially when art itself becomes secondary or irrelevant in those kinds of discussions. (This is kind of what I was arguing in my review of Enwezor’s Seville Bienal for Speech earlier this year, which was more a platform for Enwezor’s views about Guantanamo Bay than how art might actually be capable of grappling with Bush’s doctrines or actions.) (Also, pornography is perhaps not the right way to put it – I think that legitimacy is at stake here, a different stake, maybe even a more problematic stake, from pornography.)

So Liv, the point you raise about art's politics not *fitting in* with existing political agenda is fascinating, and one I agree with. A lot of analyses of contemporary art and politics - especially in Europe, but also in parts of Asia and the US, though not so much here - seem to be turning art into a form of *democratic realism* - democracy is the only politics that art can aspire to. But can art be more than that? Can it be less than that too? The return of a number of artists to strategies of art's political autonomy - and not as a regressive stance - fits in with what you're saying. The desire to see art’s politics as nothing but a means for supporting and entrenching existing politics doesn’t seem that different from the Soviet 60s – or Bush’s overwhelming philosophies of everything and everyone becoming democratic. And maybe artists’ desire for autonomy from those entrenched/enforced understandings of politics is where its politics really lie.

Which may be a little romantic – but I guess that’s where the idea of ‘rigorous mundanity’ comes in – perhaps that mundanity creates a few problems for the views on a romanticised revolution that J raised, and to an extent Michelle too. But I’m an empiricist, not a theorist. I’m a dancer, not a lover?

1:29 PM  

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