Tag Archives: Australian politics

Persons of Interest – Philosophers

The first philosopher who interested me was Bertrand Russell but I was a young and foolish teenager at the time. Then, at Monash University where went on to major in philosophy, I read, was lectured by and met Peter Singer. I appreciated both of these philosophers not only for their writing which clear and often aimed at the wider public and because of their political engagement. Russell’s popular writing engaged many issues from atheism to nuclear disarmament.

Philosophers are persons of interest. I don’t want to see them as secular saints, or exemplar human beings but just people who think too much or, at least, harder than most people. Often philosopher’s theories are wrong but that is what you learn in philosophy – how you can be wrong about what you might think is right. After majoring in philosophy at Monash and doing an MA in philosophy at La Trobe I had met and read a lot of philosophers

One thing that interested me about philosophers was that most philosophers are very interested and involved in things other than philosophy, unlike many other academics. Many philosophers are interested in science or politics and some are interested in the arts. This might appear just to be a point of trivia about philosophy but it is also one of the strengths of philosophers. (This can also be one of the great strengths of art, the wide-ranging interests and involvement of artists in other things.)

As I have noted on my About page, my art criticism has been influenced by Arthur Danto. I started to read Danto in my post-graduate studies and, as with Russell and Singer, I was also impressed with Danto’s activities outside of academic philosophy. Danto has been the art critic for The Nation, print making and running a New York gallery. Danto has been associated with the institutional theory of art but that would be a kind of mistake to associate him too closely. I have to agree with Carlin Romano in “Looking Beyond the Visiable: The Case of Arthur C. Dantwo” (Danto and His Critics, ed. Mark Rollins, Blackwell Publishing, 1993). Romano argues that a second Arthur Danto exists Romano’s “Dantwo” who is identical in almost every aspect to Danto but is not a Hegelian and more pragmatic. Would the real Arthur Danto please stand up?

On a serious note, I didn’t imagine when I started writing this post that philosophers would be topical subject but with the Federal Member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs attacking the work of Professor Paul Redding’s “The God of Hegel’s Post-Kantian Idealism” as a waste of taxpayer’s money, I am unpleasantly not surprised. (Read more about this on Ockham’s Beard.) The Federal Member for Mayo is not a philosopher, has no serious academic qualifications and represents the anti-intellectual, anti-science, sports-obsessed, religious and conservative Australian mob.

Finally, I would like to thank John McKenzie for his PH227.04 Introduction to Aesthetics at Monash University for introducing me to a critical way of thinking about art. Ultimately it was that course that lead to me writing this blog. (Melbourne artist Julian di Martino also took McKenzie’s course – anyone else?) It was McKenzie who first put some photocopied pages of Foucault into my hand; a rare event in a department dominated by Anglo-American philosophy. And why I’m on the subject of the interests and activities of philosophers; Foucault worked as a journalist, wrote literary criticism and was involved anti-racist campaigns, anti-human rights abuses movements and the struggle for penal reform.


In the Public Interest

“Benway’s first act was to abolish concentration camps, mass arrest and, except under limited and special circumstances, the use of torture. ‘I deplore brutality,’ he said. “It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence gives rise, when skilfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt.” (Wm. Burroughs, Naked Lunch p. 31).

The Counihan Gallery had some excellent exhibitions this year with pertinent political themes like the intervention in the Northern Territory (see my review) and the people smuggling (see my review) but “In the Public Interest” is not one of them. “In the Public Interest” is too vague and stupid; in “celebrating activism, public protest and free speech” the exhibition is pandering to political delusions that Australia is a liberal democracy with free speech and that the government tolerates political dissent and protest.

At the entrance to the Counihan Gallery there is a banner stating that the Moreland City Council welcomes “refugees and asylum seekers”. What is the word for people who want to distract attention from the malefactions through rhetoric and tokenism rather than disassociate themselves from the criminal organization abusing the human rights of refugees? Hypocrites, charlatans and frauds are too weak a collection of words to describe such despicable behaviour.

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Across the road from the Counihan Gallery outside of the Mechanics Institute on the corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon is a 1994 sculpture by Simon Perry. A plaque provides a strange explanation for the sculpture that appears to be a cage being veiled by a dove. The plaque reads (in part): “…to commemorate the free speech campaign of the 1930s…” Consider the definition of the verb commemorate:

1.            to honor the memory of somebody or something in a ceremony

2.            to serve as a memorial to something

Noel Counihan’s free speech campaign did not accomplished or changed anything – he didn’t have free speech, he was in a fucking cage! The sculpture honours the memory of his failed campaign for the fundamental human right of free speech. For the pedants out there who might point to a High Court decision recognizing freedom of political speech in Australia, I would reply: how has this protected the speech of Albert Langer, the editors of Rabelais (La Trobe student newspaper), Bill Henson, Paul Yore or anyone else? For freedom of speech to be effective in Australia it would have to protect the rights of people other than those in the major political parties who form government.

I want to make it clear that I regard the so-called Australian government as a criminal organization without any moral, political or legal legitimacy what so ever.

Australia is full of bigots with no regard for the human rights of the indigenous population, refugees…. basically any minority that these popularist politicians want to attack. When confronted with these facts Australian bigots will scream that others have committed more crimes than they have. They will point to China, Russia, France and the Spanish Inquisition and say: “look at them, don’t accuse us”; as if someone else committing crimes makes these shit-heads less guilty of the horrendous crimes that they are committing. In this exhibition, this exceedingly stupid attitude is represented in works by Wendy Black, Penny Byrne, Nick Devilin and William Kelly (and the curators Leon Van De Graaff and Victor Griss who choose to include those works).

The worst work in the exhibition goes to George Matoulas who has created a shallow and unpoetic painting, the visually vacuous equivalent of a poem by Rick from the Young Ones – BOMB.

There is some good art in this exhibition, both aesthetically and conceptually but given the confused and stupid politics of the exhibition’s theme I preferred seeing that art when it was in other exhibitions.


The Intervention @ Counihan

Jason Wing’s “Intervention: Criminal” speaks powerfully. It is a giant paste-up photocopy of a photo of himself with the words “An Australian Government Initiative: Criminal” on a sign hung around his neck. The image has all the sympathy of a mugshot. In 2007 by act of federal legislation the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation better known as “the intervention” removed the rights of the Aboriginal population in the NT. The Australian government gains political power by marginalizing and criminalizing minority groups.

Jason Wing’s image is the centre-piece image of the exhibition “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” at the Counihan Gallery and features on the exhibition flyer. (In 2009 I wrote about Jason Wing’s first solo exhibition of  in this blog.)

My favorite images from the exhibition are Chips Mackinolty’s digital prints “National Emergency Next 1,347,525km” “…and there will be no dancing”; signpost the incredibly vast territory that as an emergency is absurd. I had seen Bindi Cole’s work at the NGV’s Studio space last year but her series of photos are well worth another look to see the absurdity of the idea of the standard image of aboriginal Australia.

The paintings of Dan Jones, Kylie Kemarre, Sally M. Mulda and Amy Napurulla provide a colorful accompaniment to the other works and the bleak subject of the exhibition. Fiona MacDonald’s woven archival print of the landscape of James Cook Island at Sylvania Waters in NSW provides the contrast and made me question who is need of an intervention. There is so much balance in this exhibition between the works of 8 Aboriginal and 5 non-Indigenous artists.

The excellent curatorial skills of Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM make this exhibition a powerful experience. The Counihan Gallery has done another great job at bringing together art and politics in this exhibition, a feature of their program this year.

The subject of the exhibition is extraordinarily important to Australia’s culture and its claim to be a civilized nation. Considering the up-coming federal election everyone should make an effort least see this exhibition and try to understand what is happening with the “Basic Card”, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the NT and the “intervention”.


Political Junkies

“The trouble with Nixon is that he’s a serious politics junkie. He’s totally hooked and like any other junkie, he’s a bummer to have around, especially as President.” Hunter S. Thompson

The 2010 Australian federal election campaign is boring. Even the scandals, leaks, debate, stunts, party back fighting are obvious and insignificant – who cares? If this is the best that Australia can do in discussing the important issues then Australia has a major problem.

Van Rudd’s election campaign as art is a very technical exercise; there is nothing utopian, idealistic or humorous about it. Van Rudd is a serious political junkie, steeped in Marxism, even though he is rejecting “the careerist path into the parliamentary system”. The campaign will all be documented as part of his fine art Masters research at the University of Melbourne.

“The significance of this project will be its contribution to the ongoing art world debate regarding the conflation of art and life. Its innovation lies in its direct relationship to the reality of Australian and global politics, while demonstrating that art is on par with every aspect of living.” Van Rudd emailed me.

Making art on a par, an equivalent with every aspect of living is boring. Trying to make every aspect of living on a par with art is interesting, utopian and creative, even though it might not always work. Van Rudd has set the benchmark for art to be on par with life, too low. To be fair to Van Rudd a lot of contemporary art is dull and boring, on a par with the dullest parts of everyday life, but that is no reason to continue this trend.

I thought that covering Van Rudd’s campaign would add some interest to the federal election but his campaign is one of the dullest. Van Rudd’s campaign might be more interesting and effective if it were a prank like the Chaser’s Yes We Canberra on ABC. The Chaser is full of pranks, fun and humor but Van Rudd’s campaign isn’t a prank. You can do both. The Australian Sex Party’s campaign is serious, confronting serious issues like the Internet filter with sensible policies and ending the tax-exempt status for religions.  But they aren’t political junkies and Alexander Gutman (aka: Austen Tayshus whose comedy record, Australiana went to Number 1 in 1983) is their candidate for Warringah. Is there any difference between a serious campaign election and a prank?

Even the serious media is can’t keep a straight face in the election/joke. “Gillard and Abbott go gangbusters over gas-filled shark darts” (Mark Davis The Age July 29 2010) That will put more fear and loathing into the election campaign. I’m trying to bid for a gas filled shark dart now on Ebay at $495US. I’m on a political junk high and I’m channeling Hunter S. Thompson, the great geek of political journalism everywhere. Hell, I might as well – I was going to cover Van Rudd’s campaign as art but he has been dodging my questions. And I’m failing to understand why Van Rudd’s Marxism is focused on consciousness raising when according to Marx the material world needs to change before people’s minds. If running for office is “direct action”, as well as, art, it might simply be a political junkie trying to get another fix.

This is the second part of my examination of Van Rudd’s federal election campaign as art. See the 1st part: Van Rudd vs Julia Gillard. And for more art related election junk read Marcus Westbury (The Age August 9, 2010) on the arts vote in the seat of Melbourne.


Van Rudd vs. Julia Gillard

In the upcoming federal election it is a Rudd vs Gillard contest for the seat of Lalor. Artist, Van Rudd is running for the Revolutionary Socialist Party against Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister of Australia. But this is not simply a story of amusing names and a political sideshow – this is art. I am not a political pundit – I am an art critic interested in art with political content.

Van Rudd is the son of the Prime Minister’s older brother, Malcolm and a Vietnamese immigrant mother. He is an artist with a political focus to his work; he has never held public office. Julia Gillard, the incumbent has held the seat for the last 4 terms, since 1998 and won the last election by 31%.  Will she win a 5th mandate to represent the people of this seat in Melbourne’s west? It is hard to imagine that an artist could defeat her, even if he does have a familiar name and more humanitarian policies. Regardless of the differences in political weight between the two candidates, the poetry of politics makes this a perfect contest. Perfect for the name, the issues and the all important “underdog” status in Australian culture.

This work of art is viral, occurring in the minds imagining this political scenario, reading and seeing the news media. When I heard about his election campaign I started to exchange emails with Van Rudd as I intend to write a couple of blog entries about this art event. Van Rudd was keen to emphasis that running in the election is an art project inspired by Bueys, “ It is not a piss take,” Van told me.

Joseph Bueys is a good example of a politically engaged artist; he invented the name of the German “Green” party, which he co-founded in 1980. He also stood for political office as a Green Party candidate. Beuys created social sculpture, points of interaction that attempted to heal with the application of layers of theory, felt, metal and fat. (This mix of theory, felt and metal is rather like Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator, a device that was also intended to heal.)

I’ve heard about Van Rudd’s art and politics before but I hadn’t seen any of it for myself. This is not the first time that Van Rudd has taken his art to the street and this is not the last time it involved politics. Van Rudd has been courting controversy for years and although the Australian media love an arts controversy they don’t like mixing art and politics. On Invasion Day/Australia Day (pick a side) of this year he and a friend were fined for “offensive behavior”, in what the Age newspaper described (26/1/10) as an “anti-racism stunt”. Both wearing white KKK outfits and placard the word “racism” and the Australian made logo outside Melbourne Park at the Australian Tennis Open. Van Rudd has also had a painting banned by the Melbourne City Council (but nobody noticed because it happened on the same day that the Bill Henson controversy broke). There is an article about it in Peril magazine.

I went to see Van Rudd’s ‘Used Car Part from Afghanistan’. It is on exhibition at Australia on Collins, (level 5 260 Collins St Melbourne) near the “Self Centered Day Spa”. It is part of the Spectrum Migrant Resource Center’s Creative Cultures Art Exhibition, a typical community exhibition in a shopping centre. Van Rudd’s installation stands apart from the paintings, woven baskets and drawings – it is a black rubber shard of a Goodyear car tire on a plinth with text in a silver frame above it. Now you might not believe that this is a piece of an Afghan civilian car destroyed by a NATO AGM-114 Hellfire Missile in the city of Kabul – but did you believe the politician’s reasons for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq?

I will be covering Van Rudd’s campaign as a work of art, a social sculpture with political comment, rather than a political campaign by an artist. This is just the foundations of a social sculpture; see part 2, Political Junkies.


Where is the political art?

Perhaps I was being unfair to Gordon Hookey in my review, repeating Wm. Burroughs remark about the Dadaists anti-Nazi propaganda: “like charging a regiment of tanks with a defective sanitary device from 1920.” Maybe the propaganda is the act of charging the regiment of tanks with what ever you have or just standing in their way like that man in Beijing, just before the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

I don’t think that there are enough artists making art about the critical issues in Melbourne. Some people, like the curators of the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, believe that the last 20 years of international contemporary art have been to hedonistic and frivolous. When I look at an exhibition or a work of art I ask myself: “how relevant is it?” Often there is no answer to that question or when there is it is as glib as press release.

Sure there are some Melbourne artists, Ash Keating for example, who are really doing something but I haven’t seen many great works of art about critical issues. Critical issues like human rights, the greenhouse effect and war are ignored by most of Melbourne’s art world; Bus Gallery’s “Apropos” exhibition in 2007 being one exception – I’m sure there are others. Melbourne’s art world plays at being relevant by supporting popular, dramatic and superficial charities like the Victorian bushfire appeal or kids with cancer. (There are now more charities for kids with cancer in Australia than kids with cancer.)

In writing about political art and critical issues I have to note that WorkSafe Victoria in 2009 has managed to use art to push an important message. It does take commissions (and other involvement with the arts) in order to produce good art about critical issues. Along with the frightening mainstream adverting campaign Worksafe Victoria has also been using graphic artists and street artists to get their message across. The Big Mouth campaign targeted a younger audience, the audience that is most likely to be injured at work. How effective this is might be is debatable but the images produced have been desirable. The artist is Jonathon Zawada and the image is a skull with a red bandana and a zipper mouth. Who wouldn’t want that? I picked it up for the stickers. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of searches for ‘big mouth’ on my stats page. The image has become a rhetorical device to inspire people to do find out about the campaign for themselves.

The street is still the best place to see artistic images about critical issues. Political graffiti is still alive and topical. Even a big multicoloured piece of aerosol art has a ‘no war’ comment. The stencil art has anarcho-syndicalists and situationist influences and politics; appropriating and altering (detouring) slogans and cartoons. “Unmindfully the anti-capitalists joined those demanding that we must earn our living.” Reads one stencil, along with Tom, the cartoon cat, lazing around. Elsewhere a stencil of a little TV with arms and legs that shows us lies. This situationist propaganda is still, almost fifty years later, a potent alternative on the street to the current political morass. Street art does have advantages in that it is about timing and placement of the image; it is also as ephemeral as the current issue.

However, neither the WorkSafe big mouth advertising campaign nor the scattered political street art are great works of art and this still leaves me asking where are the great, significant, powerful works of art about critical issues?


Censorship

“The State does not permit me to use my thoughts to their full value and communicate them to other men… unless they are its own… Otherwise it shuts me up.” – Max Stirner

Censorship is religious, arbitrary and undemocratic; it is therefore a clear injustice to enforce censorship. However, Australian politicians love censorship; they censor the internet, publications, movies, television, political speech, video games, visual arts exhibitions and anything else they want to. The Australian constitution is weak and does not guarantee basic human rights or democracy. To understand the farce that is called “democracy” in Australia see the case of Albert Langer, one of Australia’s many political prisoners.

Censorship is a type of magico-religious thinking; it is the belief that if you remove the words, signs or symbol then you will hinder the thing itself. Not surprisingly censorship is often employed to support religious beliefs or prejudices. The imposition of a magical-religious view on the public by the government is a breach of the public’s right to freedom of religious beliefs and practices. There is no evidence that censorship does any good but there is lots of evidence to indicate that it does a lot of harm; see Marjorie Heins, Not In Front of the Children, “Indecency,” Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth, (New York, 2001).  People who support censorship are willing to harm people for their faith.

There is no logic to censorship – it is an arbitrary act depending on time, place, the person, their history, their language, the media of communications, popular interpretations of religious traditions in the society and the mood of the politicians. It is impossible to definitively determine what will and what will not be censored, making the law arbitrary. Dziga Vertov, “Man with a Movie Camera” is G rated by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification but contains footage of topless young women on a Russian beach. Show it on children’s television and there would be an uproar in Australia, as happened when breastfeeding mammals, including a human mother and child, were shown. To draw any conclusions about the reasons for individual cases of censorship is to assume that they are not arbitrary and there is some logic to censorship. If you want to have censorship you can either be arbitrary and unfair you can be fair and look ridiculous.

Censorship is anti-democratic in that not all citizens have equal access to information. Any system of censorship proposes special categories of elite citizens and that certain people due to academic or legal qualifications or motherhood, or gender etc. are able to look at material unavailable to other citizens. The class issues at the centre of the legal battle over censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover makes this point clear. When I was a post-graduate student at LaTrobe University I took advantage of this loophole in the law and read a few of the restricted books in their collection even though they had nothing to do with my thesis research. If you really believe that some citizens have special qualities that makes their judgement better than others then why allow those others to vote?

Censorship, official or unofficial, is so acceptable in Australia that it is believed to be more important than copyright. To alter an artist’s work without permission, including the covering up parts, is a violation of copyright and the moral rights of the artist. However, these censors care nothing for the moral or legal rights of the artist because they think that censorship is better than all of that. Why respect the opinions of people who do not respect your opinion?

Censorship is the exercise of power by one group over another group to deny them the power of expression. It is religious, arbitrary and undemocratic and people who support censorship should be castigated as dangerous fools and nobody should vote for them.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,074 other followers

%d bloggers like this: