Daily Archives: October 1, 2021

Liminal Zones

“Gatekeepers are useless; they will either let your enemies in for or lockout your allies. Their only loyalty is to the power that you have given to them for your protection.” To quote a passage that Machiavelli might have written for The Prince.

Some art critics consider themselves to be gatekeepers on a border, quarantining art from being infected or sullied or something. Or to Biblically sort the sheep from the goats as an art world livestock judge. I don’t think that the role of the art critic is to be a defender of a walled-off definition or value judgements. Definitions and values change because art and language are not definitive but arbitrary.

Instead, I think of myself as an explorer of the liminal zones. Not a colonial explorer out there to conquer, rename, loot and pillage like the British in Africa. But as a tourist in an unstable region, a beachcomber of culture walking the tidal zone wondering what will have washed up. For boarders are never perfectly defined. The liminal zones, like tidal zone, are full of varied life in the space between definable borders. Down by the cultural seaside, I explore the tidal pools, look at what has been washed up on the beach and scan the horizon. Horizon scanning is better than gatekeeping because you can see what is coming rather than just assess values in the immediate present.

I wanted to be the kind of art critic that would go anywhere in Melbourne to see art from an industrial park in Burnside. To look at art on the streets, both authorised and unauthorised art. How art works in prison, in courtrooms or in a medical centre. These intersections afford alternate views of art. To enter these places is to engage in a different discourse about art.

Unlike most art critics, I will write about untrained and non-professional artists. Firstly, not everyone engaged in artistic activity has to be a professional artist, especially when they have a street-based practice. And to ignore the bulk of arts or art-related activity is to misrepresent the grassroots of art. It is art not as an item of trade but as a social pursuit, a tonic for mental health and local knowledge. Secondly, the role of an art critic is to provide the public with a context, a perspective to the art. To expand the conversation beyond ‘I like this’. To consider the past and future and not just the present.

I am doing this self-assessment because I wanted to avoid being a zombie art critic, stumbling around mindlessly to the same big name galleries. Or even any commercial galleries. Nor do I want to be a spruiker for national and state galleries, promoting infotainment and cultural imperialism. Instead, I want to cast my eye further afield. Suppose art is like a family tree, as Wittgenstein suggests family resemblance in defining games. In that case, art is likely to have some relatives that aren’t art. Who are art’s in-laws? Who are art’s uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents? Not in an evolutionary family tree sense but like at a birthday party.


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