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Category Archives: Culture Notes

Melbourne Psychogeography Regrets

Like the flâneurs (Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Charles Dickens in London and Gerard Nerval in Paris) psychogeography is pretty much the exclusive purview of a privileged minority of men. Psychogeography (along with the associated activities of urban exploration, surface archeology, ghost-signs, and paint-spotting) is unfairly dominated by white, middle-class, middle-aged men — including myself. From Will Self to the conservative politician Micheal Portillo’s tv program Abandoned Buildings or Tony Robinson walking somewhere else — at the professional level there are no women.

The activity of walking around the city unfairly excludes both women and other people (especially the original owners of the land) simply because they are not always as safe as I am. This is not a desirable situation. I don’t wish to exclude anyone and I would be happy if there was a much greater diversity of psychogeographers. Hence this statement of regret, that I’ve written on behalf of all Melbourne psychogeographers.

I want to write: women reclaim the night and explore the city… Indigenous people tell your own stories of it because it this always was and is your land… but that might not be wise… Indeed (if memory serves me correctly, because I am searching for the source) in the original phase of psychogeography the North African members of the Situationalists who were not legally allowed to explore Paris at night because of a curfew.

We need less cars and more people out on the streets, or even, at the front of their homes would be an improvement. Instead in home renovation after home renovation we have the architectural retreat to the backyard in the suburbs. We need more active witnesses, or ‘neighbours’ as they used to be called, and not passive recording on CCTV (see my blog post on CCTV).

In considering all the practicalities of walking around (insert a quote from Will Self here, something on his gore-tex underwear), the historical research, the documentation and photographs …. We have been forgetting to re-imagine the city. Renaming buildings and inventing readymade sculptures were amongst my first psychogeographical activities; there was the Dalek Headquarters in South Melbourne with its blue panopticon eye surveilling the city, the Cylons in Box Hill … Exercising the imagination is the start of the process.

We have to imagine a city where all people are equally safe, a place where being in public is safer than being in private, because only then can we make such a place a reality.

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Reservoir’s rejected art

Art is considered valuable and worthy of preservation but what happens when it is not. A postman friend has been photographing and critiquing the art deposited on the nature strip outside the homes in an outer northern suburb. It was a series of Facebook posts starting Sept 23 2018 and is reproduced here with permission.

Art brut, au Reservoir: outsider art exhibited outside.
A new exhibit of outsider art for the Reservoir nature strip gallery, framed in glorious ironing board. Or is it merely fan art homage to Ariel Pink?
Art brut salon, Reservoir nature strip gallery.
Art le plus brut, sur un socle de boîte aux lettres, correspondance esthétique du jour, Reservoir. (Translation: The Most Raw Art, on a base of mailbox, aesthetic correspondence of the day, Reservoir.)
Design on serviette, discovered in a driveway, Reservoir. Calculating to graduate beyond the curb and up to street art.
 “In the wake of the death of God, only the death of desire can save us. The task of art is to abolish desire rather than re-educate it. If it once held out a promise of communal redemption, it is now a form of spiritual self-extinction. The self is not to be realised but annihilated, and the aesthetic is one place where, like Keats before the nightingale, it can be allowed to dissolve ecstatically away.” _Terry Eagleton (summarising Schopenhauer), Culture and the Death of God (2014).
A symbolic objection to global warming? I spotted this tasteful example of Mandarin calligraphy yesterday, junked among other rejects in a Reservoir front yard. Today it had migrated to the footpath, found leaning against the neighbour’s fence. I’ve had to rotate the image 90° to correctly orient the character. The red stamp below says “four seasons.” My guess is this was part of a set, the others being characters for the rest of the year. The word seen here is Summer. Someone’s over it.
Art outside, drifting liberated from a spontaneous tip on the nature strip.
The most recent raw art, the gallery on the nature band, in Reservoir.
The art brut colours of Reservoir: diptych on nature strip.

Post-Art

What is the difference between artists and poets? What does the nuances, the trace elements, of these two different words mean for the way that culture workers understand their work? I’m not sure and I have lived in shared houses with both. I have called myself an artist and a philosopher but I draw the line at being called a ‘poet’.

Will Coles, Pussy Riot mask, Hosier Lane

A century ago I would have still been talking about poetry with the Dadaists in Berlin but by 1919 Hugo Ball had already distance himself from Dada.

“Conclusion: that the political action in Switzerland no longer makes sense, and that it is childish to insist on morality in the face of these activities. I am thoroughly cured of politics too, having already given up aestheticism. It is necessary to have a closer and more exclusive recourse on the individual basis: to live only on one’s own integrity, and to renounce completely every corporate activity.” Hugo Ball 24/5/1919

Avant-garde art, poetry, political action or social practice; the emptiness of Dadaist nihilism is such that each interpreter’s transfers their own desires and expectations on to it. From Johannes Baader, the Berlin Dadaist who in 1919 showered the inauguration of the first German Republic with his home-printed leaflets, Das grün Pferd (The Green Horse), to Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk prayer’ performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012, many people have taken a creative approach to politics.

However, I have growing doubts about this whole art thing. Why would anyone want to be an artist? I admire the people who quite art: Marcel Duchamp and that minor Renaissance painter, I forget his name, who tired of all the talk about perspective gave up art to become an innkeeper. (I’d like to drink to him.)

Why should artist be regarded as some kind of panicle of human achievement? The romantic middle class self-indulgent masturbation fantasy believing that they are expressing some vital essence for the good of humanity.

Art, the great appropriator comes into the room, and tells you that your stuff is part of its grandiose definition. It is the kind of blatant theft that it would make Jeff Koons and Richard Price blush with shame that they had been so modest. It is so colonial; items of cultural and religious significance are appropriated. From prehistoric cave paintings to religious material; every artefact becomes art. Anything that fits the current idea of art becomes the property of the Republic of Art; for “Art” like “God” is eternal, universal and vaguely defined. At the very least the word ‘art’ is over extended and is a poor model for culture workers.


A long and narrow road

The words following the white line on Upfield bike path. The reflective white line dividing the bike path becomes the page, the site for the text. The path of words runs between the throughly domesticated work or architects and building engineers and the wild feral art that grows like weeds along the railway line.

It was part of More Art 2018, is A Narrow Road to the Deep North by Illimine. Illimine is an international collective of multimedia artists, performers and academics who have been doing site-specific art since 2013 that has a several Melbourne based members.

The text goes on for some kilometres, about 10 km making it amongst the longest works of urban art or poetry. (Not that I want to get into an urban art measuring contest, so you can put your hand down now Sigmund. We all know what you are going to say.) It is a durational writing performance the work.

If it is literature, it is the kind that nobody reads completely and just dip into a bit, so that they can say they have. It is even harder to read because although the text goes left to right, as the writer proceeds along the left hand side of the path north, the blocks of text go from right to left.

Now the mainstream news is reporting on it. This is an indicator of how slack I have been in reporting on what is going on in my neighbourhood; in my defence, it is poetry and there is no hurry to read it. As the text doesn’t compete for space with either the developers or the graffiti writers it will survive until the lines on the bike path are repainted.


Marcel Duchamp’s Christmas

How to display and decorate your Christmas tree in the style of Marcel Duchamp: he did do this one Christmas at Teeny’s house. First, hang the Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling. There a strategic advantage to this way of displaying a Christmas tree, as Duchamp pointed out – there is more room for presents underneath it. On the subject of presents, in keeping with theme of Dadaist readymades, they should be wrapped à la Man Ray.

Marcel Duchamp enjoyed Christmas. In 1907 he held a two day Christmas party that was so wild that he was evicted from his apartment at 65 rue Caulaincourt in Paris. He was twenty years old and had done very little that year but hang around in Paris and go to the seaside in the summer. The menu for this riotous party survives, exhibiting some early Duchamp word play and a drawing of a naked woman sitting in a giant champagne glass drinking from a bottle. Note the English “Plump Pudding”: “Rebellion Menu / Ituitus / Hors d’ouavres / Divedi truffée / Salood / Pâtés / Plump Pudding / Desserts / Vino / Liquors / Champagne / M.D. 24 Dis. 1907” 

There is a further art historical connection between this infamous Christmas party and Duchamp’s later art; leiris202 claims that photo of Duchamp’s draftsman’s stool used as a stand for a Christmas tree 1907. The stool looks similar to the one used, five years later, for Bicycle Wheel, the first of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ but even if it isn’t the idea of a Christmas tree is good way to introduce the idea of ‘readymades’. 

The common claim of not to be able to understand Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ is odd because people annually make Christmas trees which are by definition an assisted (decorated) readymade. The Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme defines the readymade as “an everyday object elevated to the more dignified level of an artistic object at the mere whim of the artist”. Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme (1938; Rennes, 1969) Ordinary objects regularly transcend the commonplace in religion, as well as, art.

The tree decorated with its lights is connecting with the ancient Roman rituals and the god Mithras. Mithras is a god who was also man, born on December 25th; his birth also announced by a star and witnessed by shepherds. Art, like religion and culture, is the recombination, reuse and reinterpretation of pre-existing ‘readymade’ parts.


Cultural Diet Advice

It would appear to be a reasonable proposition that an art critic aught to be able to tell good art from bad and therefore would be able to advice on an appropriate cultural diet. What to see and what to avoid. Such advice is often obvious when someone is deprived of culture or has a very poor cultural diet, in the same way that it is obvious that a starving person needs food. As in recent reports of Canadian doctors prescribing a visit to an art gallery.

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Less obvious, perhaps better aesthetic taste provides a benefit, such as the benefits of a better cultural diet. As yet there is no evidence for this and as so many people have been so very wrong in describing some art as ‘junk food,’ ‘rotten’ or ‘poisonous’ I am loathe to follow their example. If there was equally clear evidence for poor aesthetic taste having detrimental effects it would as likely be around by now, given millennia of bad taste. The idea that someone knows the right kind of culture to consume is to avoided like a fad diet.

Much of our critical vocabulary is based on food: sweet, sour, light, vapid, rotten… all summed up in one word, ‘taste’. With this jumbo serving of misplaced synesthesia is hard not to imagine that we are in some ways ingesting culture. However food and diet are a poor analogy for cultural consumption and demonstrate why such a common analogies works so badly. We hardly know what the nutritional value of aspects of culture. To call something ‘cultural junk food’ maybe as misinformed as medieval dietary advice on balancing the four humors.

If culture is at all like food, or exercise, then the best advice is to consume a variety in moderation. Advice that I try to follow in this blog with posts on a variety of types of art and associated cultural matters but that I follow more in my everyday life as I don’t generally write about the music, dance and other aspects of my cultural diet in this blog (maybe I should).


Carrot Man

I saw Carrot Man! I had heard the legend of a man who walks inner city Melbourne holding a giant papier-mâché carrot with green plastic leaves. I assumed that I would not see him for reasons of time and space; most report had him in Fitzroy. Then on Friday I was in Flinders Lane buying sushi when I saw him walking past the window. So I grabbed my sushi, the woman behind the counter ran after me with my change.

It has been years since the first reported sightings of Carrot Man but it was obviously the same man. I tried to catch up with him but he was walking quickly up Manchester Lane towards the tram stop on Collins Street.

For more about Carrot Man see a newspaper article on Reddit. I love Tuesdays has a blog post about him. There is The Carrot Man Hunt @carrotmanhunt on Twitter. And an interview with him on YouTube.

In all these reports and interviews he never once does he use the ‘Art’ word; his stated intention is simply to make people smile. (I think that the stories about him carrying a squid are a red herring.)


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