This post is not about Casey Jenkins, a Melbourne based performance artist. I have previously written about two of her work: True Colours (2019) and Body of Work (2015). This post is about the Australia Council for the Arts reneging on an agreement with Jenkins and why this is a concern for everyone in Australia.
What everyone is also aware of is that the process is unfair because they would not accept it as fair if somebody reneged on an agreement with them. Is the unfairness in any way excusable? Australia Council is using the COVID-19 tragedy as a cover while admitting that their system was at fault. Next time will they use the person responsible “was having a bad day,” one of the recent excuses that NSW police has used for assaulting an Indigenous youth.
I asked the Australia Council about their media statement and if this means that thye take responsibility for the poor quality of the review process? And how has the process regarding variation requests been adjusted?
The Australia Council’s media statement stated that: “The Council has been in contact with the artist to advise we consider it necessary to rescind the variation to the original grant, effectively withdrawing support for this specific project.” How do you unilaterally “rescind” what is essentially a contract between the Australia Council and the artist? Casey Jenkins did not agree to rescind it and so, isn’t the correct word “reneged” and not rescind?
I also asked if artists should be concerned that something similar might happen again when they make a variation request? The Australia Council chose not to reply to my questions while sending me two emails about my enquires.
There is a lot that the Australia Council is not saying about this that should be clarified for future applicants. It could be more open about what subsequent changes to its process it has made. It could release the legal advice on Jenkins art. It could even acknowledge the history of Australian politicians interfering in arts, and admonish all attempts, rather than merely deny that any occurred in this particular case. Instead it has chosen instead to protect politicians and damage the arts in Australia by denials and increasing uncertainty.
No system or Australia Council review process can predict what Australian politicians will want to censor because censorship is an arbitrary act of power. And every few years Australian artist is attacked as immoral by a conservative politician; it is a tradition going back to Federation. It is so common that I have a category in this blog for posts about art censorship.
Art galleries in Singapore are like temples without gods. If you build the art space will they come? And then what will they see? From the newest art galleries in Singapore, to the commercial galleries, to the government funded institutions there are the spaces but not the content. And often what content there is has been imported.
Singapore’s commercial galleries import art from around the world to on sell it; not enough, of even the bland designer type art, is being produced locally. Like Ode to Art gallery, in the shopping mall connected to my hotel. The gallery only has three Singapore artists represented, the rest come from Turkey, Vietnam and the USA.
The Substation is a contemporary arts centre with a white rectangular gallery space and a theatre. When I visited the Substation there was an imported exhibition: Victoria Cattoni’s exhibition “What if I Want to Water Ski? And Other Questions”. Victoria Cattoni is an Australian artist and the Australian Government, Queensland Government and Australia Council supported her exhibition. Cattoni examines issues about wearing the hijab with portrait photographs of women wearing hijab, videos and books of questions and replies. It was the most well attended exhibition that I saw in Singapore, mostly by Moslem women wearing hijab. And why not, when it was basically fashion photography exhibition. And it did also have the added dimension of a pleasant dialogue between the non-Moslem artist and Moslem women about an allegedly ‘hot’ topic.
As well as providing excellent exhibition spaces Singapore is good at supporting its student artists; I always see a school art exhibition at SAM when I visit Singapore. This time it was Abstractus, at 8Q sam, an exhibition of the work of students from the SOTA arts programme. However, this reinforces the attitude in Singapore that art is a juvenile activity, as demonstrated by the denial in the very first sentence of 8Q sam’s press release on its target audience: “Audiences at 8Qsam are not only limited to the young.” After these student exhibitions there appears to be nothing, a few emerging artists but no great truly great Singaporean artist, no major artists.
The new contemporary art wing, 8Q sam, of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) appears to have no permanent collection. It is a great space in a converted old building but like the old wing of SAM it is largely empty space.
These are fragmentary observations, seen by a tourist and an editor who, in 1999, put together a directory of Singapore’s art and culture websites for LookSmart. But then no story is complete. What happens to all of these young Singaporean artists? Do they have to leave the country in order to continue an artistic career? Please leave a comment if you are one of these young Singaporean artists, have your say and you can help complete this story.
In Seventh’s front gallery there is photographic exhibition by Vanessa Van Houten’s “Remembering What’s Lost”. The photographs are very stylish juxtaposing a portrait photograph along with handwritten confessional notes by each of the subjects exploring moments of loss. I think that recognize Ghostpatrol and Miso amongst the subjects. However, the quantity of subjects, notes and unspecific loss made it feel a bit self-indulgent.
Sary Zananiri’s small exhibition “On the road to Jerusalem” at Seventh Gallery is located in the nook between the two main galleries. It is a small marginal space, narrow and confined, much like the space allocated to the Palestinians by Israel. Artists have used bullet holes before, notably by Niki de Saint Phalle and William Burroughs. In this exhibition Zananiri’s uses the readymade bullet holes in a wall in the West Bank, on the road to Jerusalem. The bullet impact craters were cast in glass and represented in topographic photograms; there are 11 in total, ranging in size from 15 cm to 1cm. Most are the size of my fist.
Maybe it is just because I live in Melbourne’s north with its large Muslim population that I think I can see evidence of a shift in opinion about Israel. It is not just the posters with the Palestinian flag on the street, or the collection boxes for the children of Gaza in cafes; it is in the political graffiti when writers make the distinction that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. It is also in Melbourne’s art galleries and theatres. There have been protests and misdirected controversy over a recent performance of Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children” and in 2004 when Azlan McLennan’s installation “56” was exhibited briefly at “24 Seven” in Melbourne before being censored by Melbourne City Council. These protests have only demonstrated a hysterical and manipulative aspect of Zionism. I haven’t heard of any protests about Sary Zananiri’s exhibition, even though the Australian Government and the Australia Council sponsored the art; maybe “On the road to Jerusalem” too small to attract controversy but each of those bullet holes packs a punch.
The back gallery of Seventh Gallery has had a window added, that increases the light in the small room. The window might be part of the installation of Sapna Chandu, “Mural #001” from the “The Living Room Series 2008”. Sapna Chandu, like the German artist, Gregor Schneider, makes rooms as works of art. “Mural #001” is comfortable and modern living-room with a retro-70s style in black, umber and chrome but the photograph that fills one wall (another 70s style feature) is of a wall in a burnt out house. The wall is made even more poignant by the 2 abandon paintings by a child still taped to the wall. The contrast of comfort, relaxing on comfortable lounge furniture, with faux melancholy view of the derelict wall is a contradiction art continually encounters from baroque paintings of beggars to contemporary issue-focused art.