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Tag Archives: Australian culture

Are You Experienced?

In covering the Paul Yore story I felt hopelessly out of my depth, as an art critic I wasn’t experienced reporting on politics and law. I persevered, determined to follow the story to the best of my abilities for over a year.

From the start, covering the case felt like a futile task as I already knew the outcome, it was as predictable as continued government funding for the National Gallery. Sure, it might not happen, especially if people treated the outcome as predictable and that any energy spent on it wasted but realistically, what are the chances?

If Paul Yore had been found guilty it would just been a further repeat of what happened to Mike Brown with the sentence reduced to practically nothing on appeal. To expect anything else is to expect a revolution, art galleries ransack, Chloe seized by police from Young and Jackson’s…. As much as such a purge might be the wet dream of some right wing conservatives, it is not something that magistrates and judges would want to encourage. What they want is to preserve the status quo.

However in Australia, the status quo includes the random persecution of artists. I’m concerned that this could happen again, not in Victoria, not for a few years at least, after the police pay costs for the case, but to another artist in another state in a couple of years. Following the police raid on the Linden Centre gave me the feeling of the repeated witch hunts in Australian culture.

The typical Australian mob chants: “We don’t like it. Ban it!” Art, books, clothing, people…. “We don’t like it. Ban it!” The mob needs to shut up, listen to reason and understand that just because they are the mob doesn’t mean that they should dictate taste. That instead of banning art and the expensive circus of police raids and court cases that we should engage in a democratic discussion. But what are the chances of that happening?

Being out of my depth with covering a criminal case there were things that I could learn, how to find court dates, get media statements from the police but as I learnt I also realised one of the drawbacks of being a blogger and freelance writer. What I was missing as a freelance writer and blogger was the experience of a large newsroom where I could have consulted with, or even collaborated with, the regular court reporters and the politics reporters.

Now I’m not asking for your sympathy but for you to consider a world with smaller editorial departments, smaller news rooms, more freelance journalists trying to tell larger stories. In the current world experience is too often dissipated rather than concentrated.

Sometimes I felt like a vulture lopping over to the carcass of an artist’s career, amid the flapping wings of other vultures and having a feed on the remains. Choosing to stop by Neon Parc on my rounds of galleries in the city to see if I could pick up something.

I wrote a summary of the case for the online art magazine Hyperallergic and an article for Vault Magazine that examined Yore’s use of collage and assemblage in the light of Max Delany’s testimony to the court.

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Prolegomena to Australian Culture

The terrible “Australian” identity debate continues to stumbles around like a drunken bogan. I feel forced to comment because of the subtitle of this blog (the “cultural critic” part) and because of the pathetic nationalist culture statement made by the imbeciles and criminals based in Canberra.

I don’t want to dignify anything that they have said by even commenting on it. Instead this will be a partial prolegomena (I don’t believe the spell checker knew that word – “you know, prolegomena, the clarification of the ground in preparation for further discussion, as in Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” – thanks to Richard Meltzer’s Aesthetics of Rock for clarifying that). So before anyone says anything more there are a few things that need to be clarified.

Recently the word “culture” has been applied to many things from the “work culture of Systems Administrators” to “deaf culture”. Discussion of “Australian culture” assumes that culture is a singular noun and this may be a grammatical error. The word “culture” may be a collective noun like “water”, “wool” or “dust” so that you have “some culture” or a “lots of culture” and not “a culture” anymore than “a water”, or “a wool”. A quantitative examination is a better foundation for discussion of culture rather than an examination identifying a unit.

Culture is more than the arts; it includes language, education, science, ethics, etc. It is the way that people behave in business, in medicine, in government etc. The limited understanding in Australian major political parties culture policy reduces culture to the arts. This is a narrow, limited understanding of culture and it is typical of the lack of depth to most Australian politicians understanding. Artists are culture workers, that is people working directly on their culture and not as a by-product of a culture.

A culture has material expressions, e.g. fashion, food, figures of speech, activities that identifies and defines the culture to both it members and others. That is cultures have identifiable clothes, food, dance, customs and practices. Vague claims about “mateship” or “ANZAC spirit” are not evidence of a culture. Furthermore, while I am stating the obvious, neither are national constitution (flag, etc.) nor geography evidence of a culture.

A language, in and of itself, does not constitute a culture. There are many languages that have no culture: trade languages do not belong to any one culture but facilitates communication across cultures. Likewise computer languages facilitate operations and communication without belonging to a culture. English is a language that has become free, in the processes of attempting to global dominance, of its original culture. As a language, English, does not necessarily signify any culture but particular expressions can identify the culture of the speaker. Slang, in itself, is not evidence of a culture; a person speaking Singlish is no more authentically Singaporean than a person speaking standard English.

There is so much that could and should be noted: Why have a culture? How do cultures develop? Are all cultures equal? This will have to be part one of this prolegomena.


Does Australia need a culture?

“To begin uncontroversial: some philosophers live in Australia. The question is whether that fact makes any difference to the way in which they philosophise. It is sometimes said that it cannot, since philosophy is a cosmopolitan subject. But we talk without hesitation about ‘British philosophy’, ‘French philosophy’. Is this just shorthand for ‘philosophy in Great Britain’, ‘philosophy in France’? Let us suppose that it is not. There might still be special difficulties in talking about ‘Australian philosophy’. Should we take special steps to cultivate an indigenous philosophy, or, at least, to link philosophy in Australia more closely to other forms of culture in Australia.”

John Passmore, “Australian Philosophy or Philosophy in Australia” abstract of paper, Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference, Uni. of WA, 1988. The paper has since been published in Essays on Philosophy in Australia ed. Jan T.J. Srzednicki & David Wood.

Some artists, fashion designers, writers, etc. live in Australia but this does not necessarily mean that there is Australian art, fashion, literature, music, etc. An arbitrary political boundary does not imply that a different culture exists within that boundary.  I have serious doubts that there really is an Australian culture, many more doubts than I have about the existence of Anglophone or Francophone culture or, even, hippy culture. And the more that the politicians try to manufacture one, with Australian citizenship tests, “Australian values”, etc. the more dubious I become because cultures grow organically and cannot be manufactured.

When ever the need for a national style is mentioned I always think of art nouveau, which was intended by the architect Victor Horta to become the national style of Belgium. As a successful style of architecture it inspired many other architects and designers and became a successful international style. Local styles and traditions are only the marginally successful styles, surviving due to local traditions and tastes, but unable to successfully spread any further.

A culture is more than just an identity, as you can have identity without an accompanying culture. A culture is “not a heap of unrelated phenomena but an organic whole” that “is extended in time”, conscious of its past and present and projecting itself into the future. (R.A.D. Grant, A Companion to Aesthetics ed. David Cooper, Blackwell, 1992, p.100) A lifestyle is a temporal heap of unrelated phenomena that may be more or less manufactured. Traditions are not a culture, as traditions do not project themselves into the future but remain fixed in the past. There may be Australian lifestyles, Australian traditions and Australia slang but those things alone do not imply an Australian culture.

What does Australia need a culture to do? And, can a culture do this? Irish, Scottish and Greek culture was needed to prevent complete assimilation into larger alien empires. Hippies saw their proto-culture as a viable, competitive, environmentally sustainable, alternative to the conformist consumer lifestyle. Culture could be described is a kind of mass reaction to a perceived threat that attempts to equip its members to combat the perceived threat. In doing this it is clear some cultures support some horrible and stupid ideals, including racism, sexism, homophobia and violence; it is less clear, what good, if any, any culture does.

Although shallow nationalism might be very popular in Australia there is no taste for deeper cultural analysis. So I am asking readers to comments if they think that Australia needs a culture and, if so, what it needs this culture to do. I would suggest that instead of debating whether Australia has a culture it would be better for the people in Australia to be concerned about the extent that Australia is civilized. Civilized by having a constitutional protection of human rights, civilized in its treatment of refugees, civilized in keeping its word when signing international laws and treaties, the kind of civilization is more important than any culture.


Coburg

 

“Come to Coburg and experience tradition” is one the lines in the Coburg Traders Assoc. tv advert on Channel 31.

Coburg, Victoria  is on the edge of Melbourne’s old inner 19th suburbs and the outer 20th century suburbs. A row of terrace houses on Hudson St. shows the point where cars started to influence Melbourne’s architecture; unlike the older inner city terraces, these terrace houses have been built separately to accommodate a carport.

I have enjoyed living in Coburg for two decades. There is a wonderful mix of people on the street from little old Italian men in three piece suits and hats, Muslim women in burkas and fashionably dressed youths. The traditions and bells of the Greek Orthadox church can occasionally be heard from the platform of the adjacent Coburg train station. But “tradition”, like ‘culture’, in Australia mostly refers to non-Anglo-American food and clothing. It is a superficial view of cultures and traditions; as superficial as Australians representing their culture with manufactured food products, like Kraft Vegemite.

The food in Coburg is inexpensive with good quality and variety. There is still a strong Mediterranean tradition influencing the choice of food in Coburg with Middle-Eastern fast food, falafels and kebabs, dominating. Many people in Melbourne know Coburg for its many Turkish restaurants that feature belly-dancers on Friday and Saturday nights.

Another cultural experience is Nila Restaurant that specialise in delicious south Indian style pancakes. The restaurant has TV sets at either end that generally play Bollywood music videos, except when India is playing cricket. On Moslem holy days the TV sets are switched off in the restaurant; this year I went Nila for their all you can eat Ramadan special.

Shopping in Coburg is easy for most items, except there are no bookshops; perhaps there are too many different languages in Coburg for a single bookshop to survive. In recent years more Indian shops have opened selling grocery shops everything from CD to rice and Indian clothing.

Mark Holsworth in new Indian clothes

Mark Holsworth in Indian suit

I have just bought myself an Indian suit, so that I can me cool, comfortable and well dressed at the next event requiring ‘formal/traditional’ dress held on an extremely hot day. Is this a experiencing tradition or am I just wearing something different?

 


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