Tag Archives: Melbourne Festival

Destroyed K

This free event of destruction art is brought to you by the letter K and the big companies that are the sponsors of the Melbourne Festival.

Spanish artist Santiago Sierra is notable for being controversial and Melbourne loves an art controversy. Sierra’s Destroyed Word part 10 at the Melbourne Festival was a bonfire in the forecourt of ACCA. A large letter made from tea tree brush on a wooden frame had been constructed on a bed of sand.

It was a shame that Sierra hadn’t chosen letters that are mirror reversible as I was seeing the back of the K. (I don’t know what 10 letter word he was spelling out yet – this was a teaser stunt for Sierra’s exhibition at NGV International later this month.)

The crowd drinking in the lobby of ACCA for the opening of “Ourselves” were ushered outside for the big event. Lots of people just came along just for the bonfire and they weren’t disappointed. This was an art event not just art cognoscenti but for the whole family. People in the crowd might have made joke about marshmallows before the flames took hold but once the conflagration had begun they watched in awe. It was impressive, beautiful and it was all over in just over 15 minutes; destructive art doesn’t last long.

Sierra’s work is right out of Gustav Metzger’s 1959 manifesto on “Auto-Destructive Art” – “Auto destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies. Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of ideas, site, form, colour, method and timing of the disintegrative process. Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.”

Sierra’s destruction of the word reminded me of Wm. Burroughs The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs shows how language creates illusions and desires and then rubs out the word, cutting it up into smaller fragments until he has destroyed the illusion. Like the Buddhist monks who create elaborate mandalas of coloured sand only to sweep them away when completed.

The Globalization of Festivals

I’ve been enjoying the 2011 Melbourne Festival, especially “The Manganiyar Seduction” for both the music and the spectacular presentation. No sooner had the Melbourne Fringe Festival finished then the Melbourne Festival started; sometimes it seems that there is a film, fashion or other cultural festival planned for the whole year.

This year at the Melbourne Festival there was a parade of giant black baby demon statues. The demons took on another meaning when Melbourne City Square was briefly occupied by protesters joining in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The baby demons have been touring other arts festivals around the world. That started me thinking about the globalization of art festivals.

I was reading Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) and I was I was surprised to find that Coburg had held the first arts festival in Australia. I was also surprised to find that this was in 1944. Coburg held five arts festivals in the following years. In its second year the arts festival had an art exhibition, curated from pictures on loan from the collections of Coburg residents; the art included work by Louis Buvelot, Rex Battarbee, Harold Herbert, Daryl Lindsay and Sir John Longstaff. (Look up these guys up to understand the high quality of artists that were on exhibition.)

The transformation of the community based arts festivals, like 1944 Coburg Arts Festival, into the corporate sponsored tourist attractions, like the Melbourne Festival, is remarkable not just for the growth. The contemporary arts festivals requires greater infrastructure than venues for the events, there has to be restaurants, cafés and bars for the audience before and after the events, there has to be transportation, hotels and other facilities. This kind of arts festival has become an international travelling tourist attraction as the acts, like “The Manganiyar Seduction” and the “Tom Tom Club” travel the international festival circuit. In the process festival directors have become stars and their role has developed from an administrative to a curatorial role.

In 1986 the Cain state government started the Spoleto Festival of Melbourne. Four years later the festival changed its name to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the “international” and “arts” has gradually faded from Melbourne Festival’s title. 1986 was the same year as the California’s Burning Man festival was established. As festivals became more similar, with the same acts, around the world, very little attention was paid to creating different kinds of festivals. Not the Alexandrian approach of a festival for every category from the Armenian Film Festival to the Zombie Art Festival. Rather to take a creative approach to creating festivals, as Burning Man has done.

What do you think about the globalization of art festivals?

John Cale “When Past and Future Collide”

John Cale “When Past and Future Collide” was part of the Melbourne Festival 2010. John Cale + Band + Orchestra Victoria performed Paris 1919 live (not that I am familiar with that album) and a few other songs.

Many rock musicians like to play with orchestras, it fills out the sound and makes them look sophisticated and/or rehabilitated. But John Cale is different because he can write for an orchestra and all those years studying with the British composer Cornelius Cardew, means that this is not some trite, conventional orchestration. (“When I was studying composition I was completely unaware that the Rolling Stones were playing in some nearby pub. Instead, I met Cornelius Cardew, who opened up to me the world of the London base of the Fluxus movement…” John Cale, Autobiography). The orchestration was excellent and the combination of the string section with the electric guitar was exceptional. There was a very big string section (to be expected from John Cale, who plays the viola), no woodwind and a small brass section consisting of two French horns, a trumpet and trombone player who played an excellent gutsy part in one song. It wasn’t just John Cale and songs with complete orchestration. After the intermission he did return to playing more rocking numbers with just the band.

I’m a fan of John Cale and I played his parts in a Velvet Underground tribute band that I was in with Ron Rude, Frank Borg and others back in the 1990s. I have seen him in concert before; John Cale performances are always cathartic (cathartic I must note is a medicine that causes the emptying of the bowels). There is something cathartic about a great musician playing Jonathon Richmond’s “Picasso” at the State Theatre and repeatedly singing: “Nobody called Pablo Picasso an arsehole”. Maybe I needed the therapy after this week but that’s another story.

John Cale is the dictionary definition of punk – look up The Complete Oxford English Dictionary. A quote from NME: “John Cale was the first punk”, or some such phrase, is the example of how the word ‘punk’ is used (don’t quote me on this in your school work, look up the dictionary for yourself). John Cale was still looking like a punk, even though he was wearing a coat and tie, with peroxide blond hair with a large pink patch on one side.

The concert was like a collision between past and future. There was an intermission, unheard of in rock’n’roll (“We can play one long set or two sort sets” Lou Reed – Velvet Underground Live 69) but there were two encores (strange in the world of classical music but typical of a rock concert). The stage manager brought out a big bouquet of flowers to John Cale at the start of the second encore. I would have liked the lead guitarist and conductor shake hands, like the tradition of the lead violin and conductor shaking hands, to complete this collision between past and future traditions. The final encore was Chorale from Sabotage Live – a beautiful song that proved, even at the end of the concert, that age hasn’t weakened Cale’s fine Welsh singing voice.

The audience spanned all generations from the very young to people that made me feel young. Such is the attraction of this punk. I was glad to be among them.


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