Saturday, 29 December 2012

Cementa 13 on Pozible: and an Art Critic's Moral Dilemma Now the Art World is a Social Media Community Have the Values Changed?

By Ruth Skilbeck

The Cementa 13 contemporary art festival is a shaping up to be a dynamic and significant artist run initiative. Moving into Kandos, between 1-4 February 2013,  Cementa 13 looks set to put the post industrial  after cement-works town on the art world map, and perhaps at the same time it will  sprinkle some post-cement pixel-dust and change the fortunes of not only the town but also some of the talented artists who are travelling there with their varied works to take part in the four day festival. With the support of Arts NSW, there is talk now that it will be a biennial event.

Founded by artists Alex Wisser and Georgina Pollard, run by artists for artists (and wider local communities), Cementa 13, is rapidly growing with the transformative shape-shifting energy of self-motivation, inspiration, and community support and with the networked power of social media and facebook is an example of an event in the new digital and "real world" cultural economy and new subject formation online in social media communities.  Like numerous dynamic artist run projects Cementa has also used Pozible to run a campaign, to raise awareness of its existence with the aim of raising money to pay for artists' food and accommodation for the seventy artists whom it is supporting over the four days of their exhibition at the festival.

The Cementa campaign offers a variety of  festival-themed rewards or incentives for contributors who donate amounts to the campaign, from bright pink bumper stickers emblazoned with the legend "Visit  Kandos: Cement a Friendship"  (left over from a Kandos Museum campaign) to art works donated by exhibiting artists.

Altogether this represents a new form of arts community based support for an arts event, and artists. It is also providing interesting events and a selection of works and artists for arts writers, such as myself, to write about.  It is due to the range of interesting arts projects with an online dimension  happening this summer in Australia, that we have been inspired and motivated to relaunch our arts writing media platform Arts Features International online. This transformative move into multi- dimensionality is timed to occur very soon in early 2013, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of AFI -which is also an ARI artist run initiative. This was a very successful arts writing enterprise and we interviewed and wrote on many prominent international contemporary artists from around the world, as well as prominent curators and events in the art world throughout the first decade of the 21st century, a crucial time of social and technological change that has transformed the art world and seen the mass migration to online social media arts communities, that we are now communicating, working and living in.

But with all these changes, have values fundamentally changed in the artworld (should it now be called the arts world)? Have the relations between artist, art critic/writer/journalist, and art collector changed? (Of course as Pierre Bourdieu pointed out the line between cultural and economic value in relation to Art is very blurred and this means in terms of ethical value- too big a topic for this post but will return to when Arts Features International goes online).

This question is at the forefront of my mind as I have a hypothetical (well not so hypothetical) case study example that illustrates  the changing forms of support for the arts, and the move into online social media arts communities of all who work in it - including artists, arts writers, and gallerists. And that is to do with  art critics/writers supporting artists through financial donations e.g. on Pozible campaigns, for which they receive art works. And then writing about them.

In the old -capitalist framed- economy and world of arts writing criticism, there was a general unspoken rule or agreement that art critic and writer don't buy the art works they write about - as it is a conflict of interest - as reviews tend to elevate prices. (Although this is not so heinous as auctioneers selling works they own and elevating the prices of art works  in auctions by bad faith bidding).  And many art writers love the works they write about and wish to support the artists if they can. (Question, is this ethically unsound? and if so why?)

This is particularly on my mind as I find myself in this position. In my  enthusiasm for Cementa 13, and all that it is doing and represents, I checked out their Pozible campaign. Despite my less than financially  'independent' status as a writer (and with my university lecturing contract ending with fireworks on Dec 31, my own future is relying on my art writing now!)  I made a donation, and in return for a picture that I liked  the look of.

Laying it all on the line, and declaring my conflict of interest, I specifically made a donation and pre- purchased a print by Fiona MacDonald from her Green Bans series.

And yes I will be writing about it as there is a story well worth telling and re-telling behind the print which commemorates the disappearance and suspected murder of heiress Juanita Nielsen who was an activist campaigning against property developers buying up the community terraces in Victoria Street in Potts Point in Sydney. Although her body was never found and no charges laid, it is common folk lore that she was murdered. The print depicts the artist protestors in Victoria Street with the name Juanita, J symbolically represented as a dollar sign, in dripping blood red. Across the print are the words "Save Victoria Street'.

This seems representative of a community-led arts event, which brings together artists for a common cause of self support in times of economic crisis. I also just like the print. And there is a theme in the festival I have detected of art driven by social and cultural activism which I find particularly interesting, as it is a form of  interarts, inter-field communication. Arts as criticism, and art as journalism; that is as interesting and valid a comment and opinion as 'art criticism ' and art journalism that is based on words alone. Ian Milliss is another artist working with similar themes.

So I have made a donation and contributed in more ways that the traditional art critic. Maybe you can too!

The Cementa Pozible campaign has only two days and is short of its target by almost five thousand dollars. Will some kindly philanthropists, or art critics, step in at the last minute?

* * *
Your thoughts and comments on this moral dilemma of the digital age art world are welcome- is it a conflict of interest to support art work on Pozible and write about it- in new forms of arts journalism and criticism? is that what the community is about creating  a new form of cultural economy?

Feel free to send me your responses or comment below - we'll be writing more on changing values in the global digital age, new artworld cultural economies and arts communities when Arts Features International goes online.

Fiona MacDonald, 'Green Ban: Victoria St: Mick Fowler's Jazz Funeral, 1979; Eviction of 115 Victoria St, 1974', 2011. Print form the 'Green Bans' art walk and exhibition, 76.5 x 94 cm. Edition 25. Courtesy of Cross Art Projects.

Fiona MacDonald, 'Green Ban: Victoria St: Mick Fowler’s Jazz Funeral, 1979; Eviction of 115 Victoria St, 1974', 2011. Big Fag Press. A really beautiful print from the 'Green Bans' art walk and exhibition. 76.5 x 94cm. Edition 25. Courtesy of Cross Arts Projects

Fiona MacDonald, 'Green Ban: Victoria St: Mick Fowler’s Jazz Funeral, 1979; Eviction of 115 Victoria St, 1974', 2011. Big Fag Press. A really beautiful print from the 'Green Bans' art walk and exhibition. 76.5 x 94cm. Edition 25. Courtesy of Cross Arts Projects

Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings

The Daily Fugue wishes all our friends and readers 
a very happy and peaceful
 Christmas and festive season
wherever you are in the world
may your dreams fly high
may you travel safely
and your light

shine brightly

Photo: Ruth Skilbeck, Wing Tip, 2012

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tragic Murder of Leading Australian Aboriginal Health Reformers- Gavin Mooney and Delys Weston

By Ruth Skilbeck

The brutal murder of internationally renowned Aboriginal health advocate Dr Gavin Mooney, 67, and his partner Dr Delys Weston, 62, yesterday, in Tasmania, is a tragic loss not just for family and colleagues and friends but also for social justice, health economic movements and reform in Australia and international networks around the world.

Professor Mooney who is widely regarded as Australia’s leading health economist and Dr Weston his partner of many years, were bludgeoned to death in a brutal attack with hammer and sledgehammer, in the lounge room of their home in a secluded part of Tasmania, 20 km south of Hobart, yesterday.  The couple had recently left Curtin University in Western Australia, their most recent appointments, and moved to Tasmania and purchased a spacious residence to enjoy semi retirement, in 2011.

Police have accused Delys Weston’s son from a previous relationship, 27 year old Nicolau Francisco Soares, with the double murder. He had, three weeks previously, gone to stay with the couple, reportedly hoping for a “fresh start”, no motive has yet been identified.

Professor Mooney and Dr Weston had planned to continue their work in social justice health economics, in Tasmania, and Professor Mooney was already becoming deeply involved in local health and social justice issues, according to the testimonies of distressed colleagues.

Professor Mooney was a regular contributor on health issues for the benefit of readers of the local paper The Mercury.  He was renowned for working for those who were less well off in society. According to reports as soon as the couple had arrived in Tasmania they devoted themselves to making a valuable social contribution to their new home.

“We’re really quite devastated. Gavin Mooney was making an enormous contribution to social justice in Tasmania” said Tony Reidy from the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCoss), who said that Professor Mooney had been central to writing the organization’s submission to the state government this year. This is just one example of the many that are now surfacing in the mainstream media of his impact on people and communities he worked in,  compounding the social impact of the terrible loss that this family tragedy signifies.

Originally from Scotland, where he started as a trainee actuary in Edinburgh, Professor Mooney was most highly renowned for his work both in academia and in the community to support Aboriginal advancement and self-governance. In 2009 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town in recognition of his work as "one of the founding fathers of health economics". Yet he is best known for his work in advocacy for Aboriginal health and self governance.

 Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Jeanette Hackette released a statement yesterday on the university’s website in praise and memory of the couple and Professor Mooney who “worked at academic and community levels to pave the way for Aboriginal control of Aboriginal health care services.’

In the mid 1990s I met and was professionally involved with Delys Weston in connection with a story I was researching on a new Aboriginal Health Service on the Central Coast.
I was unable to publish that important story at the time – due to difficulties faced by freelance journalists in the Australian mainstream news media,  at that time. 
I will tell that story soon on this site.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Time to Reform OzTalkBack Radio Culture- 2Day FM Prank Calls and Nurse Suicide

By Ruth Skilbeck

I would like to start by making the point that I do commend former Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett's public support of the two young 2Day Radio FM broadcasters, Michael Christian and Mel Greig aka MC and Mel, who made the prank calls to London's King Edward VII Hospital -posing as the Queen and Prince Charles - that led to the suspected suicide of the Indian nurse who took their calls and passed them on to another nurse to report on the health of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge.

Speaking as the Chairman of  Beyond Blue, the organisation that works to support youth mental health and wellbeing, Jeff Kennet eloquently put the case for the 2Day FM presenters, that they had no idea that their harmless prank would lead to such a tragic consequence.

Undoubtedly this is true. Even though, and albeit they  may have contravened the NSW Radio Broadcasting Code that prohibits broadcasting private conversations without consent- the two young radio presenters were not to know that their actions were to lead to the suicide of the victim of their prank call.

It is highly unfortunate for all concerned that this was the result. Most sympathy should be with the family of the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, 46, who apparently according to media reports so far appears to have suicided out of a deep sense of shame, she was it seems also held accountable to some extent by her employers, as reported in the international media.

She was a mother of two children, and by all accounts deeply dedicated to her vocational calling as a nurse. 

According to the reports of a nursing colleague and friend she was a devout catholic and the two of them prayed together for their patients to get better.

In comparison, when it comes to professional duty, the actions of the young Australian radio presenters, preoccupied with their own ambitious advancement in the fickle media world seem appalling abrasive and shallow.

Yet what we should understand, is that this reflects on the culture of Australian talk back radio media and the superficiality of the cult of media personality in Sydney.

We should not hold the two young radio presenters directly responsible or wholly responsible, as their "prank" show was pre-recorded and approved by the management of 2Day FM.

The radio presenters were no doubt hired for their record of stirring up controversy and thereby through this sensationalised and senseless tactic of making themselves annoying to draw attention to themselves, 
were considered by the radio station managers to be worthy of employment on those grounds.

What this incident should do, is provoke a major reform of the superficial and meaningless actions of talkback radio hosts in Australia - that have been encouraged and supported and employed by radio stations such as 2Day FM and 2GB. When the presenters move into the international world of communications they  are giving the nation a very bad reputation in the rest of the world for their attention-grabbing tactics that make Australians look far more superficial than we are- or would hope to be seen in the rest of the world.

Now is the time to grow up and start to become more responsible in how we present and reflect ourselves in the global and local media.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Giving Teenagers a Break Through Hip Hop and Street Arts

By Ruth Skilbeck

Teenage boredom over a long hot summer, with not much to do, is a significant factor in the spike in youth crime figures over the summer school holidays in socially disadvantaged areas in Australia, according to recent reports.  But now change is in the air in Sydney with new initiatives creating positive alternative pathways for teenagers to learn creative street arts over the holidays in a new Street University.

This summer in Western Sydney an innovative creative street arts music and hip hop school holidays program has started up in Mount Druitt Street University, on the far western fringe of Sydney, an area that has the potential to significantly reduce rates of youth crime, by providing constructive alternatives and a creative community for local teenagers over the long hot school vacation.

The Mount Druitt Street University, which is supported by the Ted Noff's Foundation,  is based in an area where, until now, there has not been much organised for young people over the summer break. "Usually over the holiday period a lot of services wind down,"  said Julie Dubuc, manager of the Mount Druitt Street University, quoted in an article on the initiative in today's Sydney Morning Herald. The Street University started up in January and this summer, for the first time, is providing young people with a range of a Street Arts programs and courses over the duration of the summer break. 

Whereas young people from more wealthy areas may look forward to holidays abroad, or in Australia, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and whose families are suffering the impacts of the economic recession following the Global Financial Crisis, are often left alone with little to do in the long break. Previously they have had to while away the long school break, with very little structured activity. Now they have the opportunity to take "Subjects you really love" according to  participant teenager rapper Justin Maunzer quoted in the same article. 

This week thousands of young people will be out of school for the summer, and for young people in  disadvantaged areas where there is a lack of public social and cultural facilities that can lead to extreme boredom which in turn can result in criminal activity. Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, record a pattern of raised crime rate levels for young people over the summer months, and indigenous people have been disproportionately represented in these figures- as shown in recent research based at the University of New South Wales.

Recent and ongoing research, linking university researchers with government bodies and community organisations  in NSW outlined in the report Making a Difference: Building on Young People's Experiences of Economic Adversity,  shows that young people  are carrying the burden of wider economic disadvantage.

The Street University is an innovation in and for the local community, with workshops run by and for young people,  and is designed to meet and  express the needs of local young people themselves for constructive, interesting and challenging activities, and things to do, in their community over the summer- and nurture local talent.

A range of creative street arts programs are on offer, at no charge, for local teenagers in Western Sydney, at the Street University. They include classes in hip hop,  urban music, break dancing, filmmaking and photography.  The programs  are run by experienced volunteers skilled in the workshop subjects, and include a music program on rhythm and reform, which counsels young people on positive alternatives with music-based activities and as part of a creative community.

Following close on the heels of recently announced measures to increase services for young people, aimed to improve mental health and wellbeing, and reduce youth crime and detention levels, this is a highly positive initiative, arising from young people's own actions and calls for constructive activities,  listening to young people and what they want, and that represents a new step: providing positive alternatives for young people over the summer.

Skattebol, J, Saunders, P, Redmond G, Bedford, M, Cass, B (2012), Making A Difference: Building on Young Peoples Experiences of Economic Adversity. Social Policy Research Centre, The University of New South wales.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Censorship of Australian Mother Artists works

Winding back in time, strangely enough I was artist's model as well as artist. Whatever happened to Life Drawing? Now, in Australia, we have the art gallery police who turn up at the whiff of flesh toned paint- especially if the works are of children by their mothers, or nude self-portraits by women. After hundreds of years of representation of naked women and children, cherubs, and all sorts of mythological creatures by male artists, as soon as women resist the role of model and pick up the paintbrush for themselves, it seems, the art police step in.
Two artists whose works I know well, Del Kathryn Barton and Cherry Hood, both mothers, have had their art works reviewed by the police department of Australian Art Criticism.  
I will be discussing the heavy yet secretive policing of Australian mother artist’s work, and responding to their critical reviews, in coming articles on this site.

Ruth Skilbeck  16.12.2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

Modernity, 2012.

Ruth Skilbeck, Modernity, 2012

2008: Before the Art World Bubble Burst

By Ruth Skilbeck

A lot has changed in the world in the past four years, since the collapse of the global economy. Looking back at the dizzy, and insane, heights of monetary value that were changing hands in 2008, the peak of the art boom, can we predict what may happen in the future next year? That's hard to say and probably rather meaningless, what we can do is reflect. On how art or rather the international contemporary Art World came to reflect our excesses and our fallibility, and also -uncannily- our global economy.

Art World Revolution or Bull Market Rampage 
By Ruth Skilbeck
14 July 2008

Revolutionary though this year’s Sydney Biennale undoubtedly is, with its giddy themes of turning and re-turning, one has to acknowledge with some surprise that the biggest art stunt turn-around in the contemporary world – China’s intervention into the global art market and its ongoing repercussions – has been overlooked. This is strange as this cultural re-revolution is in motion right now practically on our doorstep – and even creating spectacular spin-offs in far away Britain. With the world’s highest priced living artist, former bad-boy Young British Artist, Damien Hirst’s strategic appropriation of the cheeky tactics of Chinese contemporary art saboteurs busily subverting the power balance of the art market. ‘Dropping their own works into auction’ is a gambit that has the middlemen spinning, cutting out the dealers and the auctioneers who traditionally control the art market.  In symbolic terms of aesthetic shock value, for the economic hierarchy of the art market this ranks with Duchamp’s reconfiguring of a urinal as a Madonna. In political symbolism it’s on par with the storming of the Winter Palace by impoverished workers. With one main qualifying difference: it’s a cross-cultural phalanx of postmodern ‘brand-name’ artists –the ones who can afford to seize power – leading the charge.

Damien Hirst. The Golden Calf.
Photo: Sothebys.
Damien Hirst's preserved Charolais calf with 18 carat horns sold for 10.3 million sterling; and the self-curated auction of his works in Beautiful in My Mind Forever totalled  62.4 million pounds sterling, on 15 September 2008. 

 'Postmodern ironies' abound in the spectacle of the one time artist-exiles of Tiananmen Square: creating a revolutionary diasporic art movement, a handful achieving untold fame and fortune in the West – successfully subverting the capitalist auction system to become ‘gloriously’ rich –  welcomed back to the free trade economy of the new China which is now approvingly touted in the Western media as one of the most exciting centers of contemporary art in the world... Cross cultural exchange through art-stunts achieved a new twist this week in the shock announcement in the global media that Damien Hirst is now perfecting the self-referential art form of Auction Appropriation by creating an entire exhibition, ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’, specifically for auction at Sotheby’s in London in September.  Andy Warhol who was amongst the first contemporary artists to use the mass media to deploy the construction of celebrity as an art form, would no doubt have approved of this tactic, which draws attention to the increasingly blurred boundaries between economic and cultural capital by reconfiguring the auction house – the ‘temple’ of art trade – as gallery. Thus raising the question super-rich art collectors around the world are invited to ask themselves about the bestowal of the value of art – a commodity which as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu pointed out has no intrinsic value. In the era of global capital art works are now regularly traded at auction amongst the world’s most wealthy and powerful – royal families, hedge fund billionaires, Ukrainian mining magnates, new Russian, Indian  and Chinese billionaire for figures reaching towards the hundreds of millions in US dollars. Last year the Emir of Qatar bought a Rothko from David Rockefeller for 72 million US dollars through Sotheby’s in New York. The Qatari’s are amongst Hirst’s collectors,  recently paying  9.7  m (sterling) for his Lullaby Spring pharmaceutical sculpture of painted and cast pills in a cabinet. (The new Middle Eastern collectors tend to be  big on pattern, high colours and abstraction – spurning figurative nudity).   

The elevation of contemporary art into the new global cultural currency has much to reveal – not only about the transmission of economic capital around the globe but also about the changing social formation of aesthetic and cultural values. Taking a strategic lead from contemporary Chinese artists, the symbolic cultural meaning of Damien Hirst’s intervention is revealed in the centre piece of his forthcoming auction exhibition: The Golden Calf. A bull-calf  suspended  in formaldehyde, with gilded hooves, horns and a golden halo. This evokes comparison with the transformation of art – and/or artist – to cult image, idolatry and ‘false god’. The Golden Calf, which visually appropriates Poussin’s painting, Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-34)  also refers to an Old Testament story. Whilst Moses spent 40 days and nights on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments the Israelites in his absence melted down their ear rings to construct a golden calf to worship – thus breaking the 2nd commandment against idolatry: the making of images (similitudes). Hirst’s work takes a reflexive double-dig at postmodernist appropriation and the ‘pagan celebration’ of contemporary art. The self-referential in-joke being that the irony of The Golden Calf performatively and blatantly signifies itself; signifies itself; signifies its... This is being seriously discussed as his most important work to date (with an estimate of  8m -12m sterling). To others, it may seem like bullshitting on a grand scale. And indeed such stories have an air of unreality here in Australia where culture is traditionally under-valued and the vast majority of artists remain below the poverty line. Unlike in China – or the UK – where the successful artists can afford to live in mansions and drive around in latest model jaguars. 

Art works exchanging hands for the amount it would take to save the victims of the Burmese earthquake, or relieve the debt of a third world country may seem like obscene decadence of the very rich.

What is uncontestable is that Contemporary Art – which speaks a visual language of cultural capital that all people can read and interpret in their own ways – including as a vehicle for economic capital – is becoming the new currency in the global cultural economy of which Australia is a part. As the search for meaning and connection intensifies in an increasingly globalised and environmentally unstable world we may expect to be reading a lot more about – and into – the economic, cultural, and cross-cultural meaning and valuation of art, in Australia and around the world. Including its entertainment value as knowing spectacle for the new cross-cultural global high society served up by artist-showmen such as the ironic maestro of the Golden Calf. Roll over Duchamp?

 This essay was written in 2008 and reflects the author's thoughts at that time. 

A version of the essay by Ruth Skilbeck was published in Australia Art Collector, in 2008.
Skilbeck, Ruth (2008) ‘Global Art Market Report’. Australian Art Collector. Issue 46. 106-107.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Travelling Refugee Class on Cloud 2012

By Ruth Skilbeck 

From Refugee to Business Class we're all travellers on life's finite journey. But 'tis easy to forget that when you're kicking back in comfort, cocktail in hand.

Flying high above those perilous boat journeys of the world’s refugees in July this year the Sydney Morning Herald reported that: “QATAR Airways has revealed it is talking to Qantas about a strategic partnership it says would allow it to increase its presence in Australia and give Qantas better access to Europe.”

Since the start of modernity the differences in fate of the worlds citizens has been symbolized in their modes of transport, and this is never more obvious than now in the era of globalization when the flights of the fortunate, in the free world, literally soar above those whose lives are at the mercy of the tides and laws of foreign countries they cannot control, the refugees of wars and conflicts and environmental disasters around the world.

This year we asked ourselves once again, and just once more, in Australia, is it really too much to ask of our government that we let in these poor unfortunate people who arrive on our shores through desperate life endangering and terrifying voyages across savage oceans, to let them land and be ‘processed’ here subject to the laws of our land, to become citizens if they pass the tests, and join the workforces, surely this is not beyond the capacity of our fortunate country?

And one more time we said well no and yes and no again.
At least not to those who come illegally and dangerously by boat.

But one thing is for sure: no-one would have wanted to be travelling refugee class in 2012. Who would think to do so unless conditions were intolerable and life-threatening in one's home country.

Let us spare a thought for all the millions of the world's refugees this Christmas festive season, as we sit down to our xmas dinners and drinks, for those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.