So, my favourite tweet from the evening of 23 February came from @FakePremierTed a couple of hours before the official 7 pm kick-off for the 24-hour White Night event. Premier Ted Baillieu (albeit Fake) dutifully declared: ‘White Night Melbourne tonight. As Arts Minister, I have to smile at the hippies and pretend I like them. The things I do for opera tickets’.
Which got me thinking, as I periodically do, about the idea of culture by osmosis and the probability of this event acting as a blanket-cum-diversion-strategy for a neo-liberal cost-cutting agenda. Why? Because surely it’s cheaper to put a whole heap of cash into a one-night affair than invest in quality art education and its long-term effects. There does seem to be an inherent irony in a situation that elevates Ted (the real one) as our culture-loving leader when he is also the head of a party that has slashed funding and, as such, access to TAFE education, resulting in the closure of visual arts courses that don’t appear to make money or result only in vocational activities that make the one-eyed economics-focussed establishment happy (2).
This is why there is something about Liang Luscombe’s complex social-functional-design-object artworks (3) that rings true. A shelf to use, coins to steal food with and some things that just need to be said. Yes Our TAFE does need to be saved because if funding to TAFE is not returned, if we don’t consider the type of arts education we are providing (and receiving) at all levels, then the next generation of artists may be spawned entirely from the upper-middle classes who make fake coins from mining and reside and eat wherever and whatever they like. Actually, why would these people even bother becoming artists? Regardless, you know where I am going. We live in a complex space of masked stealing and failed state obligations: file-sharing, crowd-funding, health and education cuts.
I know you like the arts, Ted, and were moved to ‘sing’, but you were watching opera while ‘the people’ were doing a Zumba class.
Not that I am averse to Zumba. Heck, I spent a good six months taking a class twice a week in a temporary gym/stink-box at the Carlton flats—and loved it. I’m happy to dancercise to tracks-that-you-only-hear-in-supermarkets-but-somehow-know-all-the-words-to for two hours a week. Perhaps I’m too cynical. I love crowds and I like art, I’m just suspicious of Ted’s motives and pissed off about the TAFE cuts. To be frank, rather than shuffle through the laneways of Melbourne ‘looking for culture ’cause I’m told to’, I’d much prefer to meander through the Edinburgh Gardens and come across an absurd shrine to Mick Edwards (or Swami Deva Pramada as he was also known), contributor to the first four or so albums by ELO who was killed when a 600 kg hay-bale rolled onto his van in 2010.
A folly such as this (the shrine, not Edwards’s death!) is perhaps harder to contextualise. Sure, I might know when to pop over to the picnic-cum-opening for cheap beer and a chat with friends. Even more so, I like knowing that Aunty Joan, who has lived in North Fitzroy since day dot, might chance upon Oscar Perry’s hay-bale atop a previously sculpture-less plinth (4) that she has walked past umpteen times and ponder the recently deceased Edwards, rekindle her love of ELO, go home and put on her copy of Eldorado, play air-trombone to the fanfare at the beginning of Boy Blue, and then sit and reminisce to the title track while drinking a portagaff and googling art and contemporary prog. Aunty Joan may of course prefer Woody Guthrie and Russian Caravan tea, and might instead google the why, what and where of hay-bales spontaneously combusting.
1. From a bumper sticker reading ‘Beam me up Scotty, there is no intelligent life form on this planet’, which spawned our abridged and shared evacuation chant. The phrase was apparently never actually uttered in the Star Trek series, but we all know it and as such it’s perhaps an example of cultural osmosis.
2. See Ann Stephen’s address to the AAANZ conference in November last year about the importance of TAFE in fostering an inclusive and rich culture.
3. Liang Luscombe’s Jonas Bohlin (from Spring Street, the office and the vending machine), 2013, was exhibited in Navel-gazing, curated by Brooke Babington and Melissa Loughan at Utopian Slumps early this year.
4. Plinth Projects is a new artist-run public-art venture codirected by Daniel Stephen-Miller and Jeremy Pryles assisted by a gang of other artists including Sam George, Carla McKee, Ben Ryan and Isabelle Sully. The project, launched on 3 March, is funded by the City of Yarra. The committee isn’t paid but the artists exhibiting get a fee.
Oscar Perry, Harvest showdown/Early classics, hits and rarities, Plinth Projects, Melbourne, 3 March – 2 April 2013.