Back and forth

Do you like this quote or not?

I love the Plath quote.

‘If a neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.’ Sylvia Plath, The bell jar.

Tell me why it’s on topic?

OK maybe it’s not on topic I just liked it because I was thinking about us writing this and the voices and the perceived judgment and the ‘tone’ of the writing that has its own little neurotic struggle going on within it as part of its own trauma … just thought it was a funny tangle of crisis. OK I understand. Perceived judgment and perceived objectivity. Words can’t be, should never be, props for work—they are as structurally unsound as any other mark, object. Words can seem like such contained concrete markers but I reject that! In that case, here are some words. They’re just words.

Soft eyes huh? Are these uncritical eyes or are these intoxicated eyes?

I was thinking that I hope it’s both, maybe uncritical is too loaded a term … ‘loose eyes’? Loose eyes so one doesn’t edit everything out and open enough to offer things up. They’re open eyes, sure. In season 4 episode 4 of The wire one investigator tells the other, you need ‘soft eyes’ on a crime scene. This is something Sarah Crowest talks about. I think it’s a willingness or ability to see with openness what is previously unseen. You make a decision to see with soft eyes. It’s not about a default—it’s more concerned with working against the default. Determinedly going towards an unknown. Making as looking, seeking.

I know I sound like a sap (how could you sound like a sap in comparison to the romance I just spewed up?) but it’s the same way you love or befriend another person—so you are searching for more things to love, you’re kind of hungry for that and then at the same time you’re trying to block out the bad bits: weird noisy eating, bad performance in the sack … etc.

Hungry eyes.

This made me think about soft ears, which is getting off topic too … soft ears for sound art … ? Ha. Isn’t that what any practice is doing? Art-making is a research. Editing has a place here definitely, but I’m more interested in the speculative process which precedes it. We have talked a lot about the importance of editing but then we’re both pretty neurotic—editing is a form of neurosis right? right?!—and maybe that’s why I’m interested in the more investigative—it could be a propositional squint ahead as opposed to the editor’s assessing squint. (Maybe this metaphor isn’t working very hard.) Then again, these happen together rather than sequentially. Tomma Abts said in an interview that ‘it’s just decision after decision—an ongoing process of editing … The making itself leads the way.’ (1)
And maybe this is my question—if the process is so accumulative and kinetic then it seems frustrating for reception to be reductive and static—a dead end. By frustrating I mean stingy.

But then going way too far with this—we squint to make not only the edges fuzzy but to squeeze everything together—to Vaseline our lenses and allow ourselves the fantasy of the indeterminate better something-or-other …


My Mother used to say if you squint when driving down the main street of Seymour at night you can pretend you’re in New York. The wishful squint. But to go back, I’m not willing to let go of the value of proceeding without a predetermined outcome—the hungry eyes. If we’re not looking for something new what are we doing—confirming, affirming. My thinking about this way of working—process-based practice if we want to call it that—came from a conversation you and I kept returning to because of a healthy distrust maybe. Is trust a problem, are we at the old knowledge vs. faith crossroads?

OK here is an ugly question to avoid answering your ugly question: where does intuition sit? And how much value are we ascribing it? And how does training and how does theory hold hands with intuition? Oh so yukky.

OK this is good, look the ugly right in the face. I’ve been thinking about this idea of training and intuition holding hands a lot. To go back to Sarah Crowest, she writes about a very focused and determined way of using intuition as a method, a tool, to avoid affirming already-knowns. Perhaps, because maybe what we’re dancing around here is laziness (bad word? Flippancy?), it’s worth distinguishing intuition used in this way, from intuition used as a prop for style (am I going too deep into yuk here?).

To talk about this in relation to training—in Sarah’s great interview with Lizzy Newman, Lizzy talks about artists needing to address (I think she calls it an ethical requirement actually) the zone of unknown knowledge which she pitches against an overly prescriptive, didactic training at art school. Is this the right time to talk about the unconscious (gasp)? Which I’ve been wanting to bring up given your recent studies … Hmmm maybe I really like the idea of the subconscious doing the work.

This is a necessary part of psychoanalytic practice, everyone is taking mental notes in those sessions and the mark is made way down deep. I guess what I’m wondering is, when that ‘deep-down’ surfaces. And how much therapy/scrutiny is too much? And is this the question you are asking in the show?

I think process practices, or intuitive practices, are sometimes perceived as, and sometimes are stylistic, but I wanted to distinguish those that make a very contentious push for new logics, for research—which you can only push for by proceeding with undetermined outcomes. I wanted to think about abstraction as a means posing structural questions about our thinking and making. That is the first proposition, the first part. The second part is about intuitive practice, not through material investigation, but through associative thinking. But that is another conversation …

(1) Tomma Abts interviewed by Christopher Bedford, ‘Dear painter … ’, Frieze, no. 145, 2012.

Funny games

The lingering stench of propriety and duty at the Heathmont Scout Hall was nearly as strong as the snags Kiron Robinson was cooking out the front. The framed colour photo of the Queen, the pine-panelled hall with honour boards, the texta instructions for the urn in the kitchenette, it was all there. Pip and Nat Ryan’s work in The big east, curated by Robinson, was like an amulet; both made of, and antidote to, the spirit of the Scout.

The sculpture sat in some dark place between the cultish initiation in the rec reserve car park, the smirking gags in the back row and the repressed angst of Scoutmaster. Speaking of grown-ups playing in a kids’ world, these adult figures in jammies and sleeping bags are about as cute as a double-dare suicide pact after lights out. A sculptural sardonic laugh, the work was an antidote to the dutiful and its absurdity soothed the pragmatic self-betterment that haunts the building. Flippancy keeps self-seriousness on the back foot.

The charts, codes, uniforms in the hall at Heathmont look a lot like all the other frameworks we build to face the terror of infinite choice. Laminated and framed on the wall, the Pathway to the Grey Wolf Award (tasks, skills, badges, rules for living) is the most basic of survival mechanisms; a self-imposed cell. We’re all agoraphobes. And handrails and cell bars are made of the same stuff. Painter Charline von Heyl describes ‘breaking the rules where there are none’ as a way of grappling with abstraction. Like a Scout gone rebel, the greatest freedom comes from having a rule to break, which is why the institution makes the best house of horrors.

The big east, 3rd Heathmont Scout Hall, Melbourne, 9 June 2013.

Pip and Nat Ryan, ‘slump’, 2013. Photo: Christo Crocker

Cub Scout Award Scheme Chart, the Pathway to the Grey Wolf Award, 3rd Heathmont Scout Hall

Grievous bodily collage

On Saturday 1 June Victoria Police removed parts of a larger installation by Paul Yore titled EVERYTHING IS FUCKED exhibited in the Like Mike exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts. The action followed a complaint made to police. Paul was questioned by Victoria Police on Monday 3 June and subsequently released without charge on summons. The exhibition at Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts remains closed; a decision made by the Linden board of directors.

We sought the following comments:

Tamara Winikoff, executive director, National Association for the Visual Arts:
As a long-standing defender of artists’ freedom of expression, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has been vociferous in its condemnation of the latest raid by police, who seized the work of young artist Paul Yore from his exhibition at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts in Melbourne. NAVA asserts that within the law, Australian citizens have the democratic right to make judgements about what they want to see and respond to according to their own understandings and value systems.

In my forthcoming artsHub article I comment that, ‘Art pyromaniacs are people who ignite a cultural controversy and hide on the margins watching it burn. Pillorying artists is an irresistible sport for people with political motives or who are seeking the opportunity to stamp their brand on public morality. But human imagination is the fluid that leaks through the cracks in tired rules and outmoded ideas. It is not easy to quell the subversive power of parody and interrogative probing’.

In a series of forums around the country in 2013, NAVA will be asserting that Australian cultural expression must be protected against the personal ideological crusades and political point-scoring exercises of particular interest groups.

Mikala Dwyer, artist:
The work Paul has created is from images and objects readily available everywhere.
They are complex two-dimensional and three-dimensional collages that are made from many many hours, days and years of thoughtful intelligent speculation on the nature of the world we live in. They are in no way pornographic any more than the world is.

It is sad that the Linden Gallery shows so little faith in what it exhibits but even sadder and more perplexing that the police are called in to waste their time following bogus complaints and were even compelled to vandalise these extraordinary and beautiful artworks. Police time could be much better used following real dangers to the community.

But perhaps even more unbelievable is the extent this farce has travelled. It’s time it just simply stopped.

Robert Nelson, Monash University and The Age:
Antiscandal. At first, I was angry. The persecution of Paul Yore is another regrettable episode that confirms the widespread backwardness of recent cultural history. The police may be obliged to investigate allegations but seizing artworks from an exhibition—which is clearly trying to hide nothing—is an absurdity that could only be justified on the basis that the exhibition puts somebody at risk. With what evidence did they make that judgement?

But have we as an art community done everything that we can to dispel the misconceptions held by the authorities and so many members of the public who abhor our liberality. When these perturbations arise, they are messy and invite unsympathetic and undesirable reactions. We prefer not to attract attention and hope for it all to blow over. We communicate poorly and take few steps to prevent another episode.

My own efforts on the topic propose a checklist of necessary criteria for invoking censorship. Further, I have made a submission (CI 235) to the Australian Law Reform Commission, where I detail the basis on which scholars and artists may legitimately consult material that might otherwise be incriminating.

Geoff Newton, director, Neon Parc, and curator, Like Mike:
Galleries work in collaboration with artists not unilaterally. The conduct of Linden reflects poorly on that organisation as an artistic institution and in my view it will ultimately affect their ability to attract the sort of artist necessary to sustain a vibrant audience base.

Until this time we have trusted and been patient with the board but its continued lack of support and non-communication leave us no alternative but to take the following action. We will stage a peaceful protest tomorrow, Saturday 8 June at 10 am, at Linden Gallery against censorship in the arts.

Alexie Glass-Kantor, director, Gertrude Contemporary:
Paul Yore is an early career artist dealing with images that emerge from a media environment that daily produces a deluge of mixed messages. The work is about the artist’s own identity and the work is intensely personal, it is not about pornography nor is it pornography. Often an image circulates but it can easily be taken out of context. Yore’s images have been circulating now for a few years, they are sexual and political but not about exploitation or pornography. They instead rely on the amplification of sexuality, chaos, and neuroses, underscored by complicated personal boundaries and trespass.

Historically the work can be read or perceived in relation to the contemporary practices of artists such as Juan Davila, Richard Larter, Del Kathryn Barton, Jean Michel Basquiat and Paul McCarthy. Exhibited in dialogue with the early works of Mike Brown it is important to acknowledge that that generation of artists was hugely influential locally. The sub/pop/cultural images that were key in Brown’s work are absolutely present in Yore’s works.

It is important that artwork is seen in context and I do not believe that the artist’s intention is to vilify or exploit children. There are situations where children have to be protected and as institutions we have an ethical imperative to do due diligence and act responsibility. I think that sensationalism, vilification and kneejerk reactions are counter-productive to intelligent discussion and create the kind of distraction where the artist and artwork become fodder for another agenda.

Charles Nodrum, director, Charles Nodrum Gallery:
Quote: ‘the work contained collages such as a cardboard cut-out of a child with Justin Bieber’s head stuck on, urinating from a dildo into a sink’ 
(Pia Akerman, The Australian, 4 June 2013).

Questions: For the sexologist: 1) Since when has urination been classified as sexual? 2) How can anyone urinate from a dildo?(!)

For the judiciary, the legislators (and by extension, all of us citizens): a collage as described above can get the artist up to 10 years, yet paedophiles found guilty of multiple rape get less than that. Have we gone mad? And as for the above constituting child pornography, even the most pedantic logic-chopper would surely balk at that?

For the board of Linden: out of a large group show, small parts of one work were deemed to have possibly infringed the law—and were removed.  Why close the whole exhibition? Why instruct staff to make no statements? Since when has locking up the venue and locking down debate ever resolved any issue?  Since the offending material has gone, why not open the doors and let the public in?

Natalie Thomas, artist:
We don’t want any trouble mate, but they started it! These bloody artists! I don’t know who they think they are and that pile of rubbish is taxpayer funded too! The bloody nerve of them! It’s not even a painting!

Are Australian artists allowed to comment on celebrity these days? Treating Pop stars like Justin Bieber or Sports stars like Thorpie satirically, irreverently or with contempt, will get big media backlash and inflame Public Opinion. You can have ‘Your Say’ and write in that artists are a bunch of freeloading wankers. Few make the link that most Industries are Government subsidized in one form or another.

Paul Yore recently had his work confiscated, taken by Police from Linden Gallery (in sleazy St Kilda). His work is not pornographic. I think ‘playfully visceral’ is a more fitting description. The work makes a statement and with the artworks’ removal, I reckon Paul has had his Human Rights violated.

After talking to a friend about the unfolding drama, we discussed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Australia signed up to it in 1948:

Article 27
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Jon banged on about Article 27: how it’s not ideal, but how it says just enough to dam this tide of reactionary hysterical censorship. This is Australian 21st Century Censorship. And the election will deliver what we expect. A Conservative, fiscally fixated landscape of church-goers with which to play.

Game on mole.

Like MikeLinden Centre for Contemporary ArtsSarah Scout PresentsUtopian SlumpsNeon Parc and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, various dates between 18 May and 7 July 2013.

Paul Yore, ‘Everything is fucked’, 2011, tapestry. Photo: Devon Ackerman

Talk it out

The performance show I should’ve stayed in Sydney for was Work out at the MCA. What I stayed in the MCA for was William Eggleston’s video work Stranded in Canton, 1974—documentary photography turns absurd trip that held me far longer than 13 Rooms. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a packaged blockbuster of performance work was upsetting.

The 13 Rooms problem that really stuck was substitution (there were a few others—see below). Substitution of the artist for another performer is problematic when the hinge of the original work was the artist’s reclamation of agency over her own body. This hinge is almost completely reversed in the re-objectification of women’s bodies through the replacement of a very particular body (subject) with any other hired female body (object).

When Abramovic pins herself to the wall, nude in a spot light, for indefinite periods of time she exerts agency. When a number of anonymous women are paid to do the job for her they become objects of a higher authority. About turn. It’s just not the same thing to watch someone paid to suffer, as it is to watch someone who chooses to suffer.

Repeat re Joan Jonas’s work.

The substitution problem isn’t specific to 13 Rooms, but put it in the mix with the contextless mist of that exhibition and the crux of the work is hard to find.

So, re-presentation of performance over time.

Tino Sehgal’s This is new, 2013, was the only work that shirked the curatorial heavy hand. The invigilator who said ‘O’Farrell comes out for gay marriage’ was the single performer in the show not choked by the shuffling factory line.

I’ve been waiting a long time to be Sehgaled, so there was that too.

Sehgal, who doesn’t allow documentation of his works and only verbal sales agreements, has got something in this no paperwork no photos please policy. Radical immaterialism. Radically visible evasiveness too.

Re-performance and controlled transmission were also rolled out at the Trio A workshop held recently at VCA. Yvonne Rainer has a very particular way of facilitating the ongoing life of her iconic 1966 dance work. I sat down with Ash Kilmartin and Eliza Dyball to talk about their involvement in a workshop run by one of Rainer’s ‘transmitters’, Sarah Wookey. Eliza and Ash spoke of, and in, the language of Yvonne and Sarah—check in, tune up, take away.

Speech and the body. We talked about trying to close that gap—a gap that is wider for most of us than it is for a dancer. Eliza recalled an exercise where they each notated the dance and another participant then performed those instructions. The result was apparently often miles from the intention, which speaks of shift through the subjectivity of language.

Ash perceives in dance culture an acknowledgment that over time a work will change since it is passed down through the body and every body is different every day: ‘you’re not the same body two days in a row’. Sehgal and Rainer both transmit their work primarily through speech and both use the body and voice to either allow for or resist a shift in the work over time. Choreography expects another body to perform the work. And choreography acknowledges time. For those reasons Rainer’s and Sehgal’s works have a built-in protection against misrepresentation over time. Choreography not as a means (of instruction) but as a method (of making).

Sehgal controls the form, as Ash pointed out, and the content of the work is allowed to re-form each time it is performed. If the form of the other works in 13 Rooms were preserved, the content was all talk.

My rant about 13 Rooms includes, and this is an architectural as well as communication hitch, that the lack of context given about the works meant we became voyeurs popping in and out of the 13 white boxes like it was a freak show. The poetic and political was lost to the spectacle.

Also, the ‘coincidence’ that when I visited the exhibition each of the works involving women had the performers passive—often nude—and in those involving men, the performers were active. I went to the catalogue—the last hope—to find essays by four men and no women’s voices. But that was just a coincidence too so it’s cool. Lazy curatorial non-decisions left a bad aftertaste.

And (last one, I promise) what a slap in the face that the opportunity to contextualise Australian performance practice in this canon of significant international works from the last thirty years was used to show work by the very early career Clark Beaumont duo (not that their work isn’t strong and interesting—which is beside the point) rather than acknowledge the key works of this mode from recent Australian art history—Rrap, Parr, Stelarc …

13 Rooms, Kaldor Public Art Projects, Pier 2/3, Sydney, 11–21 April 2013.

Work out, MCA, Sydney, 22–28 April 2013.

Thanks to Ash Kilmartin and Eliza Dyball.

William Eggleston, ‘Stranded in Canton’, 1973, video, 77 mins

Marina Abramovic, ‘Luminosity’, 1997, re-performed for Kaldor Public Art Project 27: 13 Rooms, 11–21 April 2013

Sarah Wookey performing Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Trio A’ at Viva! Art Action, Quebec, 2011



In May 1985 an Australian woman and her husband working for the UN were kidnapped in Pakistan and held hostage. At some point during the months of search and negotiation the Australian Government flew the woman’s parents to the Afghan border and an area they believed the hostages to be. The helicopter touched down and the woman’s father stood looking out at the mountains. After a while he called, ‘Hello’.

I thought about this call out into space after seeing Danae Valenza’s call-and-response work in North Melbourne. Valenza’s operetta reinterpreted Kyu Sakamoto’s 1961 pop hit ‘Ue o muite arukō‘. Also in 1985, the Japanese crooner was killed in the Japan Airlines Flight 123 crash, the largest ever single aircraft crash. It lends a cruel irony to the title of his hit single, translated as ‘I will walk looking up’ (and continuing, ‘so that the tears won’t fall’).

Two sopranos sung Valenza’s work to each other across Errol Street, one standing on the balcony of the Town Hall Hotel above regulars in the bar, and the other in an upstairs window of the opposite building. A cappella singing is hard to beat for a spine tingle. The unmediated medium—straight from the heart or at least the sternum. The simplicity of two people singing to each other went down easy in the quiet Saturday afternoon when most people in earshot were picking up some milk or putting on a load of washing at the laundromat.

It might have been a background accompaniment to your steak Diane at the Town Hall or the reason for your visit to Errol Street. Valenza’s work was without presumption that it had something to teach or that you might be better off having heard it (‘benevolent’ public art is my pet hate). The inconsequentiality of a tune sung and the deep lightness of a pop song made this bit of public art poetic not pushy. This was the anti-declaration voice.

The public intimacy of the voice was also in the reading of Fayen d’Evie’s text work ESSENTIAL MAKE-UP REPAIRS/I asked her if she had a favourite perfume and she replied ‘Chances, by Chanel’. An actress read the narrative to a packed front gallery at the opening of Can’t quite pin it down at TCB earlier in the month. The text recounts in third person the experiences of a transsexual woman over the course of many years and relationships while she becomes herself.

In the context of an abstraction show, and one of all women, this narrative helped refocus what was happening on the TCB gallery walls—abstraction working hard to get out beyond the break of the easily known and the clearly defined. d’Evie’s text work spun gender and abstraction outward into wider fields.

Danae Valenza, Operetta after Sakamoto, performed as part of Action/response: Falling, Dance Massive, 23 March 2013.

Can’t quite pin it down (Fayen d’Evie, Suzie Idiens, Mia Kenway, Heidi Kozar, Fiona Morgan, Renne Jaeger), TCB, Melbourne, 6 – 24 March 2013.

Dane Valenza, ‘Operetta after Sakamoto’, 2013

Fayen d’Evie, ‘ESSENTIAL MAKE-UP REPAIRS/I asked her if she had a favourite perfume and she replied ‘Chances, by Chanel’, 2013, text and reading. Photo: Ross Coulter

Comfort grunge

Despite appearances, grunge is deeply optimistic; it knows that the sacred and the profane cohabit (what a relief) and that if there’s enlightenment to be found in this world, it’ll be found at the bottom of a pizza box.

Woodstock cans were the currency of choice at teenage paddock parties. As funny and cringe-inducing are Stuart Ringholt’s crushed alcho-cans, Aerosol Woodstock, aerosol Heineken, 2009. With their drinking end replaced by a spray nozzle, these cans are some of my favourite works by Ringholt for both their succinctness and absurdity—the fuel and the medium of vandalism is one and the same. Delinquency one stop shop. The heavy-handedness consumer goods often bring to the art party is shirked off by the agility of Ringholt’s economic material poetry.

Hany Armanious’s Pizza box, 1989, records the ruminations of someone, probably the eater of the pizza (was this a shared or a solo meal?), in red texta punctuated by cheesy oil spots. The photographic print, edition of a trillion trillion, is the map of a mind gone off-road. The nonsensical notes are names, places, dates or addresses, references to the Bible and an Australian media mogul, the Star of David and a swastika. ‘Stolen ritual’ is underlined and given a tick. Inebriation and enlightenment aren’t such strangers and this is transcendence any cheap way you can get it. Does that make art, religion and a high the holy trinity? Whether the diner was stoner or shaman makes no difference because we’re used to joining the dots or allowing them to go unjoined. The scribblings finish with ‘you understood’, and yes I do, I really get you right now.

Drunk vs. stoned XIII, Neon Parc, Melbourne, 9 February – 9 March 2013.

Stuart Ringholt, ‘Aerosol Heineken, aerosol Woodstock’, 2009, aluminum, plastic, each 15 x 8 x 8 cm

Hany Armanious, ‘Pizza box’, 1989, inkjet print on paper, edn of a trillion trillion, 50 × 50.5 cm