Friday, February 26, 2010
Hot art for a hot cuntry
Awww, Thanks so much for all the comments on my last post - especially Melissa who I see as a bit of a post-thesis success story...
Maybe it is just in the nature of doing relatively unrecognised labour like art making and random theorising that makes it so hard - we work and work and work, and push out everything inside of us - and still.... it never feels like enough. Maybe it's just the nature of being a woman in this society?
I've been driven to ponder the gendered nature of work and recognition lately. My wjerk (the one that pays the bills) has been giving me the shits lately. Partly is the usual palaver of deadlines, stress, micromanagement, poor boundaries and poor communication, but times like these, the gender stuff really kicks in. Like, I'm amazed at how little work men actually do. Some of them seem to have no concept of what work is, and are completely blind to the frenzy of activity around them. Male colleagues and superiors will walk into a room or up to me or my female colleagues, assume we will drop EVERYTHING and attend to their tiniest little whim. Right there and then! Partly it's a relief, because I think , "well, at least the boundaries are clear. All I have to do is obey them; they're paying me, so they can take the rap if the particular brain surgery I was working on before clipping their nails falls arse over teeth" but then part of me thinks... "Ohhhhh God, not this again! why are so many men such a waste of space?"
Sorry about the mysandrony folks - but some peeps are such an easy target.
And I'm afraid this is also related to ART.
ONe week ago I participated in the opening of a group show in Hellbourne. The opening was fabulous, the show is wonderful, it is still up and on exhibit at the Victoria College of the Arts gallery somewhere on Southbank.
I do need to write about the wonderfulness of the curator, the concept, the space the work, the process...... I feel so incredibly lucky to have been involved. This is a fabulous art-debut in Melbourne, and as much as I whinge about this place, it has been incredibly hospitable towards me.
OK, so firstly the good bit - the show: Addition/Erasure is a group show of 4 poets and 5 visual artists. That's a lot of peeps. All of us were given the "brief" of installing work that crossed both fields of the visual and the verbal. So some of the poets were 'concrete poets' who worked with the effect of lettering in space, or in unusual spaces such as Classified Ads, and some peeps explored the spaces between words and images (Acutally that was a nice pairing: an artist drawing words, and making exquisite visual puns, and a poet drawing half images and words...). There were two large sculptural installations that incorporiated text into the piece: one through sound (a cutesy dada homage), and one through dramatic text, emblazoned on a banner, embedded into the materiality of the piece. And there was a video booth, coupled with an act of giving kitsch new age slogans on index cards. The index cards, and the birod words providing the link between the real, and the hyper-real - of the endless i-photo slide show loop of slogans emblazoned over kittens and puppies and other kitsch wonders.
And the there was Schappylle Scragg. True to form, I went completely over the top. Felt I had to prove myself as a real artist - even though I haven't had any sort of practice since 2007. And even that has been brief fleeting stunts, performances, photo shoots. I guess this is my practice now. I still feel a bit guilty that I'm not drawing or doing oil paintings.
So for Scragg, I sewed a lot of vulvas, incorporating beer cans and bogan flags.
I also mounted some Aussie Flag Porn onto a dozen tiny easel/stretchers which were arranged on plinths (thank you Emmy, Zoo, Jane for the images) so the space looked like an amateur art exhibition, or a suburban gift shop.
This may have been enough work: crossing the boundaries of art and craft. Appropriating second-wave feminist craft aesthetic for the sake of a bogan parody. But to hammer the point home, Schappylle invested in a K-Mart scrapbooking kit, and assembled a range of texts and images into her own scrapbook. This was about re-appropriating the rather suspect feminised contemporary craft movement of cupcakes and stitch and bitch into a cutting critique. Playing with the duality of "cunt" as reclaimed female genitals, and "cunt" as the perjorative term par excellance. I'm always intrigued with the investment that women have with the appropriation of our bodies and bodyparts into mainstream misogyny. what does it mean?
I decided to extend the theme further: by doing a "spoken word piece" literally blending poetry and visuals together. The visuals - come from Schappylle herself, and three days of bodily interventions to change the surface of my skin. To add raiments that I don't wear. Fake tattoos, fake hair, fake teeth - and fake (bogan flag) nails. Fake tanned tits pushed up into mammarian excess. Scragg re-enacted Schneemanns scroll piece. I'd transcribed the lyrics of 6 iconic Aussie Beer ads (VB, Fosters, Swan, XXXX, Westend, Tooheys), and arranged them into a continuous circular poem. I printed this out as a single column which I concertinaed into shape not unlike a tampon, and placed in my amenable genitalia. I decided to wear a merkin during the show. I wasn't sure if hellbourne was ready for scragg's shaved orange fleshcunt. I wasn't sure I was ready to bare my genitals in a new city. The merkin is funny. Big blond curly pubes. a little laughing derive.....
It was very funny doing this, and funny watching the audience. It was funny ... just to perform and be the centre of attention. It was funny when people recognised the lyrics, and funnier when people started nodding and cheering to scragg's bogan themes. This discrete performance could be described as a success.
the bits I'm not so sure about are including the wall collage of scragg's photos - roughly pinned up over a bogan flag cape. Maybe this was too much - although it makes a nice transition between scragg's crafty corner and the flat adhesions of:
E A C H
E A C H
E A C H
which was one of the concrete poems installed near it. Surprisingly these few words left me speechless.
We had a group crit the next day, and everyone glossed over it. The artist wasn't present, and... the words, blank, large, flat, with so much space.... seem to be repellant. The deflect engagement or entrance. I didn't like the shiny adhesive surface either.
I think most readers will agree with me that ponderous pretentiousness can be a little tiring. The think that strikes me is how gendered so much of it is. I used to laugh at "stylised conceptual minimalism", and yet faced with it - faced with a few flaccid conceits ensconsed in the miasma of a male ego... I was left... flabbergasted. silent. I don't know where to start.
Apparently one of the other artist didn't 'get' my work. He also has never been to a drag show, and doesn't 'get' drag. He asked how I would quantify the success of my work. He said "you could go for a walk but you can't quantify that". I said "Actually, quantifying walks is my day job. You use a pedometer." Metrosexual gender fixity is easy to gloss over, I guess.
Another wordsmith said the following phrase "Well, there was modernist man, and then there was post-modern man, and now there is contemporary man, so this is why I use the phrase 'contemporary man'" I strongly suspect that he hasn't read even Benjamin, let alone Lyotard or Jameson.
Okay, okay, I am an evil intellectual snob. Peeps who make pompous references to the zeitgeist without having done some critical reading on cultural time give me the shits. I think "what, apart from your ill-informed arrogance, gives you the right to take up this space?".
The other female artist, very quietly embedded a reference to Zizek in her work, illustrating part of the cover of "First As Tragedy, Then As Farce" - a nice touch which resounded off my favourite work in the show: "I told you it would come to this". this is a nice, humble, evocative way of making a critical reference, embedding the temporality of wading through the whacky world of Slavoj, in patient pencil lines... stroke, stroke, stroke, Helen Johnson, I love your work.
And then there was my favourite target of mayhem fury: a nasty little man who visibly recoiled at scragg's advances during the opening -no- they weren't sexual - but flesh was visible, and OTT as scragg handed out bogan flag stickers, and black armbands for those (too few) who protested. I had him picked for a misognynist - that weird cold deadness of hate, that tragic experience has taught me to smell a mile off. the next day I discover that he has edited an anthology of Gay and Lesserbeing Poetry. Fuck. and I thought my coalitionist aspirations couldn't sink any lower. His work? Execrable. A private world of endless solitaire, performed on pieces of paper. WHY NOT DO SOME PROBABILITY THEORY? I wondered, my silence clanging against the walls as he slowly mystified his process of verse selection, space selection, sticky tape, selection. He said that scragg's work made him feel better about his nationalism. A nasty catty comment, that made me flinch.
I guess that small games of chance work for small minds, who would collapse if exposed to the mechanics of algebra 101. I guess that small minds collapse around big ideas, big theories, big flesh, big personalities - the stuff of life, gulping gusts of air, screeching excess of creativity. Listening to the passive aggressive drone of soft voiced dullards, I felt irritated. these people call themselves writers? Do they read? do they listen? do they ever explore the silences outside of their own heads?