Exhibition News

Making Space - spanking the hand that feeds it (June 2007)

story illustration
Published Saturday, June 16, 2007

What's taste got to do with it when you’ve got the art of publicity?
West Space recently (June 2007) curated and hosted Rules of Engagement - an exhibition, that unfortunately most people reading this will have missed it, although it is reasonable to assume that many of these exhibits will find their way into future exhibitions.

The participants in this exhibition were:

  • Gabrielle de Vietri (Aus)
  • Danius Kesminas (Aus)
  • Azlan McLennan (Aus)
  • Dane Mitchell (NZ)
  • Patrick Pound (NZ)
  • Antoine Prum (Lux)
  • and curated by Mark Feary.

This exhibition's theme tag is Rules of Engagement, which some reviewers have interpreted as engagement with the arts establishment and bureaucracy and that is certainly a theme. But, at a superficial level the rules of engagement also relate to art vs media. In order to get to the pages of popular press it pays to controversial. Let's face it, the arts bureaucracy can't do much without artists, so the rules of engagement whilst burdensome for the artist to fill out endless grant applications, they remain just that - a burden. Only the most short sighted arts bureaucrats should pass up the opportunity to present a controversial show.

However, gaining media attention is something else and the artists that succeed in gaining publicity have learnt the rules of engagement. And from a different angle the rules of engagement are more concerned with how much funding is afforded artists who present art at odds with the government’s message of the day. Nothing guarantees publicity than a publicly funded exhibit that offends the moral majorities views on everything from war to sex.

Take Azlan McLennan for instance, who contributed the topical piece Art in a Capitalist Society - a floor to ceiling banner depicting a charming visage of another Melbourne gallery director Anna Schwartz, overlaid with an extract from a Marxist text.

McLennan is an artist with a genuine flair for exhibiting art that goes well beyond the tastes of his Australian audience and as a result he has no trouble generating publicity for his exhibits. In May 2004, his pro-Palestinian piece Fifty Six created a furore as it was exhibited at 24seven- a publicly funded gallery, due to close for ever at the end of the month.

In 2005 another McLennan exhibit titled Canberra 18 featured the names of 18 Islamic groups proscribed by the Howard government as terrorist was reportedly barred by the Melbourne City Council generating a great deal of publicity for the artist. During this current period where conformity to dry liberal precepts is so popular, it is not surprising that an artist whose work embodies his strong leanings to the political left can make so much publicity for himself.

Danius Kesminas has also been able to garner substantial press, both with the performances and exhibits for Punkasilia (2007) and earlier with his piece Post-traumatic Origami (2002). It has been reported that he even made the list of 10 Australians to watch in 2004 as published in the Melbourne Herald Sun. In contrast to McLennan's political pieces, Post-traumatic Origami by Danius Kesminas is a larrikin piece.

His most recent collaborative work with the band Punkasilia has been the subject of a great deal of national media coverage. Punkasilia was a collaboration with Indonesian punks in Jakarta addressing the strong military presence throughout Indonesia.

To quote from the article Band gets $10,000 grant: They were formed on a $10,000 arts grant awarded under the Federal Government's Asialink Residency program. Melbourne artist Danius Kesminas said he used the grant to spend four months in Jogjakarta and form Punkasilia. The band comprised of Kesminas and seven students from the Indonesian Art Institute. "We wear military fatigues - camouflage. We play hand-crafted facsimiles of M16 and AK47 machine guns," Kesminas says in the article in the Herald Sun titled Band gets $10,000 grant. Even though Kesminas had earlier performed in fatigues with his band The Histrionics it all came together for him in Indonesia.

Post-traumatic Origami, the star of this exhibition, is reportedly the compressed wreckage of the Australian art critic Robert Hughes crashed car, compressed into a neat 67kg cube along with some detritus that was in the car with Hughes at the time. What the heck has taste got to do with it – it's art. Kesminas gained a great deal of kudos for acquiring it in exchange for a few slabs of beer. This is indeed a strange exhibit - but as they say it works on so many levels! What does it say? What does it mean? Who knows, it just generates publicity wherever it is exhibited and that alone guarantees it a very long life. You can visit the West Space web site by going to http://www.westspace.org.au/archive/index.htm

The last show at 24seven artist space

The aforementioned 24seven artist space located in a large window at the Spring Street end of Flinders Street opens for the last time for the Making Space festival with the work Bang head, repeatedly - perhaps equally suitable for inclusion in the Rules of Engagement exhibition.

Bang head, repeatedly is a life-size neon sign of a stick figure seated at a table/desk. The animated neon figure endlessly hits its head against this table like Sisyphus or indeed like the daily city commuters heading to work.

Pahoki states, The inspiration for this piece came from thinking about the people passing the 24-seven site day in and day out as they travel to and from work. I thought that the neon stick figure hitting its head against the table was a feeling that people could relate to and this recognition would provide some light-relief.

By Martin Shub, June 2007.

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