The former occurred will listening to an artist's talk by Shaun Gladwell at the John Curtin Gallery, and the latter after a coffee with Creative Kids Art Club Director Jane McKay.
Initially I struggled to become engaged with, and stay awake during Gladwell's talk. His Self Portrait Spinning and Falling (Paris) (2015), had him spinning on a skateboard in from of his favourite Paris locations. Having worked with young skateboarders back in 2002 to create skate able sculptures of the City of Vincent (1), neither his ability nor the slow-motion video held any particular significance for me. Youtube and other social media are full of the physical exploits of people on skateboards and bikes. in some ways the presentation by Gladwell to an audience of less than 20 people, and described by Curator Margaret Moore in her introduction as "mostly friends of the artist" suggested a position of privilege and exclusivity. Mention was made that Gladwell first appeared in the Hatched exhibition at PICA(2), and regularly visited and maintained contact with his artist peers in Perth.
This video work is "significant" because it is show within this privileged and exclusive space. Yet to me it appears that Moore is intentionally, or unintentionally, saying that the work is here in the Gallery, predominately because of a small number of personal friends of the artist. The question is, which comes first the chicken or the egg? Is it (a) the work artistically and culturally important on its own terms, or (b) is important purely because of Gladwell's friendships to people who decide what is show here?
Not personally knowing Gladwell or his work before attending the talk, my own judgement is that it is the latter. This is where my feelings of worry or unease come from. This lack of objectivity in curatorial decision making in the West Australian arts, particularly in areas and levels which receive substantial support and media exposure. We are told what is important, but I'm not sure it is. The low level of public attendance at this talk suggests that the wider arts community have already come to this conclusion already. Despite this, to me, Gladwell came across in his talk as both modesty and likeable.
30 minutes later I meet artist and educator Jane McKay. McKay had emailed me a week before, seeking inclusion of her children art classes details in my webpage of suggested art classes for parents. As I feel a sense of responsibly to other parents before recommending children's art courses, I thought I should meet Jane first. I learnt she has attracted a growing audience of parents and children for her after school art classes, so much so, that in five short years she has had to recruit a team of other primary school art specialists to help meet demand. Young (5-10 yrs old) children unselfconsciously love making art, and their parents know it. The Perth gallery selling her work closed and her interstate gallery wanted her to make work she didn't, so the classes became a way to survive. Her experience is similar to my own experience with adult pottery and sculpture classes. Plus McKay appears to share my deep sense of personal satisfaction that comes from enabling others to experience making art.
I am reminded of Shaun's talk earlier in the day, were it was obvious he also enjoyed making his art, that is exploring new video technology, and pushing himself physically on the skateboard and within a jet fighter.
During and after the meeting with Jane I felt grateful. I remembered going into my studio earlier in the day, and while making a sculpture, I watched two of my fellow artists teaching adult students how to make their own art. The sense of enjoyment was obvious. The 15 year old studio is an independent, self funded, non-profit arts studio collectively run by five artists. It's financially supported by, and in return provides social, educational and creative support for nearly 80 other professional and recreational artists. It's growing rapidly.
I a reminded of a talk given by Nicole Foss at the 2015 national Baptist Care Australia conference (an aged care and community services provider). Doss provided sound advice for individuals and organisations trying to survive during this time of radical upheaval. She pointed out that to survive the current economic turmoil and technological revolution, we need to return to our roots, reconnect with our communities and audiences.
This is not done by employing a marketing expert, or increasing the PR budget. This is done by personally talking to others on a one to one basis. This is not by having 5000 Facebook "likes". Last year I was surprised when I was told by the chair of a WA community arts organisation that he did not know the first names of even a dozen of their financial members. I worry how long that and other arts organisation will survive when the public funds dry up?
Similarly, many artists have now lost their personal connect with audiences, when their commercial gallery system imploded due to economic and technological change. The accelerating budgetary squeeze at both federal and state levels is only really beginning to affect universities. Past staff freezes are only the beginning, with more reorganisation and rationalisation still to come. University galleries are also now only surviving on borrowed time, once their senior administrators realise they don't have large audiences: Because they are captured and controlled by only a small part of the artistic community.
(1) Graham Hay,(2002) A skate able sculpture, Pottery in Australia, 41, (1), 42-43 Copy: http://www.grahamhay.com.au/hay2002hq.html (12/02/2016 3:45am)
(2) Margaret Moore, Exhibition review : Hatched: Healthway National Graduate Show 97 Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth WA, ArtLink Magazine, Issue 17:4 | December 1997, source: https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/313/hatched/ (12/02/2016 3:45am)