Mission Impossible?

Requirement: I had to write a short piece about my theories on "Art"

Contemporary art audiences question “what is art?” or “what is an artist?” when confronted with demanding work.  So any discussion and debate becomes complex and theoretical.  Miscommunications occur due to language and culture differences.

To sidestep this complexity, I started with a concrete question: 

“Who are the artists? “

This became a two decade long critical ethnography examination of my immediate Western Australian (WA) artists community, informed by tertiary qualifications and experience in education, economics, politics and visual arts, and focussed on collective and individual artistic expression.

Ethnography began as a static, statistical study of culture.  It was an anthropology, then sociologically based field of research.   Early researchers went into 3rd world countries, believing they were objective and that they had no impact on the communities they were studying.  Critical ethnography is more contemplative, acknowledging this participatory and subjectivity bias.  

The unique local physical, demographic, cultural and politics influence my research and art:  WA is equal in geographic size to a combined Italy, Greece, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and the UK.  The state capital of Perth contains most of the 2.6 m population so much of the state is unoccupied.  Perth is also the most geographically remote city on any continent: the drive from Perth to Sydney is slightly longer than Venice to Moscow.  Because of the isolation, a strong self sufficiency attitude dominates.  Established as a colony in 1829, a majority of Western Australia voted in a 1933 referendum to succeed from Australia, but blocked by the British Parliament.  The population has doubled since 1977 due to successive agricultural, mineral and energy booms, with over three quarters of the population are of English, Irish, Italian, Scottish and German descent.   Recently most of the major WA galleries have closed down, removing critical support structure for the artistic community.  So I am an artist, studying my peers, in this tiny, remote, isolated, booming, euro-centric and fiercely independent thinking, but stressed community.  

A critical ethnography approach is both pedagogical and political.  In sharing my creative conclusions, I am acutely aware of my subjectivity and politics:  I researched every grant recipient for 30 years and present their names beside a corresponding much greater number of  “unsuccessful grant applicant who vote”.  Similarly I presented a 4 tonne levitating spiral of government documents in the High Court in the national capital. 

For Venice I handmade thousands of porcelain flutes, adding to a 2.5m high supporting circle of figures.  Over 2,000 of the flutes are labelled with the web or social media for WA artists.  The flutes may be used by the early audiences to drink Prosecco, keep as souvenir, and to learn about and contact WA artists directly.  The partial tearing apart of the sculpture will be filmed and replayed alongside the remaining skeleton over the exhibitions 6 month duration. 


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