From: Louise Rollman
Sent: Friday, 2 June 2006 12:42 PM
Subject: Re: Contention or Consensus
I often think about works like Mierle Laderman Ukele’s ‘Touch Sanitation’, where Ukeles shook hands and thanked each of New York’s 8,500 sanitation workers over 11 months; ‘Arte Reembolso/Art Rebate’, which partly underwritten by the NEA during the early 90s, caused further controversy when the project returned “tax dollars” to undocumented immigrants; and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s literal ‘An Indian Act Shooting The Indian Act’, and I wonder why these kinds of contemporary practices don’t seem to subsist here in Australia?
The fundamental similarity between these works is that they envision public art as an engagement of the social imagination, or participatory democracy, rather than the presentation of monumental objects.
In Queensland, the concept of public art is primarily driven by the state government’s art built-in policy, which also sets the benchmark for other public art programs. These policies have provided substantial funds for new work and regular employment for arts practitioners. However, these policies have focused almost exclusively on permanent public art and value for money. A creative process can become bureaucratic, compartmentalised and superficially scrutinised through the approval process, rendering anything intellectually challenging, particularly social and political issues, nonexistent. Unlike the equivalent public art programs overseas, for example Yuxweluptun, a Canadian Indian commissioned by UK based Locus+, these policies only support artists from Queensland.
In late 2005, Adam Cullen and Cash Brown challenged the newly passed sedition laws in their performance ‘Home Economics, Weapons of Mass Sedition’ at MCA, Sydney. The exhibition’s development and presentation was underscored by a number of strategic concerns. Mainly, given that the federal government has undertaken radical social change, arts practices seem to be defending existing creative territory rather than being in a position to address other contemporary debates.
In this environment, arts practitioners (in the broadest sense) are compelled to negotiate with ‘gatekeepers’ and all too often self-censor. Addressing social and political issues is in effect delegated to independent arts practices, where individuals wear the associated responsibilities: the costs and risks of being ‘found out’.
Additionally, socially engaged works are often defined as outsider practices. For example, ‘Art Rebate’ had a very specific audience and acquiring information about this kind of project frequently depends on word of mouth, which can be several years after the event, and or an associated controversy such as the NEA debates.
Consequently, the ability for an arts practitioner to sustain these kinds of methodologies becomes a key issue. If at the very least, arts practitioners could drive creative agendas, rather than government representatives, and facilitate a shift from permanent to ephemeral public art, then we could be in a better position to be both progressive and experimental.