Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gift idea.

Dear Santa,

C/o Tim Braham. Curator,
Gosford Regional Gallery

Are you wondering what to “give” the artists who came to Gosford for the Dawn Light Symposium in September 2005?

They have told us that the promised exhibition catalogue and DVDs would be very nice.

Perhaps you could get your little elves in gear and see what can be done?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Art and the Gift Economy

Art and the Gift Economy: a couple of Stocking Stuffer Gift books.

With most artists living a life of precarity, the idea of the Gift has been examined as a way of understanding the motivation of artists as well as their relationship to the community and economy. The positions presented range from regarding ‘Art’ as existing as a philosophical attitude outside the market system, to its role as a player in a Gift Economy – and many states between.

There seem to be three main areas where Gift economies are discussed. One is in social anthropology, a second is in evolutionary biology and the third is in art.

Reciprocal altruism exist in the natural world, and while the adjective, “reciprocal”, implies a trade economy, the motivation for such behaviour is unlikely to be conscious, calculated self interest, as many of the life forms exhibiting these altruistic acts (ants for example) are assumed to be incapable of the necessary level of cognitive ability for cynical decision making. So we must be observing genetic coding being expressed, mechanically on the one hand, or through emotion and desire on the other. In other words generosity and altruism can be seen in many higher species as intrinsic characteristics linked to positive emotions. We give because we experience joy in doing so. Remembering of course that as with all human behaviour, we are looking at complex and often contradictory determinants.

“If men were as much men as lizards are lizards, they would be worth looking at” -– D.H. Lawrence

Why do we then decide that all giving is cynical and calculated (some no doubt is), and must be part of an all-encompassing market system. Who would want us to think that?
Can we not attribute value without considering its tradability? Valuing the giver not the price of the gift?
We give for the joy of giving – outside the world of accountancy.

“It must have been a gift - I got nothing back – how kind of me.”

Germs on Art

“The true field of art is the mind of the beholder; what is being worked on is the relation of the beholder to his perception of reality, of duration, relativity, acceptance, rejection, alienation. The artist positions you in a dark room and turns the light on, and off again. He does no more because there is no need to do more. In finding yourself equal to the encounter, you are empowered with the artist's own intellectual energy. For the time you are together, you are sharing the same cerebral space. Best of all, you can only remember it. You can't collect it………….. Perhaps we should begin to think in terms of ensuring that our young artists are free to work, and have space to work, by paying for them rather than their product.” – Germaine Greer.

Stocking Stuffer Gift Book #1.
The Gift (1925) Marcel Mauss.

David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at Yale University writing on
the great early-20th century French sociologist Marcel Mauss’ most famous work, The Gift.

“The universal assumption of free market enthusiasts, then as now, was that what essentially drives human beings is a desire to maximize their pleasures, comforts and material possessions (their "utility"), and that all significant human interactions can thus be analyzed in market terms.”

The idea for MAUSS (Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales) was born in 1980. The project is said to have emerged from a conversation over lunch between a French sociologist, Alain Caillé, and a Swiss anthropologist, Gérald Berthoud. They had just sat through several days of an interdisciplinary conference on the subject of gifts, and after reviewing the papers, they came to the shocked realization that it did not seem to have occurred to a single scholar in attendance that a significant motive for giving gifts might be, say, generosity, or genuine concern for another person's welfare. In fact, the scholars at the conference invariably assumed that "gifts" do not really exist: Scratch deep enough behind any human action, and you'll always discover some selfish, calculating strategy. Even more oddly, they assumed that this selfish strategy was always, necessarily, the real truth of the matter; that it was more real somehow than any other motive in which it might be entangled.”

Social anthropology analyses many exotic societies with so called gift economies. But our own system, as it is calculated for purposes of financial and political budgeting, is based on an un-costed gift economy; the voluntary and charity sector. It has been estimated that close to 50% of the total national economy is made up of gifted goods and services.
This “grey” economy is operated by volunteers who give their time and money to make social welfare, health, sport, culture, civic life, etc., possible at home, and survival possible in other parts of the world. Sometimes living precariously themselves, they make up that part of the economy that market systems exclude from their accounting – thus making the arguments for a market based global economy something of a sham. Similarly in local political discussions about water and carbon trading (using the market to save the environment), the costs of ground water and carbon emissions are based on partial information and are therefore likely to be grossly underestimated. It is not in the interests of short term profitability to do complete long term environmental costing.

“Polanyi, whose major work is called The Great Transformation, is really an ecological thinker. He shows how the notion of the self-regulating market, which is supposed to assign a proper price to everything and thereby secure the necessary resources for the continual production of an ever-expanding
range of goods, fails tragically to account for all the factors involved in the reproduction of land, of labor, and of the very institution of exchange, money itself…
..Unconventional and dissenting ideas don't often come out of established and conventional functions. And when everybody tacitly agrees that cultural production can only take place under the beneficent gaze of the market and the state, and on their payrolls, what you get in my opinion is very dull and timid attitudes combined with grotesquely simulated and overblown emotions. Or, from the more ambitious and professional types, you may get hyper-specialized discourses and elaborate aesthetic affects.” – Brian Holmes

Stocking Stuffer Gift Book #2.
The Gift, Lewis Hyde.

Hyde’s basic premise runs along the lines of what he calls a system of gift economy. Art is not a commodity, he says. It cannot be valued according to principles of commerce. Rather, the spirit of the work, its independence and individuality, its very essence, can remain active only if the gift of art is kept in circulation – shared, passed on. The minute art is bought or sold in the traditional sense that merchandise created for a market is bought and sold, it becomes nothing more than another pair of shoes, or a dinner service. – Kirsty Gunn, in Art is most precious when it’s free.

The Art of Giving. Last words to Bruce Barber from his writings on Litttoral Art.

Bourdieu's logic of practice privileges individual agency, in all its unpredictability and contrariness, as the primary component of a generative model of giving (and understanding). Perhaps this logic of practice, like that promoted by Habermas himself "provides an alternative to money and power as a basis for societal integration." And without an acknowledgement of individual agency within communicative action, that is of the potential for contrariety - the act of giving, the gift of food, the gift of labour, the gift of blood, and of life itself, would seem valueless.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Culture is the Enemy of Art

"Culture is the enemy of Art"

Frank Sartor, quoted in the Express Advocate when launching the Gosford City Plan:
"People will accept development if they think it adds culture to the place"

I reach for my Goering.
(see "the wife likes that sort of thing" and "Goering got it wrong" posts)

Architecture in the Space of Flows

This recently received notification is of interest to both the discussion about Gosford city planning and to the RRP:0 research about the space of flows and Gosford CBD.
(See Translocality post)

Architecture in the Space of Flows: buildings - spaces - cultures
21 - 24 June 2007
Culture Lab, Newcastle University, UK.

Call for papers:

Flows of energy, libido, capital, water and information make our lives possible. The buildings and spaces that support our activities inflect the flows; we tap into them, surf them, block them at our peril, or we may be excluded from them. Flows are global, but have local effects. Buildings are local, but their embodied energies flow from great distances, and their embodiments can cause local or distant turbulences. Everything is moving, intensifying, dispersing; growing, decaying, proliferating, networking, sedimenting, eroding.

Understanding ourselves, our buildings, our cities as modulators of flows
represents a fundamental shift in sensibility away from the perfect
Euclidian geometries of Vitruvian man, to the productive consumer, the
desiring subject. Cultures and spaces are fluid and relational, and
designers are searching for ways to give expression to these telluric
undercurrents that are shaping and re-shaping our worlds. New sensibilities
are taking shape, and it is the aim of this conference to explore and gain
understanding of emergent possibilities.

The conference, or confluence, will be transdisciplinary, bringing together
people who are developing ways of thinking about places and our responses to them, making use of ideas of flux.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gosford City Plan

Copy of letter to the Express Advocate - Designer Deckchairs in the Desert

Congratulation to the State government for getting a much needed Regional Strategy and Gosford City Plan up for comment. However anyone interested in the Arts who is looking at these proposals will be feeling rather depressed.

Neither of the plans show awareness of the role of the Arts in society.

The City Plan redesigns and rearranges the deckchairs, but the ship is the same old ‘economic’ model – with more passengers, and although their cabins will have better views, that is the only water they will see.

At this stage it is all style without substance. Corralling similar activities into “precincts” seems to be the magic formula, but we are not told how this will work.

The opportunity to comment could be the opportunity to put some content into the style. It makes sense to cluster a library, museum, contemporary art centre, concert hall and film theatre at the City Centre – Kibble Park

We need to find and support any planners and politicians who are serious about Art, and who understand that Art is more than just leisure activity – a life style option. “The importance of creativity ultimately reveals itself specifically in the important questions that art asks about the foundations of the ideology and the collective moral foundations of our age.” – Marketta Seppälä

We need a cluster of creative and knowledge industries at the centre of civic life. “a room without books is like a body without soul” – Cicero.

The Gosford City Plan is on display for comment until December 8. If we say nothing, that is what we will get.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Art Savers

To the editor.

The news that UWS is closing down and “teaching out” the Fine Arts and Electronic Arts programs, and will abandon its Performance program, is an uncannily familiar story here on the Central Coast.
UWS students, staff and others have organized a campaign against the closure and are calling for concerned individuals to log onto their website and sign their petition. They have also set up a blog to keep everyone informed of developments.
Although UWS has said they will be introducing a new Contemporary Art program in 2008, it is difficult to get a clear view of the facts. There is little to tell us the reason for the changes. Were there ‘problems’? Is there a change in pedagogical theory at work? Do the changes arise from government educational objectives and priorities?
It would also be useful to know more about the new Contemporary Art program. Is it better or worse than the present program, and against what criteria?

It is ten years since my most recent work at UWS, so I cannot comment directly about the program, but a number of people for whom I have great respect have been passionately opposed to the closure, so I think the campaign likely deserves close attention and support.

There are of course close parallels with the situation on the Central Coast, where the University of Newcastle closed the Fine Arts program at Ourimbah, leaving central coast students no option but to move to Sydney or Newcastle for (Contemporary) Fine Art education. As with the promised “Contemporary Art” at UWS to service Western Sydney, U. Newcastle offered “Creative Arts” to Ourimbah – a similarly rubbery concept.

When asked about “Creative Arts” in September, Carmel Lutton, Head of School, was unable to give a clear statement either of the programs philosophy, projected educational outcomes or conceptual foundation as a discrete discipline. I suspect because they have not yet been formulated. All I could glean was that graduates would be able to script and produce interesting theatrical events utilizing IT skills. Good stuff, but “Is that all there is, my friend?” The program might turn out to be brilliant, but if so, that will not be because the university has understood and articulated its educational premises.

What does seem clear at UWS is that communication, consultation and collegiate process failed. In such cases it is usually a management issue, or politics mismanaged. A familiar story in the Newcastle case.

At Ourimbah the decision to close was supported by, if not based on, the 2005 Course Review report that found little to commend the Ourimbah program. This was probably a harsh but fair appraisal. The report highlighted longstanding problems of which the university was aware, and which management should have resolved years earlier.

Despite the differences in the cases, both raise serious questions about the Universities’ commitment to their regional constituencies, and responsibility to provide education of a kind to equip graduating students to participate professionally in an exacting, and increasingly global arena of practice.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the Howard instrumental, market doctrine is seeping into academic decision-making. Maybe it is inevitable that when one party is in government for a long time, institutions that rely on government funding will absorb some of the philosophy and policy of the government. But if we are to retain that rigorous, critical evaluation of prevailing ideologies and assumed foundations of society, that is one of the potentials of contemporary art – as well as the imaginative, speculative, confounding, confusing challenge that it offers, we have to resist.

We have to resist and articulate clearly, and often, why we need Art and the Humanities at the centre of academic life. And we need to make the case that we need diversity within the discipline; to draw the unique vision from the local and regional communities, and to bring to them the best the art world can offer to help them make their uniqueness part of that world.

It is important for artists to require UWS and Newcastle to be aware of their responsibility to provide their regions with education and pedagogical processes appropriate to an increasingly sophisticated international contemporary art practice.

Neil Berecry-Brown

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mount Penang Institute of Contemporary Art

This POST is from information provided to Back Page by Neil Berecry-Brown.

Some background to the comments to the “my wife likes…” post, based on the Wyong Shire Cultural plan.

Quote: “An initiative that has the potential to provide stimulus to the visual arts across the region is the recently established Mt Penang Institute of Contemporary Arts. This is a non-profit community organisation located in a heritage building (former boys’ home) in The Avenue, Mt Penang. With a background in tertiary education in the Fine Arts, the principal individuals behind this project ……. have the objective of encouraging innovation and excellence in contemporary art practice.”

An artists run centre, the Mt Penang Institute of Contemporary Art, was established for a time at Mount Penang Parklands, Somersby, 2004-2005. This was achieved initially through the non-profit artists’ initiative Eo inc., then, following a refocussing of their objectives, through the short lived Artlab.
The Institute held three exhibitions with 25 emerging and established artists. At the time of its closing in 2005, it was the site for an international collaborative project, and it was scheduled as a workshop venue for the Dawn Light Symposium in 2005.

Four emerging Central Coast artists who exhibited at Mt. Penang ICA were sponsored to participate in the Nine Dragon Heads Symposium in South Korea.

Picture 1. Marie Andrews presents Central Coast greetings to Korean officials to Meredith Brice Copland, Sandy James and Maumer Cajic.

Picture 2. Melissa Habjan (pink bow) at opening address by Park, Byoung-Uk and the Swiss Ambassador. (Background work by Bedri Baykam, Turkey) Chongju.

The Institute was asked by the Festival Development Corporation (Ministry of Commerce) to vacate Building 27 in order for make way for AISDA , which in the end did not want the building. M’PICA had been working to the advice of the Ministry for the Arts to demonstrate a need for a contemporary art space by conducting a successful program. This was a stated prerequisite before they, The Ministry, would consider any financial support. The Mt. Penang Institute venture had been assisted by Marie Andrews’ approach to the then Minister, Bob Carr, and a start-up rent free period negotiated with the Mt Penang Parklands administration.

Lynn Brunet

The 25 exhibited artists were:
Amanda Anderson, Kristel Baigent Neil Berecry-Brown, Emily Berlach, Meredith Brice Copland, Jennifer Brown, Lynn Brunet, Maumer Cajic, Samara Cotter, Maureen Clack, Jillian Gates, Anne Graham, Melissa Habjan, Ian Hobbs, Sandy James, Aldona O'Brien, Sandy O'Sullivan, Pamela Purcill, Amanda Purnell, Karen Robinson Smith, Betty Saez,, Ibtihal Samarayi, Catherine Sutton, Robyn Wainman and Peta Werlemann.

Ibtahal Samarayi

Neil Berecry-Brown

Left to right: Maureen Clack and Aldona O'Brien.

The Mt. Penang Institute/Artlab’s objectives are now being carried forward by brown’s Cows Art Projects, which is working with others to find a new site in Gosford CBD for a Centre of Excellence in contemporary art practice. In this regard we fully support Liz Wright’s goals.

Image: Ian Hobbs

Friday, November 03, 2006

Translocality: Art and the Public space.

The Reading Room Project currently being developed for Gosford CBD, will be predicated on changing ways of thinking about space, place and art in public. The following post adds to the discussions already held, and to the references on an earlier posting ‘Space and Place’.

Public Space illustration.
Artist: Joe Fafard.
In current intellectual inquiry, all of these terms, “space”, “place” and “the public”, are contested. Which indicates that changing circumstances are calling into question the assumptions upon which we have been relying.
For example when we make an art incursion into a public space we must firstly have an idea of what “space” is, and if there are new ways of thinking about the concept. As Charlotte Bydler says of public art in relation to the ‘Out of Site Symposium’, “its main aim should …. be to problematise society, culture or art itself”, and by extension engage different conceptions of social space and time.

And when we speak of the public (as in public art), which public do we mean, and what does it signify that there is no longer a singular public identity?
We now have a dog’s breakfast of outpourings about Australian Values and identity politics. Clearly society and culture are already “problematised”.
Perhaps art in the last hundred years has always been made, at least to some degree, for an imaginary public or audience.

We are accustomed to thinking of public spaces geometrically, as architectural, rather than existing as social and democratic potentials i.e. static rather than dynamic. Their function follows their ‘understood’ form, as undifferentiated multi functional no-mans’ lands between structures demarking Property. They are designed and decorated, and their meaning is inscribed by planners, which means they are fixed, not fluid, and they service adjacent interests.

Felix Stalder, in discussing an art project , BlackBenzRace , presents an interesting model of a conception of space found in the writings of Manuel Castells. He writes, “At this stage, the project makes a series of tentative proposals about how to deal with the transformation of (public) space, artistically and theoretically, which is being fragmented and reintegrated under our very feet.”

“Traditionally, public space is thought as something entirely local….
BBR rests on the assumption that this notion of public space is being challenged by a new type of space that must be conceptualized quite differently. Rather than being local, contiguous and based on mass media, this new space is translocal, distributed, and based on what the sociologist Manuel Castells calls “the space of flows”

The space of flows is best thought of as a myriad of translocal networks, held together by continuous circulation of people, materials and bits, each characterized by a particular make-up of resources, and developing, over time, a unique culture that defines the boundaries of that space. The key element about the space of flows “which justifies to speak of it as a unique space despite its constitutive fragmentation” is that it enables us to connect distributed entities as if they were in one place, thus fundamentally affecting social geography.

Space of Flows illustration:

Artist: Masayuki Amano
From the point of view of physical urban spaces, the impact of the emergence of the space of flows is that of a deepening fragmentation. Physical proximity plays less and less a role in bringing together different entities that co-exist within one locality. Put somewhat schematically, the easier it is to create real-time interaction across distances, the less important is the fact that local co-presence enables real-time interaction as well. From within the networks, on the other hand, people and things that are geographically distant become quasi-locally present for real-time interaction. Thus, we have two interlocking movements, one is fragmentation (on the ground), the other is integration (through flows) of social processes, and the particular cultures through which they are created.

Just as Felix Stalder represents some of these ideas through BBR, so we will try to explore some re-conceptualizations of public space and time in RRP.
The ideas, sometimes complex, that give rise to art are often most effectively communicated through the art itself.