Sunday, June 24, 2007

Daniel Dancer

Daniel Dancer’s work at yesterdays 5 Lands event, prompted some extension of thoughts begun with the Watanobbi post; his is work in which the central conceptual concern is with engendering a transformative experience for participants. The aesthetics of the final production, as art, is important only so far as it gives authenticity and authority to the process.

Terrigal, June, 2007.

Making large scale interventions in the landscape as art, was pioneered by the Land/Earth artists of the 1970s, such as Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Richard Long etc., and James Turrell, who, like Daniel Dancer, is also interested in the sky, although his Roden Crater Project is infinitely more enduring physically. (Watching video of Daniel photographing his 'drawings' from a plane, also conjured up associations with Smithson who died in similar circumstances – The Icarus myth is a recurring theme in the artists’ psyche).
Daniel Dancer’s projects are concerned with accessing insight (sky sight) through direct bodily experience, possibly reflecting his education in Child Psychology, and do not address themselves to modernist and post-modern, questioning of the of meanings of form, process and theoretical context.

Big Horn Sky, Bishop, CA 2005 - 950 Kids and Teachers.

The form of his imagery is ancient; transcultural. Like many Land Art projects, it raises questions about the phenomenology of perception, which I think have been insufficiently interrogated in contemporary practice. This situation seems to be changing however, as the advent of GoogleWorld, the ready availability of GPS technology, ubiquitous CCTV and the 'Mobile Phone That Ate the World' have opened our eyes anew (while blinding us).
Daniel asks us to understand that we need to see the “Big Picture” if we are to make decisions that will give the world a future. Working often with children, he keeps the message simple, but the cognitive principle is sophisticated – although perhaps more accessible to the imaginative young mind of children (and other playful people). It means that we must reawaken our ability to experience the world from two places at the same time – to experience the material world, earth and body, while seeing the view from above – the “sky sight”.

In April, 2007, the Community Independent School in Pittsboro, North Carolina formed this nearly extinct bird in a pasture near their school with 100 participants and lots of clothes.

This reminds me of what has been told to me about how aboriginal people always live in a geography that is simultaneously the material world, and a “Big Picture” of story and myth by which to “make decisions that will give the world a future".
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
But perhaps this intelligence is an ability we are born with, and sometimes lose, and rather than focusing on surviving the dissonance we could think of a creative synthesis. This seems to me the paradigm Daniel is working with.
The Art for the Sky projects each produce a video for presentation and so live on as representation. They do not critique the Society of the Spectacle as put forward by Debord, although they want to give primacy to the immediate experience – perhaps it is impossible to avoid the S.O.the S. However to some degree it could be argued that many of the threats to the environment that Daniel Dancer seeks to change by resurrecting an holistic ‘living with the world’ are contributed to, if not largely caused by, the alienated, consumer driven S.O.S.
Any ambiguity of the position does not diminish the contribution he makes, anymore than the commercial compromises to the Burning Man event completely negate the power of the experience felt by attendees.

Eyes in the sky - Terrigal.

Perhaps we will see Daniel again, lets hope so – his arriving by balloon would be nice.

And lets hope next time that Gosford is a bit better organised. Preparation looked rather underdone on Saturday, and although Daniel will be presenting the video on Monday (tomorrow), no one knows where.

[Images 2 & 3 above are from Daniel Dancer's web site, Art for the Sky, linked above.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Watanobbi (Y with a W)

Recently there was the, still to be adequately explained, closure of an exhibition at the Gosford Regional Gallery as a result of complaints to someone in Council, now we have a few individuals taking it upon themselves to have a work of community art, dubbed the big “W”, removed at Watanobbi.

Sharyn Walker has drawn our attention, on The Gosford Times blog, to the derelict condition of the fountain in Burns Place, Gosford (also, no acknowledgement of the artists on the information plaque), the Charles Sturt sculpture in Rumbalara Reserve has been cruelly vandalised, and we all know the saga of the Wondabyne Stones.
It is unfortunate but not uncommon for public art works, and most other things, to be vandalised, and it is understandable that not all individuals in a community will share the same taste in aesthetic matters, but there is a responsibility on the part of civic authorities to respect, protect and nurture the endeavours of artists to enrich the culture of the Central Coast.
If we respect the unique skills and creative abilities that artists contribute to the community, and exhibit their work, or commission them, and by doing so put trust in their artistic integrity, we owe it to them to stand by that commitment.
Controversy is never far away from art in a conservative community, but even so it has been surprising that the work has caused any fuss.

It seems that a local resident, who did not like the big “W”, started a petition to have the poles removed, as reported in the Wyong Shire Sun. In a large community project there will always be a few who feel excluded from the process for some reason, this is almost impossible to avoid given the complexities of social, political and personal characteristics.

So what is it that has riled the resident?

I quote the Wyong Shire Council Press Release:

“Four timber ‘totem poles’, shaped like a W, with a native bird habitat box at the top, is being built near the approach to the town, north of Wyong. It’s part of Watanobbi’s Community Art Project, developed by Wyong Shire Council; the local community centre; residents; schools and a host of local organisations. More than 300 people, under the direction of community artist, Margrete Erling, helped create the habitat boxes, which are decorated to reflect local history, indigenous heritage, and Watanobbi environmental issues. The aim of the community art project is to foster community pride; promote closer relationships between local organisations and schools; and highlight the work of the Watanobbi Community Centre.”

While community art projects are sometimes difficult in terms of process, and questions of authorship and aesthetic control, they can be very powerful tools of community building regardless of what one thinks of the “art” outcome. At the time of writing I do not know about the process from inside the project, but as an artist with over thirty years experience, and a university lecturer in art for about the same period of time, I think the big “W” is a credit to Watanobbi and to its many creators.

I sympathise with someone who has to look at art that they do not appreciate, but if it is really the art that is the problem, I think there is plenty in this work for someone to learn to appreciate and enjoy.

I also sympathise with the 300 or so people who gave their time and creative enthusiasm to the project. Participants in such community art project become emotionally invested in the work they make for others, and it can be cruel to trash their best efforts. It is hard enough for professional artists to endure heartless criticism, no matter how well intentioned, but that is part of their vocation, we need to build esteem not undermine it in community art projects.

I have heard that the placement of the poles is a bit of a conundrum for some, as the configuration is not seen simply as a big “W”, but from certain angles could be an X, a couple of Vs, or maybe something from an “alien” alphabet. I would have thought that this was a dynamically interesting aspect of the work, being a constantly changing tension between potential and resolution, and therefore an interesting metaphor for continuous community development. This flipping between focus and dispersal is an aspect of the mature work of American sculptor David Smith, whose metal sculptures in the 1950s were notable, and now part of the Art History cannon, for the way they set up relationships between the component parts of the works as well as the setting, moderated by the viewer’s trajectory.

Although I have not seen the Watanobbi work yet, the idea of it changing perceptually and in interpretation, as a result of movements by the viewer, would suggest an addition to the mystery and ambiguity that every successful art work needs.

A decision was made to have an art piece, and that is what they got. If they would rather have a conventional sign, and a society governed by the ethics of commerce, profit and prejudice, free from the humanistic values transmitted through culture, good luck to them, they will need it.

Perhaps something similar to a recent work erected in China could be suggested as an alteration to the disgruntled Watanobbi resident.

The 30ft totem, named Sky Pillar, stands at Longwan Shaman Amusement Park in Changchun City, China.
"It is a totem of Shamanistic culture, which originated in this city," says the president of the park, Cheng Weiguang. Shi Lixue, director of the China Folk Culture Association said: "It symbolizes our ancestors' pursuit of happiness and prosperity."

Friday, June 15, 2007


From information received:
Wollombi Valley Arts Council Inc
is pleased to invite entries from all emerging artists of any age, in any medium, to the
6th to 12th July 2007

First prize $1500
Second prize $750
Under 18s $250

Entry deadline: Friday 29th June 2007.
Details available from their website.

And a reminder that entries for Sculpture in the Vineyards close on June 30th.
See their website via "labels" below.

-and congratulations to the artists and organisers in Wollombi for what they are achieving!!

places of denial and desire.

The electricity is back on at the Back Page!!!

Tomorrow is International Bloomsday and seven artists will be at-large in Gosford on a psychogeographic dérive.
At a time when Debord's ideas about the Society of the Spectacle are under review, it will be interesting to see what eventuates; and what places of denial and desire are encountered.

"I wouldn't start from here"

"and the wilderness is paradise enow"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Buy nothing, get one free

Urban insertion

Buy nothing, get one free, an open-ended cumulative “urban insertion” , part of Click Here, has been running for eight days, 24 hours a day, in Mann street Gosford.

Further live activities and projections are scheduled for next week.