“The public is a bad joke whose punchline is whispered in every piece of ‘public art’, in every attempt to ‘engage the public’, in every ‘public consultation’. Whenever the public is desired it vanishes into thin air – and when it turns up it gets quickly turned into something else: an unruly mob, a violent crowd, a riotous assembly. But why kill off the public? If the public has been killed off, what has taken its place? What more malleable entity can you try to get people to think they are? Think of the rise of the consumer, the client, the stakeholder… the one who has a vested interest, but no rights beyond that of getting a replacement chocolate bar. This is the social being that decades of inequality wants to bring about, whether as student, employee, or unhappy individual desperately looking for remedies.”—Nina Power - The Public, The Police and The Rediscovery of Hate! | STRIKE! Magazine
As the Statue of Liberty’s centennial approached and extensive celebrations were being prepared to mark the occasion, Storefront launched a call for ideas soliciting designs for a new symbol of collective freedom and equality that would resonate more distinctly with contemporary culture, thereby inviting a critical appraisal of the role of the monument in contemporary society.
“the difference between an interesting and a humdrum archival installation depends not on the historical significance of the work being presented, but on the extent to which the artist manages to transform this material into something new and equally idiosyncratic.”—4. Displaying Research - Claire Bishop, Still Searching.
The flexible office is not meant to be a place where you nestle in. The office architecture of flexible firms requires a physical environment which can be quickly reconfigured - at the extreme, the “office” can become just a computer terminal. The neutrality of new buildings also results from their global currency as investment units; for someone in Manila easily to buy or sell 100,000 square feet of office space in London, the space itself needs the uniformity and transparency of money. This is why the style elements of new-economy buildings become what US architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable calls “skin architecture”: the surface of the building dolled-up with design, its innards ever more neutral, standard, and capable of instant refiguration.
Alongside skin architecture, we have the standardisation of public consumption - a global network of shops selling the same commodities in the same kinds of spaces whether they are located in Manila, Mexico City or London. It is hard to become attached to a particular Gap or Banana Republic; standardisation breeds indifference. Put it another way. The problem of institutional loyalties in the work-place - now beginning to sober up managers once blindly enthusiastic about endless corporate re-engineering - finds its parallel in the urban public realm of consumption. Attachment and engagement with specific places is dispelled under the aegis of this new regime. Cities cease to offer the strange, the unexpected or the arousing. Equally, the accumulation of shared history, and so of collective memory, diminishes in these neutral public spaces. Standardised consumption attacks local meanings in the same way the new work-place attacks ingrown, shared histories among workers.
“Surely not all social capital is equal, or equally valuable. Putnam knows this — he admits that some groups (urban gangs, militia movements, the Ku Klux Klan) put the norms of reciprocity to ”malevolent, antisocial” purposes. But even among the wholesome examples of social capital Putnam catalogs, there are some that ought to matter more than others. Should we really care as much about a falloff in card playing as we do about low voter turnout? At some level, Putnam seems to think so, and the effect can be unintentionally comic: ”American adults still play 500 million card games a year, but that figure is falling by 25 million games a year. Even if we assume, conservatively, that community issues come up in conversation only once every 10 card games, the decline of card playing implies 50 million fewer ‘microdeliberations’ about community affairs each year now than two decades ago.” Why assume that people had more or better ”microdeliberations” about ”community issues” playing poker than they do now with their co-workers or on Internet discussion groups?”—Who Wants to Be a Legionnaire?
“In tracking informal socialising, I found evidence of a decline in the number of close friends and neighbourhood connections from the 1980s to the 2000s. On average, Australians shed two friends who would keep a confidence, and half a friend who would help them through a difficult patch. Compared with respondents two decades earlier, the typical Australian in the 2000s has one and a half fewer neighbours of whom they could ask a small favour, and three fewer neighbours on whom they could drop in uninvited. We are also more likely to live alone.”—Andrew Leigh MP - Better Together: Ten Ways to Revitalise Community
“But what Erdemci has done, and what sets her biennale as a strong counterpoint to Artur Żmijewski’s Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Politics, is that here the art is first and foremost understood as art. Works have been chosen with a confidence in their ability to distil something of conceptual and aesthetic resonance without being demonstrative or didactic. Agency is apparent without being activist. In this way Erdemci relies on art’s ability to say something in its own way. It’s a refreshing and affirming position.”—Mom, Am I Barbarian: Fulya Erdemci’s 2013 Istanbul Biennale | ACCA art blog
“His father also played a role in Mr. Vo’s quest to purchase three spectacular glass chandeliers from the ballroom of the former Hotel Majestic in Paris, where the peace accord was reached among the Americans, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese and Vietcong in 1973, which was supposed to have ended the Vietnam War. “Of course history turns out to be different,” Mr. Vo said of the north’s aggression into the south in 1975 after the withdrawal of American troops. He shows a photograph from the front page of The New York Times with one chandelier hovering over the drama at the negotiating table. When he found out the hotel was being sold several years ago, he entered into his own negotiations to buy the chandeliers. During the process he took his father to the ballroom in Paris. “In the taxi he complained that we were going to the room of death and betrayal,” said Mr. Vo, who presented one chandelier, disassembled, last year on the floor at the Museum of Modern Art, which acquired the piece. “Then when we entered the room, the only thing out of his mouth was, ‘I think the Queen of Denmark must have such things in her castle.’ “That was so beautiful and gave this layer to the work I find necessary. Besides our projected ideas of them, these objects were designed to make you forget.”—Danh Vo’s ‘We the People’ Project in Chicago - NYTimes.com
“And then, above all, I don’t think that criticism can be set against transformation, “ideal” criticism against “real” transformation.
A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established, unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based.
We need to free ourselves of the sacralization of the social as the only instance of the real and stop regarding that essential element in human life and human relations – I mean thought – as so much wind. Thought does exist, both beyond and before systems and edifices of discourse. It is something that is often hidden but always drives everyday behaviors. There is always a little thought occurring even in the most stupid institutions; there is always thought even in silent habits.
Criticism consists in uncovering that thought and trying to change it: showing that things are not as obvious as people believe, making it so that what is taken for granted is no longer taken for granted. To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.
Understood in those terms, criticism (and radical criticism) is utterly indispensable for any transformation. For a transformation that would remain within the same mode of thought, a transformation that would only be a certain way of better adjusting the same thought to the reality of things, would only be a superficial transformation.
On the other hand, as soon as people begin to have trouble thinking things the way they have been thought, transformation becomes at the same time very urgent, very difficult, and entirely possible.”—Michel Foucault, 1981
“Martial enthusiasts and promoters post-1970s have not gone unchallenged. But critical contestations in books and articles have received little in the way of media attention with the trickle of critical and counter-martial books swamped in retail outlets by a deluge of literature celebrating martial endeavours, while important scholarly work languishes in niche academic journals. Not long before his death, activist historian/journalist Tony Harris (1948–2013) recognised this problem of critical invisibility and recommended the tactic of creating dissent events. He argued the need to assert an oppositional antiwar culture of peace and internationalism. War memorials in Australia, he argued, were ‘military’ memorials, not about remembering the realities of war but about forgetting them. Contrarily, Harris advocated use of these sites by antiwar activists for peaceful protest: for example, antiwar poetry readings, songs, speeches, performances. Further, he posited the need for the creation of an antiwar day of commemorations that recognised the real costs of war, and remembered those Australians who have variously opposed and struggled against war. He suggested 8 May as the day of commemoration, the date of the first Vietnam antiwar Moratorium in 1970. In May 2013 he had himself filmed on video performing antiwar poetry by Siegfried Sassoon and AD Hope in front of the iconic Canberra War Memorial; these videos were posted on his antiwar Facebook page Fed Up With Anzac Jingoism.”—A khaki future? | Overland literary journal
“Bringing Them Home was released under the Howard government, which was hostile to the very idea that the Stolen Generations existed, and so the report suffered the same fate as the 1987–91 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody before it and the 2007 Little Children Are Sacred report after it, as well as many other reports in between. Hundreds of talented Aboriginal people and organisations working on the issue carefully crafted submissions or testimony in good faith, only to be completely ignored. The result has been an explosion in the numbers of Aboriginal children removed by child protection agencies across Australia. Figures from the Productivity Commission show that at 30 June 1997, the year of Bringing Them Home, 2785 Aboriginal children were in out-of-home care. At 30 June 2012, there were 13 299 – almost a five-fold increase. For each of the last five years, approximately a thousand Aboriginal children have been coming into the ‘out-of-home care’ system long-term. This is a higher number than were removed during any time in the twentieth century. Half of the children have not been placed with kin or relatives.”—Stolen Futures | 212 Spring 2013 | Paddy Gibson | Overland literary journal
“I had a conversation with Tim Costello some years ago which significantly changed my way of seeing things. He told me of a time when he was running the Collins St Baptist Church. A guy who had been sleeping rough for quite a while had turned up at the Church wanting a feed. Tim was talking to him. The guy said that that conversation was the first time in two weeks he had had eye contact with any other human being. I can scarcely imagine what that must be like. That man had, at least in his own mind, completely disappeared.”—Julian Burnside: Alienation to alien nation
“Laziness is the absence of movement and thought, dumb time - total amnesia. It is also indifference, staring at nothing, non-activity, impotence. It is sheer stupidity, a time of pain, futile concentration. Those virtues of laziness are important factors in art. Knowing about laziness is not enough, it must be practised and perfected. Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists but rather producers of something… Their involvement with matters of no importance, such as production, promotion, gallery system, museum system, competition system (who is first), their preoccupation with objects, all that drives them away form laziness, from art. Just as money is paper, so a gallery is a room.”—The Praise of Laziness - Mladen Stilinović
“In the pavilion, an important decision was not to use the regular construction devices of an exhibition, which, whether it is through fake walls or fake lights, are always focused on the idea of showing. I find this very unidirectional; it instructs us where we have to look at. It is something I could not find myself to fit in. Hence, there was the decision to use the space as it was: we broke all the fake walls and used only natural light. Another important decision was not to touch the walls: nothing would go on them. I wanted everything to be free standing and ready to go. Some people find it clumsy or unprofessional, which is ok to me. What was important for me was not to create an authoritarian exhibition structure. It is like camping somewhere: you put the things and the next day you go away and no one will remember anymore what was there. In that sense, it was a strong decision not to have my name on the walls. The ministry had of course to place the official logos on the wall, but by a happy accident, that did not happen either. So, the walls are completely white except for the poster presenting the schedule of the performance. The poster is ok because it is like what you find in the street and also because it gives a lot of information. So, the project has to do with a certain idea of alternative, because of the intention I have just described.”—Initiartmagazine | Interview with Dora Garcia
I had the fortune of being interviewed by Bad At Sport’s Caroline Picard when I attended this year’s Open Engagement Conference in Portland, OR in the States. Listen to the podcast to hear me talk about art and participation, collaboration, online dating and removing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.