It's that time of the year again – the 2015 Swell Sculpture Festival at Currumbin on the Gold Coast in Australia has begun. It is the same time each year. The concern is that it is almost the same each year. The event started today, 11th September 2015 and will finish on the 20th. Two reviews have been written on this festival previously, for 2013 and 2014 – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/swell-sculpture-festival-2013.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2014.html What can one say here, this year, given that everything is much as before? The whole place, as was mentioned last year, felt the same again, familiar: the same graphics; the same locations; the same context; the same attitude to 'art'#; and the same publication, sold at the same price, at the same hubs, near the same mobile coffee outlets. It all seems to be run to a well-tried recipe. Even many of the artists are the same – 19 out of 55 were repeats this year compared with 21 out of 66 in 2014: see Swell List 2015 - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/swell-sculpture-festival-catalogue-2015.html
The art of hanging around art.
Could this be art?
Over time, one becomes acquainted with with the styles and materials of the various exhibitors, so much so that when one recognises a particular artist's work, it feels like one has met a friend; such is the familiarity. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. John Ruskin noted how familiarity made his holidays better - 'all the more beautiful for being familiar' was the way he wrote about the experience in Brantwood: the same route; the same carriage; the same town; the same hotel; the same room; the same window; the same view. In one way Swell 2015 is like this – the same everything, almost. So might one expect the same critique? It is true, one could reprint those texts of old and everything would still apply just with a little tweaking of the reviews by modifying numbers and altering the titles of the pieces: see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/swell-sculpture-festival-2014.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/swell-sculpture-festival-catalogue-2014.html
The context and the sculptures are not the only common aspects of the festival. If one reads the explanatory texts, one again sees personal 'artistic' blurb in its supreme, exuberantly flamboyant muddled excess; and a perusal of the prices being asked for the works makes one shudder yet again in disbelief. The great pretence of art is that artists seem to believe that their wortk is not real art, or of any quality, unless it is exorbitantly priced. It is as if the huge prices of the auction houses for the works of popular and fashionable artists sets the scene by way of example, proof of 'art.' It is a sad circumstance that stimulates the critics – see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/can-good-design-be-cheap.html
'Baa-aah' art - KEEP OFF
Art? Why not? No number?
The art of war?
It has a number, therefore it is art.
Stone the crows! Can it be car art?
And yet again as before, one wanders through the sculptures recognising some works as 'art' and dismissing other possibilities, only because of the presence of, or the lack of any numbered nearby sign. There are decorated vehicles with numbers and texts, therefore 'art', and others parked nearby without any identification, therefore 'not art'. Yet these everyday 'blanks' look just as intriguing, just as alluring as the 'art'; but they are not art because they have no number. There is the generator with army camouflage thrown over it, as if to pretend that it is not there; but the bright yellow leads lying beside this mystery object call attention to it. There was no number nearby, so it was not art; but the idea and the composition were worthy of the label, being the near equal of some other numbered pieces. The marquee pre-fabricated parts were similarly stored against a fence, leaning on it so that they looked deliberately skewed like the purple string art further along the esplanade; but there was no number: therefore it was not art. The occasional rock in the grass made one pause to check its veracity from time to time, only to discover that it was just a rock. The haughtiness of 'art' can be demeaning. One pandanus tree that had been hacked down to a jagged stump – die-back is a problem - so excited a small boy that he spontaneously called to his mother to “Have a look at this one!” Art can confuse, indeed, it can baffle.
The subtle angles of tubular forms surprise.
Artful forms, colours and layers?
Compare this reaction to other works that did have numbers by more mature folk who should have known better. Some pieces were commented upon arrogantly and dismissively: “I have no idea what it is,” with the commentator walking off deliberately, to deliberate on the next one. It was like ticking boxes: yes/no/next. One wonders why anyone would not spend time thinking and looking, discovering and learning, instead of bringing some preconceived visions to the viewing. One particular concrete drain outlet covered with rocks in the grass had two playful white spherical 'eyes' in it, perhaps placed there by a prankster; but this was not art: no number. Some signs warning of everything dangerous and unwanted, or just coding columns, appeared arty, but there were no numbers here either. The ice cream van, a 1960's-styled graphic wonder, was merely there to sell this confection, totally unaware of its quirky beauty. The bright yellow lifesavers' stand left on its side was fascinating, but again, this was not art: no number.
The eyes have it, or do they?
Art, or not art?
This flummoxed 'not art' realisation became such a common response to sundry delights that one started to wonder why we discriminate in favour of labelled, 'unique' art, the work of the specialist genius. Why not see 'art' everywhere? If we start acknowledging these other ad hoc pieces as art, then we might begin to consider our environment more carefully, in more critical detail. By dismissing the unnumbered wonders, we are specialising, defining limits for art and the everyday. Everything outside of this framework of numbers, labels and texts, and accreditations, is, apparently, not art. But we know that it is. Is it this elitism that makes artists think that they can charge thousands of dollars for a few strings, towels or painted plastic bottles?#
Is this art without numbers?
Yellow submarine - perhaps?
Yet Swell 2015 was again entertaining, well interesting to attend. It was fascinating, with an array of some thoughtful, skilful, and playfully different works to ponder in a beautiful place. We need this event, but it would be better if the festival set itself more of a challenge. It just seems too relaxed, too prescribed with its formula; too predictable. This nonchalant, churning approach seems to be catching. Both the catalogue and the small gallery had works from last year illustrated or for sale. This involvement of last year's works in the event this year dulls things a little. We need not only new works, but also fresh visions to challenge, stimulate and excite – to surprise, not to recall and remember as last year's efforts. It looked as though the new work required the support of the old. Was this due to its uncertainty, its loss in confidence, its lack of quality, or perhaps quantity, number? Seeing what was there twelve months ago is like reading yesterday’s papers; and who wants them, as The Rolling Stones' lyrics ask? Being familiar with works and place, and the placement of works, is no bad thing, but if art is to be vibrant, to vibrate our senses and engage us to the full, to reveal something to us, it needs to break away from the rules, the framework that it seems to accept. Seeing works vary only by way of subject matter becomes boring. Seeing similar, vague works struggling to be named anything other than a pun or with some vague reference is frustrating, indeed, a little annoying. One is left to admire only the effort, yet again.
A sculpture or a seat? Both?
1960's art vehicle?
Yes, there were the totems and symbols, and ordinary things named to sound especially arty. Some texts dragged out very little content into several lines of puzzling blurb. Then there were the regular themes mingled with a few new ones: there were the polished stone bits; the pieces made of trash; the thoughtful form; the jokey animals; the pure enigmatic works that left folk guessing; and the other uncertain bits and pieces that were there just because they were labelled 'art'. These were all present again.
Playful sculpture - keep away!
We do need to break the mould. We need a fresh eye; a new energy: yes, a new graphic; a renewed excitement. New lighting to make it a fulfilling night-time event. We need to identify those works that can be climbed on or touched, and those that can never be. We need to explore placements, to maximise the experience of the piece and the place, both day and night. Oh, doing things the same forever, over and over again, should never be. One should be drawn back again and again not to see the same, but to be surprised, stimulated, challenged, enriched; to discover oneself in the art and the place, and come to see the place as it has never be seen before. It needs to be more than the everyday beach esplanade with a few scattered sculptures. Currumbin needs to be truly transformed. This is the challenge. Discard the old, start anew. I know it means more work, but we cannot just keep churning out festivals that all look and feel the same. That the 2013/2014 reviews can apply to 2015 only highlights the ingrained boredom of this unimaginative strategy.
Flying sculpture opportunities.
Why consider the aeroplanes arriving at the nearby Gold Coast Airport just a necessary nuisance?
We need vibrant change that highlights the ocean, the sand, the grass and the trees, and the aeroplanes too, in a surprising manner, so that we can know a different Currumbin; a surprising Currumbin. The experience could be transformative, and encourage the ordinary Currumbin to change in a certain manner. Art needs to do more that be smartly clever under the guise of quality and unique difference with a label that makes one see trash in a special way, by 'seeing 'as' – seeing as the artist demands in the text.
The challenge should be grasped, then the event might itself become truly exciting again, buzzing with life, even for those running it. Rather than working to the script, doing what was done last year, and the year before, and those before these, those involved could sing again to a new tune. They could be enlivened with a vigour that hopefully will be contagious. They could issue new challenges to the artists too; encourage thoughtful works of art steeped in meaning, with coherent depth rather than diagrams with simplistic, naive explanations on what and how to see.# Steps could be taken to make art important as a daily thing again, rather than as an elitist pastime. There is much that can be done, and much that should be done.
Art as Zen? Zen as art?
3D sculptural form?
Swell 2015 was a pleasant experience, a time to step into ideas and effort just for the delight of it, for the concept, the skill, the craft, for relaxation – doing nothing, as Christopher Robin said to Pooh bear. But it all could be so much more: find another icon to decorate the place. Why always use the rock? Why . . .? Keep asking questions; start numbering street art; play games; explore; invent; create illusions with forms and lights and colours in space: see the world anew. Let people feel alive and alert again. Let the blood flux, and the excitement of visitors will flourish. It really is just too easy to keep repeating everything in this formulaic manner just because it seems to be catching crowds as it did before. The artists are doing likewise, working to a pattern. The festival needs a good shake up to re-invigorate it. For inspiration, the Director needs only to look at the items that BBC2 uses for its promotion. It is always BBC2, but it is consistently different, enjoyable, a surprise, and intriguing. It need not be as boring as 'our' ABC2 promotions care.
For the full catalogue of the festival and a commentary on each work see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/swell-sculpture-festival-catalogue-2015.html
A CRITIQUE OF 'ART'
An explanation of the critique of 'art' – c.f. Ruskin's addenda in his Lecture on Architecture: see http://entablatures.blogspot.com.au/ RUSKIN'S FINAL WORDS ON ARCHITECTURE.
This attitude to art seems to incorporate some esoteric, intellectual aspect. The approach appears to have a dislike for any representation, and favours abstract art works that have some mystical, intellectual symbolism requiring mental gymnastics that match the artist's interpretation in order for one to comprehend or to 'understand' the work. Here, one is left feeling ignorant, a fool, if one is unable to 'see' the work as the artist does, such is the quality of 'genius.'
This point can be best made by talking about the works that won awards at this year's festival. The web site had the list: number 03 won the top prize of $15,000*; number 46 won the environmental award; and number 54 won the 'emerging artist' award.^
The winner, 03, was Ingrid Morley's Lost and Found. Its rationale is explained as: The tension and final breaking of the rope and the implied loss as the 'boat' breaks away, can stand as a metaphor for the significant turning points in life. Now just by looking at the work, one would never know this. The work shows an old rope suspended in mid air, while connected to two old piles from a pier - $22,000. One can look at this all one likes, but the metaphor seems to hold no natural sense. It is this forcing of interpretations onto the viewer that seems to make art specialised and tedious, the unique creation of the artist's mind. Good art is more universal. It holds a more native necessity so that it embodies the sense that stimulated the making of it. Just by applying statements onto a work that could possibly be seen in this one way that the artist has chosen, is a little pretentious. It relies on one kowtowing to the genius of the maker rather than to the revelation of the piece.
Number 55 (on the rock - the lovely yellow form has no number)
Number 46, the environmental winner was Ben Carroll's Relics from Atlantis. It is explained as: I wonder if another civilisation ever existed somewhere below the sea? Perhaps they ignored the limits of the natural world around them and caused their own demise? Maybe we could pay more attention to the limits of our own natural world? Maybe. Now what has this to do with his forms, his making? It looks like a personal statement. Why should this idea cause the making of his 'art'? How can we see this?
The emerging artist award was given to Jerome Frumar's Queens Land. This artist is more verbose about his work: Standing tall atop Elephant Rock, a curvaceous bejewelled structure glimmers in the daylight and twinkles at night via a network of solar powered LED's. Queens Land is an ode to the Sunshine State of Australia. The simple play on words provides a conceptual motif with which to celebrate the natural beauty and idyllic nature of life on the Gold Coast with its spectacular beaches, wild seas and vast hinterland – fit for Royalty. The Elephant Rock site provides further conceptual inspiration. The Hindu elephant deity Ganesh is the Lord of Good Fortune who provides prosperity, fortune and success. He is also considered a patron of the arts and sciences. Formal likeness to Ganesh's coronet gives the piece a certain playfulness and serves as a reminder of Australia's multicultural social fabric. The crown – a symbol of sovereignty in many countries – invites the people of our so-called 'Queens' 'and to consider sovereignty as right for all beings rather than just those that wear fancy hats. To tie together the cultural references with the seaside setting, Queens Land is constructed from curved stainless steel elements reminiscent of lotus flower petals and waves.
Number 23 (detail)
Well, now we know. How could anyone know this from looking at the squat structure perched on the rails of the awkward lookout on top of the rock? An ode to Queensland? Here the artist is just telling us what and how to see his work – in the same manner in which he has rationalised it. The work holds very little that could enthuse one to glow in the glory of Queensland and Ganesh, even at the gloriously grand Gold Coast! One has to note Frank Lloyd Wright's observation that, to maintain the integrity, the essence of the hill, here the rock, the building should be constructed around the top as an eyebrow, never on top of it.
Here one thinks of Ananda Coomarswamy who wrote beautifully on art as a specialist in eastern art at Boston. When describing how a work of art was a symbol, he explained that it was not just as sign that one could ascribe meaning to. It held its own inner necessity, as Kandinsky described it. The example Coomaraswamy used was the lion, the traditional symbol of the sun. He said that the lion was not just a symbol or sign of the sun, just referencing it by way of definition. No, the lion was the sun in one of its aspects.
It is this necessity that artists need to struggle to achieve. It is not easy; well, not as easy as sitting down smugly as geniuses, as our era likes to see them, writing words about how they see their special work, demanding that everyone should fall into line and glorify them. It is this attitude to art that needs to be changed. The festival only encourages the idea of the artist as the unique, genius visionary to be perpetuated.
Coomarswamy also wrote about this. He explained that traditionally, the artist was not a special kind of man; no, every man was a special kind of artist. Our era should not only try to understand this point, but should also do something about realising this vision.
Of course, the cry will be: well, if you are so critical of the winners, who would you have chosen? It is a fair question. I think I would have chosen number 44, Michael Van Dam's Emerging Dragon as the winner;^ The Wave by Steve Lockie, number 20, and/or number 23, Kris Martin's Razorbeak, the Wedge-tail eagle as environmental winner; and the emerging artist? One need to know more, but the other impressive works are: 43 Marie-France Rose Cirque du Ciel (Circus of the Sky); and 47 Dion Parker Untitled torso; 04 Adrienne Kenafake Sea Tunnel; and Melissa Hirsch's Jellyfish Tree. Ivan Lovatt's 29 Magnificent is stunning, as was his wolf and emu. His technique seems to be taking over the surprise. Still, it is beautiful work.
Then why Van Dam's that uses his trademark stainless steel chain? Yes, I know he has used this before, just as Lovatt has used the chicken wire. Van Dam seems to have transformed his technique this year in the making of the mythical beast with a substantial civic scale. It is waiting to be placed in China Town. Lovatt has given us more of the same, with those stunning eyes that he does so well.^
One has to say something about Christopher Trotter's Little Red Flag, number 36. After being critical of his 2014 effort, this year's work displays some of the finesse that his earlier works held. It has some very sensitive assemblages that give the piece a certain delicacy that, sadly, contrasts with its message. Its sweetness overcomes the horror.
A most delicate squiggle made from brutal matter, hard and harsh. Hardly a protest!
* Judged by Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, Director of the Research Unit in Public Cultures, The University of Melbourne - (sponsored by the City of Gold Coast). What is 'Public Cultures' all about? One is reminded here of the surfing degree offered by the University of Portsmouth in England. I wonder if there is a Professor of Surfing? - see: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/fdsc-surf-science-and-technology if you find this unbelievable. Still, one will find it difficult to complain about this selection made by a professor with a 'different' name from a different place, such is the Australian culture that sees difference and elsewhere as always superior to anything local. Accents are good too and add to the perceived sterling significance! The Australian idea of things being 'world class' comes to mind: cringe!
This piece was written prior to the announcement of the Peer Award, the People's Choice Award and the Kids' Choice Award.
Both The People and the Children chose 44, Emerging Dragon. It was certainly worthy of this selection and highlights the difference between 'intellectual' art and works that are more readily accessible.
The Peer Award was won by 29, Magnificent. Ivan Lovatt has finally been acknowledged, by his peers. It is a good award to win!
An ad hoc stack or a sculpture?
No number, therefore not art. And the dog?
DO NOT CLIMB ON THE PLAY SCULPTURE?
"Have a look at this one!"
Indeed, this could be its title -Stumped! In a satirical mode, one could write the text:
This work reveals the significance of remembrance that remains rooted as a permanence in the crusts of life that is so ephemeral, delicate and fragile. Here one feels the hope of the lost soul that can be redeemed within the uncertainty that is singularly indisputable: life is transient; art is forever.
Rock n RollLikewise, on a rock, one could call it Rock n Roll, and write about the 'Rock of Ages' present in the sunny, happy exuberance of the Gold Coast as entertaining Rock n Roll, the joyous dance of the happy tumbling bodies in the splashing surf.