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Art, mind and ideology

Keith Gallasch

Workshop,  Asian Producers’ Platform Camp (APPCAMP), courtesy APPCAMP Workshop, Asian Producers’ Platform Camp (APPCAMP), courtesy APPCAMP
In a recent report to the federal government Pricewaterhouse Coopers predicted that Australia would significantly slip down the ladder of economic wealth over coming decades because of a fixation on a mining monoculture and a failure to innovate or properly support new approaches in information technology, bio-technology, nanotechnology and responses to climate change. As if we didn’t know. But without equally good investment in education and the arts, the break from a monocultural mindset will be impossible.

Inequitable re-distribution

Just before Xmas, the Abbott Government snatched $6m (over three years) from an already slashed Australia Council budget for the mysterious new Australian Book Council to be administered by the Minister of the Arts, George Brandis, in another assault on peer assessment. Clearly, after his foray into determining the outcomes of the Prime Minister’s Literary Prizes, presumably the PM feels that the Culture Wars are best fought on the publishing front or Brandis is looking to fill his bookcase. The money is for the publishing industry (promotion, data collection, distribution) not for writers. Susan Wyndham in the Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum (31 Jan-1 Feb) writes that to compensate the Council “plans to use money from across its new grants program and strategic projects in all artforms.” This has exacerbated anxiety among artists already concerned about the new grants program, in which six-year funding to key organisations, while granting (the catchcry) ‘certainty,’ could well lock Australian arts into a period of cultural fixity. Let’s hope not. The innovators of the small to medium sector who succeed in attaining six-year funding will doubtless keep us on our toes, although some say six-year planning is not as easy as it is for large companies that already operate long-term. And what will the value of money granted from 2016 be in 2021? As for project and other grants, what will be the effect of the budget cut and the $6m robbery?

RT125 feature Modes of Production—referring to Karl Marx’s inextricable linking of productivity and social relations (reinforced by an ideological superstructure that includes the arts)—reports on a range of activities that attempt to position, promote and develop the arts in Australia and Asia. Some of these are familiar and going through new phases, some are new, some problematic, some creatively liberating.

The producers

In the first of our new series The Producers, Kathryn Kelly interviews Brisbane-based Dave Sleswick. At the 2013 Australian Theatre Forum, David Pledger, concerned about the rise of a producer and managerial class with power and money and lodged parasitically between bureaucrats and artists, provocatively declared, “a producer can never be an artist” (, 29 May, 2013 - site no longer active). Sleswick, as you’ll read, certainly is producer and artist, while others, like Harley Stumm (see RT126) and the indefatigable Marguerite Pepper, also serve the small-to-medium sector admirably and with the invaluable ‘outside eye’ of a sensitive producer. These and their like may be the exception to Pledger’s rule. They make life easier for artists, allowing more time to create, and they know and have access to the networks that artists are often unaware of or lack time or the personalities to engage with. For those of us who performed in the 1980s and 90s and struggled to tour, the current mobility of groups across Australia and beyond, with the support of various federal and state networks, a former Theatre Board producer scheme and artists’ own duly emboldened initiatives, looks miraculous.

Organisation as producer

We look at producing from another perspective in an interview with Performance Space Artistic Director Jeff Khan, who delineates the various ways the organisation develops, produces and co-produces new work with attention to experimentation, Indigenous, queer and site-specific art. For 2015 Performance Space has restructured its program, drawing all of its productions into one season in which it takes over Carriageworks with a LIVEWORKS festival. As a producer Khan believes this will benefit artists above all, as well as Performance Space’s profile in an increasingly competitive market.

Asia-Australia, again

Over two decades we’ve watched attempts to establish a market for Australian art in Asia and then exchanges that might underpin such a market. While Asialink has been fruitful, especially at the individual level, many an event and exchange have been short-term successes but without long-term pay-offs. It’s hoped that a producer network-led initiative will change this. As Urszula Dawkins writes of her APPCAMP experience in Seoul, this involves producers really getting to know each other’s cultures and increasing their personal contact. It’s also a four-year plan with annual meetings to ensure continuity.

Camps and lab

Malcolm Whittaker has also been camping. After reporting on the Performance Space-Arts House initiative Time_Place_Space: NOMAD for us in RealTime 124), in this issue he reflects on his experience of another in the growing number of arts laboratories, Arts House’s Live Art Camp. Whittaker values labs for “creating safe places for temporary micro-communities to reflect, share practice and generate work by dipping into an array of practices…” By producing such gatherings, Performance Space and Arts House and their like nurture their communities and fuel potential works for their own programming and networks.

Greening production

Going directly at the role of artist as producer of their own work, Arts House’s part-lab, part-forum Going Nowhere vigorously explored the possibilities of reducing the scale of art’s globe-trotting carbon footprint. Emma Webb reports on the gathering’s diverse activities: personal carbon footprint audits; international collaborations in development minus jet fuel; conversations with green designers and writers; a fantastical greening event with Tristan Meecham; and the conjuring of possible projects.

Museum & galleries: the framing of experience

The production of knowledge is highly institutionalised. In museums it is increasingly ‘packaged.’ In the first part of a two-part article, Jane Goodall takes a look at the post-museum—an institution constrained by its commitment to educate and entertain (and generate funds as government support diminishes) at the expense of a sense of mystery. She contrasts it with gambler David Walsh’s “success with MONA [which] has much to do with his fundamental respect for the role of chance and speculation in human life.” Elsewhere in RT124, Mike Leggett and I ponder the relationship between the contemporary art gallery and screen works and other digital art it exhibits. Philip Brophy at the Tokyo Art Meeting addresses the nexus between the performing body, East and West, and the gallery. Curation is more than presentation; it’s another layer of production, shaping our reception of the work. In a Kings Cross car park, Ilana Cohn witnesses Atlanta Eke’s performance with motor vehicle.

“Don’t simply aim to please”

In the social media era of an astonishingly heightened desire to belong, much art is likewise packaged to improve reception: a theatre subscription might come with all kinds of benefits (parties, meet the actors, talks, discounts) but also a sense of Facebooked and Tweeted community. It takes more than art these days to please an audience. It’s not surprising that Malcolm Whittaker reports from the 2015 Australian National Theatre Forum that keynote speaker, Belgian festival director Frie Leysen urged that artists “don’t simply aim to please everyone, but dare to be disturbers,” and that we should “valorise the risk, the adventure, the ephemeralness, the uniqueness of the experience and the temporary community that is created through theatre.”

Regionally yours

In recent years, we’ve admired the exponential growth of innovative art in regional Australia, focussing principally on the Riverina and, in RT124, productions in regional Victoria (see reviews of Rebel Elders in Ballarat and Packed in Wodonga). In RT125 Murray Arts General Manager and Regional Arts Development Officer Karen Gardner tells us how work is produced across a vast territory with five councils, and about nurturing local artists and the desire to attract innovative artists to the region.

Ideology laid bare

The authoritarianism of the Abbott Government and the totally unnecessary cruelty of its austerity budget, its censoriousness while demanding free speech, the doubtless Captain’s Call of snatching back $6m from the Australia Council, its desire to sell off public assets for short-term profit for itself and developers, its inhuman treatment of refugees and its failure to address Indigenous disadvantage, have outed it as ideological. A lot of us have known this of the Coalition for a long time, but the Government’s gross misbehaviour has made it clear to all and sundry, just as has the Tea Party-Republican ‘coalition’ in the US—but here the counter-reaction, as seen in the Queensland election, has been incisive (Campbell Newman’s first Captain’s Call was to eliminate the Premier’s Literary Awards).

As David Pledger argued in Platform Paper 41, August 2013: “Re-valuing the artist in the new world order,” Western democracy is in the grip of Neo-liberal ideology with its goals of privatisation (its eye on the ABC and public space like national parks and gardens), deregulation (freedom for developers), globalisation (for corporations bigger than nations) and tax cuts that require the defunding of health, science, education, research, social welfare and the arts. It’s a totalising ideology in which all human activity is perceived as and manipulated to be simply a matter of economics. The state capitalism of China and Putin’s Russia—dictatorial leaders and the free flow of money—is very appealing to Neo-liberals. The un-mandated Abbott-Hockey budget is a clear indication of like-minded, un-consultative, anti-social thinking.

The intrusion of Neoliberalism into the arts in Australia has been evident in the appointment of managers and administrators rather than artists to head performing arts organisations and events, as Ralph Myers argued in his Phillip Parsons Lecture (The Australian, 1 Dec, 2014): “Our theatre and dance companies, our festivals and orchestras are what we have left. We cannot surrender them to the markets. We can’t let the businesspeople and their managers take charge. They’ve got their hands on pretty much everything else in our lives, but we must fight to keep the dreamers in charge of the arts.”

The modes of production I’ve outlined in this introduction represent a small part of the activities of an increasingly networked arts community in which participation ranks high through co-productions, forums and labs, as it does in the growing participatory art movement for audiences in all fields. Art in itself, didactic or not, can be a form of protest, but beyond that our consciousness must be alert to the mode of production that governs our lives as citizens and artists. Just as we should audit our carbon footprint, we might ask how much of Neoliberal ideology have we less than consciously taken on in art and everyday life?

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 3

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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