Below are what I presented in the National Art School Redlands Prize.
Great work by Erika Scott.
Erika’s statement about the work.
I use materials to mediate conditions of control and amorous gesture in an attempt to describe a space between representation and where thoughts continually race back to personal and bodily activities. I’ve manipulated ready-made ‘horror’ props onto a broader sculptural framework (railings repurposed from the tip) so that their latex borders and features are loosened and less apparent. ‘Individual Medley’ hopes to propose the possibility of shifting stances or points of view, the parallax, and with a nod to Mary Shelly and subsequent ‘monsters’, the transformative potential in a conspiracy of bodies rather than one indefinite form.
And my contribution
Title: The Cullen Award for Excerllence (free standing video sculpture)
Dimensions: 2m x 2m x 1.5m
Carpet Tiles, Fluorescent Tube, MDF, TV monitor + Remote Control, Felt
Video content: 4k HD sequence 7 minutes in duration.
This work is a mediation and a meditation on storytelling, career paths and donuts. Winners and losers, victories and victims, Sisyphus and his rock and finally alienation and love.
I recently saw a book of Australian kitsch produced by Barry Humphries in the eighties. It had a photo of a collection of entertainment trophies like the Gold Logie. These Henry Moorish objects were the key to secret kingdoms of the entertainment world, in a similar way that winning an art prize functions for the art world. Only there are usually no trophies (just big cheques)… so I made a model for one to be used for all the art prizes in Australia.
Benjamin Crowley, Untitled (box) @ Metro Arts 2015
Night Moves (the Burning)about Benjamin Crowley’s Exhibition “Burning”, by David M Thomas.
“Our great war is a spiritual war and our great depression is our lives”. Tyler Durden, ideologue the movie Fight Club, 1999.
Ben Crowley’s work is about death, not for purely philosophical reasons but because when he was on an art residency in Iceland, after giving a presentation of his work he was accused of sounding robotic. The incident is analogous of certain relationships in his work and marks a shift between the didactic and the humorous, toward a poetic existentialism. I argue that these relational poles in fact overlap. What Crowley was and still is dealing with, in terms of a problematic and yet sometimes-lovable Australian male vernacular is as poetic, existential and deadly as it gets. Never the less it’s always the negative criticism that does you the most good… and bad.
So how has Ben Crowley addressed the somewhat suspect topic of Australian masculine vernaculars? In various recent works he sets fire to the word Hero, he screams in the wilderness, he cradles a woman protecting her from the ice and snow, he stands on the precipice of the cliff face; on the other hand there is a deification of the already deified and yet redundant Charles Bronson. Is he suggesting that men are not all that bad? Or is Crowley recommending that men are in fact bad, but worse still than we are intent on noticing.
I know this sounds weird, especially if you are coming at this with a perspective that any consideration of masculine vernaculars is suspect. Like capitalism however, or any other ideology the ideas are simply a set of tools, if the tools are selected, organised and then used by evil people to initiate and then justify selfish and horrible acts, this is worth stopping. In Crowley’s case, however, the ideas are examined, disassembled, modified and often laughed at, as they are reassembled and presented to us as visual philosophical work.
So my question to myself when considering Crowley’s work was; how much of being a man is about fear and anxiety and can anyone really fear death in K-Mart? I had this experience recently going to K-Mart in Wynnum West, I had to leave very quickly as I was confronted by an Australian man who was reminding me, and everyone else there, what country I was in. He did this in a loud caricatured ascent that freaked me out. There was something deliberately menacing about his behaviour, it was strangely out of place in this context, it was a bit too loud for 4.30pm on a Monday afternoon. Still I don’t think the man was completely aware of his aggressive affront or its effect on others. It was almost like a self-defence mechanism, against the alienation of the shopping mall experience.
What Crowley does that is endearing is he plays with the language of masculine heroics, that are not particular to Australian art history, but the phenomenological spaces of the shopping mall, the bowling club and the pub. I understand this because I have personally felt anxious for my own life in all these places and it was not just an anxiety about loosing my sense of self. It was not just that I felt disgusted at the visceral often confronting reality of maleness but because these public spaces are imbued with a real physical threat emanating from other men. It has something to do with large, often scared mammals on drugs.
So how can philosophy help in this situation and what’s up with Søren Kierkegaard. What did he have to say about death and anxiety? What was his conclusion about how to deal with the existential desire, as Crowley demonstrates, to simultaneously throw oneself from the cliff and to cling to its edge? One might describe Kierkegaard as a radicalised Christian, so his answer in this light is obvious…the leap for him was one of faith that directly confronts the ideas of spirit and freedom. An important note here is that in his world the word and concept of mind and spirit are closely linked, much more closely than they are now.
So Kierkegaard’s leap is one of belief before reason, knowing before the need for justification or as my computer just told me “a complete trust or confidence in someone or something “. In Crowley’s words;
After I got home and started reading, I came across Kierkegaard’s dizziness of freedom theory, in which he uses the act of approaching a cliff face as a metaphor. The theory talks about the dual sensations of the fear of falling wile wanting to throw oneself from the cliff, and this experience is parallel to the ‘dizziness of freedom’. I think I was mostly taken by this idea because it matched the kind of experience I had while making the video from Iceland.
The anxiety also comes from the fact that we have the freedom to believe in things or not, but not always the ability to trust in them at all, as Louise CK, says;
I have a lot of beliefs, and I live by none of them, they’re just my beliefs, I just like believing them, I like that part, they’re my little believies, they make me feel good about who I am, but if they get in the way of a thing I want, I can F@#$%G do without them.
CK’s humour describes the duplicity of being, and in this case being a middle aged, middle class, white man living in a time and a country dismantling its own masculine archetypes. Imagine Charles Bronson, either one, in the same physical or conceptual space as Chandler Bing. The possibility and personal responsibility that this duplicity even multiplicity engenders is exactly what I trust. With out this responsibility for philosophical work, like Jim Morrison, another iconoclastic archetype says, ‘we’re all a bunch of F@#$%G idiots’.
“I am in a world of shit, yes, but I am alive, and I am not afraid”.
Private Joker, Full Metal Jacket, 1987.
David M Thomas, No Wave, Sydney 1999, mixed media dimensions variable.
David M Thomas, No Wave, Sydney 1999, mixed media dimensions variable.
FROM “BIRTH OF AN IDIOT” OR “WHERE I WOULD HAVE GOT IF I HAD BEEN STUPID” 1998 Adam Cullen.
This is a neurotic chronicle, composed by a corpulent stooge. The account that follows is meant to be read and interpreted as an informal document of self-criticism and description. Its context isn’t meant to stray from my subjective view of the work and its working context. The opinions expressed in this story aren’t necessarily shared by the rest of the world nor should they be. As Mike Kelley said: “too much is always expected of love and art”
I think where my practice takes an alternative route, is the route itself – I don’t have one in particular. The relationship I have to the suburbs [and to art] is one of mild reverence. Experiences are inevitable in their mundaneness but have unpredictable levels of moderateness. With the normalcy of the middle class grid comes an endless horizon of injudicious and inverse effects due to mildness. It’s not the fact that TV is violent – the world is violent. Maybe it’s not violent enough.
The fantastically autistic dilemma with being an Australian entity sandwiched between Europe and the US with a special Asian spicy sauce on top is that appropriation is just too easy.1 My works don’t submerge themselves in other systems and their characteristics, rather they insist that the ‘outside’ complies with my lack of character. Rather like whales beaching themselves. An Australian artist can make anybody look stupid – especially him or herself. We don’t go backwards or forwards, we go sideways. As a nation of potential artists, we are pathologically inappropriate. Our very psyche is an ill-timed and perverse arrival of an event of circumstance that is, in itself, desirable. Information comes in and goes stale. It’s the sandwich filling that goes off first.
Australian Art making is like this, a cumulative cooperative of negation. It goes with out saying, I mean it’s a given that Aboriginal art, whether you are conscious of this or not, has an incredibly overpowering magnetism. Whether you’re an American or a Redfern black, to make art is essentially a spirituous activity. Whether the stage is being fuelled by honey art dreaming or vodka, it’s all spirit. The beautiful thing about traditional Aboriginal art is that it’s conceptually sound from the word go. It doesn’t carry the unnecessary baggage of western art history and its temper tantrums. But, then again, this in itself is a circumcised viewpoint. Who is capitalising on who remains to be seen. The SP Bookie of images is half-caste.
A process a little bit like living in an RSL club, never having to leave, but all the time having access to the internet at the bar. The situation creatively negates the potential information. You can’t live in the suburbs and make modern art without being conscious of being self-conscious. It’s getting easier to make, but it’s getting harder to justify. Everyday is another historically accelerated offering of constitutional triteness. Being and Australian artist means working without resistance, a kind of isolation through consumption of mortal and moral forms of independent and micro-monumental systems of caring about apathy. Plebeian iconography is high culture and each flows and laps with out demarcation. The average Australian artist is in this way, radioactive and concurrently psychoactive, picking up redirected signals. We are pedestrian apes that know everything. Our appearance delivers a false sense of the first world economic status.
1. What I am alluding to here is the paradoxical position of Australian culture generally and Australian art particularly, that is Paul Taylors’s idea that “Australian art was the original postmodern culture precisely because it had always been derivative”, Mackenzie Wark, The Virtual Republic, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1997, p.25
Adam Cullen’s statement was written whilst he was enrolled in the Master of Visual Art program at COFA, and used for my exhibition, No Wave, made in Sydney in 1999. The exhibition installation included one 9 x 2.5 m wall painting, band gear a public address system with post punk/no wave music emanating from it (mostly by Ovine Yonie, the band I played with at the time ), fluorescent lights, and video.
Apart from the description of Indigenous art, which is certainly simplistic to say the least, much of what Adam wrote, is still relevant for my practice. I asked Adam to write a “Catalogue Essay”, and he gave me his own artist statement, which upset the director of the gallery a bit, but did not faze me in the least. My practice, then and now, works with the idea of looking at and including other subjectivities in my work.
Apart from the intensity of Adam’s writing and its overall intelligence, particular lines still resonate with me now. Such as “I think where my practice takes an alternative route is the route itself – I don’t have one in particular. The relationship I have to the suburbs [and art] is one of mild reverence.” The way I relate to this now is that I still have multiple ways of making art, but the suburbs are a kind of spiritual, non-national homeland. Everybody is from somewhere and believes something, what are you going to do about it?
“My works don’t submerge themselves in other systems and their characteristics, rather they insist that the ‘outside’ complies with my lack of character” I am interested in a resistance to imposed ideology and how resistant energies have been aesthetically expressed, Dada, Punk, Conceptual Art, Beat Poetry etc. For me this also speaks of individual personality, which is a key interest in my works.
“An Australian artist can make anybody look stupid – especially him or herself.” I am always happy to use my own image and body to make stupid ideas look even more ridiculous.
“You can’t live in the suburbs and make modern art without being conscious of being self-conscious. It’s getting easier to make, but it’s getting harder to justify.” I am struck by the way we think about self-consciousness in Australia, and how in Europe this is very different. Self-consciousness in Germany infers self-awareness, even a sense of self-assuredness, whereas here, I would argue, to be self-conscious is a negative thing. It means that you think too much, you are solipsistic, narcissistic; you have tickets on yourself.
David M Thomas 2014