Went to the MCA Sydney yesterday to see the permanent collection and Primavera. Walked away with a few thoughts that I will share candidly.
I found the work of Justene Williams “Crutch Dance” from 2011 to be engaging as it was a video of an elaborate Dada inspired set with a costumed actor. The work evoked graffiti in its immersive set design and it made me realise how much late twentieth century graffiti owes to theatre. There is so much art that references other art and this is the stuff of art. Art is a kind of cultural kaleidoscope of references to help define what it is but what this work illustrates in its playful nature is what art generally isn’t, i.e. playful. The artist normally uses waste as a way into building the sets and making her art. The references are heavy and so is the comedy but it does inevitably make you think of what we take for granted in looking at art and there I go again dare I say it ‘references’.
Culturally references are the glue of understanding and appropriation to keep ideas relevant and alive but it is difficult to take away the power of a meta reference! A kind of reference that trumps all other references. So it is an important point not lost on the viewer at least if they read the display notes that this is an important thing to consider. Lets just say I found my way into a cultural vacuum and saw the work. I actually think I would still enjoy it. To put it plainly it is fun to look at. Also I read the display notes a little after.
Talking about meta references, lets just steal back what was stolen culturally. It goes to show that you don’t have to imbue a work with obvious references that are not obviously obvious. Gordon Bennett with ‘Number Nine” 2008 does a major piece based on references of other paintings that were initially references from other first nation cultures in the first place. This is a great work and it stands in the artists own heritage as a people dispossessed of their culture in so many ways. It shows though that revenge is sweet and that the dispossessed will inevitably keep their own culture alive and lets say, do it better. Not a particularly good photo!
In some ways contemporary art has an element of righting wrongs or at least doing the right thing. This narrative helps people have a voice that makes them more empowered. It isn’t meant to be preaching but simply showing the obvious cultural references to prove who really owns what. So much of art has been about borrowing other cultural symbols simply to expand an economy of art and culture. Contemporary artists try to be informed and play with these imposed ideas. Ideas based on fashions are always open to ridicule anyway and so much art puts its head on the chopping block. Art though isn’t just about fashions or big players it is about money and this can be a cue to impart fashion advice. But alas a certain haircut isn’t for everyone but at times it screams the true nature of art. Bowl haircut or Warhol wisp?