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Cancelling Art, Dark Mofo and the Offended Classes – International Policy Digest

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Last week, Australians found themselves delighting in another fit of cancel culture, this time in the art world. Tasmania’s Dark Mofo art festival prides itself on being gritty but the mood was very much about removing any grit to begin with. Interest centred on the project of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, who had proposed soaking a Union Jack flag “in the blood of its colonised territories.” The blood would come by way of donations. First Nation peoples “from countries claimed by the British Empire at some point in history, who reside in Australia” would furnish the liquid.

Given what followed, festival organisers might have preferred one of Sierra’s other suggestions: a work that would have involved vast amounts of cocaine. Social media outrage followed. People purporting to speak for the offended, while also counting themselves as offended, railed and expectorated. Festival curator Leigh Carmichael tried to be brave against the howling winds of disapproval. “At this stage we will push on,” he told ABC Radio Hobart on March 23. “Provided we can logistically make this work happen, we will.” He acknowledged that, “These were very dangerous topics, they’re hard, they hurt.” For criticisms that the work was being made by a Spanish artist, Carmichael was initially clear: to make work taboo for people from specific localities could constitute “a form of racism in itself.” Then inevitable equivocation followed. “This artist is about their experience and whether a Spanish artist has the right to weigh in, I don’t know.”

Within a matter of hours, Carmichael’s position had collapsed: Sierra’s project was cut and put out to sea. “We’ve heard the community’s response to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag.” Grovelling and capitulation before this all powerful community followed. “We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be cancelled. We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.”

David Walsh, Tasmanian founder of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and responsible for running the festival, was open to self-education and reflection, having not seen “the deeper consequences of this proposition.” He had thought the work “would appeal to the usual leftie demographic. I approved it without much thought (as has become obvious).” A bit of old-fashioned, censoring conservatism was called for.

Brian Ritchie, bassist for the Violent Femmes and artistic director of Mona Foma, the museum’s summer festival, felt righteous, firstly, wanting to distance his own outfit as “a completely different and separate organisation” before weighing into rubbishing the cultural sensitivity credentials of the work and the artist. “Exploiting people while claiming to protest on their behalf is intellectually void. Stupid programming is aesthetically null. Controversy outweighing the quality of the work is bad art.”

The cancellation was approved by the bloated entities across the academy, certain ethnic groups and the professionally enraged. Critique ranged from the identity of the artist (Spanish, foreigner, coloniser) to the merits of the work itself. “A coloniser artist intending to produce art with the actual blood of colonised people is abusive, colonising and re-traumatising,” came the social worker assessment from novelist Claire G. Coleman. “The idea is disgusting and terrible and should not have been considered.”

If every traumatic, disgusting incident (rape, pillage, massacres, wars, the crucifixion) were to be considered a bad idea for representation, the canvasses best be left empty, the art shows barren. Never depict, for instance, that Tasmania’s lands are blood soaked by European conquest. Do not, as Australian artist Mike Parr did in June 2018, bury yourself beneath a busy street of the state capital Hobart to get to the hidden truth. That way lies trauma.

The art content commissars were also keeping close eye over how the depiction might have been properly staged, if it was even possible. Such a contribution can be found in the journal Overland. “Simply stating or depicting that the beginnings of the Australian colony were brutal and bloody for Indigenous people is a passive act,” moaned the very selective Cass Lynch. She demands, expects. “The concept on its own isn’t active as an agent of truth-telling, it doesn’t contain an indigenous vice or testimony, it has no nuance. On its own, it leans into the glorification of the gore and the violence of colonisation.” Blood, it would seem, is no indicator of truth.

In such convulsions of faux sensitivity to the First Nations, the arts sector (for this is what it has become in Australia, a corporatized, sanitised cobbling of blandness, branding and safe bets) justified not merely the pulling of the piece, but that it should have ever been contemplated to begin with. In the commentary on Sierra, the Indigenous peoples are spoken of in abstract and universal terms: they were hurt and all have one, monolithic voice; and “white curators” should have thought better in letting the project ever get off the ground. Thinking in cultural police terms, Paola Balla asked “how this was allowed to be programmed in the first place? And what structures support white curators to speak of Black traumas?” Such questions are bound to embolden art vandals across the world keen on emptying every museum for being inappropriately informed about “power structures.”

Ironically enough, in this swell of ranting about voices and representation, the artist in question was deprived of it. Sierra, in a statement released on March 25, called treatment of his work “superficial and spectacular” and his own treatment as a “public lynching.” His quotes had been misconstrued; he had been “left without a voice, without the capacity to explain and defend” his project. He had hoped the blood-soaked Union Jack would inspire reflection “on the material on which states and empires are built” and reveal how “all blood is equally red and has the same consistency, regardless of the race or culture of the person supplying it.”

Sierra’s shabby treatment did not go unnoticed. Parr took issue with the festival organisers’ “cowardice and lack of leadership.” Michael Mansell, Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania urged Carmichael to push on with the work. “The artist challenges Tasmanians about whether Aboriginal lands were peacefully or violently taken, and uses the blood-smattered Union Jack to express his view.” By all means disagree with the artist and even feel offended “but that cannot justify stifling the artist’s freedom of thought.” A sinister result had followed from the cancellation of the project. “The unintended consequence of the objectors is that the discussion about truth telling will now be ignored, put aside.”

There are parallels in this fiasco with previous instances of rage over what can and cannot be depicted in the shallow art lands of the Antipodes. The cultural police also took issue with Australian photographic artist Bill Henson in 2008 for his portrayals of children as sexual beings. On May 22 that year, twenty Henson photographs featuring “naked children aged 12 and 13” were confiscated by police from Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 gallery. Jason Smith of the Monash Gallery of Art defended Henson, claiming that his work “has consistently explored human conditions of youth, and examined a poignant moment between adolescence and adulthood.”

Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was having none of it. There were simply certain things you could not touch, that art should not enable you to understand. Henson had erred into vice. “Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected,” he spluttered. Rudd found the photographs “absolutely revolting” despite having not seen them. “Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff – frankly I don’t think there are any – just allow kids to be kids.” Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families at the time, moralised before the Nine Network about how children were “just getting bombarded with sexualised images all the time, and it’s that sexualisation of children that I think is wrong.” Now, just as then, artists have been put on notice.

If you’re interested in writing for International Policy Digest – please send us an email via submissions@intpolicydigest.org

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White House on defensive over Hunter Biden art sales – FRANCE 24

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Issued on: 24/07/2021 – 01:08

Washington (AFP)

The White House assured Friday that necessary ethical precautions would be taken around any exhibitions and sale of artwork by President Joe Biden’s son, whose personal life and professional career have been peppered with controversy.

Asked by reporters about upcoming exhibitions of Hunter Biden’s artwork in New York’s Georges Berges Gallery, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the president’s son would be “attending gallery events.”

The discussions about sales “will be happening with the gallerist” and not Hunter Biden, she said.

“That is different than meeting with prospective buyers.”

Psaki had announced July 9 that a system had been established allowing Hunter Biden to practice his profession “within appropriate safeguards,” including the confidentiality of any transactions and no contact with buyers.

At exhibits of Hunter’s work, “the selling of his art will all happen through the gallerist and the names and individuals will be kept confidential,” she said.

When pressed that a buyer could simply tell the artist that he or she is purchasing his work, Psaki stressed that a strict rules structure will be in place.

“He will not know, we will not know who purchases his art,” she said.

Contacted by AFP, the gallery did not immediately provide any comment or details.

The Biden administration, which seeks to present itself as ethically unblemished, has been repeatedly questioned about the artistic career of the 51-year-old lawyer and businessman-turned-painter.

US media point out the obvious risks of businessmen or others purchasing the artwork with the sole aim of winning access to or influence with the White House.

Press reports have said the paintings by Biden, who has had no formal training, could sell for up to half a million dollars.

Hunter Biden is one of former president Donald Trump’s favorite targets.

During the 2020 presidential campaign Trump and his supporters regularly criticized Hunter Biden for his economic interests in Ukraine and China when his father was vice president under Barack Obama.

Hunter is also the target of a federal investigation into possible tax crimes.

In a memoir published earlier this year, the president’s youngest son recounted his struggle with addiction to cocaine and alcohol.

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Art exhibits return to Callander’s Alex Dufresne gallery – BayToday.ca

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After a long hiatus, art shows are returning to the Alex Dufresne Gallery at the Callander Bay Heritage Museum this Saturday.

The works of Carole Davidson and Sara Carlin-Ball are highlighted in an exhibit entitled “Journeys to a Conversation with Nature.”

In a release promoting the show, Davidson and Carlin-Ball explain the “works display a felt presence of our natural environment in unexpected materials and surprising subjects.”

Their goal in selecting the pieces for the exhibit is to capture “the luscious spectacular that is Nature, Muse, Essence,” and emphasize how these “inspire the audience to revision their place – their gratitude and responsibility – on this Earth.”

See: Callander museum reopens from COVID with new art show

“It feels absolutely wonderful to have art back on the walls,” said Natasha Wiatr, the gallery’s curator.   

The last show was this past April but did not last long before Covid regulations closed the event. Since then, “the walls have been empty.”

“We haven’t consistently had shows in what feels like so long,” she said, and is pleased to launch what will hopefully be a long stretch of exhibits.

Currently, the gallery is booked until 2023, “and we’ve added two more shows per year,” Wiatr explained.

“We see ourselves as a community-based gallery,” she said, and as such, strive to present as many local artists as possible.

See: White Water Gallery has a new executive director

The Museum and Art Gallery are open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 – 5:00 p.m.

The gallery can hold 14 people at once, and walk-ins are welcome. Appointments can also be booked ahead of time at www.mycallander.ca/gallery.

Staff remind to you please wear a mask when you visit and maintain social distance.

Admission to the museum is $5 for seniors and students, $4.50 for kids 6-12, free for children under 6 and adults pay $5.50. Family rate for 4 is $15. Entrance to the gallery is by donation.

See: Mattawa museum celebrates reopening with Community exhibit

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Callander museum reopens with art show – The North Bay Nugget

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The art show Journeys to a Conversation with Nature will reopen the Callander Museum and Alex Dufresne Gallery Saturday.

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The works of Carole Davidson and Sarah Carlin-Ball will remain on display to Aug. 20.

“There is an essential longing for life that erupts in a luscious spectacular that we call Nature,” the artists said in a statement.

“The human animal is a part of this longing for life that some might call a Muse – a Muse for artists of every passion and discipline. Artists are at the mercy of their muse and transcribe whatever is whispered to them about life, people, and the compelling natural environment they belong to.

“One may be a studied artist haphazardly trained while another may be an experimental soul, interpreting the ever-changing environment around her.”

Influenced by the gifts of their lives and the natural offerings around them, each artist interprets what touches her soul. Each piece of art tells a portion of her journey, calling to the viewer to look more closely at what life has to teach us.

Carlin-Ball’s muse slumbered as she was raising her children and working. As soon as she could make time, there was an explosion of experimentation driven by her mantra ‘What would happen if…?’

Mistakes happily romped with successes. Now, her careful, unique presentations interpret life and nature, and challenge one’s imagination.

As she learned of the melting of the muskeg and the possibility that Canada will soon lose that habitat and vibrant spring bloom, Carlin-Bell felt the compulsion to replicate that vital image with unexpected media: patinated and fired copper was punched and threaded through with fibre knotted to create the blooms and surface stems.

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Eventually, the vibrant muskeg spring emerged.

One of Carole Davidson’s pieces of art which will be on display at the Callander Museum and Alex Dufresne Gallery until Aug. 20Submitted Photo
One of Carole Davidson’s pieces of art which will be on display at the Callander Museum and Alex Dufresne Gallery until Aug. 20Submitted Photo

For Davidson, nature was a refuge she quietly celebrated with natural and cultivated talent for art and writing. A busy and brief career in graphic design took over until disabling MS symptoms forced (or allowed) her to slow down.

She began a meditation practice to cope with symptoms and immediately began painting again.

Her creative work parallels her spiritual path and the subjects of her study get smaller and smaller as she has the opportunity to stop and notice. She finds joy in a yellow spider on a sunflower or a nest full of baby robins.

Together, their works display a felt presence of our natural environment in unexpected materials and surprising subjects.

The Museum and Art Gallery are open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be booked ahead of time at www.mycallander.ca/gallery and the museum and gallery also welcome same-day walk-ins.

Those visiting are asked to wear a mask and social distance.

The museum and art gallery are located at 107 Lansdowne St. E., Callander.

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