Change, and all it brings
Words by Paola Anselmi
At eleven I learned abruptly that change was inevitable and that the only way to survive it was to engage with it. A new country, a new language, a new school, a new life… change was the only constant. Until that moment change was infinitesimal, micromanaged by my inherited social and cultural constructs, circumscribed. Progressive change seems certainly easier to digest and maybe change in all its manifestations is a process that aims to constantly optimise itself and is thus essential to growth. Art and technology have always been central agents in the discourse of change, and they themselves need to be understood as its modifiers through paradigms of cultural transference, socio-economic history and memetics.
There is a sense that the world is in flux. Like the movement of tectonic plates, the world seems to be in the grip of a series of socio-political earthquakes. The explosion of mass-communication through social media in particular and other platforms constantly building upon the possibilities of the virtual information highway, have provided the potential to engage directly with change and with those directly involved as a consequence of it. It is possible to enjoy discourse with parts of the world previously inaccessible, indiscernible realities and forgotten histories and to hear new voices directly engaged with their own circumstances. While this phenomenon only allows us a glimpse of reality from our peripheral vision, we can instinctively feel more connected and choose to engage through the superficial act of a thumbs’ up ‘liking’ something, through to a more immersed and considered approach.
The viral nature of communication has to be one the most exciting changes of my generation, for all its potential good, indifference or harm. It has facilitated explorations of work and ideas that highlight the important shift towards new paradigms of enquiry and interpretation in an attempt to destabilise empirical historical truths.
Observations of change in relation to social and historical constructs have fuelled a steadily growing discourse in contemporary art. In a recent body of work called The Ancestors (2012) Thea Costantino’s imagery morphs into a series of unsettling characters exploring notions of colonial encumberance, where inherited meaning and values are at best misguided and at worst oppressive. What certainties can we draw from our own history and what have we drawn upon from the past to shape our present? Within the fast paced openwork web of communications, global information highways and social media networks, can we still talk in terms of absolutes? Can we still negotiate meaning from a grand master narrative?
Have we finally reached the end of history as we know it? A history moulded by post-colonial paradigms that have directed an often misplaced and limited understanding of the world as seen though the eyes of a few liberal democracies? While history may have been written by the victors, I do not believe we have entered a time yet where the vanquished have the opportunity to re-write history, but rather a time where we openly question if the victors actually ever won.
Olga Cironis’ personal history as a migrant informs her investigations of how cultures are defined, misinterpreted, subjugated and assimilated, where the lack of understanding of the idiosyncrasies of cultural conventions lead to a dilution of meaning and a simplistic parody of a society. In Take it All the words are one overarching response to an infinite number of situations. While at first reading there seems to be a sense of surrender in the work, ‘take it all’ can be both an act of submission or one of intimidation in equal measure. The winner generally takes it all, but to take it all is an impossible task. We may indeed ‘take it all’ but will we know what it is, and what to do with it?
Equally Eva Fernandez’ exhibition 182 Days currently showing at part of the TILT program at Heathcote Museum and Gallery, is a response to the individual and communal human stories at Heathcote Hospital. Narcosis (2012) is a clinical cold metal-framed bed covered in pure white feathers. The softness of the material conceals the potential threat of suffocation. A beautifully lyrical retracing of history coupled with the harsh consequences of judgement. These artworks engender an instant connection with the audience through direct engagement, sensation and perception by touch and the memory of experience. They stimulate a more intimate and multi-layered response than any traditional didactic panel could ever do.
In Islands of Incarcerations (2010), a work that developed out of the project of the same name for the 2010 Sydney Biennale, Kate McMillan shows two opposing visions of a landscape; a destructive perspective and a regenerative one, each one needing the other to survive. The motion of change is viewed as resilient in the face of transformation. McMillan’s work comments on the strength and steadfastness of Indigenous culture in the face of oppression and forced western intervention. They are the cloudy edges of a history now beginning to clear and reveal a complex emotional need to remember and the pain of doing so.
Such works have both a localised as well as a more universal relevance. This line of enquiry and exploration in Western Australian art is traceable as a major point of interest globally with a growing collection of opinions stating that history as we have known it is rapidly changing and our responses with it.
The shifting parameters of information exchange have also shifted what we make, how we make it, how we show it, who engages with it, how we discuss it and with whom, how long we stick with it...
...and most of all, has given many the freedom to morph, experiment, change significantly. Maybe this is because our relational environment is no longer as insular and within its scope and breadth there is more opportunity to engage, to draw diverse critical review and to debate. We are increasingly part of a global whole, like it or not, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide behind apathy to change.
Paola Anselmi is a Perth-based freelance curator, arts writer and public art consultant who contributes to Australian arts publications, magazines and has written numerous exhibition catalogue texts. Paola has held a range of curatorial and research roles, and undertaken numerous public and private collection development projects.
This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Summer 2012/13.