In the week following the exhibition opening at the MCA, there’s been a flurry of media attention for the show (at least on good ole Aunty). (And The Artist as Family’s Food Forest has generated its own flood of media.)
Why? Is it because “the environment is so hot right now”? Which makes me wonder: how long will it take for the media to get “climate change fatigue”…?
Here in the photo above, I’m chatting with Fenella Kernebone from ABC TV’s Art Nation. I think her short piece on In the Balance (also featuring Diego Bonetto, Lauren Berkowitz, Rachel Kent, Future Farmers and Janet Laurence) will be broadcast this coming Sunday.
[update – watch Fenella’s TV spot online here…]
I was also invited to participate in a radio interview with Amanda Smith, from Radio National’s Artworks programme, who spoke with me and curator Rachel Kent. (You can listen to it here).
One of the interesting things that Amanda asked Rachel, at the start of the interview, (roughly paraphrased) is this:
There have been a lot of documentary films and books coming out in recent years about climate change and environmental crisis. What can art offer that we couldn’t get from one of these other forms of communication?
Excellent question, Amanda! Of course, my good friend and enthusiastic blog commenter Ian Milliss would probably answer, rather derisively, that what makes art stand apart from these other media forms is, precisely, that it is useless. I’ll come back to this in a minute…
I think the beginnings of another answer might be that art can shape an experience with a particular subject in a different way – certainly not better or worse – but perhaps complementary to these other forms.
A book by Tim Flannery, for example, enables you to blow your mind while sitting on the bus heading to work; a documentary film can dynamically deliver visual and testimonial evidence towards a convincing argument which you might watch on your TV or at the cinema.
To walk through the MCA (not to mention all its peripheral sites) is to cobble together a three-dimensional experiential collage. The works in the show – by different artists, using widely varying approaches – will probably not cohere together into something as singularly convincing as a book or documentary film. But they paste themselves together in the scrapbook of your own concrete experience: and each visitor’s scrapbook is unique.
One fellow who popped in to my audit room last week told me that he always likes to spend time in the gallery, as it provides space for thinking outside the usual banal utilitarian flow of everyday life. This was quite interesting for me to hear. It’s not always the case that we need direct and clear transmission of messages. Sometimes we also need a space to dwell (physically and mentally) on ambiguity and doubt, where the answers are not all delivered on a platter.
Which brings us back to Ian’s complaint: that art is precisely that which is useless. But is this the same thing?