Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Socialist Colony

Here is an exhibition I am participating in in Texas next year:

Whereas an investigation has shown that during the Republic of Texas Archive War, one box of records was lost when the archives were violently seized by an armed militia-- in all the boxes that remained, there was no record of who owned the land that the building at 3400 Montrose Boulevard stands on; it was originally deeded to Benjamin Lovell and John Purnell for the purpose of starting a Socialist colony, before the land was sold. With the official record for the transfer lost, the new owners had no choice but to reclaim their property through adverse possession; however legally the terms of the original deed take precedent.

Now, the Skydive Office of Cultural Affairs offers the possibilities afforded by this clerical mishap to the public and to assist interested parties in developing proposals to bring the original intention of this land to fruition and to convert this building into a socialist colony.

to visit the project's blog go here. http://skydiveofficeofculturalaffairs.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 16, 2009


Treat (or Trick) is in a new show called Reciproidad organised by Loreto Garin Guzmán and Federico Zukerfeld. at the Centro Cultural de España en Buenos Aires. For more information go to: Aireshttp://reciprocidadproyecto.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Film Sceening, Amsterdam

What Would It Mean To Win? is being screened at Outpost a new squatted artist run space in Amsterdam. Below is their post and weblink:

Outpost is a newly squatted artist run exhibition space in Slootervaart, a suburb of Amsterdam, which was squatted on october 11th 2009 with help from the kind people of kraak spreekuur west. It is situated on August Allebeplein in what used to be a thai restaurant on Jan Tooropstraat 35, which was standing empty since may 1st 2005. It is currently owned by Field Willow Real Estate Investments BV, which is a london based company, and if the city council of Slotervaart will approve of the plans to rebuild August Allebeplein it will be demoslished within a couple of years, probably in the end of 2011, but maybe later in 2012. We expect to stay until the end, but as we speak the Dutch government is busy with a new law banning squatting, in which case it is unclear what will happen. In the mean time we will try out best to share the space with you by organizing art exhibitions, film nights, dinners etc. Hope to see you around!

For more information click here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Of bestial acts and rabbits in hats


Every performer, implies Zanny Begg’s 2008 video installation Treat (or Trick), relies to some extent on the complicity of their audience for the success of a given act, be it the distribution of the wealth or just pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It is an implicitly Brechtian conceit, an element underlined in the work’s inclusion in the forthcoming Istanbul Biennial, What Keeps Mankind Alive, themed, as it is, after the final song in the second act of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. In a curatorial framework circulated in advance of the Biennial, What, How & for Whom (WHW), the four-woman, Zagreb-based curatorial collective behind the event, asserted that “bringing back Brecht is an attempt to think about the role of artistic endeavour in the conditions of contemporary capitalism, to re-evaluate our everyday practices, our value systems and modes of operation’; Brecht, they argued “invites us to rethink our position again and again”.1 This is very much the logic that seems to underpin Begg’s work, certainly Treat (or Trick) but also, and irreducibly, her entire practice as it sits within a general movement toward the visibility of the political in contemporary art.

Interestingly, in terms of its construction of a relationship between a work and an individuated viewer—or, to use logic of the work itself, a performer and their audience —Treat (or Trick) is as close to the conventional staging of aesthetic experience as Begg’s work has come in recent years. The work invites the viewer into a black circus sideshow tent to see a video shot and projected in the same tent, a three part treatise-cum-magic show in which the ‘invisible hand’ of the market plays the magician whose rabbit assumes the mystical form of the commodity, at once the objectification of labour relations and the object of consumer desires. The viewer assumes the role of the audience, otherwise detectable only by a canned laughter and applause, an audience which, intertitles tell us, is all too aware that it is being duped by Mr Invisible Hands, but goes along willingly to the show, for the top-hat that produces the rabbit is where the audience’s seemingly bottomless desires find their home. In its ironically seductive presentation of the performer-audience dynamic, Treat (or Trick) proposes an awareness of similar relationships within the field of art, and begs the question of how they might relate to the social relations objectified in the commodity.

If we are to take the work’s references to Marx as more than a repudiation of free market theories of economic management—which, truth be told, even Kevin Rudd is offering these days—and understand it as illustrating a critique of a social alienation whose origin lies in the division of labour, then this is a critique that operates from and is embodied within Begg’s practice as a whole. Works like Treat (or Trick), in which Begg is credited as the sole artist, are complemented by a cluster of collaborative projects. Notable among these are her work with Viennese artist and filmmaker Oliver Ressler, with whom she produced the film What Would It Mean to Win? as well as an accompanying installation at the 2008 Taipei Biennale and Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Copenhagen, and with Keg de Souza with whom she organises the activities of Sydney artist collective You Are Here. Complicating this are the multidisciplinary practices these collaborations and Begg’s individual work involve, embracing critical, curatorial and pedagogical activities alongside art production, as well as the often simultaneous character of these projects and their varying timeframes—2016: Archive Project, one of the chief undertakings of You Are Here, is an evolving, decade-long commitment to explore and record the rapid changes underway in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern.

These projects have manifested themselves at quite staggering levels of scope and ambition. The You Are Here-curated project There Goes The Neighbourhood, for instance, successfully positioned debates around the transformations in Redfern within the context of global artistic investigations of gentrification and urban planning. In addition to a major publication and exhibition at Performance Space, There Goes The Neighbourhood took in artist residencies, public programs and a restaging of Alan Kaprow’s participatory installation Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hoffman, coordinated by Nick Keys, Astrid Lorange and Lucas Ihlein at Waterloo artist-run initiative Locksmith. The work of local artists dealing with highly sensitive issues of immediate relevance to the Redfern-Waterloo community, as well as an information centre on grassroots activism within the community itself, were complemented by contributions by such high profile international artist-activists as Michael Rakowitz, Rene Gabri and Ayreen Anastas of New York’s 16 Beaver group, Miklos Erhardt and Little Warsaw, Brazil’s Bijari, Spain’s Democracia, Chicago’s Temporary Services and Jakob Jakobsen of the self-dissolved Copenhagen Free University, with Temporary Services and Jakobsen visiting Sydney for the installation and accompanying events. It was a mammoth undertaking, but its vibrancy, impact and critical acuity were such that it was arguably one of the most important artist-driven projects ever to take place in Sydney.

Whether working individually or collaboratively, Begg is careful to consider the role of the audience. Though highly political in its subject, her work marks a shift away from the dry earnestness often associated with certain activist art practices, and she has developed a characteristic humour and humility most clearly expressed in the elegant, affecting, hand-drawn animations that accompany the live footage in Treat (or Trick), What Would It Mean To Win? and her 2008 film Don’t Say Goodbye: An Exploration of Spatial Politics in Hong Kong. Moreover, Begg’s work operates at a range of social registers, from sophisticated analysis of the strategies and motivations of social movements, to projects geared toward audiences located well beyond the traditional activist and artistic communities. In 2008, for example, Begg and de Souza created a psychogeographical representation of Kali Code, a previously unmapped long-term squatter settlement in Yogyakarta, in collaboration with community members, including local children whose drawings of the area, generated in workshops run by the artists, were added to a giant map. For There Goes The Neighbourhood the pair hosted similar workshops at Redfern Community Centre to produce animated counter-narratives addressing daily life in the area, while in collaboration with software developer Andy Nicholson, they devised Pemulway Dream Team, a distribution-ready computer game pitching boxers, played by members of the Tony Mundine gym, against greedy developers and general injustice.

Begg’s expanded conception of artistic practice integrates the socially engaged function of self-organised activity, the strategic constitution of new publics, with the socially concerned content of her more properly artistic works, which offer a symbolic imagining of the political sophistication—potential and actual—of these new publics. Through this dual politicisation, Begg and her complex network of Australian and international collaborators, a continuation of the activist networks developed by the 1990s social movements who first realised the communicative power of the internet, participate in a significant revitalisation of the social function of aesthetic production that works with and against existing institutional structures to stake a claim for symbolic and political autonomy.

In conversation with Justin Clemens toward the end of 2007, Anthony Gardner noted the clarity of recent shifts in institutional and commercial legitimations of the political in art. Where the most visible art of the 1990s often concerned itself with fashion, advertising and film—‘different uses of the image’—Gardner observed that the past few years have seen a turn toward more explicitly political work, at least at the level of those more readily available art barometers, international biennales and widely distributed magazines like Frieze and Artforum.2 Although never entirely absent from contemporary art discourse, politics has arguably moved away from the margins, to which it was relegated in the embodied subjects of 1990s ethnographic art, and toward the very centre, where it has become a regular justification for a range of curatorial and critical conceits.

Apart from important questions about the capacity of the market to appropriate practices oppositional to it, a capacity that is especially pronounced with regard to art, this new legitimacy for the political in art derives in part from concurrent expansions of both fields activity, that is to say, a general broadening of the practices deemed acceptable in both art and politics. While ‘the political turn’, as this shift in art world preoccupations has somewhat problematically been described, has channelled aspects of the artist as ethnographer model into a liberal democratic conception of globalisation where ‘trauma’ and ‘difference’ become roughly synonymous with ‘world’, there has also been a shift toward accepting as art practices that are political in form as well as content. In a general sense, this means that as art has become more socially engaged, its modes of production, distribution and presentation have themselves become more socialised. What is produced by these practices is not simply a series of works concerned with issues of relevance to the public sphere, but also an assertion of artistic agency within the total complex of human relations.

The rise of the curator, whether interpreted as an opportunity for critical agency or simply ‘middle management jostling for a place in perpetuity’, has arguably overshadowed similarly marked shifts in what is broadly legitimated as artistic practice. Just as the role of the curator, at least in its ideal form, has absorbed both the reflexivity of the artist and the authority of the critic, the division of labour traditionally excluding discursive and organisational activities from the purview of the artist has undergone significant erosion in recent years. This is, of course, an erosion that has occurred largely on institutional and commercial terms—Marcelo Expósito has pointed out that challenging the division of artistic labour is itself a tradition within historical avant-garde practices, and a necessity in others, specifically marginal or emergent fields like video art before the mid-1990s, and one might add to this practices operating in contexts with limited cultural infrastructures, particularly the work of artists in the global South.3 And while this erosion reflects the shift toward flexible and communicative labour of post-Fordist societies, certain symbolic hegemonies are maintained in the name of economic and political interests—thus the presentation of the curator rather than the artist as the subject of substantial functional transformation.

As much Begg’s practice constitutes an embodied critique of the conventional division of artistic labour, it is at the same time a tactical exploitation of her role as an artist within persistent cultural hegemonies. The figure of the artist, with its perceived position of subordination within these hegemonic structures, will always retain a greater potential to resist professional codification than that of the curator. The sheer breadth and ambition of Begg’s practice is an attestation that the activities which an artist might undertake alongside and as an extension of conventional artistic production, that is to say, as an actor within a given system of relations, are boundless, providing a mobility that, if exploited carefully, can produce real effects in the world. Her work is motivated by the same contingencies that led Simon Sheikh, several years ago, to ask the question, “What can we do for ourselves?”, playing out the “ongoing negotiation, translation and articulation between interested agents and groups” and fulfilling the necessity he perceived “to establish networks, to compare and mediate practices as well as theories”. “Art matters, certainly”, he concluded, “but art is not enough.”4 What matters more, Begg seems to suggest, is the socialisation of the artist. In highlighting the dynamic of the performer and the audience, the implication of Treat (or Trick) is that the audience divests itself of the performer’s tricks, or better, that it becomes the performer itself, not to deceive, entertain or conceal the ‘bestial acts’ that Brecht concluded keep mankind alive, but as a performer whose audience is only made up of other social actors. In answer to the age-old question of the relationship between politics and art, it introduces the figure of the artist as a political being. Art becomes political when the artist asserts their agency in the world. It becomes politically effective when it encourages its audience to assert its own agency.

From Broadsheet, Vol 8, no 3

1 What, How & for Whom, ‘What keeps mankind alive?’, unpaginated press release circulated by the Istanbul Biennial, 29 June 2009
2 Anthony Gardner, from ‘Anthony Gardner and Justin Clemens in conversation, Speech Interviews, http://tiny.cc/2YxfW, 30 November 2007
3 Marcel Esposito, ‘Inside and Outside the Art Institution: Self-valorisation and Montage in Contemporary Art’, Transform, October 2006, http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/0407/exposito/en
4 Simon Sheikh, ‘Representation, Contestation and Power: the Artist as Public Intellectual’, Transversal, October 2004, http://eipcp.net/transversal/1204/sheikh/en/print

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

There Goes The Neighbourhood press coverage


The title thus frames this Performance Space exhibition squarely within the politics of contested space and the central role of race (and youth) in this contestation; it also widens the frame of reference beyond the here and now of Sydney, Australia, to shared histories and their legacy for contemporary urban living globally. This breadth of scope marked every aspect of the exhibition, from the range of artists and media, to the scale, both spatial and temporal, of many of the works. Participants hailed from across the globe, including Brazil, Spain, Denmark, US, Australia and Hungary; the range and scale of works was expansive: photographs, video, painting, installation, mapping, networked activities and performances, many either filling the gallery in innovative ways or overflowing it altogether through their presence in publication, on the web, or as external events extending over time. This scope was thoughtfully designed to reiterate the themes: spatial justice and the place of the artist in articulating and complicating these debates and strategies."

So reads the beginning of Jacqueline Millner's review of There Goes The Neighbourhood for Real Time. To read the rest of the article go here.

There were heaps of the other news articles. Keg has collected them all on her website so to save me loading them up go check it out here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Melbourne launch: There Goes The Neighbourhood!

Guest Speaker: Gary Foley

Book Launch, Brunswick Bound, Saturday July 4, 2pm
361 Sydney Rd, Brunswick

Worried about the gentrification? Rising rents? Apartment blocks popping up on every corner and yuppies taking over your local neighbourhood? Well you’re not alone… There Goes The Neighbourhood: Redfern and the Politics of Urban Space is a book produced in conjunction with an exhibition in Sydney which explores these issues. From Collingwood to Redfern to New York to Copenhagen people the world over are negotiating life in the city – squatting, living space, evictions, rents and so on. Come along to a launch of the book and a discussion about spatial politics in the city.

There Goes the Neighborhood begins with a close study of Redfern before expanding into international examples to provide a detailed exploration of how the phenomenon of gentrification is altering the relationship between democracy and demography around the world. This book has been published in tandem with an exhibition of the same name and many of the contributions come from participating artists in the exhibition: Brenda L. Croft (Australia), 16beaver (USA), Daniel Boyd (Australia), Temporary Services (USA), Jakob Jakobsen (Denmark), Lisa Kelly (Australia), SquatSpace (Australia), Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (Germany/Australia), Evil Brothers (Australia), You Are Here (Australia), Michael Rakowitz (USA), Miklos Erhardt and Little Warsaw (Hungary), Bijari (Brazil) and Democracia (Spain). The book also includes contributions from key thinkers about the complex life of cities such as the Situationists, Mike Davis, Brian Holmes, Gary Foley and Elizabeth Farrelly.

There Goes The Neighbourhood is edited by Keg de Souza and Zanny Begg from You Are Here, a Sydney based art collective which focuses on social and spatial mapping.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pemulwuy Dream Team

Above is a fragment from Pemulwuy Dream Team an inter-active boxing game developed by Andy Nicholson, Keg de Souza and myself for the exhibition There Goes The Neighbourhood. The game highlights four people from around The Block, Redfern - Danny, Wasana and Naryma Dixon and Ted - and uses the symbolic form of a boxing game to address the fight for issues they feel are important to the area. The film was filmed in the Tony Mundine gym and can be played by one or two players. It will be on exhibition at Performance Space for the next five weeks - go down and check it out.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gerald Raunig at Serial Space

"AND is neither one thing nor the other, it's always in-between, between two things; it's the borderline, there's always a border, a line of flight or flow, only we don't see it, because it's the least perceptible of things. And yet it's along this line of flight that things come to pass, becomings evolve, revolutions take shape" - Gilles Deleuze

Gerald Raunig, a philosopher, art theoretician and activist from Vienna is coming to Sydney for a conference at Artspace. He wants to engage in a more in depth and informal meeting with artists and activists from Sydney and is holding a free workshop, presented by You Are Here, to discuss his ideas on Friday April 10th at Serial Space. Gerald is the author of the book "Art and Revolution - Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century" and will be giving two presentations from this book followed by discussions/debate/questions. Gerald has played an important role in maintaining several bilingual websites which have discussed important issues for artists and activists including republicart (http://republicart.net/) and transform (http://www.transform.eipcp.net/) and has been one of the key theorists of the cultural significance of the counter-globalisation movement.

The workshop runs from 1-6pm Friday April 10, for a full workshop program go here.