The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to my planned travels to both Lorne and the Great Otway National Park with the Friends of Photography Group in April, and to Melbourne’s CBD to continue working on the drossscape project with Stuart Murdoch in June. I found it astounding that a neo-liberal government committed to austerity and financial orthodoxy locked down whole sections of economic activity knowing that this turn to public health restrictions meant jumping over the cliff edge of the sharpest recession in modern history.
Melbourne has become a no go destination due to the city becoming a hotspot with an outbreak of community transmission in a number of suburbs; those areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship. A crucial source for the community transmission of Covid-19 was the security guard fiasco at the Melbourne quarantine hotels for those Australians returning from being overseas. The public health response to the failures in hotel quarantine infection control protocols was to reimpose restrictions on family and outdoor gatherings; a widespread testing blitz in the hotspot suburbs assisted by Australian defence force personnel; then a stage three lockdown of Melbourne itself.
I was absent from the book launch and the exhibition opening of Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. It took place just after Australia had put in place the Covid-19 restrictions for social distancing and social gatherings. I was in New Zealand at the time trying to return to Australia before New Zealand closed its borders. After I returned to Adelaide I went into the 14 day mandatory quarantine. After the quarantine finished we entered a world of lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections to prevent overloading the health system. The lockdown tempo was set by NSW and Victoria, the two worst affected states.
I have yet to see the exhibition and the books are largely unsold.
The background to the Adelaide Art Photographer’s project is here.
Due to the Covid -19 restrictions the opening was sparsely attended, the book launch was minimal, and the exhibition was opened only for a few hours. Then everything was closed down. However, the exhibition does have some online presence. There are the exhibition images, a walk through of the exhibition images by Paul Atkins and Adam Dutkiewicz and the exhibition opening address by Paul Atkins. Meanwhile the pandemic rages on, many lives are on pause, while many others end.
In this post on the Mallee Routes blog I mentioned the lack of critical writing about local exhibitions in Adelaide and the crisis of independent writing about art in general. An associated problem emerges from the art gallery existing in a digital economy due to the gallery usually having a minimal online presence; a minimal presence that is especially noticeable with respect to their exhibitions. The current Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery is a case in point.
The standard convention is that there is just the odd image from an exhibition online which is primarily used to market the exhibition to the public. This means that an online viewer, in say another state, is unable to gain a sense of, or assess, the exhibition. Secondly, there is little to no engagement, dialogue or conversation with the gallery’s online audience about their exhibitions. This, in turn, means that an exhibition has a limited reach and presence. It’s here today, seen by few, and forgotten tomorrow, unless it is reviewed or there is an exhibition catalogue. The latter only happens to the mega exhibitions of superstars or global artists working in the biennial culture.
The art gallery’s low digital presence provides an entry point into a problematic about how the nature of photography is changing and the significance of these changes. We can begin to explore this through looking at the functioning of the art gallery in a digital economy. Firstly, the gallery continues its role of curating and collecting photography; a role that is designed to sort the image s to incorporate into the canon through the separation of photography as art and not-art. However, in continuing to champion photography as an art form, the curators downplay photography’s role as a reproductive technology in order to emphasise the creative legitimacy of the photographer who pressed the shutter.
Secondly, art galleries continue to rely on foot traffic to view the staging of a contemporary photograph exhibition in the white cube, grounded in aesthetic modernism. It does appear that the curators in the art galleries currently see digital technologies as either a new tool for artists to express themselves, or as a channel for communications and marketing through which new audiences can be targeted and captured. This approach to digital technology excludes is photography’s diffusion into general computing in a digital economy.
In contrast to previous years I have a minimal presence in the carnivalesque 2019 SALA ( South Australian Living Artists) Festival. This festival can be interpreted as a reworking of Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque as popular festivities and rituals as a form of celebration that has been successfully transposed into the visual arts in South Australia.
I am part of a salon style hang of a multiple medium exhibition at Fabrik in the Adelaide Hills that is entitled Swatch. The curatorial concept behind Swatch is that artists exhibit “a small sample [up to 3 9×9 inches images] that demonstrates the look of a larger piece– artists are asked to consider how they would represent their practice (their style, technique or subject matter) on a small scale.” I understand that as there are approximately 40 artists involved in Swatch, and probably around 120 very diverse works being exhibited, this style of exhibition can be interpreted as a curatorial response to Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque.
The idea of Swatch explicitly references the history of the Fabrik building. The building was once the old Onkaparinga woollen mill at Lobethal, whilst swatch refers to a small textile sample that is usually taken from existing fabric, and is designed to represent a large whole. The textile manufacturer would bring together many swatches of their materials into a single sample book, thereby enabling a salesperson to show a wide selection of available designs in various colours to potential customers without the necessity of having multiple rolls of fabric immediately to hand. So the Swatch exhibition of small works is equivalent to a sample book of many swatches of different materials.
I am exhibiting a series of 3 9×9 inch framed prints that were made on my coastal poodlewalks along the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, and which are a part of the Fleurieuscapes project. The series in Swatch is entitled The Light the Morning Brings’, and it is based on this post on the poodlewalks blog. These images are along the lines of immediate bodily relationship to the light on objects and processes using the lower or popular media of photography, and showing them in the context of the higher and more authoritative media of the visual arts.
One of these prints being exhibited is an image is of a rocky outcrop from a photo session at Kings Head, and it is similar in style to the granite and quartz outcrop picture above.
As mentioned here and here I had an opportunity to do some aerial photography in late November along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula thanks to Chris Dearden and his recreational Sonex motor-glider (a Xenos). We flew from the privately owned Goolwa airport to the mouth of the River Murray, then turned west and flew to Newland Cliffs in Waitpinga, then flew back to Goolwa. This was the first time that I’d done any aerial photography outside of a few snaps on various commercial flights.
I was stunned by the beauty of this part of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula coastline from the air. It sure looked very impressive.
Mouth of the River Murray
I just could not resist making a photo of the mouth of the Murray River with the two dredges working full time to keep the mouth of the river open. Water should be flowing through the mouth and into the Coorong, given the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the water buybacks to increase the environmental flows of the river and the dredges not needed.
What we have learned recently is that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is incompetent and that the NSW state government and bureaucracy have been complicit in water theft and meter tampering. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority knew about the theft of water for environmental flows by some irrigators for cotton growing in northern NSW and it did nothing. Same for the Queensland government. There is a long history of state governments in the Murray-Darling Basin turning a blind eye to excessive water extraction by irrigators. Continue Reading…