POST APRIL MFA SEMINAR: LOCAL/GLOBAL
Sometimes ‘Art’ speaks to just a few people. Given the technology we have, and our ability to be very selective about what we view, it is to be expected. Although Art maybe GLOBAL, our audience is actually very SELECTIVE.
The issue of diverging audiences is confronting other media, especially television. Audiences are leaving free-to-air public television networks in droves, as they turn their attention to the niche, the selected, the preferred – they seek out only what interests them. I’ve made television for the ubiquitous ‘common man’ for years. Conversations, usually with producers, in the editing room tended to go along the lines of: “Will the man on the street understand that?” or “You have to unpack that statement Gaylene, because Joe Bloggs won’t know what you’re talking about” and “Remember you have to assume that the viewer knows nothing.” Television is a generalist medium most of the time, therefore it is made for the ‘lowest common denominator,’ therefore there is alot that always remains unsaid. All of the wonderful mysteries and vagueness, the random and the weird – the stuff of artists – all that is usually left in the ether of Final Cut Pro. I won’t miss Joe Bloggs, but I hope he has found a nice home somewhere!
The short film I made last year ‘The Mobile Meat Processing Unit’ has had an interesting global audience so far. It’s a complex animated film with many themes, some overstated and some understated – it seems to be finding a variety of niche audiences. In Australia they thought it was about Bad Parenting; in the Yukon they scheduled it late at night with other Horror films; in South Korea it is scheduled to play in a Green Film festival about Climate Change; in Rome it will screen because of its aesthetic values of the Mash Up Remix animation. When I made the film – all these ideas were there, mixed up. So I’m happy when a curator and an audience takes out of my film just what has meaning to them.
I’m interested in the audience of Art, at the moment I’m thinking particularly about the audience of the contemporary sacred icon. Some people find a huge amount of meaning in them. Some people don’t. They are something of a mystery. “Some see them as insignificant, flat, dark, primitive pieces of religious art and wonder at their popularity, while others regard them as a door into the divine realm and a means by which they can enter more deeply into their own interior life.” (McCormick; Episcopal News Service) I am fascinated by the individual responses to icons. When a man weeps in front of one of my paintings – there is something powerful there. And more so, because there is no intention to manipulate emotions.
The contemporary byzantium (oxymoron – I know!) sacred icon is an artform appreciated by a shared interest group, mostly religious, but interestingly enough – not all those who seek them out are of a specific Christian denomination. They are called ‘windows to heaven’ and there are now alot of artists painting them: Aidan Hart, Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova, Father Patrick, Ian Knowles, David Clayton, Maria Sigalas-Spanopoulos and Nikolas Spanopoulos, Adrian Iurco, to name a few. Even anonymous artists in studios – where the work is not signed by an individual: St John of the Baptist and Sancti Angeli Benedictine Skete Icon Studio.
Artist Judy Millar supplied us with a metaphor of the paper clip and the dollar note. One is always useful (paper clip), while the dollar note is only useful because it has an agreed value. That agreed value is defined by local groups of individuals, not a universal collective. A NZ $100 bill is useless in Spain. Agreed value is locally constructed, and outside of that – the value of it requires ‘education.’ I could explain to the Spanish waiter that he could take my $NZ100 to the bank and receive so many euro’s … etc. So is education necessary if one exhibits an artform that belongs to a shared interest group? When I visited the NSW art gallery recently I became enthralled by the Aboriginal dreamtime paintings both contemporary and older. Aboriginal artists explicitly state that this art, this ‘dreaming’ is for them – it’s not for me to understand at all:
When Anangu people paint, they are putting down old stories from their country. The Tjukurpa (Dreaming/Law) that Anangu tell on the canvas is their real story. But part of that story they do not tell. That is the story hidden deep inside the canvas. They don’t reveal it because it is sacred Tjukurpa. They keep it for their own people. These sacred stories come from ancestors, when people travelled from rock-hole to rock-hole, sacred site to sacred site. There are secrets that people can’t talk about in their canvas because big Tjukurpa is really deeply inside Anangu, it is Anangu.” (Frank Young, Amata Community)
I can look at them, and appreciate them, but never understand them the way the Amata Community do. I feel slightly disappointed that I am not privy to their deep secrets … but nevertheless, I can imagine the secrets, and feel that perhaps I catch a glimpse of it? It still satisfies a need to go beyond.
It is interesting how Art sometimes works to define GROUPS, and to keep others OUT. But then again, hasn’t Modern Art been doing that for years? There is a certain degree of ‘education’ and language that is required; modes of engagement that we are currently being taught which enables us to enter into the ‘secrets’ of (parts) of the Art World. Artists, art students, art critics – we all know what’s going on. But Joe Bloggs – who is still watching some public television with his one good eye (or fantasy films) – he is OUT.
I spoke to an icon painter recently and and heard those words again “I paint for the Common Man.” Mmmn. Has Joe Bloggs left the couch and is now turning his other eye to a pre-Art form? I wonder about the current revival of such old-fashioned, pre-renaissance painting – as modern artists around the world forgo an engagement with the Art World in order to paint mere ‘copies’ – often anonymously within studios. I wonder if it could actually be a veiled conversation with Modern Art – a response to the tangled loop of self-reflection in post-modernism, or to the celebrity ego-artist of modernism, or to the ‘activist’ overtake of art perhaps? It’s probably most likely to be simply because of a long neglected spiritual need that is currently not being met by modern media. Nevertheless, Joe and his buddies still visit galleries – they are looking for something.
McCormick, Kathryn, 2000. “Episcopal Life” magazine. Retrieved from http://www.carringtonsacredart.com/press.html
Young, Frank. 2011. Exhibition Statement “Nganampa Kampatjanka Uungutja – Behind Our Canvas” Tjala Arts, Amata Community. Retreived from http://aboriginalartandculture.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/tjukurpa-anangu/