Cementa/Kandos Projects artist talks headline the year

There’s nothing like spending time in the company of other artists to germinate latent creativity or motivation – as it was yesterday when I spent four hours in the company of artists at the first Cementa/Kandos Projects public event for 2014.

Unable to spend all afternoon at Kandos Projects, I loitered long enough to engage in conversation with Kandos Projects artists-in-residence and to hear two of the three scheduled artist talks (Adrian Clement, Beata Geyer and Marg Roberts).

I made a few random notes and took several photos (wearing my arts marketing hat). Looking back over my notes made during some of the Q&A sessions, which included some debate about artistic intention and colour theory and whether or not a work is intentionally anti-colour, I started to question my feelings about this contemporary art conversation. The event was open to the public and yet the level at which the presentations and discussion were pitched was exclusive to anyone not part of the ‘inner circle’. My partner was with me and while he has spent a large part of his life with artists and has been an observer to many hotly pitched discussions about art, his eyes were glazing over. I certainly didn’t feel like I was part of the conversation – I’m not living and breathing this stuff.

My thoughts about the content of yesterday’s talks have made me question how I present myself as an artist and how I pitch my work. For me, there’s no sense in the abstract. Here we were, playing out first world problems at a time when my reality includes families producing food for the nation struggling to feed themselves and having to shoot their livestock because they’ve run out of water. Or, smart, innovative farmers losing millions of dollars on a failed grain crop, now with their backs against the wall because it just won’t rain. Or coal seam gas companies and governments believing it’s okay to destroy valuable native habitat and water sources because our economy supposedly demands it – seeing farmers and green groups come together in protest for the first time in my living memory.

How does an artist respond to this? Any notion of being abstract about it is bullshit. Artists have a role within this world – making sense of the issues, documenting them, responding to the emotion, and as problem solvers. Creating new problems that have no perceivable value in being solved just doesn’t make sense to me.

While I was at Kandos Projects I put up my hand to do an artist talk as part of their program for the year. I’m a long way from resolving the work I have in mind for Cementa_15, but my thoughts about my intentions for it are certainly clearer after mulling over yesterday’s artist talks. While I do start with concept statements and a framework of ‘rules’ that direct my research, maquettes and finished works, when I put my work in the public realm I do expect people to engage with it at a sensory and/or emotional level – otherwise, I’ve failed.

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5 Replies to “Cementa/Kandos Projects artist talks headline the year”

  1. can I just add, why do I feel like I heard this all before at a Modern Art course at Rutgers!

  2. Thanks lenscap105 for your thoughts on my response to the artist talks. I’d like to clarify that it wasn’t that I didn’t take anything positive away from the day, but that I couldn’t engage with the artists on the day based on where the discussion was at. Those who know me well, know I’m not usually short of a word on most things, but the language and concepts being discussed were not familiar to me. That doesn’t meant I don’t seek to learn – I’ve spent the best part of the past 12 years doing just that with very little support or encouragement. However, my experience of art making at a grassroots level is much different to this. Perhaps the conversation on the day did highlight to me my lack of formal education. But I’m not alone in this and that does not diminish our value as artists.

    1. I agree completely Kim. I don’t think anyone was implying that your value as an artist was somehow diminished. We all stand in our own position, it is what makes a dialogue possible.

  3. I’m sorry that you felt so excluded Kim. I am. But the fact is that you can’t exactly blame anyone else in the room if you didn’t pipe up and express your bit. No one was telling you to keep quiet, and you might be surprised how welcome your perspective might have been. But I do understand the gulf that you might have experienced listening to these artist talks. It is a gulf I experience quite a lot when encountering art. People are trying to say things that are difficult, they are trying to speak about things for which we don’t have a lot of common language. It necessarily generates a certain obscurity. Abstraction is guilty of this more than most. But for me, I always consider my time wasted if I am reduced to dismissing what other people are saying, by washing my hands of it and reaching the conclusion that is them who are wasting their time. For me, thats a kind of giving up. I would rather be challenged by a work of art than dismiss it. Sometimes that takes leaving my own position and assuming that the other person is saying something I can’t yet hear, I can’t yet understand. For me, this puts me on the road to learning something that I didn’t know before, regardless of the work of art.

    You speak about how irrelevant this talk of abstraction seemed when you look around at the economic and political realities that people are facing. A number of the artists attending the event are participants in The Williams River Valley Artists Project, who’s work played a pivotal role in stopping the damming of The Williams River. If all goes well, they will have an engagement with the anti CSG movement in Coonamble. I believe these artists are making the very direct action art works that you are talking about. Yet, they did not believe that the conversation around abstract art was a waste of time. The fact is that much of the art and talk around it had ethical and political dimensions.

    Margaret Robert’s, for instance, talked predominantly about her distrust of “formalism” and its attempt to divest art of any political or social meaning, a late form of art for art sake. Adrian’s talk was mostly about an awareness of how we are in the world, how we so often project onto objects our ideas and preconceptions about them. In his work he attempts to allow these neglected objects to just be themselves. There are very real implications about how we deal with our world, how we know and relate to it, that he was simply attempting to look at. Beata’s work with colour was predominantly about democracy, about a love of all colour and not about creating hierarchies of colour, or saying that one colour was more special or important or meaningful than others. While these things don’t speak directly to our immediate political and economic concerns, they do speak of them obliquely. They are attempts to think closely about how we function within and relate to the world. And they speak especially about how we can talk about the world via art.

    This event, though it was open for anyone to attend, was still not for everyone. It was primarily for artists to talk about their art. I often feel that abstraction is an artist’s art. I am always blown away by how rich a discourse such a simple language can produce, but it does take some long time obsessing over things like colour and form that would not concern anyone but artists. I say that this event was not for everyone Kim, but it was for you. You are an artist and so these discussions, as confusing and obscure as they might appear at first approach, are meant for you as an artist to consider and reflect against your own practice. I’m not saying that you need to make abstract art. Few artists do, but I am saying that if you pay attention to it, if you assume that it is saying something first, it can enrich your practice, it can teach you things about how art produces meaning, emotion, feeling, thought.

    I’m looking forward to having you present at the next event.

  4. enjoyed this very honest observation of an event that seeks to become relevant for a larger audience.

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