Art is an odd thing. In Bendigo there are tattooed people, and Gold Rush era architecture, and gardens, and display pieces, and galleries, where they claim to have the best of the arty stuff locked inside.
One such gallery is on View St, near the pub and footy oval (I like that about Bendigo). It has sculptures and pictures of people and places in frames, and by and large these pictures of people and places look resoundingly like actual people and places. This might be called traditional art. The kind of thing an everyday person can look at and say, ‘Ah, I can see what they are trying to do there.’
That’s the Bendigo Art Gallery, though across the street is something quite different. There they also have sculptures and pictures, but neither are routinely framed or look like people or places. This is contemporary art. The kind of thing an everyday person might look at and say, ‘Arr, what’s going on here?’
This is the La Trobe Visual Art Centre. It’s a gallery, or space as I think they like to call it, were Annabel and I rugged up, ducked the rain, and went to see their new collection and the unveiling of the new facade.
Now, a bit of personal background. I’m no art critic, but I know what I like (that’s quote from someone I guess). Annabel on the other hand, despite being fictitious, likes anything called art. I once broke a cake while tipping it out of the tin. She complained. Then I plated it, iced the uneven shards, prinkled hundred-and-thousands on top and announced this as a unique work of editable art. After that all broken cakes were seen as a fortunate mishap to be appraised. (Except last Thursday’s, which was just considered a mess).
So anyway, I went into the building prepared to take whatever from the experience.
In the first room hung a bunch of bright yellow canvasses of various sizes and shapes. On each was something, or for the most part nothing. The something included dried glue, bits of plastic, a dead fly (I hope dead), twigs, and other bits of waste. These were either arranged or dropped onto the canvas and stuck in place.
On the scale of ‘So what’s going on here?’, this was a definitive ‘So what’s going on here?’ moment. I didn’t talk to Anna about it. We both sort of nodded, gave each other the impression that we knew what the other was thinking, but in case we were wrong we didn’t want to talk about it anyway, and moved on.
As this was something of a gala for the new facade, cheese and wine were offered, and a bunch of smartly dressed intelligent looking people were in attendance, chatting to one another and imbibing or nibbling depending on whether they had the wine or cheese.
Between room one and two Annabel decided to mingle. This isn’t because I’m dull, I just imagine she’d be that sort of person. She interrupted other peoples conversations with ‘Nice night’ and managed to meet political types, like Lisa Chesters and Rod Fyffe, and a guy named Vince who coordinators La Trobe’s art in Melbourne. She said they were all nice, which I think is what people are when they’re confronted by an approachable woman who’s happy to seem them. Also security staff was nearby.
I took this time to look in space two, were there was a bunch of salad bowls. Mostly salad bowls. Some were soup bowls. Other’s were the size of those tea bowls used in Japan. And then some looked like they might be used for lemon scented water to clean hands after eating crab.
On the, ‘Am I looking at art?’ scale this ranked firmly as an ‘Am I looking at art?’ moment.
Obviously inspecting food deprived pottery didn’t take long, but since Annabel was getting her discussion on with people I hid in the room of bowls… and started to look closer.
No matter how hard one squints or tilts their head, pottery is still pottery. But here’s the thing, a kid kicking a football in a park could practice and be as good as Gary Ablett. The kid, if we focus on the skill of kicking, could develop an extreme skill that may evoke adulation in an observer. I often overhear people say, ‘Great kick’ while watching football at the park. A ex-friend once described it as being an expert in a craft. Ceramic bowl making is also a craft, and the woman who made the works in room two was very good at her craft.
So here’s the thing, contemporary art challenges what we think. Not only of art, but the world. Sometimes art is great to look at, but sometimes it is just awesome to think that someone/we can make something unique. I could be wrong, but putting the pieces in an art context can be as importance as the pieces themselves. All that is good, but then the facade was unveiled I considered one more thing.
When you travel around Bendigo and see people with fancy tattoos or consider the lilies in the garden, or any of the other stuff mentioned in the opening paragraph, no one is saying it is important. People might like it, but importance is a different thing. Purposely displaying a work on the front of an art building has the intention of saying that this is important. This facade is different, and in being different, as contemporary art is, it is risky.
So there they were. Two giant pictures of a suspended web of cords being negotiated by an athletic women (gender assumed). She twists and hangs, in a way like construction workers once did from skyrise steal frames. These images now cover the facade of the La Trobe VAC in Bendigo. Arguably it is a display only of craft, in photography, set design and athletic balance. The last included at a stretch (pun).
Is it art? Do I like it? I don’t know. I did at first. I said so to Annabel, and she agreed. But now I’m just thinking of the structure and wondering about it’s importance. It’s like how Sam Newman put a design of Pamela Anderson’s face on the front of his house. What do we get out of seeing it everyday?
Perhaps the fact that it asks questions is a good thing. It is not challenging to decency, like seeing Pamela’s noggin every morning, but it is arguably not wondrous either. It’s probably the argument that’s the greatest out of this, and like everything in the building, it makes you the viewer to decided for yourself. So perhaps that’s is. Like the contents of the building its job is to raise the question and encourage more creation. Therefore, for that reason I like it.
ps: For more on this façade see here: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/vac/facade
pps: Dean Holdsworth has film making skills and would be happy to accept any grant money to make an installation on sporting craft for any and all contemporary art spaces.