If my friend Wendy hadn't sent me to look at Strange Embrace at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre I probably wouldn't have thought twice about most of the pieces. A lot starts from uninteresting ideas and is doomed from the start. Then when some of the work is so poorly executed it's hard to engage. I like the premise of the piece by Astra Howard which was engaging people with commenting on their community, but the way it was executed was dull, forced, and didn't actually give any insight into the community at all. I might take time to look at her work though because there could be something she has done better from the description and what I think she was trying to do.
There's something we say at uni that sums up everything there though; the last artist to fail at university was Hitler and we haven't failed anyone since. Perhaps though we should be, and shouldn't be so ready to encourage people who don't have the patience to think more deeply, people who don't provide a greater insight, and create something that is well crafted at the bare minimum or willing to try something that isn't entirely derivative. This seems to be the standard of shows I go to though, and it's no wonder openings have free food or drinks to get people to come out when this is what's on offer.
As you go higher up the art hierarchy what gets better is execution. Sadly that doesn't always mean the art is more engaging. Whether or not I want to blame the artists or curators I haven't decided, so in the interim I'm blaming both.
A brief trip to the new Go East exhibit at AGNSW I had high hopes for, seeking inspiration or motivation, a kick in the pants seeing what the world has to offer. With big names on display like Ai Weiwei it should be a sure thing. Perhaps with that expectation though I was even more disappointed.
Ai Weiwei presented the entirety of his blog printed on rice paper. Year of work collected and arranged. The presentation is the box it was delivered in with the top page revealed and a few additional pages on display. Even if the other pages were not printed on it would have the same appearance. If anything the work is about self importance, indulging in it not commenting against it, though I guess that's not the intention.
The artist whose name I really went for is He Yunchang. I reference his work often in conversation as my favourite performance artist, and have sought out his works in print, online as videos, and as photographs on numerous occasions. The particular piece is a snap shot of a performance involving intense exposure to light titled Eyesight test. The cruelty Yunchang subjects himself to always amazes me, and his message through his works of consistently portraying a harsh reality remains confronting in all its incarnations.
The other works blends together for the most part. While some is aesthetically pleasing or may have been powerful to the artist during creation, the end result is a feeling of seeing the same thing again and again that I have been seeing throughout my whole life. Even He Yunchang is deriving his work from the legacy of performative art in New York and around the world, but as a point of difference, in the context of his life I find the work prolific.
Not the most interesting photograph ever taken, but perhaps a highlight because of our time, is a work by Dinh Q Lê depicting a boat ablaze on a beach. The feeling of being a refugee is left out of our media and requires individuals to draw our attention to it.
I don't want my interest in works to be only connected to a single time, to a current moment. But there is a need for newness and difference. Recycling ideas, particularly the ideas of others, is where things end. Duchamp's Fountains was 100 years ago, Fluxus was 50 years ago, and we had all the shock we needed in the 90's from the YBA. There must be something more challenging, and I'm eager to find it.