It turns out that I have something of a compulsion to write about art, and the state of art during a global pandemic doesn’t alter this. Neither does moving house, but moving house during a global pandemic is challenging. So I’ve had a break and a think, and this is the result.
I decided I would write about art anyway, and make an newsletter, and see if anyone would read it. So thanks if we got that far.
The idea here is to point you to things I’ve been staring at - things that perhaps you might like to stare at as well, or in some cases, even think about.
I think about art a lot, and I do that because it’s stimulating, and sometimes I learn something about the world. This is one of the reasons I keep returning to visual art: it provokes me.
I think really good art does not give me answers, but asks me questions, and forces me to provide an answer.
ROB O’CONNOR AND JOEL CROSSWELL
Those of you who know of Hobart art are likely aware of both of these early career artists. Both have won significant prizes: Joel won Tidal, an art prize that focuses on work about the sea, and Rob just won the Glover prize. I’m not the biggest fan of art prizes, but they are interesting and they do get people talking, and this is a good thing: nothing gives me greater pleasure than letters in the paper arguing about the merits of a painting.
Rob and Joel made some art in response to COVID-19. It was quick and dirty, and the exhibition existed only in the windows of Hobart gallery space Good Grief, and it was a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it show.
I only saw it via instagram, but it was enough.
They made a bunch of weapons.
Images supplied by Jacob Leary. Cheers muchly.
The vibe is obvious: it’s post apocalyptic, somewhat hysterical, a bit ridiculous, and clearly made quickly. This is why I think this works: neither of the artists let chin-stroking get in the way too much, they just reacted to the situation at hand, and used whatever they had lying around. There’s snippets of the tradition of the readymade here (think Du Champ), but there’s also a ton of pop culture references and some anger at a culture of consumption stirred in: I cannot overstate my amusement at the impaled smart phones, which seem now to be some sort of prescient comment about the COVIDsafe app the Australian government wants us all to download.
More than anything else, I thought of those terrible imitations of Mad Max that proliferated on VHS tape in the 1980s, or the look and feel of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. I don’t think our culture is quite like that just yet, but there’s an implication that something like this kind of total collapse at least seems possible at this vertiginous moment in global history. There’s comedy as well - it’s clear from items like the fake roast chicken and other elements that the artists were having a good time making this work, and that energy is discernible too.
More than anything else, the urgency of a sketch is there: get the idea down on paper. Make notes. Don’t embellish it too much, just get the idea out there. The audience will do the rest. Move on. Do something else.
There are no titles, no attribution, nothing was for sale as far as I know and I get the feeling the artists could have just binned the objects after removing the show. I hope this is not the case, because art that responds in real time the way this work has an abrasive energy we don’t see all that often. There’s something in common with street art that appears fully formed overnight in an alleyway, fated to be painted over by more graffitti or buffed with a neutral pastel.
MONSTER was a cracker, it’s been and gone and it played to empty streets while we isolated in our houses, stress-scrolling for information. I kind of loved it was there, even if I didn’t hurry past it wearing latex gloves, trying not to breath.
Okay, now some housekeeping.
This is a new experiment for me: writing an online newsletter about visual art. I will try and make it regular, and it will change as it goes along. I would love your feedback and I would equally love you to share it if you can - send it out to anyone you know who it may interest, and if that’s not you, well just ignore it all. If you have some art that I can see online - let me know. No promises.
Make and Do is free for all at this stage, but for now, if you wanted to buy me a coffee or something, here’s the tip jar .