Articles

Safe in my Pocket

Paul Roorda, Pocket Bible, 2008. Leather from discarded bible, personal identification cards, credit cards, and cash, 8.9 x 11.4 x 11.4 cm.

The very material of this ‘Pocket Bible’ serves to provide an initial punchline for this work. It makes a direct connection between the felt texture of the sacred book in our hands and the polished familiarity of a wallet. It provides an unexpected and visceral connection between what we hold to be sacred and secular, and in a direct manner the kind of power we might hold in our hands. It’s also a male thing. It exposes the fetishlike manner in which men hold their wealth and social power through this often-beaten, sweat-ridden carrier accessing wealth, identity, membership, community, affections, and allegiances. I have to confess it makes me aware of the nervous fondling that goes on each day as I check for its place in my pocket. It is a constant devotion to this container of my social power. Lose your wallet you lose your life!

While this work has clear and initial visual impact, it also burrows down into essential questions about allegiances and affections that tell us who we are, and who we are becoming. These are the indications about what drives us, particularly for men, driven in some cultures to focus on success and social status. In contrast to the slim wallet containing the essential operational tools of identity for men, the seemingly bottomless mystery of handbags offers far more resourcefulness, providing anything from a first aid kit to a handy tool for fixing any household problem. In some cultures male power is found through individuality, while female identity is often expressed through collaboration, finding friends. Such generalizations based on gender roles are under rapid change as individuals attach themselves to smartphones with the promise of far greater control over their sense of self. History now becomes personal as individuals mark their progress through photographs documenting every fashion ensemble, every meal, and every cute dog they encounter on this journey towards an always beautiful future.

The artist, Paul Roorda, expresses well the multiple implications of this work. He comments:

How do we identify ourselves? By our religion, our citizenship, gender, etc., or by our financial status and power in the marketplace? At what point does the church become over-involved in financial matters? Do the tables need to be turned over once again? Or can sacred and profane identities, powers, and institutions live happily bound together?’

Money, power, and devotion have long been a challenge for religious institutions who seek to provide the tools to find freedom and yet require allegiance and financial support. The visual questions posed by this tender wallet of devotion leaves the viewer with the questions that need to be held without easy resolution, so that freedom might be maintained and that humans do not become slaves to their deeply loved idols. An understanding of money is found most clearly when in the company of a sense of gratefulness, rather than through any consideration of power or control.

The binding together of the operational means of identity, such as credit cards, memberships, and driver’s license, with the holy pages of Scripture, provides an object that exposes the anxious questions that arise in trying to straddle the realities of these two very different worlds. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, is an age-old question that is never finally resolved. This work serves to hold open such anxiety as an ongoing question about where our affections really lie. It invites us to acknowledge the tension between living in the world and living by the words of Jesus. It invites us to lay open an awareness of the seductions that are present through living in a consumer society, and the manner in which our affections and allegiances are always being shaped towards products that need to be purchased. In an age where freedom is heavily marketed, where uniqueness has a cult following, we find ourselves somewhat all alike in our dependence on things sold to us as agents of life. Consumption is not the same thing as living a full life. This work provides a space for potential wisdom in making the better choice.

Reposted from Artway.

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ROD PATTENDEN IS AN ARTIST, ART HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN INTERESTED IN THE POWER OF IMAGES. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON AWABAKAL LAND.
Paul Roorda is a Canadian artist who transforms found materials to create two-dimensional art, sculptures, and outdoor site-specific installations that examine the relationship between religion, medicine, science, and environmentalism. He has exhibited extensively with solo exhibitions in Canada, the United States, and Germany and has been awarded grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. Paul Roorda was a finalist for the 2016 K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Ontario. He was Artist in Residence for the City of Kitchener, Ontario, in 2007 and at GlogauAIR in Berlin in 2012 and 2015.

The outrage on Hosier Lane and who has the right to the city

When a crew descended on Melbourne’s Hosier Lane using fire extinguishers to paint the walls, condemnation was swift. While the lane is celebrated for its street art by the City of Melbourne and punters across the globe, the reaction of property holders and city authorities to this latest installation demonstrates their appreciation of street art stretches only to the extent it increases tourism and bring buyers into shops.  When they can co-opt street artists as unpaid labour to paint unchallenging images, it will be celebrated, but upset the establishment and they will criminalise you.

Referring to Melbourne as the ‘street art capital of Australia’ and noting the ‘ephemeral and forever changing’ nature of street art, Lord Mayor Sally Capp – with zero irony – stated that the latest installation was the work of ‘vandals’, ‘unacceptable and not in keeping with the spirit of Hosier Lane’. She indicated an intention to treat the artists involved as criminals. Property owners and others weighed in on the artwork. Chase Joslin, who manages Culture Kings, a street wear store that capitalises off the street art culture, said in a statement to the ABC:

In a matter of minutes it was destroyed. It’s a real shame. … Coming through and destroying people’s art, I don’t think it’s part of the culture. … There’s not much art to it.

These statements are astonishing if you accept City of Melbourne and Culture Kings’ support of street art culture, but to most street artists they’re unsurprising.

The line between what is classed as vandalism, which is widely condemned, and street art, which is tenuously celebrated, is vague and requires examination. Both refer to artworks that occur in public. Melbourne City Council delineate the difference as to whether the artwork is ‘unwanted.’ I suggest it is more useful to think in terms of whether the artwork is authorised. Authorised may mean explicitly commissioned, tacitly encouraged – as exemplified by Hosier Lane – or a more vague form of authorisation, such as areas which become known as ‘street art spots’ where council and property owners seem not to take action to criminalise artists or remove artworks. Unauthorised works also fall within a spectrum, from where no attempt is made by the artist to gauge consent from an owner, to putting up works in areas known as ‘safe zones’ such as Presgraves Place or Hosier Lane in Melbourne. Whereas ordinarily artists would have to seek explicit permission from the property owner in order to avoid possible criminal sanction, in these areas very few do so on the tacit understanding that artwork there is encouraged or at least, accepted.

The recent ‘painting over’ the large mural-esque images that make up much of Hosier Lane’s artwork was an important critique of the co-option of street art and a commentary on who ascribes value. Its point was missed by the very people it sought to critique. That Melbourne City Council is now seeking to criminalise those artists demonstrates that their appreciation of street art dissipates when it presents a challenge to their authority.

Everyone is required to engage with public space, but few have the legal right to impact it. The appearance of, surfaces within, and images in our cities articulate our socio-political, legal and cultural make-up. Blank walls, locked gates, neat lawns, paste-ups, tags, murals and advertising bollards are neither aesthetically nor politically neutral. Unauthorised street art makes an important and politically charged contribution.  It is direct democracy exercised over the appearance of public space and changes both the appearance of a wall or building and the experience of the society in which it is encountered. It creates radical possibilities for new ways of existing. If the appearance, function and experience of the city is understood as an expression of the law – what Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos refers to as a ‘lawscape’  – then street art shifts the law, and hence power dynamics,  in profound ways.

Much of the art in Hosier Lane is shaped by the tacit approval of Melbourne City Council. To distance themselves from ‘unauthorised’ street art and controversial genres such as tagging, many artists utilise realist imagery and make palatable murals designed to be widely shared on social media, using terms such as ‘aerosol art’ to describe this practice. Authorisation co-opts street art culture and nurtures an inherently different form of artwork, as the impact of putting up work without authority is removed.

Last Sunday’s incursion critiqued this culture of co-option, and the images that predominate in Hosier Lane.  It provoked questions of value and who gets to define whether something is art. In doing so, it thoroughly annoyed the political establishment. More than mere annoyance, Melbourne City Council has indicated its intention to criminalise the artists.  This indicates both the threat unauthorised street art poses to the political establishment and the contempt with which artists are held.

Melbourne City Council are unlikely to begin criminalising every artist who paints in Hosier or other ‘safe spots’ around the city. When they realise the importance of this latest piece, and its appreciation by street art enthusiasts, they may soften their approach. They may also seek to further articulate their policy on street art and further control it. If they do, they can expect more pushback from artists who understand that the right to the city is theirs.

Reposted from Overland.

Video by deansunshine.

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Erin Buckley is a Melbourne-based lawyer, academic, and sometime artist, who lives and works on Wurundjeri country.

Vision, Voice, and Vocation – Registrations and a Call for Papers

Vision, Voice, and Vocation_ Arts and Theology in a Climate for Change

We are excited to provide an update about our upcoming conference – Vision, Voice, and Vocation.

Keynote speakers and a rich offering of short papers, creative presentations, and workshops, will lead us in stimulating conversation about what roles the imagination and the vocations of the artist play in navigating and shaping the complex and changing climates of contemporary life.

The keynote speakers are Emmanuel Garibay (a visual artist from the Philippines), Lyn McCredden (an academic and poet from Melbourne), Jione Havea (a Melbourne-based bible scholar), Trevor Hart (a theologian and priest from Scotland), and Naomi Wolfe (a Melbourne-based historian). Emmanuel Garibay will also be Artist-in-Residence, and his presentation on Thursday 16 July will be open to the public.

Registrations are now open for the conference, with early bird and day-only rates available.

And we are issuing a call for short papers and presentations. Academics and practitioners in the fields of theology, visual art, music, performance, literature, cultural studies, poetry, philosophy, and/or history are invited to send an Abstract (approx. 250 words) of their proposed presentation, plus a short bio, to Jason Goroncy (email) by 31 March 2020.

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Entries now open for the Spiritus Short Film Prize

Spiritus Short Film Prize; enter now

Call for entries for the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture 2020 Spiritus Short Film Prize:

  • The renamed biennial national 2020 Spiritus Short Film Prize aims to contribute to a vision of hope and the common good for Australia
  • Expert panel of four judges will award up to six prizes in three categories based on five criteria
  • Entries opened Monday 3 February and close Tuesday 30 June, with winners announced in September

Entries are open for the biennial national 2020 Spiritus Short Film Prize, an initiative of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (ACC&C) at Charles Sturt University.

ACC&C Executive Director Professor Stephen Pickard said, “The biennial prize began in 2015 as the Religious Short Film Prize but was renamed as the Spiritus Short Film Prize in 2020 to better reflect its purpose and aims.

“The Spiritus Short Film Prize initiative is part of the Centre’s commitment to promote the lively interaction between arts, sciences and culture, which is one of the Four Pillars of its work and mission.

“The Centre believes that there is wisdom to be found in such an interaction which can contribute to a vision of hope and the common good for Australia.”

There are six prizes in three categories, and entrants can enter their film in more than one category and can receive more than one prize.

The categories are:

  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – Regional Australia Prize (open to entries outside an Australian Capital city). Cost to enter $5
  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – School Category (This is open to entries from school students (under 18 years of age) who attend a school in Australia. Cost to enter $10.
  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – Open to all. Cost to Enter $20.

The judges award the prizes, but they do not have to award all prizes:

  • Regional Australia Prize for entries outside a capital city – $500
  • School category (for school students only in Australia) for equipment for school to value of $1000
  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – Winner $2000
  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – Highly Commended $750
  • Spiritus Short Film Prize – Commended $500
  • Spiritus Short Film  Prize – People’s Choice $250 (Awarded on the night)

The panel of judges are Ms Genevieve Jacobs, Father Richard Leonard, SJ, Dr James Mairata, and Dr Andrew Pike, OAM.

“The judges provide theological and creative counsel, and represent many decades of experience in media, film, distribution, and directorship,” Professor Pickard said.

“They will assess films on five criteria: high artistic quality, wisdom for the common good, human and planetary flourishing, universal impact, and inventive expression.

“The judges will nominate eight films for The People’s Choice Award from any category, and a film may already be a category prize winner.”

The ACC&C will present a roadshow to screen the shortlisted films at selected Charles Sturt University campuses in August, with more details to be announced later about roadshow screening dates and times.

Winners will be announced in September 2020 in Canberra at the Chapel, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, and the Award Night will be held during the Canberra Short Film Festival.

The People’s Choice award winner is decided by the attendees to the touring festival at the Charles Sturt campuses and award night in Canberra. Attendees will vote on the night and the winner will be announced in Canberra.

Entries for the Spiritus Short Film Prize opened Monday 3 February and close Tuesday 30 June. More information about the 2020 Spiritus Short Film Prize ‘Conditions and Criteria’ can be found here: http://about.csu.edu.au/spiritus.

George Gittoes: Prophet or Provocateur?

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George Gittoes, Soljah, Love and Pain,  2019. Stencils, oil on canvas. 152.5 x 122.5cm. Artist collection.

For the last two years I have been working on the exhibition ‘George Gittoes: On Being There’ which opens at the Newcastle Art Gallery on 8 February 2020. It has been a wonderful opportunity to work alongside a unique artist who is more at home in a war zone than the usual haunts of inner-city cafes favoured by creatives! This exhibition covers fifty years of Gittoes’ artistic production from the heady days of his involvement in the Yellow House artist community in Kings Cross, through his documentation of the working conditions of the steel mills of Newcastle, to his work in the field in war zones, the creation of another Yellow House in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and his most recent sojourn in South Side Chicago, a place which has the worst statistics for gun violence in the USA. In each situation, Gittoes has sketched, painted, photographed, and, more recently, produced feature-length documentaries about what it is like to be there, in a way that draws in viewers to consider the ethical and moral dilemmas of what it means to be human in these difficult and limiting environments.

Rather than the usual structure of an artist survey, this exhibition offers a unique opportunity to get under the skin of what motivates this artist. It seeks to address the questions about why he goes to such inhospitable places to make art and why he puts his life at risk. His answer is as simple as it is profound: ‘I feel privileged to have been able to spend much of my life creating beauty in the face of the destruction of war. I have been waging a personal war against war with art’. These works offer insights into the manner in which Gittoes works and how he sees, what catches his attention, and how this shapes his responses through his art-making. Against the backdrop of dangerous and emotionally charged contexts, Gittoes is drawn to empathise with the human person, as a site for bravery, resilience, hope, and despair, inviting our involvement as compassionate participators in a world that has moral and spiritual implications.

 

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During 1969–1970, Gittoes was involved with the creation of the Yellow House artist community. Through his Puppet Theatre, Gittoes was able to play out the human dramas of heaven and hell, and life in between, using his skills in storytelling and the making of an extraordinary range of puppet creatures. His deeply imaginative work made a sharp response to the Vietnam War and contains some of the strongest responses to the war found in Australian art. Gittoes speculated at the time about how he could take the Yellow House experience, of incubating a creative artists community, to Vietnam, in the midst of this terrible war. In many ways, his life work has been to play out that possibility. Since 2011, Gittoes has worked regularly in the eastern part of Afghanistan, setting up the Yellow House Jalalabad. Here he linked with local filmmakers and actors renewing his earlier experiences of artistic collaboration. This process is documented in the award-winning film Love City, Jalalabad, which highlights the possibilities for hope in making art in such an unlikely context.

Through the Yellow House, Gittoes leaves aside the usual goals of western artists to highlight their own originality and prefers to embed himself in communities of creative people. Here, collaboration and the trust that is afforded to each person’s own gifts and creativity is highly valued. Gittoes’ work in Afghanistan has had a major impact on the film industry in that country incubating actors, directors, and technicians who are following through on their own projects in a country with a rich artistic heritage. Here we see culture as a form of renewal that provides stable images for a possible future. The results of this manner of working returns art-making to a community base that is concerned with the common good, the search for justice, and the creation of hope. It is a profoundly different model of valuing creativity that reaffirms the role of art to form the future as a social experience. One might say that the making of community might be the most profound art form practised by humans.

Gittoes most recent collaboration has been with the Yellow House South Side Chicago, an experience that is presented in his latest documentary White Light released in 2019:

This film explores his encounters with the communities of Englewood in South Side Chicago, and uncovers the social impact of gun violence through the stories of both victims and perpetrators. It is a film filled with tragedy, pathos, and hope, developed while living and working together with the local residents. White Light is his most beautiful and evocative film, yet it is filled with the harsh social impact of gun violence. It is a moving and deeply empathetic narrative that uncovers the vitality of human beings looking for conditions that will allow them to reach their full potential. Gittoes focuses on the stories of young lives who through the means of their own creativity deeply yearn for a life that is better.

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George Gittoes, The Scream. 152.5 x 121.9 cm.

One of the paintings produced during this period is ‘The Scream’, which is his take on the anxieties of our current time. This work examples his capacity to provide a prophetic perspective on the history that is unfolding around us. The work was based on a street mural that depicts the yawning face of Donald Trump as it looms over the poverty and violence of the inner city. The scream is echoed as despair or protest by the lone African-American figure in a mask, which allows for the possibility that they see things differently, and look towards a different future. The prophetic imagination uncovers the structures that create injustice, it works to unsettle the status quo, and to question the myths we accept for what is considered normal. Prophecy works towards an alternative future based on justice where every creatures matters. This is deeply echoed in the Christian tradition and Gittoes takes us to the churches and activists who live this out on the streets of South Side Chicago. This frightening and disturbing image is linked to the emergence of hope in the darkest of situations.

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The final work in the exhibition is a stunning 2.5-metre high ceramic form based on a traditional Afghani ewer. A collaboration with ceramicist Cameron Williams, Gittoes has decorated it with symbols from both Muslim and Christian traditions. Here both east and west come together in an act of potential hospitality. The work is entitled ‘To Cleanse the world of war’, it brings together into an imaginative conversation, cultures that are more often seen at enmity. The work evokes the ritual of welcome through the washing of hands and the serving of refreshments. it also offers a perspective that religion might contain resources for healing, understanding, and reconciliation. Religion is often considered in the popular imagination to be the problem, and yet religious faith from both Muslim and Christian traditions offer deep inspiration for mutual understanding and the solving of common problems that rob us of a peaceful future.

George Gittoes provides an extraordinary record of an artist willing to create in the face of chaos and potential destruction. While Gittoes might be a prophet, he is certainly a provocateur, alive to the ethical and spiritual dimensions of what it is to be human. Gittoes is also alive to the positive resources that religion and culture provide. This exhibition will give privileged access to his process through paintings, prints, visual diaries, field drawings, photography, and film. Through these works, we experience an amazing human journey that holds out the hopeful power of creativity in the face of prejudice and fear. This is a magnificent visual record of a creative imagination that provides a visual resource for the difficult times in which we live.

George Gittoes: On Being There is on exhibition at the Newcastle Art Gallery (8 February – 26 April 2020) and will travel later in the year to Casula Powerhouse Art Centre (opening 26 September) and Wollongong Art Gallery (opening 28 November).

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ROD PATTENDEN IS AN ARTIST, ART HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN INTERESTED IN THE POWER OF IMAGES. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON AWABAKAL LAND.

Tears of the Mother

Rebekah Pryor, Saltcellars, 2017. Table salt, dimensions variable.

It was the flickering sparkle, like diamonds, that caught my eye. An ensemble of delicate jewel-like containers laid out on a small table. Not crystal but salt, and miraculously held together in fragile delicate forms like containers. They held no other function than to set out a table for beauty and light. The light flickered like fire in my eye as I moved around this display and as I drew in close, I held my breath, fearing its moisture laden content would shatter the magic of this fragile salt ensemble. I had been invited to be on the judging panel for Australia’s Blake Prize for Religious Art and this work had caught my full attention. Salt containers, a collection of tears, the spilling over of grief that marks the human journey. Here was an expression of the lament that is so much a part of the human experience and the global world in which we live. So much sadness, violence, and reconciliation, a never-ending cycle. How do we contain and understand such suffering?

Carl Jung has said, ‘The most outstanding properties of salt are bitterness and wisdom … Tears, sorrow, and disappointment are bitter, but wisdom is the comforter in all psychic suffering.’ This delicate ensemble of salt forms invites the viewer to value and make sacred the experience of tears in grief, as an accepted part of the human journey and therefore a place where God is. Rather than seeking an escape from our suffering and the pain we feel for others who also suffer, here is an honouring of the place of compassion. There is bitterness and also wisdom, and a spirituality that is embodied, earthed and compassionate that does not make us insular but interconnected. Far from being a sign of weakness, tears remind us that the journey of life is undertaken in a leaky boat. We cannot isolate ourselves from the complex and fluid dimensions of life, we float upon such a sea.

Rebekah Pryor, Saltcellars, 2017. Table salt, dimensions variable.

Rebekah Pryor is an artist wise to the learning found through ritual and sacred space. This work echoes the complex human experience of grief and wise containment. It is part of a larger project where she is seeking to visualise in particular the experience of the mother. In Christian imagery this is often limited to images of women who are models of obedience and passivity, well robed in blue and silent in their transcendent beauty. This work activates the role of mother to contain not only her own grief but the grief that results from being a nurturer and holding the pain of others. She writes, ‘Saltcellars is a motif of maternal lament. It is part of a larger body of work that seeks to critique traditional images of the mother in Christian religious art and generate new icons that might more fully, ethically represent real maternal experience’. She adds, ‘Saltcellars suggests that bitterness and wisdom exist at once in a womans maternal experience. Her body feels both’.

In seeing this work we also feel it in our own body. On the edges of our seeing there are always tears, washing clean our capacity to see what is going on around us. While God might ‘wipe the tears from our eyes’ (Revelation 21.4), I think tears also enable us to see ethically and morally in a world awash with spin, illusion and the seduction of images which try to tell us that we are living in a culture where heaven is now on earth. Instead of this portrayal of a perfect world, tears remind us that the world is a sorry place. It is grief that dissolves the false promises of such cultural tropes. We have not arrived and lament is the prophetic response. This work invites us into a space that looks to me like a sacred space. God the mother sheds tears for this creation and for humans in their habitation of this planet. There is wisdom here that invites a re-orientation to nurture this vulnerable world and to see a God exercising the power of compassion. Life, after all, is worth crying for.

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Rebekah Pryor is a visual artist, curator, and academic living and working on Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri country. Her artistic and research practice is interdisciplinary and currently explores the spatial and iconic potential of the body via a range of media and disciplines, including philosophy of religion, feminist theory, feminist theology, and architecture. Rebekah was a finalist in the 65th Blake Prize in 2018 and currently works in research and teaching in the Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.
ROD PATTENDEN IS AN ARTIST, ART HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN INTERESTED IN THE POWER OF IMAGES. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON AWABAKAL LAND.