sculpture by the sea

For 2 weeks each year in Sydney the 2km coastal walk from Bondi beach to Tamarama beach is transformed during the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. This afternoon I checked it out, though so far I haven’t been able to see all the works – a return visit may be in order. I love this exhibition. So too does the rest of Sydney, judging by the crowds even in the late afternoon. Each year at this time the coastal walk becomes jammed with people enjoying the elegant, the quirky and sometimes the downright weird, all with a beautiful seaside view. I love the crowds for this reason: instead of festering in some whitewashed gallery art is out in the public space and people are getting out there and enjoying it. The only drawback of so many people being there at once is the effect on the relationship between the sculptures, the space they’re placed in and the viewer – where I feel sculpture’s power really lies. Finding a quiet time for a viewing has its benefits.

Still, there’s something I love about going with the rest of the world too. It raises a question for me: What is it with art and the public? Why do I have this perception of most people scorning art and yet when something like this is put on it seems half the city – young, old, families and singles – turns up? Is it just that people ‘just like to go to things’, as someone put it to me this week? That is, do they not really care about the art at all, but just go along to whatever’s ‘happening’ this weekend for something to do?

No doubt there are some. But I love the sort of thing I saw today. When a big name gets a show, like a Picasso or Rothko retrospective, I have a tendency, justified or not, to think a lot of people might be drawn just by the name, especially in Australia where the big names are displayed so rarely. But there are no big names in Bondi, yet people are really interested in the works. They take photographs, they laugh, they pick their favourites. They aren’t generally interested in the way we’re told interest in art is supposed to manifest itself: dispassionately deconstructing everything to find the deeper ‘meaning’ in the work. Sadly there is still a strong sense for people that that’s exactly the way art has to be appreciated and the completely obtuse and indecipherable works that follow this artistic philosophy themselves only serve to continue enforcing this sense by alienating the very people they’re supposed to be communicating with. The great legacy of modern art has been to drive a wedge in people’s thinking between their life and visual creativity. But after people have stood mutely and impassively in front of them for a few moments (myself included) they move on to the stuff that’s actually cool and connects with them and their experience in some way, and often quite simply. It’s obvious in the comparison between works which always have a crowd of snap happy and grinning people around them (again myself included) and those which are left sadly alone. The works people love explore and re-imagine the beauty of this world or the human experience of living itself. The works I’ve snapped here were some of my favourites which I felt did just that.

The incessantly elitist and deconstructing nature of so much modern and post modern art (and talk about it) in the west has cultural and philosophical roots reaching back a couple of centuries , but the creative impulse has spanned human existence across cultures and centuries and has elsewhere always been much more closely tied to the lived experience of a culture’s people and their relationship with the wider world around them. I’ve said this before here.  ‘Art’ wasn’t the intellectual domain of a specific subculture who were in the ‘know’. You didn’t need an ‘art appreciation course’ (spare me) to engage with it. It reflected and still reflects life. In future posts I’d like to explore further how contemporary art is trying to reflect and speak to how we in the west tend to view the world and our lives, for I think there’s much to be said. But I wouldn’t hold your breath if I was you.

For now though, let me say that I think there is a real desire in people’s hearts for beauty and truth in the world, and for people to engage with and express it through acts of creativity. And there is a joy when it’s done.

What do you think? Do people love good art or am I mistaken? Do you enjoy art, and if so, what do you love about it? 

call me bernard marx

Insanity, on the one hand; lunacy on the other.

Are these humanity’s only options? The only red and blue pill actually on offer?

That’s the bleak proposal of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s dark prediction from the early 1930’s of a future many years hence, which I read only a few days ago.

Dark? Really? As a general rule everyone in Huxley’s vision of the world centuries from now is quite happy. Disease, suffering, war, disappointment, grief and anger are virtually unheard of. Free, casual and pretty much daily sex is everyone’s lot; free drugs without harmful side effects, offering a sense of well-being and a blissful escape from any negative emotions, are handed out by the government (‘Christianity and alcohol without the side effects’); although death is still a reality, no one ages; everyone who could possibly care is beautiful; and everyone’s job is specifically tailored to suit them (or rather they’re specifically tailored to suit their job) so that it’s always completely satisfying. What could be wrong with that?

So many of us feel horrified by recent footage of the attempts by oppressive dictators in North Africa and the Middle East to grip onto power by ruthlessly crushing and beating down their own people. But what if the people of the world were subjugated, not unwillingly but willingly? What if it’s what people wanted? What if people were oppressed, not from without, but from within?

What if that were the cost of a perfect world? Would it even be a cost?

I admit that I picked up this book thinking there wouldn’t be much in it relevant for me. Another modernist warning against fascism at a period of history when that was a real threat. But now…now we live in free society. Personal autonomy is up and everyone’s got a suspicious eye on the governments…just in case. Regardless of how far into the future Huxley’s world is from our own it’s hard to imagine where we are now that we’d ever get there. We had the 60’s (or something) and went the other way.

I deplored the aforementioned depiction of humanity’s lot as a choice between Insanity and Lunacy – that modernist howling, maniacal laugh of despair to the cold night of the fragmented, shattered world of that failed philosophy. However it seems even Huxley repented of that sentiment in future years.

And yet I was surprised at the ways Brave New World made me think. I can’t say for sure whether the book was written before fascism or communism as philosophies came into existence, however the Messiah of Huxley’s world isn’t Hitler or Lenin but Henry Ford. It is economic convenience and stability that lies at the foundation of Huxley’s world – the happiness of all is the highest goal. No question our fragmented post modern western society with its myriad perspectives and pathways looks very different to the smooth, clean homogeneity of Brave New World. But its commitment to delivering instant gratification of our every whim through buying another commercialised product (on which our social stability is based) – its commitment, in other words, to ease and happiness –  looks unnervingly similar.

Disconcerting was how acutely I connected with one of the main characters in the book, Bernard Marx. A thin, odd little man for his caste who doesn’t ever feel that he fits in his society, who can never feel a part of the happiness of all the beautiful people around him and who yearns for something he can’t name. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I see my society as Marx sees his, nor everyone around me as superficial slaves and I somehow wiser and ‘deeper’ as a person. And yet I somehow have never felt quite at home in my now. In the rush to progress, the embracing of efficiency and the realisation of pragmatic goals – of being ‘useful’ – today, I confess to a yearning for a beauty, a quiet, a creativity… a slowness that I often hear scoffed at. But what was disconcerting was the degree to which I continued to identify with Marx as he turns from potential hero of love and beauty to someone who will eagerly embrace the salacious world he once pushed against if only it will finally hand to him what it had always withheld from him – whose desire for love and passion is exposed as having been mere envy of those around him. Cuts a little too close to the bone. But then, who wants to resist a life of ease, of playfulness and everything we ever wanted at our fingertips? What could be wrong with that?

What would eradicating pain and grief and delivering continuous happiness be worth?

in pursuit of…

Oh my. A month since writing. I’ve been busy. Really busy. Except that week I was flat on my back at the beach, of course. Have you missed me, dear reader? Do you, dear reader, in fact actually exist beyond the hopeful world of my imagination? I mean, I know you looove the photo of an Antony Gormley sculpture I posted up awhile back. Not so much my carefully crafted, agonised over, born out of pain words lovingly lavished upon the world. Ah well.

Anyway…

I just bought a new book. Just now. Just walked back in the door a few minutes ago. Aussie book by a guy called David Malouf, novelist whose name I’ve heard before but can’t place on anything. It’s not a novel though, more like an essay I think.

It’s called: The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World. 

I saw the title and thought I want that! The happy life, that is, moreso than the book itself. But I got the book anyway. And not because I foolishly think it holds the answers to the happy life, but it seems like it might be a thoughtful engagement with that universal drive that governs all our lives, the pursuit of happiness, and with that drive as expressed in the bewildering, fast paced, flashing, modern post-modern world. A drive I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. So I’ll read it and let you know what I think. It’s not a big book.

Ah happiness! What the hell art thou? And where are you? I’ve been thinking bout this modern life and how we navigate our way through it. No, strike that. I’ve been thinking about my modern life and how the hell I’m meant to navigate my way through it. Sorry to be selfish.

Thinking bout how we seem to be inextricably tied to the technological inter-connectedness of social media and the power over our private information a few seem to have. About how much of my life gets frittered away on trivial crap, because there’s always something flashing or some trinket or some junk food I can buy. Mainly been thinking about a girl who I liked for so long, finally went out on a date with this week and, I think, blew it merely by being a nervous shy and somewhat awkward little bugger. . I dunno. Not at my absolute cheeriest today.

Anyway, now I’ve offloaded onto you, please do stick around and I’ll endeavour to write something actually interesting soon.

R