Runway Conversations Launch
How to begin? Never with a rhetorical question. To do so signals lack of confidence or abundance of condescension or both. Mark that: whenever and wherever one might come across an opening heralded by a dubious quiz (the literary equivalent of the show trial, an old fashioned fascist tactic) one can presume the thinking is being done for you—just get to the point, all one can reasonably demand of writers and their attendant publishers, and I’ll meet you halfway, at the bar or poolside, should you make the cruise worth my while. Which is to say (you will notice I didn’t kick off by just saying it), as readers we might demand to be seduced with a proposition; we might invite an advance, firm or subtle depending on the level of mutual attraction, upon our self-imposed illusions until they peel away; we might stoke the flame of desire for truth unmolested by a coward’s sleight of hand in relativist obfuscation (another trait of the closet apparatchik, swipe left! swipe left!); we might partake in such play if only to get to the nub of the always present unconscious argument: what can you do for me that I can’t do for myself? The first move, inept; the follow through, crass; but then, something shifts. You always know it when you feel it.
I will do none of this. That’s the second rule of writing if, indeed, you cared to register much less accept the first: overturn the edicts of the majority and ignore unsolicited advice. Common etiquette deems sex, religion, politics and money as impolite topics of conversation when congeniality and its pursuit is paramount, especially at the dinner table. Why should it be any different upon the page and screen? In other words, all of life’s great themes, variations of which have been atomised by artists whose role is to do precisely this, necessarily frustrate attempts to explicate. Make no mistake, writing about art is never art even if far baser endeavours can and do rise to such esteem. ‘Making money is the best kind of art’, said one artist; no one ever said that about art writing. The latter is itself a wholly inadequate description of a promiscuous genre borne of our so-called interdisciplinary age; a bit of this, a bit of that—Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star is just what youth demands. Everything descends from everything else, whether embraced as kin or otherwise. Art writing is the red-haired step-child of an older, tougher widow: art criticism. As such, she is wont to be delinquent, succumbing often to the bad influence of irresponsible friends—let’s call them artists or, worse (much worse), curators—winding up in a juvenile justice centre of the mind where perspective is limited to a walk around the yard, chit chat over a smoko snatched while the warden has his back turned. This is the writer’s predicament and also her opportunity. In art publishing—as in jail, as in the womb, as in space—no one can hear you scream.
Yet, immediately this must be contested. The entire enterprise has one saving grace, one inarguable, irreducible, irreplaceable reality: the space in which writers and readers wrestle is necessarily the most intimate of arenas. In this—and, shit, I almost can’t believe it myself—the slippery supposition of art writing is in with a chance at doing what it might do best. This is nothing short of disrupting its constituent conjoined verbs (art, writing) so that, finally, one challenges the other’s inherent weakness as philosophical exercises. But you’ll need a minimum of two forces to protect your back. First, a featherweight’s footwork to dance around opponents’ hooks and jabs of cliché, cynicism and complicity. These commonly bruise, if not batter, no matter how disinterested one might pose (there is no space for the sublime in this arena). Second, such brawling invariably presents occasions for the exercise of integrity—life is short on these, so savour them.
Here, finally, with stomachs rumbling I recall an observation made by William Hazlitt, the finest slayer of shibboleths of his age, contained his polemic On Criticism published in his collection of essays Table-talk (1822), that proves itself as pertinent to this conversation this evening as it was during the English Regency:
The last sort I shall mention are verbal critics—mere word-catchers, fellows that pick out a word in a sentence and a sentence in a volume, and tell you it is wrong. These erudite persons constantly find out by anticipation that you are deficient in the smallest things—that you cannot spell certain words or join the nominative case and the verb together, because to do this is the height of their own ambition, and of course they must set you down lower than their opinion of themselves. They degrade by reducing you to their own standard of merit; for the qualifications they deny you, or the faults they object, are so very insignificant, that to prove yourself possessed of the one or free from the other is to make yourself doubly ridiculous. Littleness is their element, and they give a character of meanness to whatever they touch. They creep, buzz, and fly-blow. It is much easier to crush than to catch these troublesome insects; and when they are in your power your self-respect spares them.
Take the gloves off. Let’s eat.
Pedro de Almeida
Pedro de Almeida is Program Manager at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney. As an arts manager, curator, programmer and writer, over the past decade he has developed and delivered artistic and cultural programs that have been distinguished by their engagement of culturally and socially diverse artists, communities and audiences. Pedro’s critical writing on art is published regularly, appearing in ArtAsiaPacific, Art Monthly Australasia, Broadsheet Journal, LEAP, Photofile and Un Projects among others. He is editor of 4A Papers, a newly established online platform for writing on contemporary art and culture in the Asia Pacific region.
110% is the collaborative practice of Kieran Bryant, Beth Dillon and Lachlan Herd, three emerging artists who create site-responsive works of live performance, video, installation and sculpture. Their collaboration stems from the intimacy and playfulness of friendship, and continues to grow through conversation, humour, and mutual care. Previous works have investigated competitive cultures of positive thinking; explored the relationship between art appreciation and the pursuit of leisure; tested the dynamics of artist-audience relationships; and considered the impact of long-distance separation on collaborative practice and motivation. 110% often stage interventions that play with the presentation of performance in festival, fair and gallery contexts. These interventions may take the form of an interruption, an invitation, an oasis, a sweaty mess.
A Big Sparkly Dinner Party was presented at Kudos Gallery, 25 January 2018. It featured 110%, D.A.N.C.E art collective, Keith Gallasch, Maddee Clark, Pedro de Almeida and Scott Duncan.