Wednesday, April 24, 2013

OI YOU! Adelaide Urban Art Festival

Banksy: “When you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.” At least, that’s what Banksy thought back in 2006.

These days the world’s most famous street artist is included within those trophy cabinets, one of which is on its way to Adelaide for your perusal. Oi You!’s main attraction is the collection of 70 works by ‘the world’s urban art megastars’ owned by New Zealand collector George Shaw. Whatever the collection’s current market value, it’s sure to go up after Oi You! has raised its profile.
Street art has been on a funny journey over recent years. The counter culture with roots in vandalism has become the bargain ingredient of urban renewal and the most reliable way for any major art gallery to capture a youth audience. As the fame of street art has grown and its contradictions thickened, most artists have continued along the path towards ‘legitimacy’ where large commissioned murals replace illegal graffiti. Festivals funded by energy drinks, videos produced by fashion magazines and murals commission by car companies have become the hallmarks of success in the industry of urban art. As artists hold financially lucrative exhibitions, their work on the street starts to function as advertising for their commercial ventures. For some, illegal graffiti was just the early stage in their careers as urban artists. For others, street art’s greatest power will always be its ability to question the value of private property and expand the scope of free expression within public space.
While conservative minds still perceive street art as the cure against graffiti, those who actually make street art realise its ability to cure conservative perceptions. On one level, liking street art makes it harder to dislike graffiti. Once you realise that the same artists are making both types of art, you have to stop and think.
But urban art’s greatest power is its ability to cure the fallacy that art is a luxury, belonging only to financial elites. Street art is free. Appearing spontaneously in public space means it belongs to all of us. As part of our everyday experience of the city it doesn’t require the protection of art institutions, the pretenses of official art theory or even the standard narrative of art history. In the tradition of the situationists, the urban art community is a separate entity from the art world.
The best thing about any festival like Oi You! is the effect it will have on the city. Thanks largely to the initiative of local artist Matt Stuckey, the city streets will soon play host to Anthony Lister, Rone and Beastman, three Australian artists whose work is already recognised globally. Behind the scenes they’ll be connecting with local artists for the first time and uncommissioned collaborations will appear. It’s this work that will capture the attention of the larger urban art community via the blogs that serve audiences around the world.
So if you have a spare wall in the city that’s facing a public space, the last week of April might be the perfect opportunity to start you’re own street art collection. Just give Matt Stuckey a call and make him an offer. Obviously you’ll have to share your wall with everyone else and you won’t be able to sell it, but that’s kind of the point.
Oi You! Adelaide Urban Art Festival
Adelaide Festival Centre
Saturday, April 20 to Sunday, June 2
Please note: The list of contributing artists continues to grow with additional new walls from Kab 101, Vans The Omega, Fredrock, Seb Humphreys, Gary Seaman, Jayson Fox, Yarnbombers, Matt Stuckey and an art giveaway by Rawhide.

Jennifer Moon @ Transmission, until 27 Apr

Unlike her domineering portrait suggests, Jennifer Moon is mild, almost apologetic, in person. As she explains her theories on the unifying potential of love between all people, it's very difficult to imagine that once upon a time she used pepper spray to rob people at ATMs in order to feed her heroin addiction. She freely admits her crime and the story of her subsequent incarceration because it makes her vulnerable, and being vulnerable leads to love.
On the first floor of Transmission are a series of photographs and correspondents from Moon's time in prison that make for a fascinating insight into the U.S. prison system. In the centre of the room are Moon's prison typewriter and a large pile of pamphlets that contain her manifesto for 'revolution.' The downstairs space is arranged as a Boot Camp for Revolutionaries, where the vulnerable artist will make volunteers into a vulnerable audience through a series of trust exercises designed to strip back their beliefs. Through this process they will reach a place of 'abundance.'
It's unusual to find such a cultish recipe for happiness presented through the context of contemporary art. While Moon resists the label of 'irony,' she does admit to her work's playfulness. The result is an excursion into the redemptive quality of love and one artist's attempt to systematise its transformative potential. Sure, it's a little messianic in a way that borrows heavily from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and its honesty alone makes it worth an afternoon's curiosity but not a lifetime's commitment. After all, it's just contemporary art.

Anticipating the Future

Among the spectres of GSA’s Mackintosh Museum Polish artist Mariusz Tarkawian predicts the art of the future. 
Who among us hasn't wondered whether Damien Hirst will pickle his own body in a tank of formaldehyde as a posthumous self portrait? It seems so obvious that a failure on Hirst’s part to fulfill our expectations would be disappointing, almost as disappointing as when something so easily anticipated is fulfilled. When confronted with the banality of conceptual art, philistines are heard to moan, ‘my six year old could have made that.’ When they start saying, ‘my six year old saw this one coming,’ you know something's about to go out of fashion.
For Mariusz Tarkawian's first solo exhibition in the UK he's made a point of exposing the predictability of ‘leading’ artists by illustrating his own prophesies of their future work. “Some artists’ work is easier to predict than others,” he admits, slyly neglecting to comment on whether that should be viewed as a strength or a weakness. As for Tarkawian's own strengths, the most blatant is how prolific he is.1200 drawings fill the walls of the Mackintosh Museum in four separate series. When work is displayed on such a scale you can't hope to give equal time to each piece so you start looking for patterns, common threads and the odd stand-out work.
It seems fitting to discover that Tarkawian's main theme is history, the history of art and his personal history in discovering art. The largest of the four series is his attempt to reproduce every drawing he has ever made. At 770 drawings, it offers an impressive visual lexicon, from the earliest stick figures right up to copies of Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
Exhibitions Director Jenny Brownrigg believes the show “has real relevance to the context of an art school.” Indeed the drawings look right at home next to the school’s permanent collection of Classical Greek and Roman sculpture until you realise that these plaster replicas are no longer used as teaching aids but remain on prominent display as useful ornaments in a fa├žade of tradition. Rather than produce a pleasing harmony with the exhibition, the sculptures actually serve to amplify the discordance that Tarkawian's work is exposing.
Confronted with one artist's ambition to rebuild history, you can't help but feel sorry for present and future generations of artists who inherit the broken traditions of art. When the only tradition left to break demands we break with tradition itself, you've got to ask yourself, what's so great about a future unburdened by the standards of the past? Especially when that future seems predictable. Tarkawian's drawings, with their explicit tributes to a broad history of art, speak of a desire to find continuity with that history rather than any serious foretelling of the future. There's a hint of mockery in his predictions, tempting us to get the laughter over and done with well before next season's novelty art has even had time to roll off the assembly line.