Saturday, May 09, 2009

Anxious Innovation

I suffer (if it's the right word) from anxiety when it comes to looking at other people's work. It originates from multiple sources including, not least of which, motifs, style and quality of surface.

I've often shot work in urban settings that hasn't been exhibited or published only to see almost the same exact shot shown by another. This is a problem in a small city like Perth and one that essentially 'forced' me indoors.

It was with much trepidation that I went to the opening of Transient States at Lawrence Wilson. Not just because of the above but also due to 'issues' with crowds and noise.

The show billed itself as follows:
Transient States presents a range of creative responses to the urban landscape of Perth... in the work of eleven photographers whose work reflects a sustained meditation on place, memory, and collective and individual identity.

Exhibiting photographers document the shifting landscape in a variety of ways: recording disused or decaying spaces or the suspended moment prior to an object’s collapse; presenting the architecture of the city or domestic environment as the framework within which the human condition can be analysed; and focusing on physical environments which question current taste and notions of comfort and authenticity.

I, in general, enjoyed the show very much (with a few exceptions) but more than the quality of the work, it has caused me to reflect on my place in this particular 'world'. I realised at the opening how much I don't 'belong' to the various cliques present.

I suffer (again with this word!) from a very good visual memory so whilst I can remember for years the features (and even, on occassion, names) of people whose lives I only brush against, they often return my gaze with blank expressions.

So... at such things, I am always left in the situation where I have to 'make the first move' as others look through me as they would a plinth or another inanimate object. Given my problems with such things, I often end up wandering aimlessly and eventually retreat.

As the show was photography-based there were multiple cliques all of which I struggle with. This wasn't helped by one of the photographers treating my holding of a door for him (he was carrying a child at the time) as a porter service ... so I walked into the show expecting (and receiving) blank stares rather than blank cheques.

Anyway... life feels some much like high school sometimes ... back to the original intention of this post.

Prior to the opening I penned some words about innovation. In particular, how the need for innovation in contemporary art practice causes stress on both the artists and institutions.

Where previously ignorance may have proven an effective defence, now such things are tainted by claims of 'poor research' or, worse, accusations of plagarism.

Just because someone has 'done' something, does that kill off the motif? Consider butterflies, skulls, horses, dogs, etc. and how various artists have built entire careers around them.

It's almost as if it's not accepted unless it's 'ironic', referential (ie. you are aware and thus making a - justifiable - statement) or deniable (you have a 'righteous' claim untainted by the other artists work).

Further than motifs, this is also applied to style and surface, creating a quagmire for artists in the 21st century.

The drive for innovation might ultimately paralyse many protagonists. Essentially unless you are genuinely and 'factually' original, are you just fooling yourself?

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