Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Death Metal Summer by Sam Beard.
  2. Players, Places: Reprised, Renewed, Reviewed by Aimee Dodds.
  3. Scholtz: Two Worlds Apart by  Corderoy, Fisher, Flaherty, Wilson, Fletcher,  Jorgensen, & Glover.
  4. Partial Sightings by Sam Beard.
  5. True! Crime. by Aimee Dodds.
  6. The Human Condition by Rex Butler.
  7. Light Event by Sam Beard.
  8. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery.
  9. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden.
  10. 4Spells by Sam Beard.
  11. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen.
  12. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby.
  13. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery.
  14. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard.
  15. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds.
  16. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell.
  17. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.
  18. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard.
  19. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery.
  20. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch.
  21. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard.
  22. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan.
  23. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis.
  24. Art as Asset by Sam Beard.
  25. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds.
  26. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard.
  27. COBRA by Francis Russell.
  28. PICA Barn by Sam Beard .
  29. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds.
  30. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby.
  31. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis.
  32. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard.
  33. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous.
  34. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden.
  35. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain.
  36. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds.
  37. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  38. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard.
  39. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds.
  40. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis.
  41. Transmutations by Sam Beard.
  42. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard.
  43. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery.
  44. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen.
  45. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds.
  46. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard.
  47. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard.
  48. Random Cube by Francis Russell.
  49. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds.
  50. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst.
  51. Being Realistic by Sam Beard.



Rejoinder: Archival / Activism

I hope the work can encourage viewers to think deeply about the historical and ongoing structural violence in governance and its place within society currently.

Roberta Joy Rich          

I tend not to expect much from art exhibitions in the way of politics, and I am generally pleasantly surprised when they contain something politic, as I was with Roberta Joy Rich’s The Purple Shall Govern. This does not mean that the politics contained in their works are not susceptible to criticism, in fact they are doubly so. Political art is vulnerable to arguments both aesthetic and political, because such works are concrete manifestations of a politics. While my critique a few months ago may have glossed over some aesthetic elements of the exhibition, this was done to conform with the Dispatch Review format: short, sharp, and candid. These aesthetic elements were also excluded on account of their being, in my view, already well enough represented in other media. Rich’s words were broadcast on RTRFM in early November, published before that on the Footscray Community Arts website just after she had won the Footscray Arts Prize for The Purple Shall Govern, and feature on every didactic in the exhibition. Rich makes her aims (somewhat) clear: to manipulate the gallery space to examine the ‘conditions of power in public spaces’ and how these inform ‘our ontologies, presence and permissions of movement today’. I take “conditions of power” to mean the conditions which regulate the power of individuals to be present in and move through spaces, and “ontologies, presence and permissions of movement” to mean the ways in which those conditions of power impact upon the Being of a person in a public space. In short, hers is a phenomenological investigation into racist practices in South Africa and Australia conducted through the manipulation of conditions of power within the gallery. By manipulating the space of the gallery—partitioning the space with glass dividers and arranging the works in a non-linear fashion—Rich has certainly explored the conditions of power in public spaces and their phenomenological ramifications. This is what it says on the tin anyway.
        What We Memorialise was above all else a critique of the show’s particular political-historical outlook and how it failed to present the role of the Black South African working class as the pre-eminent agents of historical change in the struggle against apartheid. By failing to focus on the ways in which apartheid was deeply concerned with procuring cheap labour and how that shaped its reality, The Purple Shall Govern elides this element of history. Timmah Ball’s article in un Projects, Archival / Activism  did not really take up this point. While not explicitly billed as a response to my article, Ball certainly addresses most of the grounds which I had argued in What We Memorialise. The only direct citation used by Ball seems to assert that my article claimed that the exhibition heroised Nelson Mandela, which is simply incorrect. The argument I made in What We Memorialise chiefly concerned representations of history, and the role and responsibility that artists have as significant actors in the processes and institutions of collective memory. I argued that, in this respect, The Purple Shall Govern fell short of the mark for me. To support this point I raised the history of Mandela’s betrayal of the goals of the anti-apartheid movement by trading away workers rights in secret negotiations with F.W. De Klerk, a fact less notorious in public discourse. This in no way means that I thought the exhibition was uncritical, more that by excluding this history it was not critical enough, and was (obviously) not critical in the way I had described. The difference between these two stances is not insignificant. There are other examples of this kind of misrepresentation. At one point, responding to my critique of centring the Purple Rain protest, Ball says that Rich ‘resists suggesting that this one event did or even can resolve racial segregation’, which is interesting given Rich suggests pretty much exactly that:

“But in a kind of ironic turn of events, the protesters managed to commandeer the water cannon and spray the buildings surrounding, and the National Party headquarters became purple," Rich said. "And in this moment of chaos at this protest, everybody became purple. I just loved this idea of purple extinguishing these really damaging race categories that have existed in that context”.

This rhetoric was also used in the PICA promotional material. There is certainly more to say about artists’ general attraction to poetical events rather than the nitty gritty of history, but there is not room for such an investigation here.
        It is clear Archival / Activism focuses narrowly on the formal curatorial qualities espoused by Rich herself. Ball identifies a continuum of curatorial practices, from the disruption of ‘the formalities of an art space through participation’ to a more educative or ‘didactical celebration’—the first being consistently identified with activity and the second with passivity. She claims that this curatorial approach ‘supports the viewer to form their own perspective and layered understanding of South Africa’s Apartheid era and the similarities with racial policies in this continent.’ The idea that a visitor to an art gallery is “active” grates against experience.  Activity is characterised by acting on things, not by being acted upon. A person walking between exhibits is not, to my mind, active—they are merely moving from one place to another to receive a new experience, which, in the absence of a more totalising critical frame, is a passive act. Contrast the exhibition with the fabulously rowdy protests for Palestine which have gathered outside PICA week after week, which the City of Perth have actively tried to corral and contain, and we see quite clearly that navigating a gallery space that encourages one to navigate it, and whose purpose it is to be navigated, does not constitute participatory activity. Perhaps for some the bar for participatory activity is lower, and the comparator is other, more passive exhibitions. This is uncontroversial, but Ball’s claim that The Purple Shall Govern is a ‘vital gesture’ would seem an overstatement. In any case, treating The Purple Shall Govern as participatory rather than didactic does not annul my criticisms of the show’s politics, in fact it exacerbates them. Because of the exclusion of this radical history’s most economically and politically significant dimension, there is nothing of it to participate in. It is strange to me that Ball can recognise, in relation to Samira Farah’s show 13 Years, that there exists an ‘intrinsic problem of selection’ and that the act of ‘including or excluding material is never neutral’, but cannot apply this observation to Rich’s work.
        Reference is made in Ball’s article to the reflection room, set off to the side of the main gallery. The room comprised a plinth featuring a selection of books in a closed glass case, a table with writing and reading material, a few chairs and bean bags, and a wall-mounted headset or two connected to a soothing Spotify playlist. Unfortunately I cannot recall the titles of the inaccessible books, but I do remember that on the table there were a few articles by various anti-colonial writers. One of these is by the writer Zayd Minty, and, like Rich, he does not address the working class either, instead glossing over the scale of the workers movement in the phrase: ‘Through it all South African masses from all ethnicities gathered illegally to protest against the system’. This exclusion is not an unusual feature of settler-colonial and post-colonial theoretical approaches, because both approach the question of struggle through the lens of race without acknowledging that the class divided nature of racial groups can lead to precisely the situation which I critique in What We Memorialise: betrayals by the middle- and upper-class sections of the movement. To her credit, Ball does address this in her article via a quote from bell hooks who, like many disappointing figures on the left today, has settled for attempting to change ideas about the world rather than the world itself. Ball quotes hooks:

“Radical Black voices, especially those with some degree of class privilege, must have the courage to talk about class. Racial solidarity in anti-racist struggle can, sometimes does, and must coexist with a recognition of the importance of ending class elitism”.

hooks encourages rich radical Black people to “talk about class” in order to end “class elitism”, as if the total system of exploitation which we live under does not exist. For hooks, the problem isn’t the exploitation of the working class, it’s the elitism of the rich. Perhaps if Barack Obama talked about class a bit more we could forgive him for drone striking weddings in the Middle East, or maybe if Noel Pearson would bring up poverty a few more times we could all move on from his crucial support for the racist Northern Territory Intervention. It is an absurd argument: ideas do not change the world, actions at scale do.
        Fundamentally I think that this article says more about un Projects’ approach to criticism than it does about my article, or about The Purple Shall Governfor that matter. It is apparent that Archival / Activism lacks editing and clarity, which is compounded at certain points by unnecessarily confusing grammatical structures. At a more theoretical level, by adhering to the standards and ideas set by Rich herself, this article is in keeping with the majority mode of arts writing today which simply reproduces an artist’s claims about their own work in lieu of a broader analysis. While Ball does invoke Samira Farah’s 13 Years to make a point about curatorial framing, it is fundamentally performing this same function, substituting the artist’s ideas, in this case those of Rich’s peers, for a global view. I think this is insufficient: artists’ works must be subjected to their total context. To do otherwise is an insult to the artist. It is akin to saying that their work is not worthy of scrutiny from a variety of perspectives, and further that these non-majoritarian perspectives have nothing to offer. If it were true that these other perspectives were not useful, then it should have been a relatively simple matter to show that my article was seriously deficient. I do not think that Archival / Activism achieves that, rather it side-steps my arguments as it engages them, dancing around them for what I can only assume is the lack of an answer to my actual and central contention.
        As far as I am concerned the worst outcome of this utterly forgettable anti-stoush would be if my criticism resulted in artists being less confident to make political art. The contrary is true: we need far more of it, and we need it to have sharp teeth. As the political situation evolves over the coming decades in response to capitalist crises and imperialist great power rivalries, we are likely to see an exaggeration of local political conditions. Short of a reinvigoration of the left and the union movement, the degradation of the conditions of the working class will likely continue apace; politicians will weaponise discontent and direct it into racism and xenophobia, as Dutton is doing right now; the nominally “left” Labor party will surely fail to improve the situation in any meaningful way, and, in the absence of a viable left-wing alternative, we are likely to see a general lurch to the right. The future is not rosy, and that is why we need to make politics, whether of art or not, important again. As we drift further into a grim future we need to get involved in social movements, clarify our politics, and take criticism seriously.



Image credits:

1. Roberta Joy Rich, 'The Purple Shall Govern', 2021, image © UCT Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The artist has applied a purple hue to the original monochrome archival image.

2. Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern, installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2023, image © the artist, photo: @artdoc_au

3. Roberta Joy Rich: The Purple Shall Govern, installation view, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), 2023, image © the artist, photo: @artdoc_au