Monday, November 05, 2007

Nation 'too parochial' to engage - Merewether's lament

The curator of last year's Sydney Biennale Charles Merewether has just taken a job as deputy Director of a $33 billion new cultural district in Abu Dhabi. He leaves embittered by the response to his biennale:

Merewether says he is disappointed by "the lack of residue, the lack of ongoing discussion" it instigated.

"We may have failed to distinguish issues that could be discussed in an ongoing manner. I had hoped, for instance, that the work from the Middle East might have raised issues about what is going on there, culturally and artistically. Likewise with work from the Balkans. But in the end, it had no traction. It was if it were all just a passing event, a fashion.
Nation 'too parochial' to engage | The Australian

The problem is not that Merewether's was too radical for Australia, it was too predictable. The biennale colluded with a seeming noble interest of western liberals in the plight of those in transitional zones, such as the Middle East or the Balkans. But such an interest presumes a pity for those who are unable to enjoy the benefits of the west. There is nothing in this art that conveys the validity of the culture from whence it arises. It is simply there to attract our victimist gaze. The biennale thus left its audience feeling just as 'relaxed and comfortable' as it was before. The fact that it included 'difficult' issues like the MIddle East does not mask its globalised position.

For the biennale to be more than fashion, we needed to see something of ourselves as visitors in the picture, to understand our own place in this world. Without that, the world is just 'an amazing place'.


Florence Forrest said...

I agree.

markt said...

Charles Merewether should not be surprised that real culture has no traction in a modern Australian city
Here in Adelaide, the Festival is simply a two year knees up for a very neatly defined audience who want a biennial bit of risk-taking and staying up late. It's all a bit like the incredibly fat Mr Creosote out of that Monty Python film, who explodes after one more wafer thin chocolate.
You can imagine the good encultured burghers of Adelaide on the verge of explosion after one more 5 hour Korean opera. They go home, grumbling and farting with cultural flatulence, and say Thank God that's over for another couple of years.
Nothing is left behind after a Festival or Biennale. Nothing accumulates or gets rank or evolves into anything. It's just cargo culture. But heaven help the poor sod who would challenge it.
I feel for Charles.