Friday, November 30, 2007

Chairman Rudd slays the dragon

IMGP1092-c9950c55-258e-4c40-a301-e56740566f1cThere is definitely a sense of euphoria around Melbourne in the wake of Labor's victory in the polls. But there's also something curious at play in the way China is beginning to loom in Australia's future.

There is a Chinese saying: 'In order to obtain the pearly necklace from the dragon, it is first necessary to find the man to slay the dragon.' Everything is to be done in the correct way and in the correct sequence.

Kevin Rudd has slayed the dragon.

A lifelong Sinophile, Kevin Rudd seems a kind of Anglo-Irish version of a Chinese leader. His victory speech was epic and formalistic - 'this, our great nation'. And he call for fellow MPs to visit homeless shelters has a sound of the cultural revolution about it.

With a nation of such uncertain identity as Australia, it seem to be an easy host for alternative cultural paradigms.

The previous Labor rule under Bob Hawke was characterised by the Scandinavian model. The success of the Accord on which a stable industrial relations was built came from visits to the Volvo factories in Sweden.

So how will Australia now develop under the Chinese model? We've had the battle between cosmopolitanism and parochialism in the dispute between Keating and Howard. Now what will happen to ideological divides?

Will Rudd transcend this with a Confucian respect for hierarchy married with a revolutionary sense of urgency? While it promises an Australia that is more open to the world (not confined by global elites as under Keating), there is the danger that it brooks no argument. Urgency may be used to avoid an acknowledgement of difference, whether ideological or cultural.

We are now on the verge of a bright and glorious future for this, our great nation, under the leadership of our new shiny Prime Minister. Let a thousand laptops bloom.

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'.