The Relevance of Art

With the growing popularity of Street Art, I was interested to see at Wonderwalls in Port Adelaide this year, a group of writers working on a wall next to a Street Artist*.  The Street Artist listed her own name on the official program, and the others worked under a crew name, for obvious reasons, to stay incognito.

This defining difference between the establishment and the newcomer, made me reflect on art in general, and the opening up of avenues for displaying and expressing art.

Our Art Gallery of South Australia is under the direction of Nick Mitzevich, who is happy to show colonial art next to Aboriginal/First Nations cultural objects.  He follows that theme around the gallery, mixing together works that would usually be seen as opposing, as having something significant in common.  As we don’t have a formal contemporary art building (yet), Mitzevich treats our gallery as contemporary art meets the art history of the world, including representation from our Asian neighbours.

This is a challenging and exciting way of displaying art, and keeps the gallery relevant culturally and geographically.  It also makes the gallery an inspiring place to visit, as we see the old collection in a new way and the new work in the context of the old.

After spending some years now admiring and participating in street art, I feel the pristine white walls of a gallery space that shut out history, noise, and windows to the outside world, are both restricting and old in the limited atmosphere and lack of authenticity in the space.  The artist is responsible for creating these things, which can come across as contrived and like a static museum display.

When operating exclusively in a gallery setting, an artist can begin to take this for granted, and I think that impacts on the relevance of art in the real world.  Artist Alfredo Jaar says to imagine the world we want to live in, meaning to use art to push us towards that world.  The beauty of street art is that it goes to the people, the people don’t have to seek it out.  Street art also reflects the integrity of the existing surrounding, and so becomes a part of it.

I’ve said previously, I embrace all street art, including tags and sgraffiti, as relevant to the contemporary and historical art scene.  Widening our definition of art as existing in the everyday, allows us to think outside the gallery space and work alongside others who have different perspectives, and so makes what we do relevant.

As a footnote:  The Art Gallery of South Australia could be inclusive and embrace street art by opening the outside side wall(s) as free walls for any artists to participate.  Then we would have a world leading rather than a world class art gallery.

*Street Art as the new wave of painters who only work by permission to paint a wall, street art includes any form in general.

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Where to next? [fashion, Part One]

Looking at international Fashion Week designs for Winter 2017/18, it suddenly stuck me something is wrong with fashion.  It’s out of fashion.

What is supposed to be cutting edge has stagnated.  The biggest movement in the last eight years is preppy hipster wear, which first made an appearance in the 1920’s.

With global awareness of climate change, population growth, fair trade, ethical manufacturing, sustainable and closed loop production, making clothing from new materials suddenly makes no sense.

After this revelation, came another; that clothing for him or her is no longer a thing.  Our next generation is moving away from gender specific branding in every way, and now focuses on being authentic with what they like, who they are and how they identify.  This freeing up of gender specific clothing design goes beyond the unisex or androgynous looks of the 70’s to 90’s.  It’s not a fad based trend but a genuine social upheaval that is influencing how we dress at the grass roots level.

And finally, the old ‘travel the world for inspiration’ resulting in cultural appropriation is over.  Themed parades appropriating First Nation head-dresses, artworks and ceremonial clothing by designers who have nothing to do with that culture, and without the permission of the First Nation peoples, are stealing intellectual property.

I think this uprising social awareness pushes artists and designers further into their own culture(s) to find inspiration.  Now more than ever, we can quickly access global information and images, but are challenged to process them in a visual language that is unique to our own experience.

Maybe the final awareness of the change in society, is the growing acceptance of street art and graffiti.  Art is coming out of the galleries in all forms of expression, and into our faces on the street.  After years of generic paid advertising creating visual pollution, it’s refreshing to see the work of random artists.  People who are willing to pay for their own materials, donate their own time, and at their own risk, make the city a more interesting place.  I’m waiting to see how this influences fashion beyond creating a backdrop for fashion shoots, a hoodie and pair of jeans that accommodates a spray can.

 

Young people are very good at shaking up the status quo, and pushing us into a new way of thinking.

Art to Die For

With yet another artist passing away in their prime, https://urbanwallart.wordpress.com, I thought it was time to write about the hazards of being an artist, that is, the medium*.

There is documentation of many historical artists who died from contact with their materials, including a more recent study from the 1940’s to 60’s Health Hazards Manual for Artists.  Many contemporary artist materials are dangerous and the artist is in constant close contact with often not enough protective equipment or safety in their overall set up.  Familiarity can lead to a casual attitude with safety in using materials, or the artist may just not be aware of the hazard.

In my lifetime as an artist to date, I’ve been in close contact with solvents such as white spirits for fabric printing in confined spaces with inadequate ventilation, inhaled ammonia based inks when spray painting fabrics, handled inks and powder form dyes without adequate protective equipment, and more recently, handled and inhaled eucalyptus dyes with outdoor ventilation but inadequate protective gloves or a fumes mask.

I don’t know how many printmakers have died from brain tumors from inhaling fumes from inks, cleaning solvents and plate making techniques.  I also don’t know how many aerosol artists inhaling solvents from their paint will go the same way.  Working at an artist based facility for a few years, there was a thin film of ceramic dust on our floor underneath the ceramics studio every day and MDF sawdust from the furniture studio.  Clean up methods and ventilation was addressed but how much is enough?

All commercial dyes, inks, paints, etc come with a Materials and Safety Date Sheet (MSDS), which details the risks of chemical exposure and the level of protection required to minimise risk.  What we don’t have easily to hand is the results of constant interaction with chemicals, or the interaction of one chemical with another such as the break down of dye atoms when using discharge dyes making the dye carcinogenic.   The danger of constant skin contact with discharge dyed or some chemically dyed clothing is not readily known, nor the effect of dyes released to water ways and gradually breaking down over time.  http://toxicfashion.org/chemical-txtugly.html

The problem with any chemical use is, what level of toxicity is a safe level, or is a slow build up of any level over time dangerous?  I haven’t read any data on the safety of exposure to natural dyes, such as eucalyptus.  The fumes from simmering different leaves vary and some smell downright nasty but does strong smell equal toxicity (as it usually does in cleaning solvents)?

Late sculptor Bronwyn Oliver was in constant contact with copper wire and “in 2013, it was reported that analysis of a sample of Oliver’s hair contained a very high level of copper, nearly 8 times normal.”  She died from suicide with reported deterioration of her mental health over several years leading up to the event.

I was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis after being hospitalised with liver failure four and a half years ago.  (Coincidentally the symptoms first became apparent the week I started this blog.)  What causes the disease isn’t really known,  but it can be triggered by chemical exposure.  Several years before that time but not within six months of the flare up, I’d been dyeing with eucalyptus dyes, and for several months leading up to the beginning of symptoms, handling chemically tanned leathers and skins.  The specialist said a flare up often happens slowly over time and remains undetected until symptoms appear.

How is it possible for an artist to keep their practice entirely toxicity free?  I still haven’t found the answer to that, but use solvent free water based inks, will only mix water based powder dyes (fibre reactive) outdoors with a ventilation mask, use wheatpaste glue and avoid any solvent based products.  I’m moving towards a digitally printed outsourced process where the dyes are inkjet or sublimation printed onto the fabric to reduce waste.  Having said that I still use carpenters glue or PVA to stick together paper for wheatpasting, and the PVA has low toxicity risks:

“Acute Effects
Swallowed
May cause gastric irritation.
Eye
A moderate eye irritant.
Skin
Repeated or prolonged skin contact may
lead to irritation.
Inhaled
Not normally an inhalation risk due to low
vapour pressure ambient temperatures.
Chronic Effects
Knowledge is based on that of the
constituents. Repeated or prolonged skin
contact can cause irritation.”

http://www.campbellswholesale.com.au/files/D59135239.pdf

Working with safe methods and materials as an artist today is a massive challenge, and comes with the constant updating of awareness and vigilance in every area.

RIP every artist who has died for their craft

*Disclaimer:  I know nothing about the materials this artist was using or the cause of his death, but am commenting generally on the passing of artists in their prime and questioning if there is a link between their materials and early death.  I’m not a medical or scientific expert.

Patron of the Arts

With massive cuts in finding to the Australia Council thanks to our current federal government, and diversion of funds to projects that are only considered ‘commercially successful’, it’s heartening to see websites emerge that place supporting artists into the hands of people who actually care, you! 🙂

Being a Patron of the Arts is no longer restricted to people with a high income, and is now available to the average arts lover.  I wrote previously about a site where you can sponsor the creation of Street Art (Collecting Street Art) as one-off projects.  Patreon has made it possible to become a patron of the arts by supporting as many or as few artists as you like, for as little as a $1/month.  Unlike We the Vandals, this is ongoing support each time a new work is created, with a fixed monthly maximum.  Like We the Vandals, there are rewards depending on the levels of support, or just let patronage be a reward in itself.

Photon Vandal
Photon Vandal

Local street photographer Photon Vandal has set up a campaign to support his night photography.  I’ve been following his exciting, influential work in various guises over the last few years.  This is a great opportunity to see more of the work you like and know you had a part in creating it.