Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Given As An Art-Political Statement

Here is TV3 's news programme about the Dane Mitchell work and the TWNCAA.

Here is also TV1's take on the winner.

I'm curious to know more about the artist's instructions: the details, like plinth size, quantity of discarded packaging etc. Was the rubbish selected or did it all get included? If you look at the photographs with my article, you will notice they are not consistent.(Like the different shots of the TV3 programme). The physical properties of the work keep changing.


Simon said...

am i the only person in the country who has anything intelligent to say about this artwork? can nobody else be bothered? are all the thoughtful people just too shy? or did dane mitchell really just win an award with a pile of rubbish, actual rubbish?

the key to dane's work is not poetry, though it may be poetic; not concept, though it may be conceptual; not cleverness, though it may be clever; not excess, though it may be excessive; not futility, though it may be futile; not consumerism, though it may consume; not mystery, though it may be mysterious; not controversy, though it mat be controversial; not recycling, though it may recycle; not strategy, though it may be strategic; not effort, though it may be effortless; not mockery, though it may mock; not tautology, though it may be tautological; not paradox, though it may be one; not tribute, though it may offer one; and not, above all not, most clearly and significantly not, not not not not NOT RUBBISH!!! in fact dane’s work is not even made of rubbish - though of course, at first, it may appear to be.

the key to dane's work is desire, aspiration, and ambition. the key to dane's work is hope. the key to dane's work are the hopes and dreams of his fellow contestants. the key to dane's work are the vey hopes and dreams his victory crushed. dane's work is NOT made from rubbish. dane's work is made from hopes and dreams. dane's work is made from the crushed hopes and dreams his victory created, and dane's victory is made from the defeat of those who lost. this is the key to his work. this is why it may be poetic, conceptual, clever, excessive, futile, consuming, mysterious, controversial, recycled, strategic, effortless, mocking, tautological, paradoxical, memorialising. this is why it might not be rubbish. this is why it might be art and why it might be interesting. nothing else.

N O T H I N G.

if you do not understand this read it again, and again and again and again until you come to terms with it in your own way, in your own words, through your own feelings and though your own experience because that is what dane's work is about. dane's work is about experience. in shaping his winning piece from the discarded packaging of those that lost he imbues a single object, a pile of rubbish, with both an aura of success and an aura failure; with both victory and defeat; ulfilment and emptiness; truth and trash.

Simon said...

however, what is really contentious here (and what seems to be similarly lost on everyone but me) is that dane's work only works if it wins. without victory all that might be interesting, clever, poetic, or whatever is lost, set adrift like rubbish in the wind. what is really contentious here is that dane's work was not just dane's work. dane's work was a collaboration. dane's work was begun by dane but finished by charlotte. in fact, before it won dane's work hardly existed at all. it was not even art - it was a challenge. a challenge made directly charlotte and one she chose to accept.

all artworks in competition say two things. firstly they say what all art works say - what they would say if they were not in a competition - firstly they say "i am art and i am about this or about that" or "i am beautiful or "i am clever" or some kind of combination of these kinds of things, and secondly they say "pick me! pick me! i am the winner!". the first voice is primary. it defines the art as ART, and, in competition, is used by the judge to determine the claim of the second... however, in a move that may be more radical, more thoughtful, more specific and more responive to its context than another competition entry anywhere in the world, ever, dane submitted a work that had no primary voice. a work that did not even claim to be art! a work with a secondary voice. only a secondary voice. a work that claimed only to win.

in this way dane's winning work uses the competition environment to invert in the extreme the typical mode of operation art uses to communicate its intentions. in this way dane’s work challenged charlotte not just to award it the prize, but to finish it, to make it work, to make it ART.

Simon said...

what we all should really be asking is did he, did she, did anyone, realise this...

John Hurrell said...

Would you not say Simon, that egos being what they are, all artists who enter such competitions are convinced they alone will be the winner? That is why they pay good money to send in an entry form.

They don't say to themselves, I am going to take second place and I'll throw my hard-earned money down the toilet for the hell of it. To be a loser.

artfromspace said...

Simon, I like your aspirational reading of Dane's work. It seems consistent with other ongoing strands, including the exploration of hierarchies and networks, infrastructures and institutional practices, who is in and who is out, what is valorised and what ends up in the skip - hopes and dreams made manifest by publicly emptying the bins of the gatekeepers.

But does this work only exist if Dane wins? If he were only a finalist, the work would still be exhibited based on the same instruction. In this case he would be an also-ran but still reliant on the efforts of his fellow failures. It could appear as a gesture of solidarity, of the downtrodden masses huddling together (in barricades). Or it could be a failed attempt to rise from the rubble by climbing on top of others' efforts. A feeble indictment of ego and the need to be noticed, to stand out from the crowd while still being dependent on it. Again, it would be the judge as (inadvertant?) collaborator that would create this context.

Interesting idea.


John Hurrell said...

Before we get to interpreting the work, do we know that all the packaging from the other 42 finalists are on display - as instructed. I suspect not, the pile is too small. And did he ask for a plinth or for it to go on the floor?

Where does its interest lie in terms of meaning? Is it an act made by a contemporary artist that is hostile to provocative confrontation, that provides shock in order to critique it, that loves the very community it is baiting? A work that in itself is so indignant and deeply offended by contemporary art that it strives to expose it as vacuous, knowing that the museum staff are not capable of grasping its meaning - only that its shock value brings the institution media profile and a temporary increase in door numbers.

haru said...

Is the sheet of instruction sent by Dane (printout of e-mail, fax or hard copy letter) among the pile? Or should it have only been included in the pile if he did not win?

Simon said...

John: while so sure your first comment is necessarily right, true or false i'm not sure why it is relevant? maybe we are misunderstanding each other. your second comment is much more interesting. to begin, dane's instructions stated "the packaging from all other contestants". however, collateral as it existed on last friday was made from only a small proportion of this. this impossibility of realisation was likely intended by dane. it implicates the museum in the creation of the piece in an number of ways and forces them to modify the 'artist instructions' which in conceptual work are often considered sacrosanct... which brings us to the plinth. i have no idea whether or not this was dane's idea or a result of independent thinking on part of the museum - although i imagine not as in my experience museums are not known for their independent thought! either way the plinth was a great development. in the same way as the imperfectly applied artist instructions agitates an except notion of conceptual practice, so to the plinth, which elevates the material and aesthetic over concept, confuses expectations. through its objectification of the work the plinth heightens our awareness of the work as victor, wrapping it tightly in a cloak of uniqueness, of value, and of conventional beauty and true - all of which it on the other hand is not, being equally ubiquitous, cheap, banal and false, opposing characteristics that, in combination with their relationship to defeat - a defeat their very accumulation on a plinth created - imbues them to with an aura of value beauty and 'truth'. while the piece would still work without it, intentional or not, the plinth is a master stroke.

John Hurrell said...

I like your question Haru. Maybe the instructions could become a second separate artwork, or a second category of rubbish?

Simon, my feeling is that other works might have had plinths, but my memory might be faulty? Can anybody tell us?

Simon said...

haru: dane's instructions clearly stated ALL the OTHER contestants packaging. to propose inclusion if it did not win is perhaps an interesting idea. however, it is definantly not what dane specified, and although i have not rifled through the pile of rubbish currently on the plinth at the waikato art museum i think we can sure any detritus from his entry is not a part of it. in any event, interesting as it may be such a possibility in the concept weakens significantly that which makes the piece good - if in fact it is. such an inclusion diminishes its call to victory along with the collaborative challenge it presents to the curator/judge. as it is, dane's piece is kind of an all or nothing gesture possing a delicate balance of consideration, carelessness, elegance, and simplicity.

andrew: if you will forgive me the extremist tone of my original post and the time to reply), i am more than happy to agree with you. dane's work still 'works' if it does not wins. however, the real point is that these readings (and you suggest some of the best) are significantly weaker that those that are generated through wining.

further, my real concern around this wider debate is who was aware of this. i feel like i may be about to skate out on some very thin ice but from what i have heard and read so far i get the feeling in submitting his work and taking the award dane has donned an particularly realistic and well crafted nudie suit and in doing so splits all who gaze upon it into 3 distinct groups: those who see nothing and are offended; those who see nothing and paint their own cloths; and those who see something and think about it. the genius being - if it is genius - that all groups see the same thing: nothing, nudity, rubbish.

Bernie said...

Had placed this comment in response to Haru, but would like to add it to this discourse.
In the 'Close up' report an Danes instructions were held up by the gallery curator, they read;
Retain all disposed and discarded packing material from the other works in the exhibition.
Leaving nothing out -include all bubble wrap, cardboard, plastic etc.
Pile all this material into a heap in the exhibition space.'
Then in smaller writing it read;
'This jpeg is not the work only an instruction in order that the work may be completed'

This last sentence interested me as I know in the terms and conditions for entry into the competition item 6. says 'An image of the entry is to be submitted with the website entry form'
Could this be Danes 'image', and if so is that really sticking to the conditions of the competition?
Item 7.10 in the same entry conditions states;
'Art works can not be changed or added to once they have been submitted', thats pretty subjective in this case.
Item 7.2 'Employees of the Waikato Museum are not eligible to enter.' Maybe not, but allowed to make?

Danes work has depth and smarts, and with a asking price of $5,250, if sold a brilliant profit margin, considering in money terms its cost him the $35 entry fee to produce.
I just hope he and the museum have played by the rules.

John Hurrell said...

Dane's email had no image, and obviously the museum selected some of the packaging to place on an unrequested plinth.

The registrar is technically in charge of these proceedings. She is meant to supervise things so that the artist's instructions are carried out. The curator or judge is not meant to touch the work.

craig J. hilton said...

Interesting……So, what kinds of hope and dreams get dashed against a plinth?. I guess the kind hopes and dreams of those who (can) subject themselves to the storm of art judgment. But, if they have wrapped and sent their work, then presumably they had the security of knowing that they were safely amongst the finalists, and that their work would make to onto the walls and floors of the Waikato Museum of Art and History.

It does seem to be such a small sad pile. For me, this is where Collateral becomes more interesting. Firstly, where are all those discarded images and unwanted jpegs that never got a look in to be considered for this third-most prestigious art award? This, with a help of the media coverage has lead me to try and picture the discarded wrappings of all those perhaps not in a position to make art (let alone contribute to art discourse) – but this, of course, would be too large a pile to be contained by any art venue. Is this then - art doing what it is good at - representing it’s own?......still mulling it over, myself and it does not really matter how good the art is or isn't when the discourse is interesting.

John Hurrell said...

Interesting comments Craig, the way you extend 'exhibition' beyond the 42 finalists to include the other 200 or so applicants.

It's very interesting that Mitchell didn't ask for a plinth. A pile on the floor like that which he requested would have been more provocative, looking more obviously like detritus. By using a plinth and selecting a small portion the Museum tried to take the sting out of his work, cleaning it up for the institutional space.