Thursday, May 07, 2009


Do you ever read Artlink? It bills itself as a Contemporary Art Quarterly, and although it focuses mainly on what's happening in Australia and New Zealand I've found it great reading for years before I moved into the Southern Hemisphere because of the way in which it concentrates on particular themes in each edition, and partly because it draws connections between what's happening in art around the world.

My biggest problem with it is the same problem I have with all of the lovely arts-related publications I like to read (A-n, Imprint, Printmaking Today, Art World, Art & Australia...) - it takes a sustained effort of will for me to carve out the time, quiet and headspace to sit down and read it properly, even though I know that I will enjoy doing so and benefit from it. Anyway, this quarter I have made the time to read the magazine from cover to cover, and found lots to enjoy and even some things I want to come back to, which means circling them with my trusty red pen and turning down the top corner of the page so that I can find my marks again!

One thing I really liked was the inclusion of a quote from Shakespeare's Richard II: I wasted time And now doth time waste me, which seems particularly apt to me at the moment. This quarter's issue of Artlink is concerned with TIME (and only tangentially with its wasting), so there is a selection of articles/essays about interesting things such as Aboriginal concepts of time (and how they've been misinterpreted) and whether culture evolves or is revealed, interspersed with examinations of many different artists' practices. What I find so helpful is that other people's discourses on other artists' works sometimes reveal to me insights about my own concerns and approaches to my art practice. It's not so much that I need to borrow other people's words, but that there are so many words about my own work floating around in my head that I find it hard to line them up coherently. Why do I do what I do? How do I do what I do? And what does it all mean? Well sometimes I find that looking at and reading about other artists coalesces previously wraith-like whisps of themes and meanings into a more tangible, presentable whole.

There is a fascinating article in this quarter's magazine about an exchange of video-letters between two artists: Victor Erice in Spain and Abbas Kiarostami in Iran. They have completely different approaches to their work: Erice is painstaking in the way he prepares for,organises and builds up his work into something that can be exhibited. He isn't prolific, and has to use what he has carefully, although he took the opportunity in the exhibition that resulted from their video-exchange to create a totally new piece of work. Kiarostami is described in the article as "prolific without trying to be... and this is a poise he carefully cultivates". His work is described as having an "off-hand, impulsive, almost unworked quality", and there is the suggestion that as he's so prolific he's almost lazy, walking away from anything that suddenly bores him even if it's only half-complete. And yet the other side of this is his emphasis on art making as "practising the art of seeing - with [the] eyes, not in the first place with any representational apparatus". He is described as having "a kind of openess, an availability to the world" that allows him to capture what he has learned to see swiftly, apparently effortlessly.

I find collaborations very intriguing and this one was clearly a challenge, certainly for Erice who was confronted with someone with whom he wanted to work but who didn't play by his notion of the 'rules'! The outcomes are interesting, but I find myself most interested in their different approaches to making art. In character I am probably most like Erice: I'm not prolific. I don't make vast amounts of work, and what I do make I make carefully, painstakingly... But in the same breath I say that I find myself like Kiarostami too: I rarely fill a sketchbook because with me it all goes in through the eyes and I prefer to spend more time looking than drawing. Sadly, identifying traits I have in common with two interesting professional artists doesn't necessarily make me either professional or interesting, but reading about them allowed me a glimpse of myself. And it also reaffirmed to me the value of collaboration, something I will continue to seek out.

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