November 08, 2005

REPORTING | Literalism and the bleeding obvious ...

Thanks to Brisbane's Sunday Mail for another unfounded and misguided attack on an artist. Franz Ehmann, having committed the crime of receiving public funding to produce new and challenging work, is the target of another attack by this bastion of informed reporting. In a report headed, 'Yes, but is it art?' (SM 6 November 2005 p 23), journalist David Murray jockeys his obviously vast knowledge and expertise about art to lampoon Ehmann's new work currently exhibited at the Institute of Modern Art. He obviously knows much about art because he puts quote marks around the word when referring to Ehmann's work, which must indicate that in Murray's estimation it's not really art and is a waste of tax payers' money.

The inconguity of Ehmann's installation for Murray appears to be that the artist (a chef by trade and whose work often pivots around metaphors of food and nourishment) has recreated the last meals of death row inmates and left them to rot in the gallery space. Murray suffers the curse of literalism and a failure of visual literacy, seeing only rotting food rather than an event of symbolic import, perverse curiosity or current political poignancy. He also fails to see that Ehmann is an artist of national repute and international standing and that the creation of challenging work is essential to a dynamic civic or public culture as well as to the construction of a contemporary artspace like the IMA. Art like Ehmann's isn't intended to be easily digested and that's where it's value and significance lies.

Compare this antagonism with a report from the UK which profiles an innovative arts project hosted by Guardian Unlimited. Titled imagine art after, the project brings together 14 artists from across the globe, whose work will be displayed in a specially created online gallery. The curator, Breda Beban, is quoted as saying: "After going through experiences that many of the artists taking part have gone through, living in exile, it's difficult to imagine how art can take place. Yet one of the strongest themes of the project is how the process of making art becomes in itself a survival strategy, how imagining art is absolutely necessary to keep your sanity ... I really want to give everyone taking part a much broader sense of how contemporary art works. We have artists from Nigeria, Albania, Iraq, coming from very different traditions and working in very different styles. All of them have something fresh to add."

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