004 – fusion – The Town and The City


August, 2014


Editors:

  • Dr Neill Overton, Charles Sturt University (Australia)
  • Christopher Orchard, Charles Sturt University (Australia)

In general the villages, towns and small to medium sized cities situated in the countryside have been derived from the agricultural landscape. As such the relationship between the rural landscape and townscape is clearly defined by the historic boundaries between agriculture and urban culture creating rural islands of populations. And the idea or concept or regional development, once imagined to be unlimited, is now on a collision course with new kinds of limits – limits to biodiversity, and the limits to the flows of energy and water – in contrast to increasingly unlimited digital flows (mostly methods of genetic experimentation and forms of entertainment), leaving rural islands to compete globally for population and productivity, and stretching the boundaries of regional identity. This issue of fusion asks contributors to consider the historic agri/urban boundaries which once determined critical regionalism.

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Editorial

Investigating the agri/urban boundaries this issue of Fusion Journal determined to mark an area for academic investigations into comparative assessments, speculations and critical engagements with the spaces we  traditionally see as the town, the city and their (existent or perceived) boundaries. In the original call for papers it was asked that writers, artists, poets and more engage with a principal question centralised around the idea that the concept of regional development, once imagined to be unlimited might now be on a collision course with new kinds of limits – limits to biodiversity, and the limits to the flows of energy and water – in contrast to increasingly unlimited digital flows (mostly methods of genetic experimentation and forms of entertainment), leaving rural islands to compete globally for population and productivity, and stretching the boundaries of regional identity.

The papers, reviews and creative works we received covered a wide gamut of possibilities from utopian/dystopian discourses, geocritical investigations, climate change discourse, performativity, tourism theory to differing investigations or reflections on the regional art-gallery sector. Papers published feature an expansive range of differing voices from Australia and abroad and reflect a global concern or question shared at different international, but equally local, levels. The shifts in writing styles reflect a deliberate editorial choice to include a range of voices that operate to highlight a collection of discourses on regionality and the wide spectrum of spaces in which these discussions are now taking place and the broad range of interdisciplinary approaches being taken to these investigations.

– Christopher Orchard

 

Christopher Orchard is a Lecturer in Photography and interdisciplinary researcher in the School of Communication and Creative Industries at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus. Christopher’s research draws from a wide field of discourse on landscape health, natural resource management, trauma studies, terror management theory and broad art theory and culture to generate transdisciplinary dialogue on landscape issues utilising practice-led research methodologies. Christopher calls himself a ‘connectivist’, a research conduit for information between differing perspectives acting as intermediary to bring about landscape reconciliations, sustainabilities, new knowledge and opened discourse. Christopher Orchard is an internationally exhibiting photographer whose work is currently held in private and public collections globally.

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When one stepped off a tram at the upper end of Collins Street in Melbourne, it was always one small step back to the 1950s of Parisian metal tables, white cloche hats, and Darrell Lea chocolates. The elms and plane trees would shake down large, flat leaves that fell in soft brown flippers over jutting greystone buildings; over in the distance the edges of the possum-parks of Treasury Gardens would loom into view beyond the bone-white Parliament House steps. Flinders Lane would and does house galleries for painting, objets d’art, and jewellery galleries at the boutique end of Collins Street. Two major National Galleries arose in Melbourne – what has now become known as Fed Square; that curious, addled set from a later Star Trek franchise (Voyager, maybe?) in keeping with the even stranger Noddy in Toyland architectures of Storey Hall, near what was Museum Station; Storey Hall with its toothy, lysergic acid diethylamide shattered haze of liquorice allsort building blocks, jutting above the RMIT gallery space. Terrific building. I had an office on the sixth floor. RMIT. Winding down Swanston Street, towards the older National Gallery of Victoria in St Kilda Road, (at least, the one opened in 1968 with “The Field”) with its very own halls of art education couched alongside, nestled under its charcoal bat-wing; the Victorian College of the Arts. The old National Gallery with its black veined roof of massive stained glass ceiling panels, aloft like some smokey scaffolding dreams of church windows spread phantasmagorically. Now its opened out somewhat into the milling, shopping-malled concept of gallery spaces. As nostalgic as all this is – I came from a metropolis, albeit Melbourne with its echoed Parisian wide streets, and cosmopolitan, red-stooled Pellegrinis – but a city whose art gallery monoliths were based since 1968 upon the National Gallery of Victoria as its dark grey mausoleum of modernism.

The gatekeepers of all art and design were city-dwellers, and pontificated from the hallowed halls of academe at institutes such as Melbourne University, RMIT, or Victorian College of the Arts. Sydney had its own set of academic and curatorial keepers-of-the-keys, and its long standing rivalries in art exhibition practice – perhaps most significantly from the Antipodeans of the late 1950s onwards when a division of art purpose occurred between “figuration” in art, and “colour-field”; between a Melbourne figuration, and Sydney abstraction. So… upon arriving in Wagga Wagga, there was and is one state gallery body here – the repository of the nation’s collection of glass-art, and collections of printmaking, essentially. To be “marooned inland”, was to be lost to the blowfly art-desert of Wagga Wagga’s inland parochialism… removed from the engine-rooms of art in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra… or so ran the noisy tropes of metropolitan views. This constructed notion of the provincial depends on the accepted persuasion that rural areas produce only narrow art; forever impoverished by their disengagement from the major critical discourse fuelled in capital centres. It ignores the scope of innovative curatorial activity that has emerged from regional centres, in particular since the 1970s onwards outside of the “centres”, not only world-wide, but in the Australian model through the strategies of curators of the ilk of Hendrik Kolenberg in Tasmania, Alan McCulloch in Mornington Peninsula, or Lou Klepac in Perth… or in Adelaide, Ararat, Tamworth… Recent history points to regional areas exercising exactly the kind of curatorial leadership and will from which critical debate emerges; albeit from places as far strewn as Castlemaine, Newcastle, Kedumba, Broken Hill or Mildura.

Yet at city-centric art and design conferences we constantly hear entrenched views that the regions exist only in the larger, sweeping shadows of these centres of purpose. I stand with Marinetti and the Futurists. Blow them up. Blow up their collections. The cemeteries of art museums. Consign everything in the metropolitan art galleries and art museums’ collections onto a few thin CD Roms, and put them in a metal canister in the ground. Regional Australia can and will continue to generate art and culture and ideas… the sentinels guarding the gateways dissolve in the era of the internet; in the same way that Marconi and the wireless forever, permanently removed the historic “tyranny of distance” that saw Australia relegated as “the Antipodes” – a psychology of geography seeing it permanently severed from and measured by its geographic and cultural proximity to England. We have historically always measured a culture by its proximity or inverse relationship to a “metropolis”… or by its capacity to construct tombstones to itself out of steel and glass. Its cultural and social maturity measured by the solidity of its sandstone buildings, its neatly aligned mercantile rows of Georgian windows; all white cuffs, carved handled canes, and aping of the pale pedigree of English refinements. To paint a watercolour, to stitch, and oversee one’s fenced off land whilst walking the hound dogs was the gentrified, Eurocentric industrialised ambition. We move now in the silvery ghost-trace of these ideas free from geographical imperatives that no longer mould or limit art/cultural exchange. Souvenir tea-towels can jostle on idea-shelves with visions of the sublime; the looming dark threads of skeletal trees aligning the Alpine Way, and histories of place in Bathurst in the church-tower rampants, and hollow gutters of sounds of bell-tomes – all is ship-wrecked on the world wide web and boils itself dry in the tank of regional, inland Australia.

We are in an inchoate era where paltry lip-service is being paid to regional engagement from city-centric myopic, visionless functionaries that still view all of regional Australia as being Woop Woop, and anywhere inland as being surgically detached from the supposed utopian idyll of a postcard Australian surf-beach Shangri-La. The journal articles, essays, photographs, images, reviews and sound-works in this issue represent a diverse bag of views reflecting on the conditions of city-centricity, of geography and place, and the nature of generative arts practices in Wagga and in Bathurst, and outwards to outposts across the world… in sound, image,  documentary, performance, design, film, literature, cartooning… in regional gallery curatorship, photography exhibitions, et al. And the et al is really the crux of it… Diversity and purpose that is driven by location, and not seen as being made in spite of it… but addressing global locations, wilderness, site, the remote, regionality – with arguments, views and a host of large and small languages and ideas. In this vein, Willem de Kooning once said that “it doesn’t seem to matter in art if you have the latest and most brilliant idea, or just a little innocent point of view…” (De Kooning, 1959). Many contributors to this issue are national, and international – in the aspects of the separations real and imagined that contribute to “the town and the city” which they highlight.

To be globally aware of themes and issues rotating across the world in the image-culture and art-culture you locate your practice and reflective writing within… whilst ensuring that your local engagement and specificity is never decried as “provincialism”… becomes the contested domain of arts practice today. We are only a few decades removed from a period in Australia when all Aboriginal art was doomed to dust to reside on the museum shelf as artifacts of a dead culture, located outside of “contemporary art” curation. None of us would be able to relegate Aboriginal art today as other than a living, vital, contemporary force, and arguably the only art this country has ever produced that is genuinely “Australian”. In large part, it was through Tony Tuckson’s curatorial activities in instilling a collection culture of “contemporary Aboriginal art” in the Art Gallery of New South Wales… that demonstrated one form of advocacy for regions over presumed centres; of the many lived experiences the towns can bring to the city.

What types of “art writing” need to surface in an age of disjuncted high/low culture, swamped by the filmic aesthetics of the 16 x 9 moving screen? What types of journal can be fomented to address this? Serpentine, cat-wrangling languages and slippages across disciplinary fence-lines are a necessary response from art makers towards erosion of their right to research through the act of making. There should be no one preferred “academic” language. In edging the door ajar just one thin inch, we would hope to allow dust and garters to fly in equal proportions, in mercurial pools of spilt light across slowly revealed motes, where different collisions of “styles” of reflective writing, images, speculations, anecdotes, articles, poetics, graphics, and photographs can stake their own claims within this practice-as-research realm.

– Neill Overton

 

Neill Overton is a Senior Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.  His research interests are in contemporary Australian drawing, art prizes, awards and surveys.  He was a lecturer at RMIT, Victoria College, and Melbourne University in Art History and Drawing, and worked extensively as a newspaper illustrator, exhibiting artist, art reviewer and novelist.  He has curated major exhibititions towards histories of Australian film, theatre and television.  His PhD was on Icons and Images in Australian Drawing 1970 – 2003, and his critical essays address the relationship between contemporary regional and urban art.

Table of Contents

Articles

Reviews

 

Designed by Chris Orchard