Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Back to the Program

this is meant to be a brief little thing - to get people posting again.

The art life has had some feisty comments wars about the non maquarification of East Sydney Teach- and so maybe that's where the steam from this forum is going?


or is everyone hunkering down to the onerous tedium of scrabbling on the edges of the culture industry and knowledge economy....shows, marking, proposals, aquittals, teaching etc.....?

I am interested in the condition of precarity as generative of creativity, of ideas, of activity. where threat is a source of interesting things.

the millis show - was a nice reminder of this - how the sixties communities of service economy fringe workers plus 'emerging' artists, and ye olde grande working class, were a soruce of really amazing social ferment......

so different to the isolate pockets of latterday warehouse squatters, occupying discrete not yet colonised zones of real estate in bland bourgeois suburbs like balmain and pyrmont....... or not?

but i segue.

in my own little corner of the sandstone academy. hell i don't even have a corner, it's a space i pass through on occasion - a series of tracks and encounters, but lets call it a corner anyway...

....I'm acutely aware of the current precarity of research,teaching study in arts. Academic merit is a fraught and weak justification for continuing to fund schools of research. Universities are meant to be cash generating corporate cows.

in some circles, i've heard phD students describe their research practice as 'a job', with people actually saying 'I treat it as a job, I go to work and I achieve outcomes.' as if introjecting this neoliberalist bullshit will save them from the cold nasty fact that intellecutal endeavour is NOT valued in our society, and is constantly under threat.

I'm sorry if I incite moans all round by citing Walter Benjamin, but his view of the present, of making hisotyr, of acting in the present as a historical moment but I really believ ethat this sense of CRISIS is what makes any work really CRITICAL.

I woke up today and thought 'what if I found out that I was going to die in the next 6 months?', and I realised that I would keep doing what I'm doing. that this matters to me that much, and that this is my 'life work' - in the beuyssian sense. I would define 'life-work' as that activity that we continue in the face of the immanence of death, with an immense sense of the precarity and fragility of our activity and our life, and of something that we give ourselves to in that moment of accepting the precarity of life, the terror of death and the awareness of its inevitability.

I believe that art is any activity which encompasses this 'life work'. It includes writing, teaching and social interventions of play, encounter and community building. I think any institution, grouping, porject which wants to attch itsllef to 'art form', must somehow embody this form of life work, and a strong sense of the precarity and precioussness of what this means.

In relation to my former art school, I'm aware of the rich sense of community I gained by attending it, but this is one that has largely flourished outside of its walls. so I'm wondering what will happen to this commuity as the art school is faced with its own collapse or transformation.

I went to a very odd meeting at the sandstone pillar yesteday. Amidst gargoyles, desks and the fusty murmures of atrophied adolescent neuroticism, there was a subtext of the immense fragility of our endeavour. The university is an institution which begrudgingly supports academic research or intellectual endeavour, and teaching and research are primarily forms of cash generation. Art departments, even arts departments are under threat. the activity of researhc has to be concealed, disguised, somehow fudged beneath the requisite administrative parameters of KEY PERFMRANCE NDICATORS. (like levels of coursework enrollments, or timely phD completions) Within this i'm intrigued to see how people behave. Intrigued to see who bury themselves further into their little burrows of books, words, dreams. Waiting out their tenure, while counting their superannuation, acting the cynic. their dusty gloom, barely aleviated by catty snipes at other academics researchers. Playing dead. Immense adolescent impotence, that evokes images of Casuauban from eliots middlemarch. Insipid dreams of the morally dead. However other profs, chat, move, respond. Still talk, form links, still teach. find new activites, new entres, new endeavours, new exchanges. Universities are still immsensely privileged sites of encounter, of words, books, bodies, classrooms, access to absorbing, circulating and creating ideas, and community.

i'd stilll say the main benefit of the institutions i've attended has been access to social networks. Art school, enabled me to learn the rules in order socially negotiate 'the art scene', and university did much the same. Hell so did squatting. In fact most of the people I know now - are through networks of squatting or study! (even internet networks usually feed into or feed off real world connections in these other spheres) Why is that?

is it the precarity? the limited time? the proximity of physical and idealised community? is it the site?
or is the activity?

this question is going to make me sound horribly elitist and privileged, but, WHAT DO WORKERs DO? How do people, stuck together spending vast amounts of time collectively living a form of psychic death (and don't EVER try to tell me that work, the labouring monkey suit, flouro gear, rubber gloves hourly rate watch the clock shit is ANYTHING but psychic death) actuallly create honest and meaninglful relationships? OK there's always the pub later, but spending 8-10 hours a day, lying to yourself and lying to other people cannot be washed away wiht a few cold schooners.. And most sydney pubs suck. How do people survive in the burbs? I've only lived in country towns or around newtown, so I don't know. Apart from life modelling, none of the jobs I've had have offered even the remotest connection to rich social networks. How do people cope?

I'm asking these questions here, because whatever we mean by open source, does need to consider the social geopgraphies of what we'd like to promote in our walless pedagogical project. I'm also painfully aware of my own extremely limited experience in creating comunities and wonder how that impacts on what I'd be able to constribute to such a project.

what do other people think?


Anonymous gricegrocers said...

must... ...understand glaze technology...

4:55 pm  
Blogger mayhem said...

wow...wish I'd remembered bits of inorganic chemistry from last century.

doncha just love it when minerals oxidise at really high temps and then form funny shaped molecules that give off really cool colours?

we got an underused kiln in the garage if anyone wants a crack at the hands on stuff.

1:38 am  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...


I love the applied sciences. Can I use your kiln?

1:47 am  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

Ashley, I already have access to a kiln but thanks for offering, Mayhem.

I've always wanted to master physics, maths and chemistry, athough I have found that it's useful to approach those subjects with a humanist dimension ie "the sociological imagination".

1:28 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...


I can only agree with what you say about the problems. I have a sense of being at the end of time, we are living in a civilization that is about to go into a terminal decline and one of the most telling symptoms is the death of intellectual activity. I know people from a range of areas having the same problems, their real work smothered, can’t get things published, repression at every turn, the debacle around my exhibition opening was another typical trivial example, all this is what happens when an evil ideology triumphs. And it will get worse, as corporations get more power they will abuse it eg AOL is currently censoring emails that contain content that criticizes AOL. This is what it was like to live in the Roman Empire as it slid into barbarism.

On the other hand there are ways of fighting back and for that reason I think now is one of the most interesting times possible. The battle for open source is one of the greatest battles in human history and it has only just begun. It includes constantly asserting that intellectual activity must exist simply for itself, not for money, and knowledge must be free and open to all. That is what the corporations, and the fascists, want to stop.

So the answer to the problem is all in your post. Give the fascists the finger. Just do exactly what they are trying to stop us from doing. If we start taking this whole project further, and taking it more seriously, then we can play a role for good. We need to incorporate the full range the most serious historical, analytical and theoretical writing to the most playful and whimsical. We need to accumulate and link to as many other resources as possible. And we need to regard it as a slow, permanent ongoing project that will never end, that will ultimately not only shame, but will replace, the institutions that are currently acquiescing, conniving even, in their own destruction.

Here endeth the sermon for today.

1:14 pm  
Blogger mayhem said...



up the revolution!

4:31 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

well errrr I meant resistance rather than revolution.

10:42 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

I'd like to suggest that the battle of our times is battle for population decline - aged care for all without destroying the economy and without everyone being expected to have six kids.

I say this in the wake of Vladimir Putin's gormless policy objective of population increase in Russia.

Yum cha and clean clothes for all and spare them the gas chambers!

Bidet revolution! Bidet Revolution!

11:39 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

I'd like to suggest that the battle of our times is battle for population decline - aged care for all without destroying the economy and without everyone being expected to have six kids.

I say this in the wake of Vladimir Putin's gormless policy objective of population increase in Russia.

Yum cha and clean clothes for all and spare them the gas chambers!

Bidet revolution! Bidet Revolution!

11:39 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...


11:40 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

Bidet - I told yers I dig ceramics.

11:44 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

It's because population increase is so unstoppable that the game is over really. The only thing that has slowed it down anywhere (eg Europe) has been the education of women. Which gets us back to control of knowledge again. Population growth suits big business, especially as the rich will always be the last to suffer from any disaster, even the complete destruction of our ecosphere.

Can't help you on ceramics, my experience is limited to the time I once worked for Studio Anna making boomerang ashtrays with paintings of aboriginals on them. Those were the days.

12:17 am  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

Smoking was cool.

12:47 am  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

The Guardian has a comment piece about Blair Labour arts policy that is a little bit relevant here http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1779341,00.html

11:13 am  
Anonymous santa claws my back said...

re: NAS debate: COFA has just as many shortcomings as NAS.

4:24 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

They had a lucky escape with Macquarie Uni. Are you saying that COFA/NAS are a perfect match ie equally dysfunctional? What do you think about NAS hater comment on TAL?

7:41 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

I think NAS hater neglects to mention that we're not exactly overwhelmed by a torrent of talent from COFA. The really talented COFA graduates are few and far between, and I concede that that minority is credibly innovative in what they do.

Redeveloping the site for shopping is a fair comment as the suburbs of Paddington and Darlinghurst are not particularly boho or creative these days. But they can hardly expect to build another Danks Street on the site and expect to be patronised with so called pink dollars or whatever target market they're planning to make a quid out of.

Maybe Macquarie could use it as a business school or St Vincents hospital could put some beds in there, perhaps NIDA could expand to Paddington for the Beach Road Hotel starlets...

I've havent seen what UNSW is offering NAS, and so much of what unis say they are offering is spin doctoring. I'm skeptical.

8:36 pm  
Anonymous Berkeley said...

so how's that wiki/blog/site design/thing coming along that we discussed a few weeks back? any progress on this whole OSAS idea? just checking in to see how things are rolling along...

4:48 pm  
Anonymous Gricegrocers said...

Too true, Berks. I've been holding off my most off-topic posts for that very reason.

7:38 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

You're a demanding bunch. I've got a bit of time now so I'm starting to play around with some ideas. I was going to do a bit of a protoype for discussion when we have a meeting in June.

3:40 pm  
Blogger mayhem said...

What day in june?

10:26 am  
Anonymous Berkeley said...

What ideas have you had? Can you at least give us a clue?

9:27 am  
Blogger shakespeareslove said...

Dear spiritually aware artist,

They're pretty good questions. What do people do 24 to 7 before they drop their suitcases, run to artschool and decide to be romantic in everything they say and do? Before they become hedonists, emotionally/mentally aware that every object in their immediate surrounding area can/is beautiful --- including the cigarette butts and mould growing from 10 week old pizza?

Maybe everyone sees the world differently. Going from small town art school to uni, doesn't make you forget how it felt to be approached for the first time by an old man with some interesting ideas of how beautiful the stapler looks if you just stick it to the wall, by some guy dressed in somber black holding a martini and wearing a beret.

I don't disagree, in fact it has enriched many peoples' lives becoming artists - coming from the office. I just don't think it's easy to say that they don't find running around an office as fulfilling as say...sticking a stapler to a wall.

9:11 pm  
Blogger Gricegrocers said...

Shakespeareslove, office workers are the keepers of the creative flame with their love of wacky email attatchments!

7:45 am  

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