The post title says it all. In the just-released issue of Metalsmith magazine, Sharon Massey has written a review of my portion of the Bridge 12 exhibition that took place at the Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh from last November to this March. Needless to say, I’m well chuffed. Check it out here.
It also happens to be right next to the review of the Sydney incarnation of the Once More, With Love (OMWL) exhibition, also from last year, in which I had a piece. You might remember me showcasing more than one piece on this blog, but the second three works went to the Melbourne incarnation only, which was held earlier this year at Northcity4.
The review was written by Marjorie Simon, and in it she called Anna Davern’s work “a sort of psychedelic offspring of artist Harriete Estel Berman.” I’m not sure if she’s referring to Davern’s usual works from sublimated aluminium and recycled biscuit and other platters and tins or the piece in the exhibition, though based on Davern’s work for the OMWL show, I think it is safe to assume the former. In fact, it sounds as though this predominantly refers to Davern’s sublimated aluminium Rocks series of earrings, which while they may have also been on display in Studio 20/17 gallery at the time, are not particularly representative of the recycled material works that Davern creates.
I can understand that Simon is writing for a predominantly American audience and is therefore trying to give the briefest and widest of introductions, yet I think the comparison does a disservice to both artists. Davern is very specific in her choice of tins, making work from them that investigate issues of colonialism and Australian identity, producing works in very different form to those created by Berman. And yes, Davern’s prior form with the material was noted, but in such a way as to question both her originality and conceptual underpinnings, because of the association made with the widely-known (in America) Berman.
I guess as I am no longer in my home (wherein Davern is regularly used as a referent rather than the other way around), and thus am no longer a part of the dominant culture, I have a heightened awareness of the casual way in which the dominant culture can so easily (if unwittingly) re-define cultural content. The idea, for example, that that all artworks can be considered types easily compared to something originating from ___ (insert dominant culture here), and those outside of that context have no choice but to accept the comparison, accurate or not, is possibly why I am responding a little too fervently to what is just an inadequate comparison. Maybe it all comes down to me and my sensitivity given my current geographical location.
I understand that this article is a very short review, not enabled by space nor resources to go into depth about any of the artists. Despite this, I think that one of the few benefits of a globalised world might be a shared sense of empathy and understanding of cultural difference, coming from the fact that we all know from experience that in translation there is always the potential for nuance to be lost. Because we have semantic and political borders, we are aware that we can look at any object including an artwork, and investigate it more respectfully, and fully, if we consider it in its own cultural context. (This is, after all, why museum exhibition panels exist.)
And while the context of this exhibition is certainly influenced by the artists who brought a process of recycling jewellery objects regardless of precious metal value to the leaders of the Australian group, namely Americans Susie Ganch and Christina Miller of Ethical Metalsmiths and the mentioned Radical Jewelry Makeover (RJM), the pieces for this exhibition, produced by a myriad of artists from differing backgrounds in another country, has however had very little influence from this quarter. Especially because, as it was noted, the artists were able to make works in their own studio, an idea that has since been adopted by RJM in America. The exchange between the cultures lies in the format, and not in the works.
As I understand it, both the content and context of Davern’s recycled work is Australia, and if mentioned at all should be explained as such, in spite of intended audience (which must also include Australians owing to the location and source of the exhibition and works) and any missed opportunity for a potential shortcut to comprehension. In this instance it is my opinion that the understanding generated by the comparison is so far off the mark as to not constitute an understanding at all.
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Just to finish,
Marjorie Simon, thank you. Thank you for your assured writing, and your willingness to critique the exhibition and the works, something that happens all to infrequently, especially in Australia. (And thank you again for your recent kind words on this blog. They were, and still are, much appreciated.)
I trust that you will engage with what I have written here in the spirit of lively debate that it was intended, knowing that, after all, it’s a very small quibble that I have blown up into almost-inappropriate dimensions to make a larger, and perhaps (as you might rightly feel) unrelated, point. Thank you also for allowing me and all who read your piece in Metalsmith an insight to an exhibition that many of us did not get to see. And of course, your comments or counter-critique are warmly invited for publication here also.
October 25th (26th in Australia) 2013