Posted by: theoriginalmiss | November 6, 2013

Sculpture by the Sea, 2013

Art gazers silhouetted against the horizon, at Marks Park, nr Tamarama

Art gazers silhouetted against the horizon, at Marks Park, nr Tamarama.

Until I went there recently for an Instameet with IGersSydney, I hadn’t been to Sculpture  by the Sea (link below) for years, not, in fact since my children did nippers at Tamarama some 5 years ago.  It was good fun: great company, lots of photography, but I hardly noticed the art even though I took plenty of photographs.

I was reflecting on this afterwards and put it down to the crowds: it’s so hard to really see when you’re in a crowd.  Perhaps that also explains why I hadn’t been for so long: the crowds and the impossible parking situation down there for the duration of the show.  And then it dawned on me: it is a show, as opposed to an “exhibition”.  In “exhibitions”  art work is neatly curated according to specific criteria, such as medium or subject matter, and displayed, quietly, within the white, artificial box that is a gallery.

At Sculpture by the Sea, what we are presented with is a show, a spectacle, en plein air, with no particular theme to speak of.  It is a cacophony of divergent voices, voices that are often lost in the ensuing crowds.  As such, Sculpture by the Sea offers a veritable mirror, a reflection of the society we have created, with all the colour, dissonance and chaos that comes with it.  Some of the artworks are quiet and unassuming whilst others are loud and dominating on the landscape, both physically and theoretically: hence some really catch our eye, a few jar our sensibilities whilst others merely fade into the background.

As an artist and an environmentalist, I was worried that I had become unable to disentangle what I perceive to be an overly consumerist society from from the art it produces, or to use a cliched metaphor, that  I couldn’t see the woods for the trees.   I decided to return to Sculpture by the Sea yet another time, in the early hours of a Sunday morning, in order to  find out which, if any, of the sculptures actually speak to me.  What I discovered is that before the descent of the crowds, it was possible for me to reflect more intimately with individual works.  Whilst obviously not all of the pieces resonated, some certainly did.

Since on neither visit to Sculpture by the Sea did I buy a catalogue or guide, I had to rely on my own interpretation,  my own personal “reading” of the works.  In light of that, I felt the need to revisit Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay “Death of the Author”.  His premise still holds its ground.  Barthes states that: “The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it” (p. 143) but insists that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (p. 148) and that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (p. 148).  What I understand Barthes is saying is that once an artwork is ‘out there’, it is the reader or the audience who gives it its meaning, deriving that from their own experience and their own history, which the author cannot (pre) know.  This empowers the viewer to read the works through their own eyes.  It was satisfying, enlightening even, to find quite a number of pieces I could relate to at Sculpture by the Sea, even some that pulled directly at my own experience, whether or not the author, the artist, had intended it to be so.  Below are the works to which I was able to bring my own meaning  and truly engage with.

The first work I really took to was Sally Kidall’s, “nomadic city: lest we forget”.  During the excitement of  the instameet I didn’t particularly notice the little grasses growing inside these miniature ‘greenhouses’.  Yet here, during my early morning jaunt, my attention was drawn to them, probably because of the dew dripping down the plastic walls.  The piece reminded me of the Biosphere 2 project, and how we aren’t quite able to reproduce an environment with the necessary life support systems for our survival.  Whilst the project was essentially considered a failure, it provided us with many lessons about how we all live in Biosphere 1, which is of course Earth.  I’ve popped a link below to a surprisingly optimistic TED talk by one of the scientists who spent 2 years in Biosphere 2, for those who may be interested.

Fitting then that the incongruous chair and school desk, cut to fit around a local tree, Carolyn Lawrences’ “study 1”, made me reflect on how our society could do with introducing a sound, compulsory ecological education from an early age to assist us somewhat towards getting out of the environmental mess in which we currently find ourselves.  Some environmentalists claim that an outdoor classroom is just what we need to try and reconnect us with our natural environment.  Richard Louv, in his landmark book “Last Child in the Woods”, highlights what he calls “a generational break form nature” (2008, p. 33), which he claims leads to ‘nature-deficit disorder’, with symptoms ranging from depression to ADHD.  The antidote lies in a reconnection with the natural world.

Plenty of pieces seemed to  me to reference ideas of waste and recycling.  Plastic pollution in particular  is a very real threat to our environment: globally we discard 85% of the plastic used every year, rather than recycle it to divert it from landfill (PDP, 2013).  The plastic globe, by Carole Purnelle and Nuno Maya, directly references the amount of plastic we consume and discard on a daily basis, polluting and cluttering up our planet in general, and our seas in particular.  This is highlighted again in the piece I did get the first time because I have made one similar (there’s no such thing as an original idea):  Allison McDonald’s “flow 2011”.  Those little, brightly coloured, plastic lids that we heedlessly throw away every day without giving a second thought, caught my eye, and this work is perfect for examining our attitude to our throw-away culture. I mean, a case in point:  did you even think about how many of those we, as individuals and collectively, throw away in, say, one week?  And they’re merely the tip of the iceberg (to use yet another cliched metaphor) when it comes to plastic pollution…

Noah Birch’s “remnant reclaimed”,  the tree stump, for me is obviously trying to communicate on issues surrounding wood, logging and recycling.  For me it has a particular and poignant environmental message for our construction and housing sector.   Justin Morrissey’s “thriving”   reminded me of bee hives until I observed that they mirror the houses looming behind them.  With their little (what I presume to be) solar panels on their rooves, I felt the piece referenced sustainability, renewable energies as well as ideas of ‘home’.  For inspiration on ideas around sustainability, homes and architecture take a look at Dan Phillips amusing TED talk about how he designs houses using 70-80% recycled materials.

I must remember this little lesson for next year’s Sculpture by the Sea.  Go in the early hours, with or without company – it’s more fun with a group but oh so distracting!  Take a DSLR as well as my iPhone for more perfect shooting opportunities. But most of all seek out and enjoy the creativity of those whose voices speak my language, because they’re definitely out there.

References and links:

Barthes, R., 1968, Death of the Author, in Heath, S., tr. and ed., Image, Music, Text (1968) pp. 142-8

Louv, R., 2008, Last child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Phillips, D., 2010, TED talk, available online at: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_phillips_creative_houses_from_reclaimed_stuff.html (accessed 6 November 2013)

Plastic Disclosure Project, available online at: http://www.plasticdisclosure.org/ (accessed 6 November 2013)

Poynter, J.,  2009, TED talk available online at: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_poynter_life_in_biosphere_2.html (accessed 6 November 2013)

Sculpture by the Sea website, available at: http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx (accessed 6 November 2013)

All photographs by Paula Broom with either an  iPhone 4S or a Nikon D90.

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