You could be pardoned for thinking late capitalism will never let its minions sleep. These days, Australian cities lurch from one high-profile event to the next, without respite. À la the US military’s famous psychological experiments with sleep deprivation, Melburnians are being festivalled to death – drinking, dancing and consuming until they collapse like enervated zombies.
The city may have moved straight on to the football season, but traces of the Games remain, not least at Federation Square, where the flame still burns in the form of an exhibition of works from the ‘contemporary Commonwealth’.
The exhibition is both uneven in quality and uncertain of its rationale. Given that ‘contemporary art discourses’ noisily array themselves against ‘colonialism’, anything to do with the Commonwealth must fall under suspicion. The solution here is to proclaim that the art is reflecting on the iniquities of the past (and present), and stack up lots of different pieces. If this smacks of having one’s chutney and eating it too, who’s complaining?
I could barely stand still for Rodney Graham’s much-lauded video pieces, or for Yinka Shonibare’s filmic reconstruction of the assassination of Gustav III of Sweden. Shonibare’s intense colours are striking, but the video is too busy labouring to bite. Yet his Reverend on Ice (2005), a sculpture of a headless skater, has real wit. Better still are the extraordinary death’s-head-and-laser-rifle watercolours of eX de Medici, a Canberra tattooist. Her pictures are fastidiously detailed, the lurid muteness of metallic pigments describing coils of fronds and sockets. Tender (2003–05), Fiona Hall’s bird’s nests of shredded banknotes, is so delicate I nearly missed the allegory: art is a simulated economy in which nest eggs are built by destroying money. And Bani Abidi’s Pakistani pipe-band video rocks.
If nothing else, the exhibition is proof that a provincial athletics meet can inspire a half-decent forum for contemporary art. Who’d have guessed?
There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.
That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.
The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.
Select your digital subscription