This week I had privilege to interview a Pulitzer Prize-winning arts critic Sebastian Smee. The interview originally appeared on the Power Institute website.
“And everything starts at the airport. […] Structures that put us closer to the rest of the world and that separate us from the people who have seen us grow.”
Eastern Thoughts is a poetic, philosophical, and tender reflection on the phenomenon of travelling. Writer Marta Maia and photographer Vitor Queiroz traverse 1708 km through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to bring us an inward contemplation on the feelings attached to journeying, the complexity (and complicity) of tourism, the meaning of home and belonging, our attachment to memory, and more. This book will be of interest to and a consolation for all those travelers at heart who constantly seek out for an embracing place, and are always a little bit homesick.
‘Words can’t represent the sensation of freedom; the age of freedom will be the age of pictures.’ Frederick Douglass, 19th century
The text at the entrance of the current Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales notes: “Some scholars suggest that Frida first saw herself in a photograph before she discovered mirrors.” Khalo was well aware of the power of photography to fashion and shape ones identity and she used it candidly to construct hers. So was Frederick Douglass, the late nineteenth-century orator and former slave who early on recognised the contradictory nature of photographic medium – both its objectifying and its revolutionary power. Douglass’ relationship to photography was one of the topics discussed in the recent Photography.Ontology. symposium held at the University of Sydney and developed by the university research cluster Photographic Cultures.
In the “Estranged Labour”, Marx argues that capitalism treats workers as slaves, their bodies used as mere machines of production, an activity in which they have no say. As such their human potential is denied and they are kept in their primal, animalistic state. As a solution, he proposes material abundance, the abolition of bourgeois property relations, reduced working time and simplified work. To an extent, these propositions have been implemented in the so called developed western societies of the 21st century where workers are treated far more humanely than they were in Marx’s time – they work for an average of eight hours a day, have paid holidays, superannuation founds, etc. As such, they are left with a decent amount of free time, which in Marx’s view is a time to exercise their humanity, to discover the skills and abilities that differentiate them from animals. However, what Marx does not address in his writing is that the greatest problem of capitalism is that it permeates all spheres of human life, not just the time spent at work.
“Ideas alone can be works of art,” proclaimed American Minimalist artist Sol LeWitt in his 1968 Sentences on Conceptual Art, summoning up a new stream of thought that emerged in 1960s America as a reaction to Clement Greenberg’s insistence on formalism and opticality, a stance that art should be experienced solely through ‘visual stimuli’ and in a disinterested manner. In an anarchic Dada style, Conceptual Art (as this new stream came to be known) proposed “perceptual withdrawal” – instead of producing ‘sacred’ and valuable art objects, they offered only brief linguistic description of their ideas or simple visual statements such as Lawrence Weiner’s As Long As It Lasts (Figure 1). If a physical object of some sort was present it was either perplexingly bare or badly executed and aesthetically unappealing. What is more, these artworks mixed a variety of media (including everyday objects and all sorts of rubbish), thus attacking Greenberg’s “quest for medium-specific purity.” Purposefully provocative, conceptual artworks encouraged a renewed enquiry into what art is or should be.