Art & Subversion
I am usually happy to tell stories associated with my art, and somewhat reluctant to explain in detail the inspiration behind the making of an artwork, such as this mixed media sculpture, because I think art is a personal matter and the meaning within a work, should be the meaning that the viewer thinks about at the time.
However, with Perspective Lovesong , over an afternoon tea, I was rabbiting on about the inspiration behind the making; as the thinking and process of making was reasonably complex, I, in part to sort it out in my own mind, offer this:
In the first instance, a good friend, gifted artist and designer, Natalie McDonagh, presented me with a number of small rubber hands, one of which was fashioned into a surreal adornment. After these sat around for something like two years in my chaotic studio while I pondered, then earlier this year, while re-reading some Ern Malley poems, the creative urge started, and the sculpture was completed within a few days.
The inspirational foundation on which works are developed is the Dada movement from the early 1900’s.
Dada’s subversive and revolutionary ideals emerged from the activities of a small group of artists and poets in Zurich, eventually cohering into a set of strategies and philosophies adopted by a loose international network of artists aiming to create new forms of visual art, performance, and poetry as well as alternative visions of the world. These artists disillusioned by war merely confirmed the degradation of social structures that led to such violence: corrupt and nationalist politics, repressive social values, and unquestioning conformity of culture and thought. From 1916 until the mid-1920s, artists in Zurich, New York, Cologne, Hanover, and Paris declared an all-out assault against not only on conventional definitions of art, but on rational thought itself. “The beginnings of Dada,” poet Tristan Tzara recalled, “were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.”
Museum of Modern Art, New York - website 2023
From there the work was influenced by, and named after, a poem by Ern Malley. A quote from the editorial of Ern Malley’s Journal Vol.1 No.3 October 1953 Editors Max Harris, John Reed, Barry Reid.
... he was a poet who was born and who died in 1944, the brain-child of two other poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, and foisted by them on Max Harris and John Reed as editors of the journal “Angry Penguins”. They enthusiastically accepted him and his poems and published his entire literary output in a special issue of “Angry Penguins”. McAuley and Stewart then revealed the “hoax” amid great applause from the Press, which only too readily endorsed the authors’ claim that the poems were all nonsense. “Angry Penguins” however stuck to its judgement that, irrespective of intention, the poems were quite outstanding, and in its next issue published a long series of supporting opinions from writers and critics both here and overseas. The anticlimax came when Max Harris was prosecuted in Adelaide on the basis that the poems were obscene publications. He was convicted and fined $5.
This great literary hoax by traditional poets aimed at subverting the modernist movement, is still alive today after having spawned journals, books, films, paintings and of course poetry. A considerable number of these are convinced that, while not conceived as such, the poems are in the main, outstanding examples of modernist poetry.
Another writer Anais Nin, who, along with other artists including author Henry Miller and poet Robert Duncan, while living in Paris, during the 1940’s, developing their art practices but, by the siren call of “a $1 per page”, were subverted into writing erotic stories for a private collector. In the process they were also subverting pornography; the collector constantly complained, asking for “less poetry, more sex”, but he continued to purchase the stories.
Everyone was writing up their sexual experiences. Invented, overheard, researched from Krafft-Ebing and medical books. We had comical conversations. We told a story and the rest of us had to decide true or false. Or plausible. Was this plausible? Robert Duncan would offer to experiment, to test our inventions, to confirm or negate our fantasies. All of us needed the money, so we pooled our stories.
The Journals of Anais Nin Volume III 1974 Quartet
My edition of House of Incest by Anaïs Nin, the 1958 edition, is the first edition where Nin had requested Telberg to incorporate surrealistic photomontages. This collaboration became well-known, as all subsequent editions of the book contain his work, including Nin’s own image within the photomontages.
Flesh begins with Geri ejecting Joe from their bed and insisting he goes out on the streets and earn the money to pay for her girlfriend’s abortion. This leads to Joe’s various encounters with clients and other hustlers on, and off, the streets of New York.
One critic’s review called the film ‘trash’, which, of course, led to the next film with Joe, as an impotent heroin addict living with a transvestite, to be called Trash. The third film in the trilogy, Heat, is a subversion of the 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard, with Joe as an unemployed ex child star supporting himself as a hustler in Los Angeles paired with Sylvia Miles as Sally an ageing former Hollywood starlet.
With all this subversion, it can be asked, does this sculpture, made specifically for and included in the 2023 Defiance Gallery survey of 116 small sculptures by over fifty leading artists, try to subvert the more traditional values? Well yes, in a way, in that it uses paper collage as well as 3 dimensional materials, from feathers, through a broken plastic toy, to a used sardine tin, that has been gathered from Op Shops and the Recycle Outlet at the local tip….
But the aim and it is hoped, that, like Ern Malley’s poems, Nin’s pornography and Warhol’s films, it transcends any element of subversive ‘hoax’ and can be seen as art.
Max Dingle OAM November 2023