[-empyre-] Recovery & Regeneration

linda carroli lcarroli at optusnet.com.au
Thu Jun 16 09:51:49 EST 2011

Recovery & Regeneration


As Michael Brenson says "the conflict between a commitment to art and a
commitment to using art to serve other agendas is not just a biennial
issue". Art and cultural events promise regeneration and renewal, often
called to the service of political, social, environmental and economic
priorities. Do they - can they - really deliver on those promises and
demands in that instrumentalised way? Disasters strike at many speeds - some
are slow and steady, barely perceptible until a moment's realisation of what
has passed, while others are rapid cataclysms erasing so much of what once
stood its ground. 


I live in Brisbane, a city that aspires to 'World City' status, which was
devastated by widespread flooding earlier this year
http://togetherbrisbane.com.au. The artistic response to recovery, however,
seems to be low key - fundraisers, culturally based support for survivors,
and artists occupying empty spaces. So many of our cultural spaces, hugging
the banks of the river, closed down for months. There's no bold ideas
emerging about cultural regeneration or recovery - for example, how will our
major festival, the Brisbane Festival, galvanise the community eight/nine
months after the flood. What hope for cultural rebirth and regeneration for
a city that needs to re-create its present as well as its future? We're
desperate for tourists in my city and a recent newspaper report says that
international tourists have bypassed Queensland in droves with a 5 per cent
drop in visitors, while more Australians, enjoying the strong Australia
dollar, are travelling overseas.  The desperation shows when the events
promoters decide to stage a Winter Festival in our city square. Reeking of
cloying mimicry, it replicates a white northern winter - when the snowfalls
in our ski regions are peaking early, casting a chill over much of the
continent' east - rather than celebrates our mild sub-tropical green winter,
where we can still bask in the sun and enjoy the generosity of our region.


As our flooding subsided, I considered attending the SCAPE Biennial of art
in public space in Christchurch, NZ. As I started to make plans, the city
crumbled as a disastrous earthquake struck. In the face of this, I started
to look at cities rising from ruins. I was intrigued by the stories of
Prospect Biennial in New Orleans http://www.prospectneworleans.org and the
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Japan
http://www.echigo-tsumari.jp/english/about as well as SCAPE's shifting
attention to rebuilding both itself and its city


Prospect was established to aid the rebuilding efforts after the devastation
wrought by Hurricane Katrina as well as to galvanise the arts community. The
organisers of Prospect.1 raised $4.5 million, 75% outside the state of
Louisiana, to produce the biennial, and invested more than half on local
hotels and restaurants, renovation of exhibition spaces, and contracting New
Orleans artists, musicians, designers, artisans, publicists, art installers,
security and transportation. Fundraising shortfalls (due to the financial
crisis and ongoing economic hardship in the US) will mean the next biennale
will be presented later this year. Sue Bell Yank has written about this
post-disaster arts movement observing an "urgent need to connect artistic
activity to a greater social rebuilding process, along with the compacted
changes to the redefined and renegotiated arts sector in New Orleans". Yank
also noted that the artistic community in New Orleans aimed to link with a
global rather than regional dialogue. It seemed like an experiment in
articulating a resurgent identity that would do more than express a
post-disaster condition; the kind of identity that attracts community,
visitors and tourists. 


Recently, GOMA hosted a lecture by Fram Kitagawa, General Director of
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial. Kitagawa discussed how the event sought to
create an opportunity for regional independence, in the form of an art
festival with artists' involvement. In an aging rural community, steeped in
tradition, rice growing and history, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial
created a very different set of dialogues and engagements with people and
place. The region was clearly experiencing a steady decline and beset by
economic and social problems, particularly social isolation of the elderly
who could no longer work the fields. As Kitagawa writes on the Triennial
website: "The artworks created in rice paddies, abandoned houses, and closed
schools by collaboration and exchanges between local residents and urban
supporters, artists and the Satoyama nature, elderly people and young people
have told us the endeavours of our ancestors who have been engaged in the
earth through agriculture and brought many people sympathy with
Echigo-Tsumari full of local elderly people's smiles." The relational
dimensions of artmaking and exhibition have primacy: "in Echigo-Tsumari, in
the creation of a work an artist is obliged to communicate with others". For
the Kitagawa this means a new iteration of the concept 'Civil' where art
mediates between 'place and people', 'people and people'.


I'm not sure what is happening with SCAPE. I am aware that the event
organisers - and hopefully the Christchurch community - are celebrating the
survival of several of their commissioned works: "Despite the difficult road
ahead towards recovering the inner city let us look to these works of art as
beacons of hope shining through the rubble." The March incarnation of SCAPE
was originally intended to open in September 2010 when an earthquake struck.
So the loss is doubled, just as the effort to rebuild is redoubled. Bob
Blyth, Art & Industry Biennial Trust, Chairman said on the website "While
the challenges facing Christchurch in the rebuild are enormous, the Art &
Industry Biennial Trust (producers of SCAPE) remains committed to helping
deliver significant public works of art for the new central city. At an
appropriate time the Trust will work with other organisations to ensure that
public works of art continue to have a key place in public buildings and
open spaces, following on a tradition of more than 100 years of public art
in the city." Note that SCAPE is selling a t-shirt to raise funds for
earthquake recovery. The event continues to communicate sporadically via its
facebook page and several artists, including Australian Ash Keating, are
continuing to engage with the recovery efforts and cultural programming.
Keating's project, Gardensity http://www.gardensity.co.nz, proposes an
approach to urban development and dialogue about renewal. In her moving blog
post, Director Deborah McCormick talks of rebuilding the organisation and
its program, signing off with 'Kia kaha' (forever strong). 


Clearly, these events are 'doing something' for art, under the biennial
banner, and for recovery beyond the repartee of creative cities and the
culture industry; beyond normative ideas about biennial models. They express
a belief in the future and fill the space of the bereft with a poetics or
poiesis (making). Mathieu Helie says "A creative city is not goal oriented.
Not only does it make little plans, it makes millions of little plans. It is
adrift looking for its next opportunity. It is not made by an architect, but
cultivated by its people". Yank refers to the coalescence of a
'post-disaster art movement' while Ferguson, Greenberg & Nairne argue for a
"more specific and sustained engagement with communities and audiences,
creating meaning beyond the spectacular and mere festivalising of such
occasions, may produce a new genre of exhibition". Cultural capital is
mobilised at a number of levels - across industry, city and community -
catalysing rebonding where bonds had been broken. These examples evoke some
ideas about responsibility, the sort of responsibility that Scott McQuire
and Nikos Papastergiadis describe as a necessity to "take an active role in
constituting new social relationships, providing a matrix of new modes of
inclusion and forms of collaboration that might counterpoint the extension
of commodity production into the interstices of everyday life". These
examples, along with those events attentive to regional agendas, evince the
biennial as multiple and multiplying, produced and producing, not just a
replicated meme - it is in situ, a platform for gathering and exchanging -
and, as such, warrants ongoing interrogation and contestation.


I am wondering if anyone who has direct involvement with these events has
anything to add about how the biennial has contributed to recovery and
regeneration efforts ...




-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mail.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20110616/8a09cb68/attachment.html>

More information about the empyre mailing list