[-empyre-] Art Funding and politics

denise robinson drobinson_2000 at btinternet.com
Thu Nov 10 05:13:25 EST 2011

Hello all, finally a post from me, my apologies for being so late with  
this and thanks for the opportunity
of reading those already posted.
Please forgive it is a bit longer than others, tried not to take too  
broad a brush as well
however as its my first I thought I should lay out as many points and  
questions however unresolved .
I look forward to any responses

when considering how to respond in this forum as a ‘guest  
discussent’ ? Jean Genet’s ‘The Balcony’ came to mind as an opener. It  
applies to the discussion more along the lines of that Deleuze’  
affective world might take. I will offer what I can of my engagement  
with the intersection of art, politics and funding throughout my work,  
necessarily briefly. They are thoughts about the indirect ways in  
which power in this nexus operates, not always so obvious. I think we  
should not forget that there is a kind of cultural unconscious that  
erupts at times and its here I think we might find the means.

The Balcony

Gean Genet’s ‘the Balcony’ delivers a body blow to the perversity of  
power, and its hold on meaning. The scene: with ‘the people’s’  
insurrection outside the ‘palace’ over time some the cyphers of power  
gather: The church, the state/the queen, the judge, the executioner –  
in the latter Genet shows that their very existence relies upon the  
existence of ‘the thief’ etc.  Towards the end of the siege ….The  
chief of police (this gathering seems echoed in Pasolini’s critique of  
fascism in ‘Salo’)

  “so you really think the people had a wild hope? And that in losing  
all hope they lose everything? And this in losing everything they’ll  
come and lose themselves in me?...” he said hopefully

and later

an envoy smiling.

“The massacres too are revels wherein the people indulge to their  
heart’s content in the pleasure of hating us . I am speaking to be  
sure, of ‘our’ people. They can at last set up a statue to us in their  
hearts so as to shower it with blows. At least, I hope so.”

Genet does not just describe the operations of power here he shows its  
perversity and hopefully undo it, or us. If we speak of art of  
politics and of the specific situation we have now where the  
withdrawal of funding to the arts has the effect of silencing then we  
have familiar territory – many artists and institutions for example in  
modern fascist arenas  know this- I assume our concern here is the  
breadth and depth of this withdrawal, what amounts to the prevention  
of the development of new languages, and importantly the suppression  
of yet unknown futures. All of this is also currently addressed in the  
context of  the street in the protests throughout such a large part of  
the world. And the English priminister’s response? he said yesterday  
when asked what he thought of the protest outside of St Pauls’ in  
London. “Well… its not really the place to have tents, should be more  
respect” or something as inane as this along these lines. He was not  
so reticent in his rage and demands for retribution in response to the  
riots that erupted in London in August in the wake of the killing of a  
black man by police. – (there is of course much more to this that I  
cant address here)

I very much appreciated the post by Isak Berbic, an instance of  how  
important it is to reconsider what kind of topography we are dealing  
with in this discussion, of just how specific to a place  and  
political situation that this problem of funding, art and politics is.  
In describing the situation at The Art Gallery of Bosnia and  
Herzegovina “UGBiH” Isak reaches across the terror of war to the  
veiled intentions of those in power to ‘make use’ of culture amidst  
its various inheritances – not closing down the museum but depleting  
it – from what I could see in a kind of  casual, seemingly  
unintentional way -  to the point where it is compromised, defeated,  
and at fault for its own demise. Nothing casual about this then. What  
seems to distinguish the struggle for UGBiH is the issue of identity  
and its connection to the trauma of war embedded within it. I do hope  
Isak continues to engage in this forum.

I have been in positions as a Director/Artistic Director of  
alternative spaces, The Ewing and George Paton Galleries later to  
become – due to new categories of funding, - contemporary art spaces,  
The Australian Centre for Photography, an international film festival;  
Queer Screen, Sydney  and Arnolfini Art Centre, Bristol, England. More  
recently as Director of Cyprus pavilion Venice biennale, 2007. All of  
these events had their own specific forms of engagement re politics,  
funding and the arts, all connected to an international scene –  
arguably now become ‘global. Perhaps significant to this debate is my  
work with artists, writers and critics in Chile through the exhibition  
of their work in Australia - during the period before and after the  
1989 plebiscite that saw the dictator Pinochet lose power and the  
formation of a compromise ‘third way democracy’. During this time  
there was no market or funding for this ‘unofficial’ art. The current  
use of water cannon and rubber bullets - that have become the  
representative media images of Chile now - against those who protest  
against the privatisation of education in Chile – education only for  
the privileged is a disturbing collapse with the fascism in Chile from  
the past – of course it is not the same.

The political demands attached to funding often become apparent only  
as decisions are made in the formation of the project, in the instance  
of my responses and refusals to these demands related to an exhibition  
I curated of artists from Australia in 1984 in Edinburgh were based  
upon an insistence that the work of these artists were in an  
exhibition curated to refuse the position of the artist as cultural  
ambassador, nor was the work included as a transmitter of the meaning  
of a specific national identity. This created consternation in some  
quarters and outright outrage – can you believe it – in others.

As Director of the Australian Center for Photography I worked with  
colleagues to shift from the singularity of ‘photography’ to the  
‘photographic’ hence to the symptomatic eruptions in culture, an  
altered landscape to consider photography. It was fortunate to have  
this window of opportunity to consider/develop a different topography  
if you like, for photography, nevertheless after some time the  
inevitable, and politics and finance intervened and closed this  
‘window’ though not the institution. To simply dismiss any institution  
as inherently exploitative or as representing the establishment  
undermines the valuable possibility, for however long, to support the  
work of artists in a critical context.

The exhibition for the Cyprus pavilion had another context- amongst  
many political preoccupations there was the political context of  
curating an exhibition that extended into the shadow of the outrageous  
cancellation of Manifesta in Cyprus in 2007. As the curator of the  
Cyprus Pavilion in Venice I was concerned not be an apologist for any  
of these positions  – and I would say the same for the artists -  of  
course this was never demanded, but then it never is.

Political conditions can be brutally applied, but can also be subtly  
embedded , for example an expectation that an aspect of a project will  
be contentious, often is not the trigger to censorship, yet it erupts  
elsewhere, it’s a form of violence, and more-so because, somehow  

In my experience every funding situation has to be engaged with and  
the autonomy of the project fought for, it has never simply been a  
given - never to expect it to be a simple exchange of you pay and we  
deliver – it’s a loaded situation - the aim is for the work to survive  

So re the current deep hole being gouged out of arts funding in the  
context of the current global economic situation we are shocked but  
should not be surprised, and of course nor can we not respond. The  
depletion of funds to university’s is hitting the humanities the  
hardest in England and I think in Australia from what I know, and says  
a great deal about the ideology driving the cuts, it goes hand in hand  
with the fear generated about a ‘future’ in England specifically  
reflected in a radical drop in applications to the humanities in  
universities in England –the interpretation of what a person needs to  
live/to have a future is telescoped out of the humanities.  All of  
which obviously has a profound effect for wider cultural debate  
including that within Art Schools. We are also being swamped with a  
specific rhetoric from the media about having no future –the  
government sits on the fence here. On the one hand create enough fear  
in an attempt to stifle, to freeze us in a ‘now’ (while saying we are  
all in this together) and on the other the promise that the government  
can alter this future, as if it is then one we can then be released  
into (to wit Genet) -  it is  this we need to turn around, to change  
the terms of the debate – one response is seen in the streets.

Denise Robinson

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