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public art and its audience

lucy hawthorn: iteration again, cast

Lucy Hawthorne is a Hobart-based writer, artist and PhD candidate researching site-specific art in Australia’s public museums. She blogs at

James Newitt, My Succession Party, 2011, Elwick Bay, Iteration Again, CAST James Newitt, My Succession Party, 2011, Elwick Bay, Iteration Again, CAST
photo Millie Mutimer

Seven Tasmanian curators selected both international and local artists to develop a total of 13 discrete projects, the result being a wide range of interpretations of the original premise, isolated schedules and a level of bureaucracy that could explain the variation in artwork quality. For all the hype within the local art scene, many of the projects were underwhelming, and while promoted as public art, few of them in my opinion engaged with the public or in public spaces in a meaningful way.

The most memorable iterations were Best Practice by John Vella, MCR by Marley Dawson and Christopher Hanrahan, My Succession Party by James Newitt and Paul O’Neill’s Our Day Will Come. Vella’s project, curated by Jane Stewart, sees helium balloons promising free original artworks distributed around Hobart. At a Salamanca Markets stall, a single helium balloon—the last one perhaps— is placed under a rock creating a tension between politeness and our desire to collect something for free (even if not the artwork, the novelty of a helium balloon). More balloons are tied to bike racks around the city over the four weeks, but always one at a time so the only sign that people are taking them is the steady build-up of severed black string. The balloons, accompanied by a weekly spruiker outside Arts Tasmania, lure people from the public space into the art institution where Vella’s prolific art practice is on display. I swap my balloon for an artwork cut-out, my two-week-old wilted balloon is nailed to a board in the window, and after the exchange, I’m instructed to pose for a photo with the artist. The display of ego is somewhat countered by the artist’s manipulation of an orchestrated market in which he’s oddly able to sell the same items that are being distributed for free.

 Marley Dawson & Chris Hanrahan, MCR 2, 2011, Berriedale, Iteration Again, CAST Marley Dawson & Chris Hanrahan, MCR 2, 2011, Berriedale, Iteration Again, CAST
photo Millie Mutimer
The MCR, or MONA City Raceway, sited at the newly opened museum, is a repeat of a previously installed raceway for Performance Space at Sydney’s CarriageWorks. Dawson and Hanrahan have built a miniature motocross course on the roof of the museum, complete with an enthusiastic commentator, kitsch rotating logo, smoke machine and the waft of grease from the mobile Dagwood Dog stall. It’s fun and decidedly weird. However, there’s a nagging sense of insincerity. We exclaim at the ‘authenticity’ of the fried food smell, yet drink boutique beer from the adjacent stall, the food mostly untouched (“oh, I wouldn’t eat a Dagwood Dog!”). The art audience enjoy watching the largely incompetent artists balanced on tiny bikes, stalling and being rescued by the patient motocross experts, but wouldn’t be seen dead at a genuine motocross event, or even the neighbouring dirtbike track. David Walsh apparently agreed to MCR being based at MONA on the basis that it doesn’t sound like art, and while MCR is under the general project banner of public art, the work makes for a comfortable extension of its host institution.

Nearby, James Newitt has constructed a small island on the Derwent River in Hobart’s northern suburbs, adorned with a decorative palm tree and sturdy tent, where the artist lives for three weeks following the extravagant launch. On a bleak Saturday, we march along the foreshore led by the police band. We have balloons and horns and a group of unfortunate-looking cheerleaders perform a farewell routine. Like Best Practice and MCR, Newitt’s project has a level of humour, yet also like MCR, the send-off feels hollow, displaying a veneer of festivity with the almost exclusively art world audience performing the celebration (in a footy-obsessed state, is it wise to schedule on AFL grand final day?).

Our Day Will Come by artist Paul O’Neill, curated by Fiona Lee, takes bureaucracy another step further. Each week, O’Neill invites additional international artists to help him host the free school, which is paradoxically held in a small trailer inside the Tasmanian School of Art courtyard. While the venue is physically accessible to the public, visitors still have to cross the boundary from public space to art institution in order to participate, and it’s intimidating even for someone who works at the TSA. O’Neill invites ‘students’ to brainstorming sessions, one-on-one consultations (art counselling) and to weekly dinners where presentations are made by anyone on any topic. By the last dinner, the attendees outgrow the space of the presentation room, and while there’s talk by locals of continuing the evenings beyond the project, it’s doubtful that the same inclusiveness will be maintained. The relationship between the ideology of the free school and host institution is also contradictory with the introduction of an official TSA unit on discursive art practice in conjunction with Our Day Will Come.

Other projects are either disappointing (Ruben Santiago’s Long Drop into Water), difficult to access (Maddie Leach’s Let Us Keep it Together) or, in the case of Bethany Fellows’ Hobart Urban Illumination Project, seem more like a juvenile prank than a resolved artwork. As someone who’s had the unfortunate experience of living in one of the notorious Hobart streets that fail to receive direct winter sunlight, I appreciate Fellows’ premise of bringing light to these residents. In its physical manifestation, however, the work involves the artist driving around pre-dawn obnoxiously playing loud pop music and shining flashlights into people’s windows.

David Cross chose Tasmania for Iteration Again because of the co-operation between different institutions, the tight art community and because Tasmanians “look out,” arguing that “we’d struggle to do this anywhere else in Australia.” When I consider the turnout at Newitt’s farewell, the final Our Day Will Come dinner and the participation at the MCR relative to Hobart’s size, I believe the project has engaged many within the art community. However, it seems more like public art for the art world. There were forums, weekly artist talks, discussions at the Iteration Again ‘hub’ and writers assigned to each project for a quick written response. Many of the artworks appear interesting on paper, and the level of orchestrated dialogue, photographic and written documentation will no doubt make a great post-project catalogue and topic for future conferences. To make art for the art community is not a negative thing per se, and I realise public art is not just about the audience, but I assume Cross had greater aspirations for his project.

CAST, Iteration Again, curatorial director David Cross (NZ), curators Fernando Do Campo, Nicole Durling, Sarah Jones, Fiona Lee, Damien Quilliam, Paula Silva, Jane Stewart, artists David Blamey (UK), Lucy Bleach (AUS), Rhona Byrne (IRE), David Clegg (NZ), Marley Dawson (AUS), Bethany J Fellows (AUS), Annie Fletcher (IRE), Christopher Hanrahan (AUS), Toby Huddlestone (UK), Anthony Johnson (AUS), Maddie Leach (NZ), Gareth Long (CAN), James Newitt (AUS), Jem Noble (UK), Paul O’Neill (IRE), Raquel Ormella (AUS), Garrett Phelan (IRE), Sarah Pierce (USA/IRE), Ruben Santiago (ESP), John Vella (AUS), Mick Wilson (IRE), Voice Theatre Lab (AUS); various locations around Tasmania, Sept 18-Oct 15

Lucy Hawthorne is a Hobart-based writer, artist and PhD candidate researching site-specific art in Australia’s public museums. She blogs at

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 43

© Lucy Hawthorne; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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