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Art and a post-industrial town

Malcolm Whittaker: Cementa 15

Alan Schacher, Behemoth*, Cementa 15 Alan Schacher, Behemoth*, Cementa 15
photo Wei Zen Ho
Cementa is part of an expanding ecology of Australian arts festivals situated in and responding to regional living. Based in Kandos in the picturesque landscape of mid-western NSW, the program of the biennale festival’s sophomore year was largely driven by situating artists in the post-industrial town for short residencies and presenting their finished works over a four-day public event.

The Support

Alex Wisser’s The Support was a daily performance in which, acting as a human plinth, the festival co-director stood holding works made by Cementa artists. In one performance he held a styrofoam box, one of a number that constituted Fiona Davies’ installation Blood on silk, price taker price maker. Before him was a wall of identical boxes which, it was suggested, contained human blood and plasma and emitted a frantic audio recording of an auction. For an hour, eyes fixed directly before him and stoic as possible, arms outstretched, box in the palms of his hands, Wisser appeared to embody the struggle that the individual faces to effect change in a capitalist economy. He was not performing a perfunctory or ornamental task subordinate to the work, but actively sharing in it. The daily performances also gently reminded us of Wisser’s provision of curatorial and directorial support.

Alex Wisser, The Support Alex Wisser, The Support
photo courtesy Cementa 2015

The Ministry for the Future of Art

Artist Nola Farman took similar interest in repositioning what is typically supplementary to the visual art experience, the wall caption or plaque that identifies a work of art in a gallery. Farman’s The Ministry for the Future of Art exhibited a new art movement, “neo-sisyphisianism (neo-potentialism),” curated by Chief Minister Dr Permangelo E. Regularis. We are told the curator cannot be present in person because he is on an overseas sojourn with colleague Fernando Pessoa (Portugal, 1888-1935), inventor of the literary concept of the ‘heteronym,’ an imaginary character created for different stylistic outputs. Indeed all the artists featured are Farman heteronyms through whom she operates individual identities, histories and practices. Her plaques, with their biographies and project descriptions, are displayed in a Kandos garage as art objects in their own right. They lack the subtlety of a convincing ruse, but nevertheless create enticing narrative speculations in which rather ridiculous works are realised in the readers’ imagination. Farman is looking to sell these pieces on the art market (through Dr Regularis), hoping to repudiate the commodification of artists and artworks. Perhaps more interesting is the overt attempt to sell works that only take shape in subjective speculation.

The configuration of yesterday

Filming a volunteer she met at the Kandos Museum and dividing the 40-second film, at twenty-five frames per second, into 1,000 images on numbered postcards, Leahlani Johnson disrupted the people of Kandos’ sense of a linear history. Functional objects, postcards of a moment of movement, suggest much as they are isolated in further moments, dispersed and picked up at numerous points around Kandos and poignantly journeying beyond their place of origin. The postcards’ travelling reflects the individuals who carry them, in the way that history is always carried with us, despite how fragmented and removed it might feel.

The sense of the filmed movement of ‘Helen,’ the volunteer coming into shot and sitting at the entrance of Kandos Museum to knit while waiting for visitors to arrive, is no longer detectable now that the postcards have been dispersed. But this example of everyday history will linger in the distance, fragmented and swirling around town as it continues to travel with visitors and locals.


A bolder confrontation with Kandos’ history took the form of a hopscotch game on squares spray-painted by artist Blak Douglas on strips of pavement in public spaces throughout the town, including the Aboriginal Community Centre. Each colourful arrangement alluded to the Indigenous history of Kandos, including place names and references to massacres. Colours and a readymade play-form enticed an engagement with the hidden history of place, in Kandos and in Australia more generally. Playing became a negotiation with history by inspiring children and adults alike to question their knowledge or ignorance of the information evident in each hopscotch square—both on and about the land it was on.

Cementa 2015 Cementa 2015
photo courtesy Cementa

The District

The District by Karen Therese and Province took the form of a public conversation over tea and biscuits in the Kandos Community Centre. Rather than attempting to represent the community, The District simply created an ever-so-lightly formalised space for locals to enter into public dialogue on their own terms about what interested and mattered to them. This was done through an ever-so-subtle artistic framework implemented but not imposed by Therese. Over the course of an hour people came and went as they wished, narratives and issues unfolding with an organic charm around all facets of regional living, with a candid openness that oscillated between being gently confronting and lightly humorous. Therese’s role as artist dissolved as she simply drank tea with the locals (although at times necessarily promoting herself to leader of this democracy to keep it engaging), while a second-tier of audience sat listening. With simply articulated rules (closely resembling UK-based artist-academic Lois Weaver’s Long Table project), circulated on pieces of paper, the machinery of The District was evident. Anyone could join the table at any time and ask a question of those present. It gave the work a sense of autonomy that had levels of interest for both the local community and the large number of Cementa visitors. As per the rules, there was no conclusion; the conversation dissolved into Cementa and Kandos, prompting continued reflection on life in towns throughout regional Australia where, as one person at The District expressed it, you could enjoy living for 50 years and still not feel like a local.

While I felt that this year’s festival might have benefited from a more concentrated program, Cementa clearly has a bright and exciting future. The most successful of this year’s contributions from more than 50 artists demonstrated an emergent theme, a conceptualising of histories—of artistic conventions as well as Kandos and its people.

*Image caption: Behemoth. performer Alan Schacher as “an Eliotesque figure wandering Kandos. Chipwrapped, coat-stuffed, shredded, balled and plastered. Newsprint in objects, clothing, walls and floors. A relic itinerant inhabitant with many hiding places in the fabric of this town. An Emperor of reveries, a forgotten archive, trailing an elegant debris of irrelevant articles” (Cementa15 catalogue)

Cementa15, April 9-12, Kandos, NSW

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 29

© Malcolm Whittaker; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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