Markings 187

Talk About Town

Yes, but is it Art?

‘Pushing Up Daisies Exhibition’ Gawler Civic Centre

SALA - August 20120

Some time ago during the annual SALA month of art events, I attended an exhibition in the city with a group of ‘art-minded’ friends. The first exhibit, just as we entered the building was an old classic Coke bottle with a small amount of water in the bottom, the crown seal replaced and a slight mist on the inside glass. It was titled ‘Breath’ and was on sale for $100. Even some of my more contemporary minded friends were in some confusion and doubt about it and I remember one of our party becoming quite angry. I suggested to the group that if the curator of the exhibition was available, I would ask for some more information about the exhibit with a view as to how we might approach the work. The curator was available but in no mood to talk to the group. She asked me if I had any ‘qualifications’ in Construction Art and when I answered in the negative, she said that it would be impossible to help as background in this art discipline was seminal to an understanding of this particular exhibit.

The ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ art event in the Gawler Civic Centre has brought my above example into stark contrast and comparison. It has caused confusion, some anger, some dismissal, praise, adulation and kind words. However, the phrase that I have heard repeatedly about it is – ‘Yes, but is it Art? When I first encountered it my first reaction was – ‘I am not certain at all at what I am looking at, experiencing or feeling’.

Once upon a time – in perhaps a time more certain than now ‘we’ knew what art was. It was defined and we could go to our Western Canon and see examples of it. Now we have a plethora of ‘artists’ calling what they produce ‘art’ and whether we like it or not we see examples of this kind of work everywhere displayed and our own South Australian Art Gallery contains many examples.

My purpose in writing about the current exhibition in Gawler is not to produce some kind of personal definition of art but rather approach it in a very different fashion. When I asked the curator in my above example to help me and my friends’ ‘approach’ the piece she all but refused. Much modern contemporary art even for art lovers like myself is helped, aided and assisted by background, explanation and exposition. Otherwise fear can set in, we feel we are perhaps being fooled, played with, made fun of and perhaps betrayed.

In the case of the ‘Pushing Up Daisies Exhibition’ help was at hand. No sooner had I looked over the exhibits I found there was a leaflet available:

This physical and digital SALA Exhibition features Eco-Coffins and Shrouds created by participants in the Eco Coffin Project and is proudly presented by Gawler Environment Centre.

These powerful personal works of art and love raise questions about sustainable death and raise awareness of natural burial. Climate change motivates us to live a more sustainable life but what about a sustainable death? What is the impact on the environment of what happens to your body when you die? What to wear for my natural burial? Currently, 70% of Australians are choosing cremation burning non-renewable natural gas and emitting toxins. Many are buried in lawn cemeteries creating toxic landfill issues and a high carbon footprint. Is there a better way?

The exhibition of eco-coffins and shrouds is the culmination of an arts-based, social change research project raising awareness of natural burial in SA, the only state to have a natural burial in its legislation.

My first reaction was emotional. Suddenly what I was looking at took my breath away. I saw it again, but for the first time. It was saturated in beauty, concern for the environment, love, creativity and an astonishing leap of imagination and above all – Yes, but is it Art? YES! Congratulations to all the artists and others involved.

Jeff Guess

Writer and Poet

Published in the Gawler Library 'Shelf Talk' ©

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