During November and December 2019, it was fun and interesting to be part of a team that produced a weekly newspaper inside an art gallery. This was definitely a first for me.
Today, I'm publishing my contributions on this blog.
Making Art Public is an exhibition at Art Gallery NSW which surveys 50 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects using artworks, archival materials and reconstructions. Each project has its own small white room. British artist Michael Landy, who produced an earlier Kaldor Public Art Project 'Acts of Kindness' in 2011, was invited back to curate this exhibition. It closes this weekend on February 16, 2020.
What is EXTRA!EXTRA!?
EXTRA!EXTRA! is one of several temporary exhibitions within the broader Making Art Public exhibition. When Lucas Ihlein, artist and researcher at the University of Wollongong was invited to stage one of these, he drew on his long term interest in printing. He chose to produce a newspaper inside the gallery in collaboration with the Rizziera Collective.
EXTRA!EXTRA! was published weekly for five weeks. Only 50 copies of each edition were printed on the Risograph printing press, along with a digital edition. After the project was completed, 2000 copies of an 'omnibus' edition were printed at a commercial printery.
Lucan Ihlein was Editor in Chief. You can read more about his work on his blog.
I'm interested in Lucas's creative research practice because he links art, environmental investigations (including into carbon, soil and agriculture) with an interest in publishing. While working at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), I became interested in journalism as a form of interdisciplinary research practice with connections to other practices in art, history, science and sociology. EXTRA!EXTRA! was a good opportunity to think more about these ideas.
One of Lucas's most recent art projects was Sugar v Reef? ( with Kim Williams) which is part of a larger body of work exploring how artists and farmers in the Mackay region in Queensland can work together on large-scale human/ecology problems. The focus in this project was chemical run-off from sugar-cane farms onto the Great Barrier Reef.
At this year's Sydney's Biennale, Lucas will be involved in citizen science workshops on Cockatoo Island about microplastics.
In the first issue of EXTRA!EXTRA!, Lucas introduced his role as Editor in Chief. The project was by its nature very open-ended. None of us knew quite where it would lead us.
How did I become involved in Extra Extra
As I am not what is called an 'arts journalist', you might be wondering how I became involved in a newspaper produced inside the Art Gallery of NSW.
I've traced my involvement back to two events.
The first event was meeting Ian Milliss, Editor at Large at EXTRA!EXTRA!. I met Ian in 1973. At the time, he was a young artist who had already exhibited paintings and conceptual work but who had found himself questioning and eventually rejecting orthodox art practice directed towards producing objects for galleries. Ian and I were very involved in the protest movement to save Victoria Street, King Cross and more broadly, the Green Bans. These were bans on construction imposed by the NSW Builders' Labourers Federation to protect the environment, heritage and community assets.
We were part of a small team that produced a one-off newspaper called City Squatter after a hundred or so squatters were ejected from the old Victoria Street terraces by scores of club bouncers and hundreds of NSW police.
In a piece that describes Ian Milliss's development as an artist, Wendy Carlson wrote in an essay for a retrospective exhibition:
The resident action group published a newspaper, the City Squatter as a memorial to their protest action. The lead article outlining the story of the Victoria Street protest was written by Milliss and (the late)Teresa Brennan. A second article by Milliss, “The Barricades”, described their efforts to barricade the buildings. Milliss saw the article as a crucial point in his artist-activist development, indicating the way forward to working with unions in the media in a collaborative work process.
The Barricades around the houses had been erected by NSW Builders' Labourers in support of a Green Ban that prevented the demolition of the houses. They were demolished by the developer's 'security guards' (bouncers from Kings Cross clubs) before the evictions.
It was in City Squatter that I produced my first investigative journalism (with Liz Fell) that led us to the links between property holdings in Victoria Street and organised crime.
By the time I met him, Ian had been involved in the first and I think most famous John Kaldor Pubic Art Project, Wrapped Coast by Christo and Jeanne Claude. Ian also helped Christo mount an exhibition documenting his work at the Central Street Art Gallery.
After 'Wrapped Coast' was over, Ian used ropes from the Little Bay site for an installation on another bit of Sydney coastline.
Kaldor Public Art Projects invited Ian to do another work Natural Parallels 2 for this Kaldor retrospective exhibition. He repurposed the ropes into yet another artwork in which the same orange ropes appear strung tautly in vertical lines through the stairwell.
In an essay Art as a Verb written in 2014 at the time of another exhibition at Monash University Art Museum, Ian further explains how his ideas about art developed. In the 1970s he argued that NSW Builders Labourers' Green Bans could be seen as a collaborative form of cultural action and large scale interventions in space and time.
You can find more on Ian's exhibitions here.
After the Green Ban period, Ian went on to produce newspapers for the union movement for some years.
Both Lucas and Ian are involved in the Kandos School of Cultural Adaption established in 2016 to cultivate the "understanding of art as any activity that brings about cultural change and reforms our understanding of the world".
Hans Haacke at the Whitney
The second event was my visit to the Whitney Art Gallery with my partner Chris Nash in 2008. It was there that we first saw Hans Haacke's 'Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971'. Shapolsky et. al. was commissioned to be part of a solo exhibition by Haacke at the Guggenheim Museum in the spring of 1971. However, the show was cancelled by the Museum.
Chris and I instantly recognised its detailed and accurate documentation of the Manhatten slum landlord Shapolsky's property holdings as an example of what we would call 'investigative journalism'. We were intrigued to discover later that one of the excuses given for the cancellation of the exhibition was that it was not art but journalism. Haacke has for many years been regarded as an outstanding conceptual artist but there has been little discussion about why his work might also be regarded as journalism. The discussion sparked by our visit to the Whitney led eventually to Chris's book What is Journalism? The Art and Politics of a Rupture which he published in 2016.
In one of his pieces for EXTRA!EXTRA!, Chris Nash writes more about how the events around Haacke's work were part of more general upheavals in the art world in the early 1970s.
He also did his own investigation into how one of the mainstays of Nine media, Domain.com.au falsely reports real estate sales' histories. This was also first published by the Saturday Paper.
For me, the challenge of EXTRA!EXTRA! was to produce pieces that could stand as journalism with its necessary relevance to the 'here and now' while at the same time suiting the context of a retrospective art exhibition in Sydney. Younger reporters might have responded more immediately to issues in the present or to more recent Kaldor Public Art Projects exhibitions. But although I was not personally involved, I can remember Wrapped Coast as a landmark event in Sydney. My response to the Kaldor retrospective was to reflect back 50 years to the late sixties, thinking about traces in the past that could be relevant to the present. For my first piece, I reflected back on free speech and activism. A few kilometres from where Little Bay was being wrapped, I was part of a different group experiencing the first buzz of publishing our first newspaper Thorout. This was the beginning of my own voyage through many forms of journalism including the anti-censorship campaigns of the early 1970s.
STAND WITH TESS
During November 2019, I attended an event at UNSW Faculty of Art and Design where we were told that the Director of the Indigenous Program and lecturer in Indigenous art Tess Allas had her employment terminated. Students, academics and fellow Indigenous artists mounted a strong public campaign in her defence. This was a conventional news story about the politics of Sydney's art scene. Disappointingly, it hadn't been covered at all by the mainstream media but it seemed to fit well into EXTRA!EXTRA! so this became my last story.
The EXTRA!EXTRA! team included Bundjalung-Kanakan woman Juundaal Strang-Yettica. Her articles exploring land art began with acknowledging that our newspaper and the Gallery is on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and paying respect to elders, past, present and emerging.
For an overview of EXTRA! EXTRA!, read Chloe Wolifson's 'Wondering where to Draw the Line' that was published at the conclusion of the project.
After five weeks, we felt that we could just as easily be at the beginning of something as at the end. I'll finish with what Lucas wrote in his last editorial,
Now that we’re at the end of the process, having accomplished our goal of creating a weekly newspaper as a work of live art, we can see enormous potential for this model. Long-live journalism as an ever-evolving, context-specific artform!