Next Wave: Thinking about effect

by Jane

Thoughts on day two of the festival being published on day five. Festivalling from 8am to 11pm doesn’t leave the most time for writing. Perhaps just another note, I’m seeing more work then I’m currently writing about. I hope to be able to touch on it all at some stage.

Breakfast provocation: can art be both beautiful and effective?

To begin: what do any of these words mean? What makes something beautiful, what does it mean to say something is effective, what is art? To me, the answer to the provocation was a clear yes, an of course. When I heard the provocation, I think I was perhaps thinking of affecting: I think beauty of art often lies in its evocation of emotion, and I would say these moments of art affecting you builds up into ways of effecting the ways you live your life.

The fact that this is the festival we have chosen to engage with says a lot about our aesthetics, the work which excites us and interests us. We probably find something beautiful new and young and different and experimentation. This doesn’t mean audiences which are seeing small works in Next Wave aren’t interested in the beauty which comes with flashy musicals, only they search for that beauty which is perhaps as yet unexplained or undefined.

Speakers at breakfast seemed to concentrate on a type of work in which the process is paramount: their work, it seemed, was focused on a process to search for a work with “effect”, rather than to create a work with a final aesthetic “beauty.” It was these thoughts of beauty, effect, and “art” which I carried through the day.

Joseph L GriffithsShelters are three wooden sculptures in Melbourne’s Docklands, an area plagued by the method of development. On the waterfront, it seems like it should be a primary focal point of any city. Instead, it is known as a dead area. My Day Pass guide explained to me the connections between the woes of the Docklands and the commentary on that in Griffiths’ work. While it was interesting to view the work through that lens, without being explained the connection, I doubt I would have made one. Knowing the connection affected how I view the work and the space: effect, maybe, through surrounding knowledge rather than the work itself.

The next visual arts piece of the day, Hull by Laura Delaney and Danae Valenzia is a series of displays and installations at Mission to Seafarers, an institution which provides support and a home-away-from-home for the seafarers who dock in Port Melbourne. Delaney spoke at breakfast on how she wondered into the building one day and felt compelled to respond. This draw of the building, the history, and the unseen, unacknowledged connection of the seafarers on our lives, perhaps means Delaney and Valenzia’s work is somewhat overshadowed. 90% of the world trade happens on our ocean; the effectiveness of Hull lies in drawing attention to this.

I finished the day with Food for Thought, a feminist dinner hosted by Brisbane visual artists and curators LEVEL. Perhaps the first question here is: is the dinner art? If the answer is yes, is this because it is hosted by artists, or because it is in an art gallery, or because it is in an arts festival? On to effect: can there be an effect of a small dinner with a small group of women who share much of the same politics? Is it “preaching to the converted”, or do we need these small moments of discussion for clarification or re-enthusiasm to go out into lives which can have effects?

At the beginning of the day, my answer to the question was yes. After spending that day mulling it over, I only feel confused. Yes, still, art can be both beautiful and effective; art can be beautiful or effective; art can be neither beautiful nor effective. It’s a many varied beast; to confine it to any one goal or definition is not only harmful, it is also fruitless.