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Sydney-based Art Journal

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Lana Lopesi continues the interest in Reihana through her useful essay, ‘Indigenous Futurisms, New Media and Contemporary Assertions of Indigeneity,' grouping her with Mohawk artist Skawennati, and fellow Māori, Johnson Witehira, as examples of indigenous artists embracing advanced new media technology, an art historical view that is unsurprising if one looks at the work of say Reihana, Shannon Te Ao, Luke Willis Thompson, Nathan Pohio and Rangituhia Hollis.

diˈvan: A Journal of Accounts (Art / Culture / Theory)

Issue #4


Edited by Alan Cruickshank


Contributors: Ian McLean, Stephanie Bailey, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Basak Senova, Adam Geczy, Andre Maerkle, Nancy Adajania, Andrew Paul Wood, Lana Lopesi
144 pp, colour illustrations


Published by diˈvan and University of NSW Art and Design, July 2018

It’s a strange title for a journal, isn’t it? This heading: an odd but clever pun linking the Persian word for an account book, a book of poems, a government department or coffee-house, with the term (absorbed into English) for a backless cushioned couch associated with psycho-analytic processes.

In the three earlier issues it has published since it began in December 2016, and in this July 2018 one (which has details of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus (Infected) on the cover),   diˈvan has been exploring art historical and art theoretical topics connected with regions ranging from Western, Eastern and Southeast Asia to Asia-Pacific, emphasising the notion that ‘history underscores the contemporary,’ looking at their various perspectives and interrelationships. The editor is Sydney-based Alan Cruickshank.

The fourth issue has some particularly exciting articles, essays that are supplemented by excellent extended image notations at the back—taken from the texts. The selection of essays in many ways reflects the ideas found in the editorial of issue #3, rather than that of issue #4, but the results are impressive, tending to favour writers who surprise, who avoid ideological templates but who are persuasive and forthright when considering ethics—and who are also capable of providing a richly seductive language that aurally entertains before one thinks about the content. In the art world such unpredictable thinkers are hard to find.

Paper Tigers: The New Iconoclasm and Identity Politics’ from Ian McLean, is a refreshing treat. It examines a wide of range of recent art controversies that revolve around communities being offended by certain images, and the divisions within the art world when individuals take sides and get angry pro or con the pertinent issues—looking at philosophical inconsistencies resulting from those stands. Polarising works discussed include Dana Schutz’s Open Casket (2016), Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012), various Captain Cook statues in Sydney and Melbourne, statues of Confederate generals in the States, Christopher Columbus and Cecil Rhodes monuments, and the late Gordon Bennett’s Notes to Basquiat (Death of Irony), 2002.

Adam Geczy‘s ‘Superpositioned: Regionality and Identity, Meaning and Critical Experience’ is a splendidly acute analysis of the programmes of the Biennale of Sydney, and the interests of its consecutive directors, and how they compare with the activities of Mami Kataoka, the director of Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement (the recent 21st Sydney Biennale) with its greater focus on Australia’s relationship with Asia—albeit under pressure from the APT in Brisbane.

Stephanie Bailey‘s ‘Now Where? Navigating Without a Compass’ deconstructs geographic nomenclature, the grouping together of certain countries as global regions-particularly within Asia. Arguing often for the speciousness of this—its political inaccuracy—so she can examine thoroughly the concepts behind events like the Sharjah Biennial, Art Dubai, the Venice Biennale, ‘commercial’ organisations like Artsy, and others.

In a related way Andrew Maerkle‘s elegantly written ‘A Question of Style: Rethinking Japan’s art history in a Global Context’ looks at the difficulties of binary opposites like nationalism versus internationalism, especially with the history of contemporary art in Japan.

Andrew Paul Wood’s ‘What Comes over the Sea In Pursuit of Venus’ is a breakdown of the development of Reihana’s Emissaries project for the 2017 Venice Biennale, with some pungent critical observations about the commentaries it attracted (like those of Anthony Byrt), and the procedural compromises attendant with its governmental ascendency on getting to Venice—while also elaborating on the work’s significant achievements.

Lana Lopesi continues the interest in Reihana through her useful essay, ‘Indigenous Futurisms, New Media and Contemporary Assertions of Indigeneity,’ grouping her with Mohawk artist Skawennati, and fellow Māori, Johnson Witehira, as examples of indigenous artists embracing advanced new media technology, an art historical view that is unsurprising if one looks at the work of say Reihana, Shannon Te Ao, Luke Willis Thompson, Nathan Pohio and Rangituhia Hollis. Of her three examples however, Witehira has less experience with digital moving-image methodology than the others, being a recent graduate. He has no work on the Circuit website for example.

The enthusiasm for new media by indigenous artists is a feasible notion, bearing in mind that new media has been popularised anyway by universities as a methodology perceived as more portable for international projects, one capable of reaching very large audiences in public spaces (moving images draw bigger crowds than static ones), one that involves considerable design skills, and one less tied down to traditional craft values like those found in painting.

The grandiose fantasies of power-crazed dictators are parodied in an ongoing project by performance artist, Heba Y. Amin, as discussed in Basak Senova’s ‘Operation Sunken Sea: Flipping the Historical Narrative.’ Her work ridicules politicians like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan by extending ideas found in Allantropa, a proposal by the German architect Herman Sörgel to form a new supercontinent by damming off key parts of the Mediterranean, draining off two huge basins to create a new continent that merges Europe with Africa, and generating hydroelectricity in the process. In this techno-utopian vision Amin mocks the brutal masculinist arrogance of such transnational mega-engineering thinking to critique colonialism and its fantasies. As she elaborates:

This project takes as central to its concept the figure of the megalomaniac utopian ‘mastermind’ and aims to exaggerate and subvert the narrative and imagery that surround him through the centralising of my own identity as an Arab, African woman, proposing equal scale and temerity.

This well focussed issue of diˈvan has a lot in it, with many cross-connections, and some articles (they are all online) not discussed here. The journal deserves to be better known.

John Hurrell

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