In the early part of the 1970-2000 period photography in Adelaide overcame its traditional banishment by the art institution. It was finally recognised as potentially being a medium in its own right as an art form that had its own intrinsic qualities and capital value, which could be collected and subject to critical and art historical scrutiny. Photography, for instance, made a modest appearance in Christopher Allen’s 1997 text Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism, where Sue Ford, Ponch Hawkes and Carol Jerrems were mentioned in relation to the women’s art movement in the 1970s and Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were mentioned in relation to postmodernism in the 1980s.
Art photography became a part of the culture of the modernist art institution (largely shaped by MOMA) where art is framed and appears as autonomous; both as something apart from the everyday world and only referring to its own history, dynamics and language. What underpins this is the modernist idea of art as an uninterrupted continuum laid out in a suite of connected rooms in an art gallery that functions as a museum.
Dry Creek, Adelaide
Photography became incorporated into aesthetic concerns that were over and above its traditional documentary and vernacular status in popular culture premised on its close association through the referent with the real. So it traditionally points to a world outside itself, not just to itself or its own history, even as its mechanical reproduceability undermined the aura of painting. When photography is collected and exhibited in the art institution the outside world becomes inside the art gallery, thereby undercutting the art institution’s formalist construction of the autonomy of art. The rhetoric of aesthetic autonomy and subjectivity were transferred to photography, albeit uneasily, given the exhaustion of a formalist modernism that framed art’s autonomy by removing it from any social context and presenting it as outstanding works of fine art. Photography exceeds the boundaries of the traditional discourse of the art institution.
This was a period of the rupture with modernism, in which postmodern art practices (especially feminist) after the 1980s were predominantly supported by a body of theory derived from a poststructuralist assemblage of semiotics, psychoanalysis and identity politics; or alternatively by a re-inscription of the photographic into a critique of postmodern media culture general. Art was no longer a matter of taste. The marginalisation of work by women and aboriginal people by the art institution was the significant point of departure for the creation of alternative practices that were critical of a conservative culture and politics that separates aesthetics from politics. Continue reading
A talk with a publisher about the material in the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia becoming a book, it was suggested that the proposed book would work best as a book if it were cut down to The Bowden Archives. The non-Bowden material will go to the Adelaide book, which has been on the back burner. The focus on Bowden tightens the manuscript, which was starting to become unwieldy, and the simplification makes the focus of The Bowden Archives more centred around history and place. I have spent the last week going through the 35mm negatives of Bowden, and scanning the best of them.
An example of the pictures in the initial historical section of the Adelaide book would be these two pictures of the Port River estuary in this post. The first picture of the mangroves are a reminder that Port Adelaide in the early 19th century was once basically a mangrove swamp and marsh surrounding the Port River. Tides and drainage would continue to be major issues for residents until the first half of the 20th century.
mangroves, Port Adelaide
The embankments along the river formed a basin within which the early residents worked and lived, but not without some fear. While the embankment kept the River at bay most of the time, the banks could be breached by a high tide. The basin shape meant that any water, even rain, pooled in the town with no drainage outlets.
The working class cottages are an interesting historical aspect of Port Adelaide was the working class cottages. They helped to both give the Port its working class character, and to open a space where one is able to see an architectural history that reached backed to the early 20th century, if not the second part of the 19th century. The latter period was when the facilities of the Port were used to export and import supplies for colonial South Australia’s main industries–wheat, wool and mining.
cottage, Port Adelaide
Due to the lack of re-development Port Adelaide was an historic precinct with an impressive range of commercial and institutional buildings. Many of these have survived, resulting in Port Adelaide having one of the best concentrations of colonial buildings in South Australia. Continue reading
The graffiti around the streets of Bowden in the 1980s was done prior to the tagging and the boom in street art in New York in the 1970s-1980s and prior to many councils encouraging street art in the city by designating walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists.
The Bowden graffiti was text based, not visually conceptual as in the work of Keith Haring who painted wall murals in Collingwood, Melbourne in the mid-1980s.
There was no street art scene nor any sense of artists challenging art by situating it in non-art contexts. It was more an expression of the creative impulse to put the writing on the wall that set itself apart from the visual clutter of advertising; a form of expression that has its roots in Arthur Stace chalking out his one-word message “Eternity” half a million times in Sydney between 1932 and 1967.