Canberra talk: 'Outside Art'

The thing about sculpture and the thing about what I mostly use is that most of the material of the work is empty space and light. The material is there not so much to draw attention to itself, but to draw in the other stuff. The material of a lecture such as mine now, could therefore render space as silence; the words are demarcations, divisions; commas full stops comprise the tacks and welds to orchestrate the parts. The highest reverance is reserved for those who resist the pressure to speak. In speaking now I am tempted to remain silent however, my mind is restless. I cannot resist the plasticity of words. I have in mind a heap of shifting clouds, heavy in the blue sky, with a grey underlining.

Too much is often made of words. We scramble as writers and speakers to fill them with purpose and meaning. As listeners, we are bodybuilders, straining to pick up the given weights.

I propose that my talk is an act of using words, the total effect of which might present a charade of meaning however, the real sense will lie in the innate objecthood of the talk. The meaning is a disguise, obscuring a palpable nature; a talk you cannot carry away is one that has not been heard. Because I am neither a writer nor a speaker per say, my arguments will be full of holes. Where the harsh light reduces the material, such as steel to silhouette, so will the holes in my argument allow the light to stream through. The holes in the argument are the lungs through which the object finds, maintains its life.

The object of the talk or the talk of the object is an example of 'outside art'. Neither talk, nor object really, nor poem but some other thing, finding shape here now, in response to a given set of materials which is you and me and here and now.

I present an object whose descendents hail from collage rather than carving or modelling. Rather than provide an articulated argument based on a reasoned foundation, my arguments are adhered Pollock-esque, with all of the attendant archival quandaries

I am now going to talk about my ideas about 'outside art', which I have recently identified as a term to describe a philosophical backdrop to my work. It will be tempting for the listener to be drawn into the meaning of the words, being so derived from feeling and all my other preoccupations as they are. The substance of my argument however, remains outside that meaning.

The term 'Outside Art' should not be confused with 'outsider art'. The term refers not to the person as in the outsider, but to the art which finds its nature and nourishment outside of the particular institutions of art.

These institutions comprise the gallery system, the auction houses, the art bureaucracy and other 'community' defined art systems and art education. I have as an artist been able to function within those systems however, to be formed by them is to have been compromised by them. They are as useful as one can find a voice through them. The process of making art involves finding life and life springs from anywhere and everywhere without warning or precondition. Those institutions prefer, even require to be the mould into which the art is formed rather than the other way around. The art must be allowed to be the dominant force. Domination is an inevitable necessity for art to prosper properly.

The formation of art occurs where one has allowed the life of an idea or material or circumstance to take shape. The life emerges when we step aside or outside. Our presence can work like a plug to block the emergence of a life. The institutions of art are particularly equipped to encourage a similar blocking by the way in which they need to be accountable or responsible to employ standards or notions of sophistication.

Outside art refers to that art which pops and crops from anywhere and everywhere. In my case it can allow me to be a painter, a poet and a sculptor without feeling that I have undone myself or spread myself too thin. From the point of view of presenting a consumable package, this open framework makes a mess in a streamlined world. It subverts the convenience of shopping for a particular product/artist. I am consumable as an artist, only in the context of being idiosyncratic, 'a renaissance man' or Michael Snape, all of which are equally problematic especially in view of the much publicised death of the author. If my lecture today presents some of the qualities of a sculpture those are not then served by the work being able to be sold, maintained or promoted.

Outside art is that space where one can maintain a sequence of miracles; of placing oneself where convergences occur and by being single mindedly open to opportunities without being opportunistic. All of that is possible for me in the context of resisting self destructive urges, which can be as strong as survival urges or vision pressure. I have not knowingly undermined myself with extracurricular desires for pleasure, money or success. I have been fortunate to have had the luxury to be open and I am truly grateful for the resulting opportunities.

'Outside Art', by virtue of the fact that it can emerge from anywhere will invariably transgress territorial boundaries and be dealt with accordingly. A sculpture will stand for itself in a sculpture exhibition for example, but it will also be seen in the context of the overall body of work of the artist. Time and poor memory will ultimately remove those contexts so that the work will speak for itself. In the short term however, in a small community such as ours, the artist is judged as much as the work. We almost unconsciously ask, well does that legitimately fit into the artist’s body of work? Or is it outside?

A portrait of Stephen Mori painted by me was hung in the 1999 Archibald Prize. Among the art community the work was found to be worthy, stimulating and amusing. In a small way, it challenged notions of portraiture and painting. Enduring accreditation however was unconsciously collectively postponed because of the prevailing cultural licensing laws. Or to put it more simply, "He's not a portrait painter". The tragedy of contemporary practice for me is that once we become associated with a particular genre or practice, then that practice immediately becomes a straightjacket. We are drawn to it for survival reasons only to find ourselves completely disempowered, dis-voiced in the process.

In a 1987 exhibition at the Mori Gallery, John McDonald described me and my work as 'flaky'. Flexibility can look like slip-sliding, non-adhering enough to take root. The act of outside arting can be judged harshly. While the outside artist will meet representatives from all the disciplines and philosophies in his meandering, he will inevitably not satisfy all of the demands for loyalty that each philosophy requires. Territorial transgressions are taken seriously.

Outside art therefore needs to be tough to withstand the various forces at play on it. Steel is seen by many to be an unattractive material. It conjures the military and the industrial and not the gentle touch of the visionary, or the ephemeral touch of the intelectual. Steel is associated with a phase in the evolution of contemporary art which has now been defined as superseded. Relative to the ephemeral materials of the revered 'inside art', steel is durable, hard and overconfident. This is a guise however. Steel is only marginally more durable than light and acetate, honey and mill dew. Steel is in a queue, waiting to be invited into the museums, into the sacred zones. For much of the last forty years museums have functioned more as hospitals for terminally sick art. Manifestly ephemeral art demands attention because it needs to be looked after straightaway. Curators are medics identifying new diseases. (Today's lecture is an operation and you are all trainee doctors and nurses.)

Outside art has no self respect. When we are, outside, we are on our way to another inside. We are turned off. Our minds are employed for navigation, for not tripping; our faces are squirmed against the brightness of the light or blinded by the tint of our sunglasses. We are not in a state to be mindful. A temple is an architectural phenomenon, apparently.

Outside art is where we find ourselves napping. Where we are not instructed to a mindful experience we shall happily sleep on. Where we least expect to find resonance and meaning we are more susceptible to it. While 'outside art' is unidentified it is free from being manipulated by the corrupting market place, where the essence is syphoned off and reduced to Kitsch. Outside is a safer bet. A safety net.

Steel also provides a context for the literal publication of poetry. I am not a big reader of poetry. Poets, like artists, have dug themselves a grave of specialisation. They enjoy their own company to the exclusion of the world. All the world is margins now. Reinforcements upon reinforcements and only the little middle left for Kylie.I have been able to write, build and site poems in the street. Parks for art are good and have their place but are tainted by having been previously exploited for art’s gain. Streets are for cars and conscript the not walking but seated figure. Sitting and mostly moving very fast except, at the lights. The driver is last in the art line, less privileged even than those cursed with walking, (between two indoors); the driver is stuck at the lights, without meaning or intending and having no time to boot, because the lights have changed; he is entranced by the other lights pouring through the letters of the sculpture. Reading poetry. It's poetry also that is probably not eloquent enough to be published on paper. It is not publishable because it should not aspire to be so: It is caught in the middle, caught at the lights, between sculpture and poetry, in a place without time.

The conditions for excellence of art require that all traditional venues be dismantled or just as effectively be found to not portray the living and therefore be left to die.

Outside Art resides in a museum unmarked by walls or place. It lurks in the unmarked cracks in the footpath, in the tagging, which is the scaffolding for bigger dreams. Outside art is the site for revolution. Its manifestation is not its realisation. The realisation is all of which comes beyond. Ahead. What are the repercussions? What does it say about all of the edges, the boundaries between things?

We are fortunate that this is the lucky country. We can take such subversions as I have begun to articulate sitting down or preferably lying down. We can take them in our sleep. We shall roll over and squash them, we are so relaxed. It will not matter.'Outside art' is an art that responds to the harsh nature of the landscape. Art needs to be tough not only to survive but also to make a mark. Outside Art is forever doomed. It aspires to be doomed, not the Pleasure Dome but a pleasure doom.

I have begun to I hope describe what 'outside art' is for me. I have come to this thinking to try to come to terms with the direction my life and mind direct me in. Being that both places are slippery, I shall at some stage find myself with a different view. In the meantime I have left and shall have left a residue of that process by way of various artworks. At this stage I have found this to be more than a vanity, more worthwhile than useless. The challenge more than anything is to somehow find a motivation enough to act to break the terrible inertia of being stunned. I have got to the end of the lecture now. I and we are walking away from it. We are leaving the beauty and mess of it behind and as we advance into the new now so does the lecture recede. It grows smaller by the sentence. As it is surrounded by the time that came before it and this short time since it ended, it is becoming clearer, simply by free standing in the new space of time. A dusty walnut comes to mind, twirling through space on an orbit ungoverned by a guiding star.

I would like to invite questions from the audience. I would like to invite a member of the audience to speak on my behalf. While I am partly familiar with my thinking, there may be others here who from their own experience or lack of experience be able to see where some of the arguments are going, better than I can. If I am out in the audience or if anybody out there is up here where I am, I would be happy for them to speak. Would anybody like to come up here and be if not me, then at least the advocate of my position. We could share the task.

I have prepared a list of questions I would like to ask myself or wish that I could answer which I have for you here any of which may be asked at any time.


Does the identification of 'outside art' help the easy unravelling of future art production?

Is there any way of circumventing the art marketing to be the dominant voice in art production?

Does experience prepare an artist for early recognition of 'outside art'? Or do we ever know from which direction it will emerge?

How can we reassure our backers and patrons that our practice is sound if it is founded on quicksand?

The power of art lies in the way in which prevailing values are subverted. How will 'outside art' be outed? Where are the flaws in the thinking?

If your lecture is an artwork, which is the gallery; here and now, or our memory?

Can confusion be a gallery?

Could you recite your Balmain Traffic Song while we're digesting your sculpture?

Does the act of falling bring with it any sense of comfort?

Where does 'outside art' stand in relation to 1. Modernism? 2. Post-Modernism? 3. Aboriginal Art?

Is 'outside art' a provincial phenomenon?

An artist is not qualified to give a lecture. A lecture lies outside his jurisdiction. An artist is mute bar art. Most of the questions today refer to issues of 'outside art' rather than the sculpture of your lecture. Why is that so? Much of your practice seems to fit into a welded steel sculpture art category. Is there a contradiction with what you have been talking about today? The identity of New Guinea artists is underplayed. Is there any merit in that in relation to what you have been talking about in relation to 'outside art'.

Sculpture used to be quiet and contemplative. 'Outside art' comes across as very noisy. Any comments?