Paved with good intentions

Tuesday 17 August 2004

I made a rare expedition south of the Yarra on Friday evening. A friend had phoned asking me to meet her down at the ACCA opening. The Melways in my house is too old to include any of Southbank’s features, and instead claims the area is entirely occupied with small bark fishing huts and jute mills. In fact I cross Princes Bridge so rarely that everything after Map 44 may as well be blank paper for doodling and phone numbers, with the addition of the legend “Here Be Monsters” printed in the vicinity of Prahran.
So out of friendship I stumbled through the dark across the trackless field of mud that separates the Yellow Peril from the Red Menace and which I am beginning to suspect is a consciously-designed landscaping feature. The aforementioned friend wasn’t there, and never showed up: it turned out she had a last-minute change of heart and was happily curled up at home in front of a heater and watching Burke’s Backyard. Apparently a lot of people wanted to know how to grow a hedge that night because I’ve never seen the place so empty at an opening. Either that or the August Drag has settled in over Melbourne. The good things about having ACCA relatively empty are (a) you can see people you recognise before they’re right on top of you, and (b) you don’t have to kick people in the ankles to clear a path to the drinks table. ACCA is about the only place around that still has free, albeit hideous, wine and doesn’t demand some form of notarised photographic ID before letting you in.
ACCA contracts a squad of nice young ladies to prevent you bringing your free and hideous wine into the exhibition, so my exposure to the show was limited to what I cd see from the entrance. Besides, the exhibition’s called Cycle Tracks Will Abound in Utopia, which frightened me off because it implies that Utopia will also abound with cyclists: smug, sanctimonious cyclists in shapeless hemp clothing congratulating each other on the fine job they’ve done of making Utopia abound with the corpses of carnivores suspended from gibbets.
From what I cd see, the show contained videos. Lots of videos. I’m sure some of the videos are very, very good but whenever I see one in an art gallery I think “FAILED FILMMAKER” and move on to the nearest artwork that doesn’t expect me to wait around until it’s ready to start for me. Everyone in the videos seemed to be doing something purposeful but uninteresting: a lot of them had subtitles, which meant that either someone had finally realised you can’t hear a bloody thing at these openings, or that they fell into the cultural genre once defined by Patrick Cook as Ethnic Anything. I know that last remark makes me sound like a columnist from the opinion pages of The Australian but look at the curatorial brief in the show’s promotional blurb:

architectural [sic], social planning, migration, industrial relations, politics, economics, environmental activism…

Even if you are an artist who wants to be “relevant”, wd you feel comfortable being seen dancing to a tune called by some government minister’s junior political adviser who’s been asked to draft a discussion paper on The Vision Thing? And you know who those advisers are. Remember when you were in VCA or whatever and met some student politicians, and discovered they were unscrupulous scum who wd stab their mothers in the back if they thought it cd even slightly further their own interests? That’s what those guys are up to today: writing stuff like that.
Anyway, if you want to make the world a better place through your art, good luck to you but there’s something you shd ask yourself. Do you know what will happen if you actually manage to make a successful career out of pursuing these goals? You will end up like Bono. Do you really want this to happen?