Between the Known and Unknown

Artist statement, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 1995

My work is essentially about those poetic moments in our lives; affairs of the heart, affairs of the mind. It is also work derived from sheer personal necessity. You have no choice but to do it. Everything else remains a fairy tale.

As an artist, you make offerings back to the world. Offerings made without any certainty that they may be of use to someone else, without certainty of any return on your investment. Statements stranded between the desire for redemption, and the desire for salvation.

This is why artistic practice remains one of the most generous activities our culture has to offer back to itself.

Not all artists see things this way. But I do, and I sense a growing respect for such things within our culture. Just look at the phenomena that is the internet – the global information network. It’s a site of relative specialisation where individuals are more prepared to share, to offer, to pronounce, than to own, than to persecute, than to exploit. It’s as much about the re-establishment of true democratic processes in our culture as anything else.

I think we are approaching a profoundly new cultural order, cultural hierarchy. It’s not carthetic, it’s not therapeutic; it’s revelatory, passionate, and poetic.

Popular culture has had the energy this century. Traditional culture, traditional artistic practices, hasn’t. It’s popular culture, popular art that has dominated our cultural consciousness. Youth culture, sex, drugs and rock and roll, hybrid theatre, modern dance, performance art, hip hop, the information revolution, and so on. This is what the late 20th C will in part be remembered for: the spirit of change, of cultural enterprise.

Popular  art, it verges on being a contradiction. As a kid, I was ‘taught’ to spell art with a capital “A”. It was meant to be about refinement, highly cultured taste, rarefied dignity. Those sorts of things. It was not meant to be popular. It was meant to be ‘hard won’. The entrance fee was the price of connoisseurship.

What the guardians of high culture overlooked was that today everyone is a connoisseur, or no one is a connoisseur. It has come down to either one or the other.

Just look at what’s happened to photography. In the 1970’s it became as much a site for cultural and political intervention as anything else. Our post modern predicament has delivered us encrusted, wounded, but essentially free. It’s really only the youthful/popular aspects of our culture that understand this, because essentially they don’t care about such things. These days, out on the streets, it’s sheer physical and spiritual survival. This also cultures an understanding that resists easy answers, simplistic slogans, reductive assumptions. Youth culture has now built its own history. It has managed to survive for enough generations to provide a true intellectual, emotional and spiritual alternative.

So art has become that margin that remains when everything else has been claimed. It’s what the natural sciences, the biological sciences, the human sciences, rarely touch upon. It’s what corporate capitalism has conveniently forgotten about in its understanding of art as an investment in future capital. It’s what our higher education system has completely overlooked in its rush into corporatised deregulation, where knee jerk responses govern long term educational outcomes.

Art is  about a way of knowing that can not be taught, but really only assumed  through  its being. It’s about desires presupposed, lingering doubts and forgotten  moments. It’s the space between our memories, and the look in our children’s  eyes. It’s about love, longing and loss. Art is not ashamed of its  feelings.  It encourages you, even dares you to fall in love (with a barely glimpsed  face of the stranger). It’s about the preservation of such moments  and  the adoration of ‘another’.
Art will always transcend life, because it remains essentially unimaginable to contemplate life without art.

Art saved  my life. To be more precise, it was probably rock and roll and the  cinema,  that saved my youthful life. Rock and roll taught me how to go about  understanding my life in this world. School sadly couldn’t do that  for me. My parents  couldn’t do that, though I owe them everything else. Rock & roll and the cinema showed me not only where I was on the map, but what the map actually represented. It was the index, the glossary and the inspiration. It taught me that one’s own passion is all that really counts in  the end. It taught me to love and care for others. And it taught me to  respect the endeavours of others even if I couldn’t understand what they  were doing. It showed me that art is an inclusive, not exclusive activity.  That art dreams the dreams of our culture.

Artists  are cultural producers who understand and cherish what in general our  late 20thC. culture has all but lost track of. It reminds me of those  stories I was told as a child, about the generations of monks who secretly  kept alive classical culture throughout the so called ‘dark ages’. While you grow up to realise this wasn’t just a conspiracy theory, you also grow up to realise that someone or something still had to procure it, had to live it in spite of the dogma, the orthodoxy, the dementure. This was left to the life of the ‘artist’.

We live some where between who we discover ourselves to be, and who we make our selves out to be. It still remains our duty to express our views and communicate our findings as best we can. This is a faith that we can not prove, though it often sustains us. It is the difference we engender that preserves the order of the world. For life is easy, but art is hard.

to be continued …

As always this work is dedicated to Anna and Andrey.

Copyright Les Walkling 1995