Helen Johnson at Sutton

Hi Helen,
your current show at Sutton is on my way between the art supply shop and the studio, so have ducked in a few times - and its really growing on me-
Is it all about relational aesthetics?
someone suggested that, in the end, your work is hopeful, is it?
I feel the content of your show is almost undiscussable - that its still private conversation stuff- and there is no vocabulary for it in the art world yet, if you know what I mean - the 'alternative', communal etc has only just been accepted as the noble path in Australia- let alone a crit of that existing- have you found a stronger way to talk about these things in Europe?

Hi Kate,
The show at Sutton - to me it's not much to do with relational aesthetics. Though I am not generally one to be dictatorial about my ideas. Relational aesthetics seems to me something like a lava lamp in a gallery context, trying to transcend something but always as it approaches, it falls. (Walead Beshty is better at explaining this than me: http://backissues.textezurkunst.de/NR59/NEO-AVANTGARDE-AND-SERVICE-INDUSTRY_2.html)
To me the Sutton work is to do with trying to get your head around how individual actions become a part of, or exist within 'culture'. Especially now, when consumer culture is accepted as 'the way things are', sitting alongside ideas of environmentalism and sustainability which can never really be integrated into 'me' culture.
So the work is talking about broader cultural ideas which we are expected to accept, like 'man on the moon as progress' or 'western medicine is superior', and presenting moments when those ideas begin to fail for somebody.
It is difficult for me to talk about that show as a collective body of work because, though aesthetically in line with one another, each 'mis en scene' raises a different idea or presents a different circumstance, they are like film stills almost to me.
I think of it as being hopeful, hope through a cynical lense perhaps. But attempting to get people to think about their own position within society, their own everyday actions, though not in a pushy way.
These works are in some ways quite oblique, partly because they are embedded with references across the whole spectrum; socio-political, historical, art-historical, personal, mass-cultural.
I suppose there is vocabulary for everything in the art world, potentially. It is maybe more a matter of who is accessing or choosing to embrace those vocabularies, and why.
I did not find a stronger way to talk about these things in Europe. There is of course present in Germany the lineage of painting as socio-political commentary a'la Jorg Immendorf, Neo Rauch, Martin Kippenberger et al, but that school of approach sits these days more as a mainstay of the commercial market, it having evolved up to and during the demolition of the Berlin Wall, and in that way gained its historical relevance which has since been well and truly commodified. Not that that means it is bad or irrelevant now, but that it is within a sort of holding pattern of meaning, as other approaches branch off and spiral away.
The art world in Australia, though it may at times be catty and neurotic, is an interesting place to me, because it is dislocated from the 'global' art world, and so there is the continuing habit of gleaning some idea of an international standard to meet up to, and which more often than not is overshot, and so work in Australia is at times slicker in its presentation, more exhaustive in its ideas, than its global counterparts, it's something you notice in Europe, that often people are more comfortable with shabbiness or sloppiness in presentation than they are here. These points where Australian artists are looking in overseas magazines for what is current and then mixing it with something local and using the local vernacular to articulate its meaning, these points I think are very important for cultural production in Australia, latent identity-formation which will become more apparent in retrospect.
Sorry, what a rant!
Speak soon,
Helen x

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