Plants in the balance

lauren berkowitz artwork at mca
Lauren Berkowitz, detail from Sustenance, late Sept 2010, MCA.

The following is a guest contribution, from Lucy, who works as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) at the MCA. VSOs work from 10am to 5pm each day, and rotate throughout the museum every half hour. I think they represent a massive untapped resource of information about the way that artworks operate. Artists make the work; curators choose it, place it, write about it; gallery-goers experience it briefly when they visit. But nobody spends as much time with the work as the VSOs.

The MCA tends to employ artists, and sometimes art students, as VSOs. Thus, these gallery invigilators are far from “public servants” who perform a mechanical function of surveillance. Rather, the VSOs, while they are watching to make sure nothing goes awry, and writing reports on mishaps, are also thinking deeply about what is the role of art, and how particular artworks function in practice (rather than in the ideal space of the artist’s studio, or the utopian zone of the exhibition catalogue).

And so it is with Lucy, who has penned this thoughtful response to three artworks which are part of the In the Balance exhibition, each of which use plants in a different way.

Here is her guest blog:
Continue reading

On Time and Waste

Diego, in his recent comment here, writes:

All farmers would love to have a green pasture, with lots of different animals and species growing on it, in a harmonious bioregion, but this practice is not economically viable for many, until they free themselves from the shackles of multinationals.

Unfortunately we don’t have time…

Time, of course, is the ultimate intangible commodity. The drive to produce more in less time, is, arguably, how we got ourselves into this absurd mess in the first place.

To free up time; to be able to stop for a minute, look around and consider whether what I’m doing is done in the most intelligent manner — this really is the most rare commodity I have.

In the days leading up to the exhibition opening, it was very difficult to think and work mindfully. When you’re hurtling towards a deadline, the main thing on your mind is that “everything has to be perfect” as the moment of the great unveiling arrives. Thus in terms of time, the launch-moment is more important than the lead-up period. The lead-up is simply the means to an end: disposable time.

I’ve seen it on dozens of occasions, setting up art exhibitions. We all race around like chickens expending far more energy than necessary; we buy more supplies than we need from the hardware store, because we “don’t have time” to go back to the shops if we’ve forgotten something; we leave a big trail of detritus behind us, to be cleaned up (or chucked out) later on; we beg favours from friends we hope to pay back some day; we operate out of panic rather than calm absorbtion.

In short, we borrow time from the future.

(A rare political aside: this panicked hurtling towards the exhibition opening does seem to share something with the wasteful, shortsighted race by our mitey democratic leaders and their parties towards the recent election… and hopefully that’s the last I’ll have to say on that matter.)
Continue reading

To The Food Forest!

Artist as Family Plant-in Day

A few weeks back I packed up a bunch of seedlings, strapped ’em to the back of my bike with an old rubber tube, and headed down to Surry Hills for the Artist as Family’s “Food Forest Plant-In-Day”.

As far as I understand it, the idea of a “Food Forest” is this: unlike your standard garden, it has an integrated system of layers: from large trees, to smaller trees, to an “understorey” and finally ground covers. All these elements work in tandem to support and nurture each other. The Food Forest, at its best, moves towards the state of a natural forest. In other words, it becomes stable and self-sustaining. Theoretically, it will require much less human intervention once it’s properly established.
Continue reading

Lauren’s call for Trash

mca rubbish

We’re into the final month of our collection for two Lauren Berkowitz installations and we still need more!

We need:
-1500 white plastic bags
-50 sliced cheese containers
-80 large plastic bottles or containers – as big as you can find – 3L coke bottles, huge juice bottles and big Harris Farm yoghurt/dip pots!

Please remember to keep bringing in items from home, and don’t throw away our milk bottles from the kitchen – just pop them in the box in the lunchroom.

Pushing forward that great aesthetic tradition in which garbage is transformed into art, the MCA (on behalf of artist Lauren Berkowitz) has issued the above callout.

Thus far, I believe that the request for plastic containers and bags has been directed mainly at the staff of the MCA itself, who are urged to bring in stuff from home as part of their ordinary routine of coming to work. This, I suppose, also taps into the folksy tradition of the workplace fundraising drive – common in schools and offices.
Continue reading

A Model Museum?

kenmore heat exchange system

Last night, at the suggestion of Megan from the MCA’s registration department, I went along to a talk at the Maritime Museum. The guest speaker was Rebekah Wood, an architect and conservator from the USA, who introduced Kenmore, a historic-house-and-museum in Virginia where she works.

Kenmore makes for an interesting case study in “eco-conservation”. What they’ve done there is of great relevance to registration and conservation professionals – and it connects almost uncannily well to the discussions I was having the other day with Claire, Megan and Melanie at the MCA: how to balance the need to protect yer cultural heritage items, against the increasing pressure to tread more lightly on this planet of ours.
Continue reading