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Coaxing chaos: spontaneous demonstrations in contemporary art (1)

1 December 2022 at 2:30:00 am

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Session Convenors

Professor Gregory Minissale, The University of Auckland
Victoria Wynne-Jones, The University of Auckland

Session Speakers

Professor Gregory Minissale, The University of Auckland
Dr Sanné Mestrom, University of Sydney
Mikayla Journée, Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland

This panel seeks to explore artistic practices that co-opt spontaneity in order to coax chaos and the unpredictable into being demonstrative.

How can we evaluate the successes of planned demonstrations compared to those not planned but which are nevertheless, in retrospect, transformative and meaningful? And what can we learn from deconstructing the premeditated and intentional? Which artistic practices in history, recently and in the making, are inspired by alternatives to the notion that an author and a plan are necessary for something to be demonstrative? How can various forms of art, performance, social practice, and art as activism become the butterfly’s wing, the agent for the swarming of historically necessary transformations that dislodge social inequities and the power structures that produce them? Is there an alliance or synthesis possible between premeditated aims and spontaneous ruptures that usher in change? Resisting the didactic impulse, this panel invites us to think, examine and create unpremeditated and unprethinkable revolutions in thought, action, and being.

How might artistic practice challenge the indexicality of demonstration, particularly the pre-conceived taxonomies of museum studies and histories of art? Can artworks and/or exhibition-making manifest troubling ontologies that challenge individuation, making manifest an interplay of affect, rhythm, chaos and entropy?

The Rhythms of Abstraction and Mind wandering

Professor Gregory Minissale, The University of Auckland

Rosalind Krauss writes, ‘[T]o say that works of art are intentional objects is to say that each bit of them is separately intended.’ It is often by relaxing intentional thought that we become sensitive to the phenomenal, holistic and asemiotic aspects of artworks. For the philosopher Gaston Bachelard in Earth and Reveries of Will, artists are ‘sensitized to the rhythms of matter’ (Bachelard [1948] 2002, 39). In moulding matter, ‘there are no more sharp edges, no more breaks. It is a continuing dream … it is a heavy rhythm which take takes hold of the whole body’ (107).

With the billion-dollar mindfulness industry growing every day, ‘mindfulness’ promises to root out so-called irrelevant thoughts, playfulness, and mind wandering. We’re encouraged to monitor the signs of such involuntary thought through willpower, and repress them, enabling us to concentrate on ‘productive’ goals. Instead, this paper explores how artists use ‘mind wandering’, commonly known as daydreaming, to balance contrived and premeditated demonstrations with the spontaneous and unexpected. Instrumentalising art can enable us to concentrate on productive goals—even provide solutions for an endangered world. But too much of it divorces us from the very things that make us desire survival.

Unconscious Demonstrations of Freedom: Children’s Behaviour in Public Places

Dr Sanné Mestrom, University of Sydney

Public spaces in cities influence and shape how we inhabit and move through them. Michel Foucault characterises modernity through a distribution of power, agency and gazes. Public spaces as panoptic regimes of visibility and order can be understood as reinforcing power and domination through their linear spatial organisation, but they can also offer potential sites of resistance and subversion. My research addresses how young children relate to public spaces in cities. Through play, they inhabit and unconsciously subvert the powerful exertions of the public realm in ways that we, as adults, find difficult to anticipate. Quentin Stevens suggests that most movements children make are spontaneous demonstrations of freedom and imagination. Trying to understand how public spaces shape us, by analysing them through the eyes of a child, may give us the tools to ‘fight back’ against the power these spaces exert over us. Drawing on extensive observation of behaviours in public spaces, my research findings suggest that even the most innocuous doorway or gutter can be a site for play, resistance and power. Indeed, my own art practice (public sculpture) explores the way we can embed these unpredictable child-led demonstrations into ways of thinking about public space.

Conditions for chaos: Planned, potential and risked chaos in art actions, interventions and social practices in Aotearoa.

Mikayla Journée, Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland

Looking at examples of chaos in recent art actions, interventions and social practices in Aotearoa, this paper focuses on the nature of chaotic participation that dislodges but constructively reveals social stories. Artworks employing social practices in the public realm occupy a space of unpredictability. Whilst some artists plan or coax chaos as a productive strategy, some find chaos emerges unexpectedly, as disengaged non-participation or subversive counter-participation. Others risk potential chaos in their quest for meaningful, authentic exchange in the public sphere.

What can chaos look like? And are there certain conditions for it? This paper will begin by briefly observing modes of spontaneous chaos (both acts of and in response to chaos) in the work of Tiffany Singh, and public art/placemaking projects in Auckland and post-earthquake Christchurch. Discussion will then be centred on works that dislodge social status quo, by Kalisolaite ‘Uhila, Jeremy Leatinu’u and Chris Berthelsen, and the contentious relationship between public participation and artistic proposition. Do the public experience a rupture or shift in thinking via these projects? If so, which public and how so? And how might historians analyse artworks where the public spontaneously intervenes, subverts or inverts an artist’s intention? Does conceptual proposition mean as much as actual realisation?

This paper will engage with theories and well-trod debates of dissent, conviviality and agonism in participatory art (Lacy, Bishop, Mouffe, Thompson, Finkelpearl, McQuilten, Spiers). And contemporaneous discourse about ‘placemaking’ will inform the framework, via Amanda Yates from Aotearoa and Alex Bonham’s current research on play in public space in Auckland.



Professor Gregory Minissale, University of Auckland 

Gregory Minissale is Professor of Art History at the University of Auckland. His research combines psychology and the arts in the service of mental health. He is the author of The Psychology of Contemporary Art (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Rhythm in Art (Cambridge University Press, 2021). 

Victoria Wynne-Jones, The University of Auckland 

Victoria Wynne-Jones is the author of Choreographing Intersubjectivity in Performance Art (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) and is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Auckland. As a scholar and gallerist she works to support contemporary art practice from within and outside of academia. Her research interests include: intersections between performance art history and dance studies, contemporary art theory and philosophy, curatorial practice and feminisms. She lectures, supervises and examines across the academic disciplines of art history, dance studies and fine arts. 

Dr Sanné Mestrom, University of Sydney 

Dr. Sanné Mestrom, Senior Lecturer, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. PhD RMIT University, Melbourne, 2008. ARC Fellow (DECRA 2022): ART, PLAY, RISK: An interdisciplinary approach to child-friendly cities. Dr. Mestrom’s practice-led research seeks to incorporate “play” into a socially engaged practice as a means to question the social consequences of urban design. Her current research investigates ways that art in public places – and urban design more broadly - can become critically integrated, inclusive and interactive spaces. To do so, her projects bring together sculpture and the body to examine the role of art in rewriting current definitions of ‘play’ as relating to the physical, experiential and ideological conditions of ‘place’. Creating temporary and permanent sculptural forms that respond to the built environment and our movement through it, softens the separation of art and everyday life; it is through this ‘softness’ that play has the potential to open up a space to escape certain logics, and denying logic is itself a subversive – and therefore political– action. 

Mikayla Journée, Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland 

Mikayla Journée (Pākehā) is a PhD Candidate in Art History at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland. Her research is in contemporary Social Practices in art in Aotearoa and how artists are ‘Placemaking’. Her work is exploring place-responsiveness, informed by current Placemaking discourse and focuses on walking, talking and exchange as artistic mediums. Led by artists’ worldviews and frameworks, the research engages with Māori and Pacific knowledge systems and Western theories of vital materialism for a more-than-human theory of place. Mikayla has a background in Public Programmes, and is interested in the overlaps between Social Practice, Public Art, Performance Art, Placemaking and Public Programmes.

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