Nonexistent 4
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Nonexistent – a sculpture in protest against asylum seeker treatment

When all other channels for change had been exhausted, I turned to art to try to make a difference.

Like many Australians, I’ve been in constant shock, grief and angry bewilderment at the Australian government’s appalling treatment of asylum seekers, imprisoning them in off-shore death camps — specifically Nauru and Manus Island —  at a cost of $1.2 billion a year to the taxpayer, basically leaving them to rot at the hands of belligerent subcontractors and violent locals in failed states.

The atrocities and suicides have been mounting, the whole issue got ignored at the recent election, and now The Guardian has published a cache of documents — the Nauru files — that catalog an horrific string of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm. Immigration minister Peter Dutton has basically blamed the asylum seekers for this.

There have been two reports by the AHRC, the second one prompting the government to launch a vicious hate campaign against its leader Gillian Triggs. There have been countless petitions, prayer vigils, letters, protest marches… everything a civil obedient society can do to try to stop this horror. But nothing has made any difference.

So I did what any self-respecting creative person would do (prompted by a friend of mine). I funnelled that pain into a sculpture to share with you, dear reader, and the world out there. Just to try to deal.

Nonexistent

You see, Dutton’s detention centres have rendered these poor souls with no voice. They have no nation, no names, no rights, no future, and no hope. Dutton and whoever else agrees with him just want them to disappear. To die. To nonexist. Charity workers, medical staff, and others who have witnessed what the inmates are going through face charges if they tell. They have no voice. And we, the ones who cherish freedom, we who believe that everyone has the right to dignity, due process, and a fair go, we don’t have a voice either.

Nonexistent 1

I chose to do this with my 3D pen, since the blotchy black plastic filament has the feel and tone I was after. Two hands reach out, imploring desperately, giving us just a glimpse of the faceless victim, just enough to imagine the pain on the other side of that fence.

Nonexistent 2

I also chose the 3D pen because we live in an age of unprecedented technology and progress, and tech like this is already bringing new bursts of creativity, and disrupting traditional manufacturing business models. And yet we are still so backward and so poor when it comes to looking after other people.

Nonexistent 3

I don’t want to be nonexistent to the politicians in Canberra. I don’t want Reza Barati to be nonexistent. I don’t want Omid Masoumali to be nonextistent. I don’t want our nation’s values of equality and charity to be nonexistent.

And I don’t think you do either.

How you can help

 

Art Gallery of NSW - interior
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Art galleries and surveys: 2 things I dig

I’ll admit: I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to surveys. Send me a survey about art and art galleries — ONLY two of my favourite topics of like — and that’s like a moth to an INFERNO. Wrong analogy now, but the point is: I just filled out a survey from the Art Gallery of NSW by Pollinate, and it was the most fun I’ve had filling out a survey ever.

I’ll never see the results of that survey, or what I typed in again, so I just wanted to preserve a couple of things I wrote here.

Why do I like the Art Gallery of NSW?

It’s hard to overstate how much I appreciate AGNSW as a place of reflection, mental and emotional refilling-of-the-tanks refreshment.

I use it as a place to teach my kids about art, and the issues that art and artists bring to the fore. We’ve worked out a lovely routine where I can stand for ages in front of some paintings in an exhibition, and my wife and kids can go through at an — ahem — faster pace, and then I meet them in your café afterward. It’s an all-round relaxing and harmonious experience.

It is noisy, clashy, quiet, calm, fresh, ancient, exotic, familiar… all in the right amounts.

I regularly stand in front of the Arthur Streetons and Sydney Longs, and worship them. I walk amongst the works of art in that section and feel like I’m among friends. There’s dusty greens and parched desaturated fuchsias that quite honestly are like a litre of guarana to my core.

I’m a painter myself, and I regularly go for inspiration, challenging and learning. Each time I want to get into a new area of art — like Asian art, for example — I find that AGNSW has it covered in some way. So your gallery is like my brain laid out in a physical space: there are some parts that have a lot of my foot traffic, and other parts I’ve really yet to discover.

And isn’t that like all of our brains, really?

Ideas for making me come back to the gallery more often?

  • Be open more in the evening
  • One-off painting/drawing/sketching/sculpture/calligraphy/etc how-to technique classes
  • One-off art theory classes, about specific topics/periods/hot issues, e.g. the Big Milk Crate got excoriated in the media, so how about an evening that educates about modern art thinking in sculpture that would have lead to that work?
  • A cruisy evening bar to meet friends at for a drink amongst a rotating collection of salon-style artwork. You could even have theme nights, like French fin de siecle or 40s New York
  • Roaming ‘art experts’, maybe even with an approachable tag on them, to ask questions about artworks. I know there’s a lot of staff around, but they seem to be there to only make sure noone does anything stupid.
  • Pop-up kids activity spots, just like the Chinese New Year monkey craft thing you had, that was awesome
  • Have ‘real live artists’ at work that people can gather around and watch. Watching art in the making is absolutely bewitching and accessible at the same time.
  • The kids’ activity books for specific exhibitions are great; having ‘adult’ versions for the regular exhibitions would be brilliant
  • Have pop-up stands that relate modern topical hot issues to the artwork around them, e.g. imagine having something that draws attention to 19th/early 20th century Australian artists’ (I’m thinking Heidelberg here) appreciation for the Australian landscape contrasted with images of mining companies’ maps of similar places marking out possible deposits of coal/etc to go and frack. It’s not trying to take a moral position, but it’s using different imagery to portray different people’s assessment of value. I’ll stop now… this is getting into the sort of stuff *I* like to create ;)

 

Today is your prototype for tomorrow

‘Today is your prototype for tomorrow’ is a thought that keeps knocking around my head lately.

This is a rephrase of a quote attributed to Tim Brown (IDEO) by Tom and David Kelley, in their book I just finished reading called Creative Confidence.

For me it a couple of meanings. You can think about what you want to achieve — whether it’s a short-term thing for work, or a life-long goal — and see that you must take a step today to take you toward that achievement in the future. It can also be an encouragement: whatever it is that you’re working on, you don’t have to get it right today. You don’t have to make it perfect now. It’s just one of many iterations toward where you ultimately want to take it.

Ben Crothers-Changes

This is a piece I’m entering for the Atlassian Art Gala for Room to Read art auction event, titled Changes.

Room to Read is a great not-for-profit that promotes literacy and gender equality in education.  They work with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and reading among primary school children.

I wanted to use colour in this piece to evoke the playfulness of childhood, as well as a source of unconstrained energy. The Khmer lettering (kar phlasa btau r, trans. “Changes”) is part of the mental and emotional ‘conversation’ the viewer has with this work: for most people viewing this, they won’t understand the text, which gives a window into what it’s like not being able to read, to gain meaning, to share. But the beauty of the lettering, as well as the rings (evoking uncovered value) keeps that conversation positive.