Monday, April 18, 2016

Walking on Eggshells - Two Stories of Art and Immigration.

Last week I was invited to two art events, both of which I knew would be very different. Tuesday was the launch of a Masters student's art installation at the National Art School. "Red Journey with Two Perspectives" by Pamela Leung. Wednesday was a 30th anniversary celebration party at The Billich Gallery in The Rocks, Sydney.

"Red Journey with Two Perspectives" consisting of Leung's two installation pieces "Beyond Birth" and "I Am Alright, I Am Not Alright" directly address timeless issues of immigration - fragile, ephemeral, tactile, these introspective yet accessible works; detailing - the emotional and psychological trauma and hazards of having to, needing to; leave a country, under duress - in finely realised contemporary artworks. (Continues below)
portrait of Pamela Leung with "Red Journey with Two Perspectives" by Kent Johnson.
Pamela Leung with "Red Journey with Two Perspectives"
 "Red Journey with Two Perspectives" "beyond Birth" (detail) Photographed by Kent Johnson.
Pamela leung, "Red Journey with Two Perspectives" "I Am Alright, I am Not Alright"  Photographed by Kent Johnson.
Then Wednesday, the 'Erotica' party and 30th anniversary celebration at The Billich Gallery.
(continues below)
Charles Billich mingles with guests, Billich Gallery 30th anniversary party. Photographed by Kent Johnson.
Charles Billich mingles with guests, Billich Gallery 30th anniversary party.
Gallery view, Charles Billich mingles with guests, Billich Gallery 30th anniversary party.
After the art of Leung, one might assume on seeing the commercial leaning(?) fine art of Charles Billich, that he has forgotten his migration story; embracing his personal freedom and an Australian identity completely.

And yet it was during Billich's speech that he directly referenced his early journey to Australia, from communist Croatia sixty years ago, one where he had been incarcerated for his politics and faced a future of uncertainty. In researching Billich for this brief article, I found some 2011/2012 wordpress blog posts, fictional letters, to himself from Josip Broz Tito, written to him from-hell no less! No he has not forgotten his past.
Speeches at the Billich Gallery 30th anniversary party.
Now recently I read the work of the Czech-born writer who went into exile in France in 1975, Milan Kundera's The Curtain, 2005; a series of essays on art and history. It's the reading of the Kundera text that made me much more aware of how non-linear art-styles/movements really are and how culturally embedded our perception of how art should be, is. On page 52 of The Curtain Kundera writes
"..I began to marvel at the fact that the terms "novel,""modern art,""modern novel,"meant something other for me than my French friends. It was not a disagreement; it was, quite modestly, the recognition of a difference between the two traditions that had shaped us." and so on.

It seems very much like a case of, the art victor writing the history as they see it and goodbye to the rest.. So now there is a predominant belief that art flowed through quite specific Central & Western European developments mostly ignoring the outliers of European culture, then war took ART to America; and the rest, of course is history..

And there's another curious side to modern and contemporary art, the prickliness between "applied" art (graphics, photography, design, (advertising)) and "fine"art. Certainly in Australia one is seen to be somewhat tainted as an artist if you made your living in the world of applied art; before you took on a role in fine art. All of which may come as something of a surprise to art lovers who are outside of the closely cloistered fine art networks. After all didn't Andy Warhol work as a very successful illustrator before becoming one of the most famous artists of modern times! Haven't we have moved on from all that by now?

So two evenings in a row, two very different art shows, and yet very pertinent and current Australian stories and a connection out of similar experiences for both artists, taking place both 40 and 60 years ago respectively. For both Pamela Leung and Charles Billich are immigrants who chose Australia to escape danger, to find a new home, and thankfully to make art here as well.

Telling Stories in Pictures all over Sydney..
Kent Johnson, Sydney, Australia.
0433 796 863

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