Friday, June 15, 2007

Old World Contemporary

The art critic, Ashley Crawford, who is a friend of mine, is among the speakers at something called, CHANGE Forum, one of a series of events under the umbrella title, A Constructed World, organised by the Australian Centre For Contemporary Art (better known as ACCA), in Melbourne. The subject: "We live in an environment of publishing without publishers". According to the invitation I received, it's intended to examine how material self-published by artists is consumed by audiences and ask, "Is anyone actually keeping or collecting these works?" It adds, "This conversation follows an Open Call for Publications and explores whether the market is too small or too unconcerned to support a print culture by or about artists."
Ashley will, I'm sure, make an intelligent contribution to the 'conversation' but I can't help feeling that there is something anachronistic, even quaint, about it. If anyone is self-publishing on paper these days, it is almost by definition in a small, limited edition that surfaces only in the gallery representing the artist and a few specialist bookstores. Even artist's 'zines reach only a slightly bigger, though still marginal audience. Very few artists would claim that any such publications are at the heart of their ouevres but rather, they're by-products of it, intriguing, but too often self-indulgent and amateurish curiosities that rarely enhance our understanding, even if, sometimes, they can be a lot of fun.
I suspect this isn't ACCA's view – which is a shame. Let's face it, when it comes to self-publishing and the wider distribution of an artist's work, not to mention the potential for an ongoing creative dialogue between artist and audience, new media is really where it's at. In its ignorance of that – implied by its 'open call' for publications and its unqualified reference to a 'print culture' – ACCA fails to live up to name. Instead of exploring the vanguard of artist-driven publishing, it wastes the rich intellectual resources at its disposal to pick over the remnants of what is no more than a declining, post-Guttenberg cottage industry.

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