Sydney Sculpture Conference

Sydney sculpture conference: a universal language was held in the Sydney Opera House on 5 November. The Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) were joint presenters of the conference together with Sculpture by the Sea. Although there was a focus on education the day was quite diverse and I’m having trouble picking through my notes to create a coherent story.

There was a welcome from the head of China tourism (?if I got that right) plus a number of speakers from CAFA, and it sometimes felt a little careful. Nothing wrong with presenting your best side. There seems to be huge activity, lots of projects and money available, particularly as cities attempt to move up the tiers of importance. Huge scale seems to be a must. Then John McDonald, an Australian art critic, spoke on the topic “A Revolutionary Transformation – The Sculptors of China”, and I wondered how it felt for the Chinese guests, listening to their history from an external perspective.

As mentioned there was a lot of talk about education. I get the impression that many felt that in current Australian degree courses not enough time is spent in the studio, working, making, under the guidance of tutors. Forms, space and light; the manipulation of tools on a material. Presumably the rest of the time is spent with theory and research – perhaps the academic requirements within the university structure have had a high price. CAFA’s course takes five years. It had me wondering about my own goals. I left the Open College of the Arts course after completing first year (taking 5 years 🙂 ) because I wanted to move from a textiles focus. Do I want to do more, perhaps locally, if I could? Am I drifting without structure? Off topic here, at any rate!

Paul S.C. Taçon, amongst other distinctions Chair in Rock Art research at Griffith University in Queensland, spoke on Rock art in the Greater Sydney Region. Paul defined the topic as a mark of the landscape in purposive, symbolic ways. The sites are places where people connect with ancestors.

With over 4,000 individual rock art sites in the greater Sydney region, a current need is conservation and management of rock art landscapes, not site by site. Paul showed us lots of images, and in some a strand of red wool had been put into the groove of a petroglyph as a non-impact way to improve visibility. I mentally shuffled in embarrassment remembering times as a child we drew on them in chalk. The world was different in the 60s.

The oldest art found in this area so far has been dated to around 4 or 5 thousand years. Our sandstone isn’t the greatest for longevity. Paul was excited to give us a tip for news about to break – now published here (and no doubt elsewhere), new analysis dating cave painting in Borneo to at least 40,000 years old – “the oldest figurative cave painting in the world”.

The plan is to include a talk on rock art in each year’s conference program, which I think is a great initiative given Australia is so rich in this.

There was an artist’s focus talk – Hossein Valamanesh: Out of Nothingness. I was surprised by the range of his work, some of which was familiar to me (just not the name). A couple of examples are Longing belonging at AGNSW, and the Gingko Gate in Adelaide Botanic Gardens. I think Hossein described it as an attitude in the work rather than style. He sees it as the work of an artist to throw a little light. His attitude to changes to a work over time was interesting – “The responsibility of a work lingering on is part of their lives, not mine”. Changing materiality is part of the work.

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