Wondering where to draw the line

by Chloe Wolifson

While chatting with another member of the press at the media preview of Making Art Public, artist and exhibition curator Michael Landy approached us to point out a wall of vinyl decals. The text is a selection of pun-laden newspaper headlines from stories about Kaldor Public Art Projects over the years, from “Package deal to put beach under wraps” to “They call it puppy love”. “Wondering where to draw the line” is another. This collection of headlines gives a sense of a particular way in which each Project entered the popular consciousness of its time – through newspaper reporting. But devoid of the actual content of each article, there is no real sense of the public discourse generated around each work.

Enter EXTRA!EXTRA! … Set adjacent to the exhibition and originally conceived by Editor-in-Chief Lucas Ihlein as a showcase of the Rizzeria Printing Press’ uses and potential as a means of production, the projecthas quickly evolved to uncover and fill perceived gaps in Making Art Public. In Telling the Wrapped Coast story in (Edition 3), Wendy Bacon discusses the reports that Landy has featured in headline only. Bacon’s career as a journalist extends across the same five decades as the exhibition, and she has been motivated by the way the project creates a connection between journalism, history and art. “I’m much more interested now in the boundaries of journalism, where it could be more open-ended, bridge different audiences,” she says. “I’m really interested in that line where conceptual art…is overlapping with journalism.”

In the 1980s, EXTRA!EXTRA! Co-editor Ian Milliss was “an artist trying to work out some way of operating completely outside the normal art scene.” When considering Australia’s great cultural forms, “the three things that were the most striking were trade unionism, the media in general, and religion.” Jettisoning the latter, Milliss began producing newspapers for the trade union movement – publishing roots he has returned to for this project. “I was thinking about the connections between art and politics and journalism and media in general, thinking you didn’t need to use normal art media to be an artist.” This approach is of course the M.O. of Hans Haacke, whose controversial approach is the subject of Chris Nash’s serial across each issue of the newspaper. For Nash, Haacke’s importance lies in his approach to art as material rather than symbolic, and the significance of its social context within the institution. The German-American artist can be seen as a mascot for EXTRA!EXTRA!

This project has brought not only the means of production but also the means of criticism inside the institution. Where most texts originating from arts institutions take the forms of didactic panels, catalogues or press releases, the project has allowed for critical responses: from those working on the project, but also from the audience via letters to the editor, and via interactive methodologies such as Juundaal Strang-Yettica’s friendly vox-pops, and Louise Curham and Boni Cairncross’s experiential wandering. Malcolm Whittaker and Sarah Rodigari’s reflections on the value of artistic labour is another notable example. The paper has also facilitated journalism to take an inward look at itself, such as in Edition 2, where Bacon and Nash describe the shortcomings of journalistic practice in covering the climate catastrophe. In turn, Milliss reflects that one of EXTRA!EXTRA!’s own shortcomings is its relatively limited direct coverage of climate change, noting that the issue had been addressed more obliquely via the way the publication has chosen to place Aboriginal approaches to Acknowledging Country upfront.

This openness and transparency has partly been facilitated by the fact that EXTRA!EXTRA! is overseen at the AGNSW by Education and Outreach rather than a Curatorial jurisdiction. Ihlein compares this to his and fellow editor Milliss’s experience half a decade ago when presenting an exhibition at the AGNSW on the work of PA Yeomans. Where every element of that show required approval months in advance, EXTRA!EXTRA! is afforded significant autonomy which has enabled a timely responsiveness that reflects that of a “real” newspaper.

This sense of a typical newspaper is only one aspect of the project’s identity. By being produced as a limited edition, published online, and now printed as a large-edition “omnibus”, EXTRA!EXTRA! will therefore exist in three modes: an economic scarcity version for the art market; a version for social media; and a version reflecting traditional journalism; placing it squarely (or triangularly?) within the nexus of all these cultural concerns.

In Edition 1, Milliss and Ihlein discuss how the conditions of the two professions, artist and journalist, are changing to reflect each other. In bringing journalists onto what had been conceived as an art project, Ihlein reflects that “their involvement created a feedback loop where I realised we’re making an actual newspaper with actual journalism in it, not just an artwork that’s play-acting at being a newspaper.” Designer Ian Shoobridge has “seen it as…my role to make sure the design of the paper sits comfortably between those two [elements]” of art and journalism. “I think the most successful pages from a design point of view are the ones that aren’t just strictly text articles. We’ve had some really nice spreads with beautiful images.”

The combination of people with differing experiences in different areas has allowed for EXTRA!EXTRA! to inhabit this in-between space successfully. Participants have been enthusiastic to take part because it contained the possibilities of something different or new outside of their wheelhouse, and a common thread among participants is the potential for the paper to be a pilot for more ambitious versions of itself in the future. “In my mind it’s not just the result[ing] newspaper, but the process of bringing…people together from different backgrounds and different disciplines has been, for me, everything I could have ever hoped for,” Strang-Yettica said. “That idea that we can…find enough common ground to launch enquiry or evaluation of the things we do in the art world.”

Making Art Public was the jumping-off point for the project, but the context of the half-century that surrounded these KPAP projects is emerging as more pertinent. The idea of the archive and how to use it is a central question across the issues. Where Kaldor’s exhibition perhaps falls short (as discussed in Curham’s critique in Edition 2) is where EXTRA!EXTRA! succeeds – not just presenting key elements from those 50 years’ worth of material but examining the broader context of those 50 years. 

A common response among the participants has been the sense that this is only the beginning. The cocoon EXTRA!EXTRA! is nestled within, comprising the institutions of KPAP and the AGNSW, provided the impetus for its methodological approach at the nexus of art and journalism, however this cocoon now can potentially be shed, revealing a creature that can live successfully outside of this original context (albeit, from Ihlein’s perspective, with more support to cross-check the legal implications of content – perhaps there is such a thing as too much freedom?). The publication has showcased many different types of journalism and writing more broadly, setting the template to take this pilot to its next stage. “It throws up the grandeur of the challenge,” muses Nash. “If you can go down this path, what can you achieve?”

“No ordinary person would ever read most art magazines, because they’re in a completely secret language. But the ones that are in an ordinary language, and there are some, don’t have anything to say,” art critic Matthew Collings has argued. “That’s the mystery, the way art criticism now can only be real if it’s secret, even though it’s nothing like the other secret worlds, science or psychology or philosophy, say” (Matthew Collings, Blimey, Pub. 21 Publishing, London,1999, pp.182-3). EXTRA!EXTRA! has begun to address this underlying issue of inaccessibility in art criticism through its hybridised approach – a multiplicity of voices and (eventual) audiences. But it also argues against Collings’s stance on the art world being “different” to these other realms, showing how these worlds overlap and, in the case of Nash on Haacke, arguing that in fact “art is material…it’s something that is out there just like a scientific experiment or observation is out there in the world and in fact is supposed to be replicable.” 

This replicability harks back to the avant-garde notion of the “score”, the set of instructions for the realisation of an artwork. One of the secrets to EXTRA!EXTRA!’s success and potential has been the score which Ihlein originally laid out: a group of artists, journalists and other participants responding to Making Art Public, generating an eight-page newspaper every week in the AGNSW. Despite commencing with no material, “each week a new iteration of that process happens, where the form starts to emerge and become evident as a response to the context we’re in and the instructional setup.”

As Strang-Yettica notes, EXTRA!EXTRA! is creating “an accessible avenue for people to begin to understand how Indigenous and non-Indigenous society can come together with all our knowledges, to hopefully reduce the length and severity of the Anthropocene. That’s a matter of lifting each other up simultaneously.”

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