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24 Comments • Mar 8, 2014 3312

Imagine what you desire – was it really this?

Last night in a widely publicised move, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis stood down as director of the Board of the Biennale of Sydney. For the ten artists who announced their withdrawal from the festival, this may seem to be a victory over the chosen subject of their indignation, but the nature of this victory should be seen as a superficial one.

What has transpired here is an archetypal standoff. It was never going to be any different. Initially, 41 artists voiced concerns over Transfield Services’ sponsorship ties to the Biennale. Next, five of those artists chose to act on their concerns and withdraw from the event. This took a letter of concern and transformed it into an ultimatum. By that stage, the opportunity for constructive discourse had passed; ultimatums are to negotiation what Godzilla was to urban planning.

Many facts got lost in the wash of emotions. As was pointed out in a release by Transfield Services, it has never had financial ties to the Biennale.  Through the Transfield Foundation, a joint charitable project with Transfield Holdings, Transfield Services fund projects in Indigenous development education. Transfield Holdings direct their philanthropy to arts and cultural projects. The sticking point is that Transfield Holdings hold a minority stake in Transfield Services. Amongst other services to industry, mining and construction, they hold the contract to provide garrison and logistics contracts on Nauru. In recent days it was announced that they would be taking over the same contract on Manus Island from G4S. At no point was Transfield Holdings in a position to support or oppose the decision to pursue detention centre contracts on Manus Island, they haven’t had a representative on the board since 2012.

The only link between the rightly-scrutinised immigration detention centres and the 19th Biennale of Sydney is via the 12-percent stake that Transfield Holdings retains in Transfield Services. Transfield in turn provides a reported 6.1-per cent of the Biennale’s budget. Some of this goes towards artists’ fees. Myself and several others have described this link as tangential. Others have described it, I believe misleadingly, as ‘intimate.’

What will happen next? Will Australia’s offshore detention centres at Nauru and Manus Island be closed? Unlikely. Will Transfield Services stock take a dive? Again, unlikely; it’s been stable all week. Two things are certain – the 20th Biennale of Sydney will be looking for a new  corporate sponsor, and a lot of potential patrons of the arts in Australia will reconsider whether they want to open themselves up to similar levels of scrutiny and personal attack as Luca Belgiorno-Nettis has. They might just take their patronage and their collections elsewhere. The ten artists who have now boycotted the Biennale face a dilemma. Will they return to the Biennale, presumably cap in hand, having started a chain of events that have compromised its financial future? It would seem morally inconsistent for the artists involved to return to the Biennale now that it is largely publicly funded. Should they return to the Biennale, it would not be without irony that their pay cheques would be substantially coming from the very government whose immigration policy they have so vociferously opposed.

For those who want to pressure for actual change from the federal government, consider the following: two years ago, the 18th Biennale of Sydney attracted over 600,000 visitors. It is a three hour drive on the Hume highway from Sydney to Canberra, where for most of the Biennale’s running period, Federal Parliament will be sitting. Imagine even 60,000 well-heeled art fans at the base of Capital Hill, now that would be a protest. If your political convictions and your protestations are not worth a three hour drive, then they’re not really worth much at all. Take your anger and your protests to the heart of the matter, where they will have most effect. Protests and Boycotts of an art festival, well intentioned though they may be, are a vastly peripheral issue. Consider the words of Ice-T, ‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game/ N-ggas,sharpen your aim.’

These are heady times in Australian politics and culture. Heady times call for calm heads, but ultimately, they have not prevailed. Right now in Australia there is much to be angry about. That doesn’t mean that we need to support all expressions of that anger. Indeed, in this instance, well-intentioned anger appears to have been more destructive than anything.This morning, the protesting artists may have woken up feeling vindicated by the superficial victory of their brief protest movement. Australia may have lost one of its most loyal patrons of the arts, and some 2,000 asylum seekers will wake up in tents on Manus Island and Nauru. For them, nothing will have changed.

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24 Responses to Imagine what you desire – was it really this?

  1. Humphrey Bower says:

    There’s nothing superficial about what these artists have achieved, and they should feel in no way compromised if they choose to return to the biennale and accept public funding. Craig should feel free to protest in Canberra as we’ll; it’s not a zero sum game. As for Transfield Holdings: a 12% stakeholding in Transfield Services is hardly tangential, and the historical relationship between the two companies could certainly be described as intimate. Conversely, losing 6% of its sponsorship will hardly spell the end of the biennale. If the result is greater transparency and fewer compromised sponsorship deals in future, surely that’s good. Again it hardly spells the end of corporate sponsorship for the arts. Finally there’s no analogy between accepting profits from detention centres and accepting public funding for the arts, which comes from the tax payer and has nothing to do with any particular government,s asylum seeker policy. That’s why it makes sense to reject sponsorship from Transfield in any of its incarnations while continuing to use public transport, education and health, access arts funding and even the ABC, all of which are autonomous from the government of the day.

  2. Scott Redford says:

    Dear Craig I believe the whole issue was never only the Transfield and the escalating disgrace of Manus. Unfortunately you too have only put forward one facet of the story above. The whole project of Manus and Nauru was always fraught with problems and on Manus the problem is that the PNG locals feel that they have worse lives than the asylum seekers and are angry at what they perceive as a slight on their homeland. Now who or what is stirring this up remains to be told but it’s mainly PNG workers and locals who perpetrated the violence, some say they still had blood on their boots for days after. So in reality the Manus ‘solution’ will collapse under its own weight and the asylum seekers will end up in Australia after all. Now this situation with asylum seekers for Australia is of course mirrored perfectly by the whole INCLUSION/ EXCLUSION mindset the art world uses to maintain hierarchy. Without hierarchy you don’t have value meaning in a world where everyone is supposedly equal how can you even choose who in include in an exhibition and who to exclude. And no this is not based on some universal notion of ‘quality’ as we are always told (the cream always rises to the too notion) it is based on a web of other factors that are rarely spoken of publicly but of course in reality run everything in art. For instance it’s well known that Julian Engberg has heavy ties with both John Kaldor and Anna Schwartz (who have ties with each other) and this led to Juliana being underhandedly in my belief given a curating gig at Venice Biennale and then choosing three artists two of whom were Anna Schwartz artists. It’s all on record as is my protest at the time as is an Australia Council rep text from The Australian at the time.

    So one of my beefs with your text above is that you blindly accept that ‘art’ is always somehow good but in fact the art world acts in the very same, very human manner that politics and business uses. Also you argue about sponsorship as if it the only thing that will bring art to the masses FOR FREE. For one thing why should Art be free? Movies at the cinema aren’t free, Xbox isn’t free, free to air TV isn’t free as it has adds so why should Art be free. And also it is not only tax deducted sponsorship of art that allows the art to be free, after 30 years working at the highest levels of fine art in Australia I can tell you it is by taking low wages and usually no wages that art can be brought to the people free. In the 90s I would get $200 to be in an Australian Perspecta, producing a new work, and probably no airfare and certainly no accom. Until artists are paid corporate salaries I genuinely believe that all this free art should STOP! Also the most telling line from the Biennale Board in the statement announcing the severing of ties from Transfield is that artists are their core mission. Well duh! The pendulum in art had swung far to far in favour of the mini industry aimed more at smooozing rich people for money for the arts and increased non paying consumers and pleasing Govt demands of private sponsorship and the public servants who are employed in the various art institutions AWAY from the actual producers of the art! the artists. Again I know this from my career. The attitude was always ‘oh there are plenty of artists so count yourself lucky you get anything’ attitude. Now in some ways this is understandable as art itself has begun to resemble any low grade Youtube video or random bunch if stuff in the street. Of course it’s the context that an individual purposefully made this into ‘art’ that is the point, we are speaking of supposedly cutting edge art with the Biennale. So maybe those up the chain started to unknowingly discount recent art. But for sure artists were very much down the pecking order, even corralled away from the powerful into their own ‘artists party’ for Melbourne Now at the NGV.

    So I absolutely disagree with you that the severing of ties with Transfield is a Pyrrhic victory of sorts. I believe it is a watershed in Australian art where a new generation of artists were radicalised and found that in solidarity they could effect change. Also maybe we can do without the Biennale and other things will come into being that better represent what the artists really DESIRE. This idea that all those non payers customers and all those bruised sponsors come before artists is wrong. And if you or others do think artists deserve little then go make the stuff yourself for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. See how you and your law degree will do hey?

    I think the artists who stood up for themselves are heroes, they severed ties with the gatekeepers and felt the freedom of autonomy…if only for one day.

    • HoppyinDubai says:

      Scott: I need to write to Wikipedia to alert them of a new link and prime example of the word ‘sanctimonious’.
      Craig: I am with you and your view that the REAL crux of this outcome is that it will have wider implications for arts funding by corporations. Any risk manager worth his salt is now examining this and will advise on board decisions to fund projects and events that will affect public perceptions of the company and negate their PR programme and corporate image.
      The fact that you have apparently ‘not done the hard yards’ as an artist like Scott has not prevented you from commenting and injecting a commercial and common sense approach to this matter. Keep it up.

      • Scott Redford says:

        Oh god Hoppyindubai, I agree with Craig. I just added. Apologies for coming over wrong. I agree with him, I think I say that. Also who is being sanctimonious? You can’t even use your real name?! So I’m not even sure I should reply to you at all. But everyone is allowed an opinion. The problem is that when I was working in the Australian art world I was definitely told or it was strongly implied that I was just an artist and that they had lots (even when QLd Art Gallery chose me for a big survey) of other artists so basically just shut up and make the product and THEY bring it to the people. Robert Leonard at IMA told me this very bluntly, as a half-joke of course. I am exposing myself to ridicule and career suicide. Ron Radford threatened me: “You aren’t doing yourself any favours”. I have that in a group of emails I will publish soon. So if I appear sanctimonious to some, so what. I believe in telling the truth and of course I’m upset and angry at Australian art and myself! Isn’t that obvious! So keep your anon barbs coming, it makes you feel better just as this helps me. I am sorry if I appeared to dismiss Craig. I didn’t mean so, I agree with him. Also I am accused elsewhere of taking a Fellowship for Australia Council (I was a bit shocked to get that in truth) but I regard what I am doing here and elsewhere as art work. It’s all part of the same thing in this new social media world. Artworks don’t properly exist unless they are brought into the public sphere, that’s what this whole Biennale Transfield affair is about. Who owns the means of the production of meaning, who controls what the mainstream public get to see and hear. Is it artists or is it Government and their public servants or sponsors? Only last year the mainstream would have had everyone thinking we were all in some happy little warm bath together. Now anti fracking activists can cause a headline by threatening to ‘poison’ the communal well at GOMA. Mind you I don’t know how you make stuffed animals die but it’s all on the symbolism het?

  3. Scott Redford says:

    I always think of the crux of the matter after a long comment. Craig Art is primarily a symbolic zone. Visual art is primarily about the IMAGE, in the beginning their was the image even if that image is text or the Word. So what disgusted many in the art world (not just the biennale artists) is the symbolism of what any nexus between the Biennale and Transfield profiting from Manus. The percentage ownership denoting some dubious form of dismissed responsibility are erroneous in the face of the symbolism of The Image (modern political parties and advertising know this). In the end many artists just refused to accept the PR pap of the world as it is especially their own personal involvement in such a ethically compromised situation. Yes it is Absolute, black and white. When you spend your life propping up a system for little or no profit or worse endless debt you get very angry and self righteous and I for one agree with such a stance.

    • Kyls says:

      Scott, thanks for your two marvelous and informative replies. I really understand the issue more deeply now because of your personal depth of understanding. I have seen no real resistance ANYWHERE else in our society to corporate materialist corruption and the blood money corporations offer us, except from artists. So thank God for the artists. Remind us of what it looks like to act on your own personal integrity and the limits of what you can pallet as a being on this planet.

  4. Briony says:

    Not sure if you noticed but Transfield Holdings, Transfield Services and the Transfield Foundation all have the same logo and that logo is plastered all over the 19BOS. Moreover, 12% of a 1.22 billion dollar contract is not a minor stake. If it was, Luca would have just divested. Or not. I’m beginning to think he actually supports the policy. So congratulations to the artists. You have inspired a lot of us to continue the fight to shut down the torture camps. Oh and the argument that to accept money from the australian government is sore how morally inconsistent is rubbish. Those are my tax payer dollars. Also, I suggest you do some research on the power of divestment for policy change.

    • James says:

      “those are my tax payer dollars”! I Sadly I don’t think many tax dollars are contributed by those that hold your views Briony.

      You’re “beginning to think he [Luca] actually supports the policy”. What, you mean like the other 60% of Australians, and both the major political parties?

      I hope those behind this hare brained boycott have their access to MY tax payer dollars rescinded.

  5. Claire says:

    This is around the third or fourth piece lamenting this development – and the first stage of a divestment campaign – as being one that halts conversation around the indefinite offshore detention of refugees.

    A conversation is presumed to be the best mode of engagement — even in the face of the systems with massive power differentials and that uphold this brutality and tragedy — but the conversation must be ‘civilised’, led by ‘well-heeled’ actors, and going by your qualifications, its borders maintained by people like you who can admonish angry ‘ratbags’ for having the temerity to challenge the structures, some of whom have direct experience within its confines.

    Any person who doesn’t have the brutal experience of being subject to offshore or onshore mandatory detention and who thinks prolonging a ‘conversation’ on the backs of these destructive policies–whatever that means to you and whoever else agrees–should have a good look at their priorities which extends beyond their immediate community. It’s important to get some perspective on this.

    Next: Why don’t you and other op-ed writers write open letters to the Biennale Board and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis as per the announcement? Question their reasons behind the decisions that go beyond the announcement. This campaign is a response to indefinite mandatory detention–what do the Biennale Board and Belgiorno-Nettis think about it and did it drive their recent announcement in any way, shape or form?

    Briony and Humphrey have already written about how you have some basic facts wrong re: Transfield Services, Holdings and its Foundation. Furthermore as a factual correction, the Transfield share price went up two weeks ago on the announcement of a contract then went down two days later. In terms of discussion around shares, there needs to be a longer-term view, not just watching it for a couple of days and making grand pronouncements about them.

    Another problem is that while you lambast emotions in this post, it is rather melodramatic. Australia has not lost an arts patron. You said yourself that Belgiorno-Nettis has been a long standing patron of the arts. The arts goes beyond the Biennale and always will.

    Back to the idea around a conversation: A conversation is more than just words. (Although this concern of yours and others doesn’t stop you from contributing in words to where you think this conversation should go.) A conversation is also action. But really while I am reticent to respond within your very strict parameters, there was plenty of debate around the beginnings of this campaign–in mainstream media, independent media, blogs, Twitter, and offline meetings at COFA and in Melbourne.

    Some more points:

    *Your talk of well-heeled art fans going to Canberra is elitist.
    *You have provided no evidence that 60, 000 people going to Canberra would work and also seem to be unthinking about how logistically difficult that would be. I’ve been to an action like this with less people, and it was incredible. But also online and offline forms of activism can enhance each other. Turning up–and especially to a different city for non-Canberrans–doesn’t really work as a benchmark for 21st century activism.
    *You decry an ultimatum–and put negotiation on a pedestal, but while not the same thing, also declare that if people don’t go to Canberra in the way you see fit then their political convictions and protestations mean nothing. This declaration is incredibly arrogant and there is no room for dialogue (which is part of negotiation) within your criteria.

    Sometimes the stakes are too high and come too quickly for negotiation to be the best course of action.

    Whatever you think is best without providing any evidence and dismissing as emotions and anger–and anger can be a powerful tool, the following is also true. There are people active and who keep on going even after failure and trying to learn from those failures; there are organisations full of marginalised people with the lived experience and their supporters, doing incredible work and facilitating art programs; there are artists who look beyond their own communities and whom belong to oppressed communities and will take the necessary action whether through boycotts, their own shows, and particular projects.

    Critique can be good but making the effort to find out what one is critiquing – and speaking to those in the community, while representing them in text accurately, is better.

  6. Ben says:

    Ghassan Hage [re Nicholas Pickard's similarly myopic broadside of the boycott in the SMH 9/3/2014]: “It is always interesting how those who are willing to courageously act in the name of a moral principle are always well aware of the practical contradictions and imperfections associated with whatever moral stand they take. It is those who want to remain passive, and who directly or indirectly support the status quo, who end up erecting an impossibly pure and non-contradictory morality as a standard against which they find all moral action wanting and lacking, and this as a way to justify their own passivity and moral cowardice.” https://www.facebook.com/ghahagea/posts/10152002505337963?stream_ref=10

  7. Ben says:

    This piece is just such ill-reasoned, factually inaccurate and racist hogwash – what’s going on, Crikey?! Cathy Alexander apologising for Perks and Mini’s odious cultural appropriation, Helen Razer’s (now disproven) dismissal of the potential of a boycott, and now this? Time for the publication to take a step back I think and consider the incredibly conservative discursive effects of its repeated publication of this kind of status-quo-preserving dross.

  8. Dick says:

    Here’s one vote for Craig’s opinion and none for the outrage industry. He’s right, if you’re angry about the government’s policies – take your protest to Canberra.

  9. Jacquelene Drinkall says:

    Was not the main victory sought by ambushing BoS that Transfield immediately cut ties with offshore mandatory detention? The stupidity of the boycott ambush is that it could have likely created a more horrendous bloodbath! It would have made things immediately worse and would likely have lead to even more deaths as we saw with the brutal murder of architect Reza Barati, dragged from a computer lab by a Salvation Army worker who was about to loose their job. Only 40% of Salvation Army workers are to be retained by Transfield. It was the instability of employment amongst PNG workers that created this violence. I did not endorse Matt Kiem’s and the BoS artist letter ambush demand for an immediate solution because it denied the complexity of the situation. It acknowledged it was complex but simultaneously denied complexity and amplified the urgency, and although apparently much research was done BoS artists into links the detention industry and links to BoS and other issues of corporate sponsorship the BoS artist letter did not convey too much at all. This misdirect urgency threatened further precarious human rights violations and deaths for asylum seekers, not to mention undermining one of the strongest philanthropic relationships for contemporary experimental artists this country has ever seen. It potentially undermines funding for Acessible Arts and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as well as a multitude of other arts organisations relying on Transfield money.

    The BoS artist letter took too much inspiration from the Boycott instigator Matt Kiem, who hates Biennales so much so that he refused to attend the 2012 protest against Transfield on Cockatoo Island. Kiem’s agenda is to rid all corporate sponsorship of the arts. I get that people need non-corporate spaces in order to create experimental and radical community based art shows that explore activist and transcendental connections – that is why we have artist run galleries, Cementa, Redfern Biennale, Squatfest. Squatspace is built almost entirely in opposition to Tropfest, “who suck corporate cock”. However this divestment strategy combined with such an aggressive ambush could trigger further divestment by other companies in BoS and the wider arts as people buy into this strategy and see the arts as a community of sympathetic leftists keen to show how much they hate filthy money. The problem is all about timing and the rush to execute an impossible ultimatum that creates economic violence for artists but would have likely created very real, volatile physical violence and terrifying potential loss of life in Manus Island detention centres.

    The first protest, of which I was a part, was made just at the very end of the 2012 Biennale, so most people had already been to the Biennale, although it was clear enough people including Kiem were aware the issue was going to be addressed at the next Biennale. This protest sought to raise heat and light on the issue but deliberately presented boycotting only within a wider range of inclusive forms of protest and occupying. It did not assume a mandate to create an ultimatum that would potentially have such rash consequences for both vulnerable asylum seekers and precariously placed artists and arts industry. However, Kiem saw an opportunity to time a 2014 BoS ambush from the outside and pre-empt the protests to be initiated on the BoS turf itself. Kiem stated he was against ANY protest within BoS. The BoS artist letter escalated the urgent ambush and Kiem’s one demand, that the BoS *immediately* cut ties with Transfield, or that Transfield immediately end business with offshore detention centres. The BoS artist letter jumped to Kiem’s demands and although it acknowledged complexity it did not properly look into nor disseminate the complexity of the issue. It functioned to undermine complexity and other stakeholders who were looking for more considered forms of problem solving for all, to create a win win. Kiem and the BoS artist letter opportunisticly exploited the powder keg media spectacle by ramming through with a dangerous ultimatum. We can thank our lucky stars that Luca and Transfield left, rather than somehow immediately cancelling the Transfield Services contract with Manus Island, as it avoided another bloodbath on Manus Island. People still think Luca has control over Transfield Services, which has added to this rushed clusterfuck.

    Less than half the BoS artists signed up, and only five artists met with BoS, so there is definitely democratic scope for further argument at the actual convening of the BoS event for stakeholders to find more practical, considered and safe ways to bring an eventual end to mandatory detention. The BoS forum can hopefully also find an acceptable way to bring Transfield back into the fold, if that is what most people want, or to demand that all corporate sponsors top forcing blood money into artists hearts. Get a grip Scott Redford – keep the money at arms length, count it, don’t put it so close to your heart and do something useful with it and quickly. Just think what activists and artists would do with that money. Activists would take that money in order to visit Manus Island or run a campaign so long as they don’t have to put a company logo on their website.

  10. jeff stein says:

    This whole episode is a disgrace, 60% of population supported the detention centers before the boycott; 60% support the detention centers after the boycott, only difference is the removal of a major champion of the arts in the most disrespectful way and a small ghetto of people feeling good about themselves. do we all feel better now? only more fodder for the tabloids to exploit and show how morally superior the left think they are, more reason for the right to take the advantage and ostracise artists as self indulgent, self important wankers. does that change the opinion of the 60%, i think not, I think it just went up to 61%. Is it morally valuable acts of defiance or mere self-indulgent theatre? like Senator Scott Ludlam speech, on the one hand brilliant and something we (one the left) supported but it was delivered in an empty room and yes it went “viral” but only with the agreeable 30%; did it make an impact on the rest? The question is where do we take a stand? And more importantly what is the best place and time to take a stand that will effect change?

  11. Tom says:

    “It was the instability of employment amongst PNG workers that created this violence.”

    You want to take it back to systemic factors? Let’s consider the very existence of the Manus Island facility, and the policy and processes that result in an outsourced security contractor like G4S (or now Transfield Services) staffing it with negligent, poorly trained, undisciplined and violent personnel.

    That’s what caused the violence. That’s the industry that’s being sustained by bipartisan support for mandatory detention. That’s the reason this boycott sought to highlight and end the relationship between Transfield Holdings, a direct beneficiary of detention contracts, and the Biennale.

  12. Neil Longman says:

    I’m old enough to remember when artists used to protest through their art. Ken Loach, Joan Littlewood, Theatre de L’Odéon, Milan Kundera and the songs of the Vietnam War.

    They followed in the footsteps of Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Bertolt Brecht, Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse.

    Are contemporary Australian artists just lazy, sitting behind computer screens signing e-petitions? Perhaps they need to take a leaf out of artists such as the Belarus Free Theatre and get creative.

    • Joanna Mendelssohn says:

      The Adelaide Biennial, on view at the Art Gallery of South Australia until May, has both a curator and a number of artists working together to show how the art of protest can be more than a mindless attack on one of arts great benefactors.

  13. Jodie Wiggins says:

    It takes ethics and integrity to challenge the seemingly accepted complicity of the art establishment with unethical corporate funding. To align oneself with immoral profiting from human suffering is something which does not go down well in historical terms. The fact that The Biennale received funds from mandatory detention funds through the Transfield Foundation – a joint venture of Services and Holdings (which is a 12% stakeholder of Services) – implicated artists and stakeholders ‘in a flow of corporate capital into cultural capital and corporate branding.’ The artists and art installers who found it ‘ethically indefensible’ to partake in such a flow, exercised their individual right to leave The Biennale. At no time were they co-opted or ‘ambushed’ by Mr. Kiem. They are all intelligent adults who acted on their own volition and moral compass once they were fully informed of the unethical funding of The Biennale from mandatory detention profits.

    The campaign worked because Mr. Kiem did not act alone. He worked in conjunction with RISE refugee organisation, Beyond Borders Collective, Human rights lawyers and sociologists. Mr. Kiem wasn’t listening to his own voice, he was listening to the voices of the vulnerable refugees on Manus.
    His campaign was well thought out and the intentions behind it honourable.

    To make an accusation that Mr. Kiem’s well-intentioned and ethical campaign could have instigated more bloodshed and violence is ridiculous and unsubstantiated. To try to link Mr. Kiem’s ethical actions with the death of Mr. Beradi and the appalling violence is insulting and based on a false logic. I would say a decided lack of rational thought. The duty of care for Mr. Beradi and the refugees in mandatory detention is the Australian Government’s responsibility. The reasons behind the violence cannot be linked to Mr Kiem, nor can they be written off with a one liner regarding the anxiety over unstable employment. To make such a statement as ‘this misdirected urgency threatened human rights violations’ in reference to the boycott campaign is completely irrational and once again, based on no logical line of thought whatsoever. One may instead look at the government’s implementation and conditions of mandatory detention in ‘determent camps’ as opposed to resettling refugees- not illegals- and abiding by The UN Refugee Convention. One may instead look at the industry which profits from this abuse of human rights.It seems that the author of the previous comments is scapegoating /defaming Mr. Kiem in order to focus some mis-directed anger regarding the withdrawal of art funding by Mr. Belgiorno – Nettis.

    ‘The complexity of the situation’ seems to be the ‘potential undermining’ of the art philanthropy of the Belgiorno- Nettis family. This philanthropy becomes untenable when one is made aware that art is being funded by profits from human suffering. The Government relies on contractors to operate their Detention Centres which are a source of multi-million dollar contracts. The shares of Transfield increased by 25% after their $1.22 Billion contract was announced. From Transfield’s perspective, it was possible to be involved in and profit from The Detention centre Industry whilst encouraging criticism and dissent from within the framework and art context of The Biennale. An outcome which would have ‘lent cultural capital’ to the Transfield Brand.

    When an artist engages in political/social commentary within such a context – an art event/institution which is funded by unethical corporate profits from mandatory detention – the Institution contains and confines their practice. The branding corporation benefits from the added value of ‘edgy dissent’. Artistic labour ends up being conflated and complicit with the corporation and the injustices which are created by ‘vulture capitalism.’

    Artists cannot presume to ‘speak for’ the refugees. Contemporary art practice has acknowledged the importance of not continuing to repeat the mistakes of the past where the voices of the ‘cultured class’ were only heard. Contemporary art has seen a shift with the previously marginalised being included. Dialogue and collaboration are now emphasized. In this case refugees (some of them artists) had asked for an artistic and community boycott of The Biennale so as not to be complicit in immoral and unjust government policies. Mr Kiem, listened to those voices and aligned his campaign around the requests for solidarity and support of a boycott. He did not ‘burn money’, when money is a resource which can help refugee case-workers and community support for refugees. He did not act alone, nor from ego, he acted with ethics and with honour. He based his campaign around an ethos of consultation and dialogue.

    A Boycott and Divestment campaign is one strategy in which seemingly un-empowered people may participate in order to bring attention to the immoral policy of mandatory detention and to focus on the companies who are profiting from them. The unconscionable ethical regression of the art establishment in being complicit in a flow of cultural capital derived from the profits of the detention industry was also highlighted. Perhaps it is timely for artists and art Institutions to re-evaluate their ethical compass and to act with integrity and compassion. It may be timely also to allow for a more ethical dialogue in which those who take a certain political or ethical stance are not demonised or subject to highly erroneous and unsubstantiated accusations.

    It takes ethics and integrity to challenge the seemingly accepted complicity of the art establishment with unethical corporate funding. To align oneself with immoral profiting from human suffering is something which does not go down well in historical terms. The fact that The Biennale received funds from mandatory detention funds through the Transfield Foundation – a joint venture of Services and Holdings (which is a 12% stakeholder of Services) – implicated artists and stakeholders ‘in a flow of corporate capital into cultural capital and corporate branding.’ The artists and art installers who found it ‘ethically indefensible’ to partake in such a flow, exercised their individual right to leave The Biennale. At no time were they co-opted or ‘ambushed’ by Mr. Kiem. They are all intelligent adults who acted on their own volition and moral compass once they were fully informed of the unethical funding of The Biennale from mandatory detention profits.

    The campaign worked because Mr. Kiem did not act alone. He worked in conjunction with RISE refugee organisation, Beyond Borders Collective, Human rights lawyers and sociologists. Mr. Kiem wasn’t listening to his own voice, he was listening to the voices of the vulnerable refugees on Manus.
    His campaign was well thought out and the intentions behind it honourable.

    To make an accusation that Mr. Kiem’s well-intentioned and ethical campaign could have instigated more bloodshed and violence is ridiculous and unsubstantiated. To try to link Mr. Kiem’s ethical actions with the death of Mr. Beradi and the appalling violence is insulting and based on a false logic. I would say a decided lack of rational thought. The duty of care for Mr. Beradi and the refugees in mandatory detention is the Australian Government’s responsibility. The reasons behind the violence cannot be linked to Mr Kiem, nor can they be written off with a one liner regarding the anxiety over unstable employment. To make such a statement as ‘this misdirected urgency threatened human rights violations’ in reference to the boycott campaign is completely irrational and once again, based on no logical line of thought whatsoever. One may instead look at the government’s implementation of mandatory detention in ‘determent camps’ as opposed to resettling refugees- not illegals- and abiding by The UN Refugee Convention. It seems that the author of the previous comments is scapegoating /defaming Mr. Kiem in order to focus some mis-directed anger regarding the withdrawal of art funding by Mr. Belgiorno – Nettis.

    ‘The complexity of the situation’ seems to be the ‘potential undermining’ of the art philanthropy of the Belgiorno- Nettis family. This philanthropy becomes untenable when one is made aware that art is being funded by profits from human suffering. The Government relies on contractors to operate their Detention Centres which are a source of multi-million dollar contracts. The shares of Transfield increased by 25% after their $1.22 Billion contract was announced. From Transfield’s perspective, it was possible to be involved in and profit from The Detention centre Industry whilst encouraging criticism and dissent from within the framework and art context of The Biennale. An outcome which would have ‘lent cultural capital’ to the Transfield Brand.

    When an artist engages in political/social commentary within such a context – an art event/institution which is funded by unethical corporate profits from mandatory detention – the Institution contains and confines their practice. The branding corporation benefits from the added value of ‘edgy dissent’. Artistic labour ends up being conflated and complicit with the corporation and the injustices which are created by ‘vulture capitalism.’

    Artists cannot presume to ‘speak for’ the refugees. Contemporary art practice has acknowledged the importance of not continuing to repeat the mistakes of the past where the voices of the ‘cultured class’ were only heard. Contemporary art has seen a shift with the previously marginalised being included. Dialogue and collaboration are now emphasized. In this case refugees (some of them artists) had asked for an artistic and community boycott of The Biennale so as not to be complicit in immoral and unjust government policies. Mr Kiem, listened to those voices and aligned his campaign around the requests for solidarity and support of a boycott. He did not ‘burn money’, when money is a resource which can help refugee case-workers and community support for refugees. He did not act alone, nor from ego, he acted with ethics and with honour. He based his campaign around an ethos of consultation and dialogue.

    A Boycott and Divestment campaign is one strategy in which seemingly un-empowered people may participate in order to bring attention to the immoral policy of mandatory detention and to focus on the companies who are profiting from them. The unconscionable ethical regression of the art establishment in being complicit in a flow of cultural capital derived from the profits of the detention industry was also highlighted. Perhaps it is timely for artists and art Institutions to re-evaluate their ethical compass and to act with integrity and compassion. It may be timely also to allow for a more ethical dialogue in which those who take a certain political or ethical stance are not demonised or subject to highly erroneous and unsubstantiated accusations.

    • S Richardson says:

      Jodie, thanks for taking the time to put those thoughts down, you have informed my newly adopted position on this issue.

  14. Thank you, Jodie Wiggins, for that careful study of what is happening. I am too old and weary – and sad – to write at length, but what is happening in Australia at present makes me think of Pastor Niemuller’s remarks re Nazi Germany.
    If OUR artists and writers are silenced, who will come out to speak for them, and us, in the end game? We seem to think we are immune, but the end for us could be as ugly as the world of the 40s, and its aftermath, from which we still suffer.
    Thank you, Jodie Wiggins, for writing so thoughtful and profound a piece.

  15. Lucy says:

    Craig Dunlop: with all due respect I think you are missing the point.

  16. TR says:

    That Ice-T quote was sooooooo off the mark, bro. Shame. Job.

    Oh! what a crying shame, that the plutes and the haute bourgeoisie should feel the pressure of public scrutiny (how awful for them!); that when forced to choose between an increasingly loud moral consensus and the bottom line, they will inevitably be outed as the class without principle (gosh, that’s not very nice, is it?); and that the artists of this country may become divorced from a patron and have to fall back on their resourcefulness (just another ruling class, mate – more where they came from).

    “Ultimatums”? Seriously? From artists, to suits? This is, as they say, a victory for the little guy.

    Shelley:

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    Nuff said.

  17. […] Artists v Transfield: was this the win they were hoping for? […]

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