Si Yi Iris Shen, Pygg Mission, moulded blown glass, drawings

Si Yi Iris Shen, Pygg Mission, moulded blown glass, drawings (from 2006 Utility exhibition)

Utility: Feast of Famine?

Dates: 3-25 August

Opening: Thursday 2 August, 6-8pm

Artist: Various Artists

Utility is an annual curated exhibition of work by Sydney College of the Arts Object and Design students.

This years Utility exhibition responds to the theme of ‘Feast or Famine’ and explores why, when the world has never been as rich as it is today, why do over one billion people still suffer from extreme poverty?

Expect unusual interpretations that deal with issues surrounding poverty and wealth, climate change and popular culture, gluttony and celebrity dieting.

The exhibition is part of Sydney Design 07.

Speech by Ross Longmuir from Planet Furniture

The 1973 film La Grande Bouffe is an allegory of its time. It’s the story of a group of affluent middle-aged men who are so jaded that they hire prostitutes and a villa and decide to kill themselves in an orgy of sex and food. The crescendo as I remember, was a Monsieur Creoso (?) who with intent, grotesquely exploded on screen as he consumed just one last petit four. Interestingly, La Grande Bouffe has come to Roselle with a restaurant of the same name, just nearby in Victoria Road. According to the website it offers “a piece of France”… “in an opulent dining room” and “Blanquette de Lapin with Pomme pure” and “sultry low level lighting”. Creativity is obviously something that many of us aspire to.

Consumption to excess is increasingly a part of mainstream experience in an age of unrivalled wealth. As the entire world hurtles towards “development” it seems increasingly likely that we will also end up destroying ourselves in a debauched gluttonous orgy. Clive Hamilton in his recent book Affluenza describes an epidemic of overwork, stress waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of “The Australian Dream”. He claims that we have an unsustainable addiction to economic growth. In the last 20 years our homes have doubled in size and we now have half as many people living in each of them. Increasingly we are isolated in our separate spaces, locked into the Internet and being entertained by our own personal devises. In 2004 our Australian economy grew by 23 billion dollars yet when the Labour party lost the federal election in that year it was declared that the party must pay more attention to growth and the economy. We seem to be not in the midst of a health care crisis, so much as a flat screen television crisis.

So can art save us in this age of affluence? The way that I see it, the core power of art is its ability to open our eyes to new ways of thinking about the world. It is philosophy. This is how great art is recognised, by its ability to change our thinking in a way that touches many people. For art to be relevant it needs to be debated, discussed, evaluated and tested. It needs to be considered and written about.

Creative people want to show the world a different and possibly better way. The confusing thing for us, trying to be creative, is that the powerful through history have also used art to entrench their power and this usually means status quo. In this way powerful artistic intent can be turned into decoration and especially decoration that increases in value. So we have this conflict. Those with power want the appearance of supporting daring and risk, while at the same time, not wanting to rock their own boat.

My challenge to the artists here is simply to listen to your own inner voice, to decide what you stand for by rigorous thinking and to express this in the clearest way possible. This is how great art is made. In my own practise I try to slip in levels of commentary and quality and meaning to the mainstream surreptitiously, Its my little bit of sub-vergence to sell ecologically responsible products to the fashionistas and to show seemingly discarded throw-away materials as the cutting edge of what is desirable. The fantastic opportunity that we have currently is that we are faced with a new world: new issues, new conditions and new ways of communicating. Now is the most exciting time to be living as an artist. We have loads to talk about. The world needs brave art.

Congratulations to everyone involved in tonight’s exhibition, from the teachers to curators, to catalogue compilers and contributors, to installation assistants and to workshop aides. But most importantly, thankyou to the sensitive souls who have chosen to contribute to the evolution of expression. This includes everyone who did not have a chance to exhibit their work tonight. Greater risk should involve greater potential to fail. It is important that artists take risks to develop. So it is unrecognised talent and inelegantly expressed work that pushes us forward to the next great thing. So congratulations to the artists who have revealed the way that they see the world differently.