Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Remarks by Damien Minton at the SAVE TAFE ART
rally held at the Damien Minton Gallery 19 November 2012

To witness a living, breathing 120 year old institution like the Newcastle Art School being kneecapped by the O’Farrell government is a scandal.

This act of school yard bully boy violence is distressing as it has sent the dedicated art teachers, both full time and part time, into trauma as they scramble to salvage a new structure to stay alive in 2013.

The actions of this NSW government to stop funding the visual arts departments within the TAFE system from next year shows how we as a society has slipped back into a new cultural dark age. 

As one drives through or visits many regional towns in NSW there are still stately Victorian era buildings with the words ‘School of Arts’ sitting proudly on the fa├žade.  They symbolise our 19th century great great grandfathers and mothers developing and maturing an understanding and resolve in placing the visual arts and crafts shoulder to shoulder with their work ethic of employment and business.

At the turn of the 19th into the 20th century there was real pride in using a visual language to inform, define and articulate community and society.

The O’Farrell decision to stop funding the visual arts within TAFE illustrates how far we have regressed from that proud stance.
We are back into the cultural dark ages, the neo age of despots, it is an act of Cromwellian proportions.

Macquarie Street has no understanding or knowledge as to how the visual arts in TAFE is an essential component of an economic eco system that circulates well beyond the art school walls.
The vast majority of artists this art gallery presents teach in the TAFE system, passing on their knowledge and skills for 8 to 10 hours a week.  Without it, their art practice becomes vulnerable and precarious.

Also, the first solo exhibitions by emerging artists staged at this gallery have invariably been recent graduates from TAFE.

The eagerness and enthusiasm of the artists’ families and friends is far more meaningful and infectious than the nickels and dimes that flow from the red dots on the white walls.

It gives young artists the confidence and possibility of being productive creative human beings.
The TAFE system provides a ‘hands on’ environment for creative people to be nurtured and encouraged, a ‘pastoral’ care model of teaching.

So to suddenly witness these ‘culture houses’ being destroyed is like watching a You Tube video of an Israeli missile slamming into its target.

The complicity of the TAFE bureaucracy to step aside and point at the soft target is cowardly and deplorable.

The art staff involved in this essential part of the broader visual arts industry now have to gasp for air in order to survive.  They are scrambling and stitching together a new fee structure for students in order to survive, all within four months.

You may ask yourself, why?
Cutting the funds of Fine Arts in TAFE compared to the enormity of NSW INC is hardly a cost saving measure.
It is the mosquito, not the elephant, in the room.
These gruesome and lethal cuts stem from the war the apparatchiks within TAFE have staged for decades.
It is a war against creativity, because creativity will never fit neatly into an economic determinist excel spreadsheet. The visual arts is irritating and the word culture immediately makes the eyes roll.
The bureaucracy’s obsession with quantitative data goes right up to the level of the Bacon and Kapoor shows currently on offer this summer.
Money spent in the visual arts can be justified if it fits into an economic strategy.
These people get turned on by balance sheets neatly adding up, they get orgasmic when red ink turns into a surplus.
So they fear creativity, even within themselves.  They don’t understand it, they don’t want this irritation.
So get rid of it.

Ironically this becomes the main weapon for artists and arts administrators.
It is something O’Farrell and his dark age Macquarie Street cronies fear the most … the joy and potency of creativity.

Damien Minton Gallery

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bronwyn Barwell's opening address, 17 November 2012, Merchants of War: Tribute to Michael Callaghan

Thank you all for coming to Merchants of War. Especially thanks to the contributing artists and Damien Minton who has been pivotal to this show.

The focus of the exhibition is on the international corporations and middlemen – private and government, who foster and profit from the international trade in arms – from light weapons such as the iconic AK47 through to the new wave of technology driven weapons epitomised by the Drone.

These men and women in grey suits with neat suburban lives far removed from their victims are real perpetrators of war and the natural opponents of negotiated settlement.

War is fuelled by global economic imperatives. Countries far removed from the zone of conflict are profiting every minute of every day from the arms trade. Their victims grow exponentially.

Their blood money powers the growth of first world companies and economies.

This exhibition was borne from a commitment to community in the widest sense and fuelled by the anger at the sheer wrongness of a world where negotiated settlement is held to ransom by the merchants of war and frustration at the duplicity and inertia of our political leaders to come to the table on an Arms Trade Treaty.

Merchants of War is also about the more intimate community we inhabit as friends and colleagues who have come together to both pay tribute to Michael and his artistic and political legacy and in solidarity, to continue the tradition of politicised art practise.

This was to be Michael’s last exhibition – he had a number of works in progress. The night before he died, he said he didn’t know if he had enough strength to get the work done. My reply was all we can do is try and thanks to you all we have succeeded.

Michael’s practise was collective in nature.

The AK47 sculpture could not have been realised without:

         Greg McLachlan’s fine computer rendering in dissecting the connecting layers, OR
         Greg Page’s considerable carpentry skills in assembling the gun.
As Greg McLachlan commented, Michael always surrounded himself with artisans – the AK47 is as much a product of their skills as of Michael’s vision.

This exhibition in its entirety is testament to the power of collective practise.

On Michael’s behalf thank you and congratulations on a fine body of work.

Michael’s website is to be relaunched with the poster archive available for sale and viewing through the site. The profits from the sale and from this exhibition received by the estate will be held in a trust in Michael’s name and over time will hopefully, in a modest way, fund a travelling art scholarship amongst other things.