John Reynolds

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One of the pleasures I had in Sydney in 2006 was to meet the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, who has been in the news recently after being jailed by the Chinese authorities on trumped up charges. Ai Wei Wei is an example of a new generation of politically activated artists who consistently ask questions about their role in society and culture. The Kermadecs—and the issues that exist around the formation of a marine reserve there—give rise to the same question: what do we expect from artists?

The Kermadec project has such a strong political component to it. It galvanises you as an individual and as an artist. The challenge is to try and find a voice, an effective voice, for expressing concerns about the very real threat this part of the ocean is under. At the same time, how does one make effective art with a political bent? How does one use one’s voice in one area, in an aesthetic or formal area, and effectively apply that to a current political issue? In what sense is this exhibition a vehicle for a very real political expression, and how effectively can an individual artist or a group of artists go down that route?

The perils are sloganism and some kind of trite reference to issues that are complex— but a greater peril is not taking that risk.

What is an artist’s role? What’s a scientist’s role? Our role is to point at something and we do this by making art work. Now the art work itself is often what people look at (as the artists do themselves), but I think what artists really do is they vigorously point towards a particular corner of the world or a corner of existence and the work articulates some essence, some deep sense of what’s unique and worthy of our attention. It’s worth understanding the Kermadec experience in these terms—that we all travelled as visitors to this pretty unique rock in the sea, and we all looked at various aspects of it intensely and we came back. The scientists that travel there have their conventions and purposes, and the artists have their own conventions and ideas and formalities and languages and materials. Artists and scientists both do similarly intense research. While the expression of their two bodies of research couldn’t be more diametrically opposed, the purpose is the same. We are both intensely looking at aspects of the world and aspects of existence in the world and of course our own understanding of it, in a deep sense, given the brevity of our time here.