Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Excerpt from my book in The College Voice

Here's a link to The College Voice, a COFA Arc (student association) online publication, edited by the indefatigable Janis Lander. This is another excerpt from my book, about the meanings of lists of names, specifically in relation to memorials. I'm only reproducing the text here (the usual problems with being able to reduce the size of images preventing me from just attaching them), but click on the title to go to the full issue, and the Names title to go to my article:

The College Voice - Archive: Volume 6 Issue 1

Volume 6, Issue 1

Names winter 2008

Rodney Love is a Masters of Fine Arts graduate of COFA, and works in the UNSW COFA Library. He describes himself as “an over-educated and under-funded internationally-ignored visual artist who lives and works in Sydney, Australia.”

The following extract is from his new book I Am Because We Are: The Meaning of Names in Art and Memorials, published by VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller in May 2008. To commemorate the event, Rodney posted this comment on his blog:

“The book is a reworking of my MFA thesis. There is some additional material including more memorials, more artworks, some memorial rubbings, and an essay I wrote comparing two memorials (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II memorial, both in Washington, D.C.) which wasn't part of my thesis. I'm certainly not expecting to retire on the royalties, in fact I'm sure I won't be buying lunch with the royalties, but it's nice to have a book published and out there in the world. It has images of my artworks that I made for my MFA, so they're getting out and about. I also think the linking of Victor Turner's concept of communitas with memorials is an original idea that I've not seen in the literature on memorials.

I did find on Amazon a book with the same title from 1996! The sub heading is Readings in Black Philosophy, so not treading the same paths. Madonna has also made a documentary with the same title. It comes from an African proverb, so you can guess the connection. My interest was in the links between individuals and groups.”

I found the above list of names on the back of an unrelated article cut from The Sydney Morning Herald. It is only part of the page, so there is nothing to explain this list of names, or why it is in the paper. If, as Roland Barthes notes, “Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society,”i then how can we bring this list to an “oral state”? Obviously it is a list of names, with surnames in alphabetical order, plus given name. The numbers? In a different context, they could be page numbers, with the list as an index. Possibly they are the ages of the people listed. Are these people dead? Are they listed here as a form of memorial? Or are they being recognised for some achievement? If the numbers do indicate ages, then it’s unlikely that a one-year-old child has done something to merit public recognition. We cannot even be sure that this list represents a group of people. Rather, this has become a group of people - these people may have no link other than being on this list. The only thing we can be sure of is that these names are intended to represent individuals, and that these individuals have been placed together to create a group.

The list works both metonymically and metaphorically. The names “belong” to people, are a part of them, and are used here to stand-in for those people. Collectively, though, the people in the list are standing in for the whole of society. But the list is also like society in that it is a group of people together – it can be seen as a metaphor for society. What kind of society, though? There is no hierarchy in the list presented. They are listed in alphabetical order of surname. We may have their ages, and we can mostly tell the sex of the people listed, but we have no other clues that would enable us to categorize these people according to social hierarchies. This is a symbolic realization of the concept of communitas as described by anthropologist Victor Turner. Basically, communitas is a recognition of the equality of all people, but one that exists separate from the social structures of age, race, economic position, etc., that serve to differentiate members of a society, as well as classifying and ranking them.ii “As opposed to societas, or structure, communitas is characterized by equality, immediacy and the lack of social ranks and roles…. Where societas functions to define the differences between individuals, limit their interaction, and pull them apart, communitas serves to unify, bond, and transcend structural relationships.”iii

Communitas exists, Turner claims, during rites and rituals, or other periods when the normal social roles and rules don’t apply. This seems to fit with Joseph Campbell’s idea that cultures develop rites and rituals to “teach the lesson of the essential oneness of the individual and the group.”iv Although communitas may only exist for short periods of time during the periods of liminality inherent in rites and rituals, lists of names, by representing groups as made up of equal individuals, function as “a model of undifferentiated wholeness.”v As a metonymic representation of humanity its “boundaries are ideally coterminous with those of the human species.”vi Through this symbolic communitas, we are reminded of our underlying, shared humanity.

So a list of names like the one above can, symbolically at least, confirm our sense of individuality, acknowledge our place within society, and simultaneously reassure us of our equality with all other members of society. This is a lot to ask if it turns out to be someone’s Christmas card list! I am suggesting, of course, that these are unconscious processes, and that the type of list usually provides more prosaic reasons for including these names together. If it is a Christmas card list, then the names are obviously of people known by the writer of the list. If it is an index then we have additional information to enable us to complete the meaning of the sign that is the list. These prosaic lists of names contain meanings that override the symbolic meanings that I have listed above. A phone book becomes a means to search for phone numbers, rather than as a way to relieve anxiety by reassuring ourselves of our connectedness with the larger society. Not that that function is not available, but the viewer is not as receptive to these meanings in a way that he or she would be when contemplating a memorial or a work of art. For in those cases, there are no quotidian functions to override these symbolic concerns. Although memorials and artworks sometimes perform utilitarian functions such as a focus for commemorative events, or as decorative elements, it is assumed that they have deeper meanings. Of course semiotics has opened up every cultural artefact to deeper readings, but this has not become commonplace outside academia. Art and memorials, though, invite contemplation; they invite an investigation into their symbolic concerns. By using lists of names, artists can make the viewer think of his or her own place in the world, or become aware of social hierarchies, or reflect on the groups that the viewer is a part of. With memorials, one is often confronted with the names of dead individuals, but they still act as embodiments of members of a society. When a list becomes a cultural phenomenon, as part of a memorial or an artwork, it performs its symbolic functions in a public or social way.

i Roland Barthes, Mythologies (London: Paladin, 1973) 117.

ii Bruce Kapferer, Legends of People, Myths of State (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1988) 162.

iii Jeffrey Rubenstein, “Purim, Liminality, and Communitas,” AJS Review 17.2 (Autumn, 1992): 251.

iv Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (London: Fontana, 1993) 384.

v Darlene M. Juschka, “Whose Turn is it to Cook? Communitas and Pilgrimage Questioned,” Mosaic 36.4 (Dec. 2003): n.pag. Factiva. 8 Nov. 2006 <>.

vi M.J. Sallnow, “Communitas Reconsidered: The Sociology of Andean Pilgrimage,” Man New Series. Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jun. 1981): 163.

Another rejection letter

Here's another rejection letter. I've seen a book by some artist which just consists of rejection letters he has received. I tried to find it through Google, and found this website instead. It's called Rejection Letters of an Emerging Artist. You can't say this woman isn't trying to get her art out there! My application was for Off the Wall at Art Sydney, a local art fair. I submitted a number of hair weavings, but alas, to no avail. Here's the rejection:

Dear Rodney

We were overwhelmed this year with over 300 entries for Off The Wall.

The panel took a combined total of 20 hours to make their decisions.

On this occasion, your work was not selected for the event, but we thank you for the time and effort it took to make the application.

We do keep applications on file for several years though and often have dealers and curators sifting through them looking for works that their needs. Many artists have gained representation this way.

Your work will appear on our website shortly, and you will be notified when it is “live”, this is also a resource used by many dealers as they can contact you directly through your email address,

Commendations and high commendations will appear on the website also, I am unable to advise of these at the moment.

Unfortunately I am unable to enter into correspondence regarding your application due to time restrictions.

We will be holding a free professional development seminar at Art Sydney 08 on Friday 24 October at 12 noon, you are welcome to attend and I will be holding a Q & A session afterwards.

Thank you again for your application and I wish you all the very best in the future

Yours sincerely

Cash Brown
Off The Wall Coordinator

I always like that rejection letters tell you how many entries/applications there were. Regardless of whether there were 20 applicants or 500, they still preferred other people's work to my own, which in my mind makes their ability to discern quality art questionable. Of course the artists who were selected will be praising the judges for their insight and good taste! It may not have been the work they didn't like, but the quality of the prints I sent. Here are the images I submitted:

The first three are from my Six Degrees series. Three of this series (there were ten in all) will be in the Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial which opens in Tamworth in November, then will tour nationally for two years, and another two will be in a group show in September here in Sydney, so I'm not taking the rejection as reflection of the quality of my work. Maybe it's just a question of taste.

The last three are from a series called The Devil's Cloth which also uses human hair, but replicates stripe patterns from different cultures. The title comes from a book by Michel Pastoureau:

From Library Journal

Convinced that "clothing is always the bearer of important meanings," Sorbonne paleographer/archivist Pastoureau here explores hitherto uncharted territory. In this intriguing little book, he traces the negative connotation related to stripes in cloth and clothing in Western societies as evidenced by documents and illustrations from the Middle Ages until today. He begins with the Carmelites' scandalous use later banned of striped monks' habits in the 13th century and gives numerous examples of striped clothing "marking" marginalized members of society: prostitutes, mimes, domestic servants, bankers, criminals, and, sadly, concentration camp inmates. He admits that the use of stripes on coats of arms is not pejorative and that stripes have been used successfully in modern fashions. The book raises as many questions as it answers and points to further research. The examples given are from French history and culture and may be unfamiliar to most American readers, making this book suitable for academic collections only.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Studio for Rent

I know I've stated that this blog is supposed to be all about me, but I'm making an exception with this post. It's an art-related matter, though. Renowned photographer Adrian Cook has a place available in his shared studio space in East Sydney, and, since so many artists complain about finding studio space in Sydney's tight rental market, I thought I'd pass the info along. I'd take it myself if I weren't so poor.

Froghollow Studios

Artist space available in East Sydney. Wood flooring, large east-facing windows,

kitchenette and bathroom facilities. $465 per month + bond. Enquiries, please call

Adrian on 0412 519887

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

HLTAS Rejection

Dear Rodney,

Thank you for your submission to the 2008 Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship. On behalf of Arts NSW I regret to inform you that on this occasion your work has not been selected for the Finalists Exhibition.

As you would no doubt be aware, the growing profile of the scholarship and this year's increase in prize money have led to a greater volume and quality of submissions. Needless to say, the selection panel found the task of narrowing down the list of artists for the Finalists Exhibition to be very difficult.

If you included a stamped, self-addressed envelope in your application, your support material will be returned to you in the next couple of weeks. Otherwise, could you please make arrangements to collect your material from Artspace during business hours (Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm/ Saturday– Sunday 11am – 5pm). Unfortunately Artspace cannot be responsible for any support material that remains uncollected by 10 October 2008.

We invite you to attend the opening of the 2008 Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship Finalists Exhibition at Artspace on Thursday 16 October, and we wish you the best with your practice.

Yours sincerely,

Blair French
Executive Director