Art speaks at GOMA Talks


The QAGOMA and ABC Radio National GOMA Talks collaboration is now in its sixth year and continues to explore important issues, inspired by art.

Art speaks to us all in different ways. It perplexes, provokes, alarms and amuses. Fundamentally, though, art ought to spark a conversation. Wander around QAGOMA at any given time and you can eavesdrop on a multitude of conversations and exchanges between patrons, triggered by the exhibits and artworks. For around half of its ten years, GOMA has hosted annual GOMA Talks forums, featuring artists, writers, intellectuals and commentators. Moderated by ABC Radio National (ABC RN) presenters, the forums enhance selected GOMA exhibitions, expanding on their themes and the ideas they raise. From the beginning, ABC RN has been an enthusiastic partner in the GOMA Talks collaboration, which provides many hours of stimulating radio conversation based on the well-attended events.

Art can be a wonderful springboard for political, philosophical and social debates. Since 2011, major QAGOMA exhibitions such as the ‘Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, ‘21st Century’, ‘Harvest’ and ‘Cindy Sherman’, among others, have provided the basis for invigorating and provocative conversations on diverse topics, from Australia in the ‘Asian century’ to contemporary food culture, to the environment and other challenges besetting society in the twenty-first century.

In 2016, Cindy Sherman’s collection of disquieting large-scale photographs formed the basis of several feminism-themed GOMA Talks events. So popular were these forums that the audience overflowed into a separate room, with many having to watch the proceedings via a live feed. Sherman is the model in her artworks; however, the characters she portrays are anyone but her. The works raise refreshing questions: what image are women expected to conform to today, and what exists beneath the disguise? The jumping-off point for a particularly interesting GOMA Talks session was: ‘Is the digital world the new “feminist frontier”?’

Prominent online feminist activist and writer Clementine Ford has recently drawn attention to the misogyny, abuse and sexism that can make the internet a hostile environment for women. The currency of the topic prompted the Gallery’s GOMA Talks coordinators to bring together a panel to explore the issue, including academic Dr Emma Jane; US-based writer, video game reviewer, podcaster and ‘YouTuber’ Alanah Pearce; Dr Nicholas Suzor, a law and digital media researcher at Queensland University of Technology (QUT); and artist and author Dr Melinda Rackham.

Former journalist Emma Jane was once a high-profile and self-proclaimed ‘riot grrrl, third wave feminist [and] gonzo’ columnist, who wrote under the name of Emma Tom in the 1990s. She quit journalism after having a child, in part because of the regular online abuse and rape threats she received via email. She told the GOMA Talks audience: ‘. . . the threats of sexual violence [were] not just directed at me but [also] at my child. They named her. I couldn’t handle that’. Reading out a threatening and sexually explicit email she received back in 1998, she said it was striking how similar it was to the type of online abuse prevalent today on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These days, the Sydneybased academic focuses her research on ‘e-bile’, cyberbullying and online misogyny.

Alanah Pearce also spoke of unsolicited harassment: ‘[The abuse] varies a lot. People complaining there aren’t boobs in videos that I’m in [or . . .] someone threatening to rape me with a cactus’. Such abuse is ‘crazy common’, says Emma Jane, who added:

The United Nations put out a report last year that pulled together a lot of research in this area and found that 73 per cent of women and girls had experienced [abuse] personally, or witnessed it [. . .] Women are 27 times more likely to be abused or harassed online than men. It’s part of the daily experience of using the internet, while female, for most of us. And it is particularly bad if you also happen to be a female of colour.

All of this points to cyberspace having serious governance problems, according to Nicholas Suzor. The way online and social media spaces are governed, he argues, ‘doesn’t really seem to align with the values we might have’, noting: ‘this is a really complex space. The platforms that provide the social spaces where we communicate are private organisations. We don’t get a lot of say in how they’re governed’.

Melinda Rackham, who made use of the internet in its nascent years, said that, for her, ‘the world wide web […] replicates the real world’ and how women are treated generally, and added: ‘the web is just a constructed space like any other social space where women are constantly harassed’.

This year will mark the sixth year of the GOMA Talks series. While the ABC is still, relatively, the ‘new kid on the block’ in South Bank’s cultural precinct, we’ve been keen to make the most of the potential cultural and creative synergies the location offers and look forward to continuing to air important topics through the GOMA Talks forum. In so many ways, the relationship between QAGOMA and ABC RN is an obvious one: both are cultural institutions that bring together the cerebral, the emotional and the aesthetic. In these strange times in which we live, art, ideas and intelligent conversation are more important than ever.

Paul Barclay is presenter of ‘Big Ideas’ on ABC Radio National, which broadcasts the GOMA Talks series.

Hrafnhildur Arnadóttir, also known as Shoplifter or Shoppy, is an Icelandic visual artist based in New York. She experiments with everyday materials, predominantly her preferred medium of hair which she manipulates to explore both the familiar and the abject. In exploring the symbolic nature of hair, Shoppy discusses cultural definitions of narcissism and beauty. She also explores links between personal adornment and identity, and vanity and pride.

GOMA Talks returns during ‘Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything‘ for a conversation on pleasure, gratification and meaning in art and life. Across two events, join special guest panellists and ABC Radio National hosts Sarah Kanowski (Books and Arts) and Paul Barclay (Big Ideas).

Contemporary art can be seen as a form of entertainment, yet our experience of art goes beyond simple delight. Can pleasure and meaning co-exist in art, and what does this mean for today’s art museum?

Join Michael Breakspear, Group Leader, Systems Neuroscience Group, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute; Prof. A. C. Grayling, Master of the New College of the Humanities, London; Kylie Legge, Founding Director, Place Partners; and Mark Pennings, Senior Lecturer, Creative Industries Faculty, School of Creative Practice, Visual Arts, Queensland University of Technology.

Self-gratification is generally frowned upon in favour of higher, more morally robust pursuits. Yet, self-indulgence plays a leading role in many aspects of our lives. Where do these instincts toward pleasure-seeking originate from, and can they be good for us?

Join Hrafnhildur Arnadóttir (aka Shoppy), ‘Sugar Spin’ artist; Dr Brock Bastian, ARC Future Fellow, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne; Elizabeth Willing, artist; and Dr Nicholas Carah, Senior Lecturer, School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland.