Throughout this series a number of propositions have been made about islands using contemporary art as illustrative of their character. These propositions have been both general, positioned nissologically as statements about islands in and of themselves, and specific, relating inevitably to the character of this island – our island – as it stands now. This latter picture is not a pretty one. In thinking about what it means to live on an island, no matter how large, these musings inevitably came back to those qualities that most seem to define our contemporary state of being.
This island postures as a closed circuit. A complete picture. ‘Full’. We resist that which comes from outside. We are isolated, a fact made all the more stark by the steady exodus of creative, ‘small L’ liberals we seem to witness every year. We live by an internal logic increasingly inexplicable to the wider world. We exist in proximity to other island states yet resist sharing our existence with them. Our land demands negotiation yet we are rigid. As a population we embody the contradiction of the island; optimism and loneliness, shipwreck and saviour. Australia is all of these things. But it needn’t be.
The ‘we’ of these statements is a mean-spirited and fearful portion of our population, but it is a portion in which we are all complicit. And the artist? I hesitate to say it is the responsibility of the arts to break this complicity – it is the responsibility of us all, not necessarily through an artistic practice – but it is certainly a capacity of the arts to break this complicity. Art and artists provide us a means of thinking through our problems and issues materially, as Alex Seton did with his marble life jackets in Someone died trying to have a life like mine. They provide us with a collective imagining; a manifestation of the intangible. They bring into being possible worlds.
If this sounds utopian it’s because it is. Deliberately and unapologetically. Caught between moral shipwreck and the dream of a better life, our onus is to dream. Even when directly engaging with modes of island-thought, as in several of the examples provided in this series, art is inherently post-nissological. In the face of murky and iniquitous Australian politics, we can look to art to evoke alternatives, or at the very least provide relief in the knowledge that we are capable of more complex and thoughtful outpourings than those of our unfortunately elected representatives.
If nissological thought is closed, fearful, isolationist and caught between fantasy and tragedy, post-nissological thought reaches beyond this. A nation, unlike a circle, is never complete. It is never isolated and never beyond the logic of the bigger picture. This is a land of plenty. Creativity. Abundance and once upon a time a claim to generosity. It’s time to move forward. We’ve boundless plains to share. As artists are postulated as the foot soldiers of gentrification, so they may be the avant-garde of a return to a nation that deserves our optimism.