Direct Democracy

Is there no purer form of democratic expression than the presentation of a particularly touchy piece of art? The Monash Museum of Art seems to agree, as it stages its blockbuster exhibition ‘Direct Democracy’, featuring a host of significant Australian and international artists including Hany Armanious, Mike Parr, Destiny Deacon, Raquel Ormella, A Centre for Everything, and many more, presenting newly commissioned and existing work. Curated by MUMA’s Senior Curator Geraldine Barlow, the exhibition is part of a series of thematic and discursive exhibitions at the Museum, highlighting artistic approaches and concepts with broader contemporary relevance.

The exhibition is designed to acknowledge and explore the concept of democracy – from the Greek ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘people’ and ‘rule’ respectively – and to transcend the discursive singularity of the concept, embodying far more than the popular understanding often limited to representative democracy. The title itself refers to a form of democracy in which interaction between a populace and its government is as ‘direct’ as possible, as opposed to the representative democratic model in which elected representatives mediate policy decisions. Though a representative democracy in practice, Switzerland is a country that embodies the ‘direct’ democratic model, in that there is the opportunity for citizens to vote on almost any law established by their representatives of any level, whether that be municipal, state or federal, if they are so inclined.

Recent political unrest and change resulting from such events as the Arab Spring, Global Financial Crisis and the Occupy movement have triggered a reconsideration of the position of the individual within the whole, and the role of the collective. A key point of discussion, and a thread that runs through the exhibition is that of collective and individual agency and identity, within the current political climate. After all, this idea is at the centre of democratic development – this exhibition looks at changing democratic models in emerging and established democracies; and the place of the individual and the collective within that structure is of paramount consideration. As Curator Geraldine Barlow so nicely states in the opening of her catalogue essay, “As individuals we are capable, but so much more so when we act together.”

With this in mind, works by such artists as Gabrielle de Vietri and Will Foster, with their collaborative project A Centre for Everything, promote structural discussion, whilst also making political suggestions. The project, which began in 2012, invites open and indiscriminate participation – this is pure democracy. Each session, three different ideas are united in the form of a Venn diagram, and allowed to intermingle. For ‘Direct Democracy’, the artists have created ‘Group 7: Alternative education, Party food politics and The house 2013,’ in which visitors are invited to vote on the ingredients that will create a meal at the end of the exhibition.

Raquel Ormella’s work Poetic Possibility features two deconstructed Australian flags, overlaid and manipulated, with the words ‘Poetic’ and ‘Possibility’ allowed to converge at the shared points of ‘PO.’ The words meet the icon in almost a propagandist manner; the combination emanates optimism.

Part of an ongoing series of artistic discussions, ‘Direct Democracy’ is an exhibition of both artistic and political importance. Such displays reveal the potential of art to reveal – promoting and encouraging discussions that may otherwise be hindered. With a substantial line-up of artists, this is a show not to be missed.

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Until 6 July, 2013

DAMP (Narelle Desmond, Sharon Goodwin, Debra Kunda and James Lynch), Untitled pencil, 2010, graphite, acrylic and enamel on timber, 240 x 15 x 15cm

Raquel Ormella, Poetic possibilities, 2012, flag, cotton, polyester 160 x 200cm (irreg.)

Courtesy the artists and Milani Gallery, Brisbane