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Program Blogs

by Geoff Jaeger
posted 21/11/2013

Ian Milliss — Culturally Active Art


Three people pull a circle of rope in different directions, in an empty room with pillars.

“Circular Tug of War” (1971) from Notes on the Works

Concceptual artist and cultural activist, Ian Milliss, stopped by our studios on Thursday 21 November for a chat about his work and latest exhibitions with Leah Haynes. Ian’s current exhibition Notes on the Works is showing at Artspace, Woolloomooloo until 8 December.

Notes on the Works features historically important work by Ian, who’s been a continuously influential figure in the art world, in Australia and overseas, for more than 40 years.

Notes on the Works traces Milliss’ complex artistic trajectory since the late1960s that led him away from the formal structures of the art world into the more open-ended platforms of contemporary communications. Assembling numerous restaged works alongside archival material, Notes on the Works touches on Milliss’ engagement with activism, community art projects, conceptual art, environmentalism, trade union movements and media organisations.” — Artspace

Speaking with Ian it becomes clear he’s very aware of his audience. Over time he’s created works that speak to vastly different audiences from members of the trade union movement to circles within the artistic elite.

Ian has always been interested in developing works that highlight the challenges artists and society face today. In particular, he’s concerned with the way art engages with communities as a reflection of social taste and change.

Talking with Leah, Ian commented on one of the very first John Kaldor projects, where Christo and Jeanne-Claude, wrapped “one million square feet”1 of Sydney’s Little Bay in plastic sheeting. Described at the time as “probably the most important event in Australian art for years”,2 Ian mentions that, in 1969, some Australians would go down just to have a look and a laugh.

Contrast that with Sydneysiders today, who flock to the annual Sculptures by the Sea between Tamarama and Bondi beaches, posting endless images across social media channels from Instagram, Facebook, through to Twitter and over to Pinterest – not only broadcasting their interest in art, but also reinterpreting that art photographically, now ‘artists’ themselves, actively involved in the process of producing art on a mass scale.

Ian Milliss has been an activist at the forefront of this social and cultural change. A second exhibition of his work opens at The Art Gallery of NSW on 27 November. Titled The Yeoman’s Project it will be on view until 27 January 2014.

Notes on the Works

Artspace – until 8 December 2013

1, 2 ART and Australia – December 1969

Image courtesy of Artspace & silversalt

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