My post for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge is very late this week. I’ve been in Sydney to visit the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, and found posting from my iPad more than a little challenging!
Sculpture by the Sea is an annual outdoor exhibition that locates around 100 works of three dimensional art along a stretch of coastal walkway from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach, Sydney*. The exhibition is free to attend and attracts many thousands of visitors — most of whom (like me) seemed to descend on it last Sunday.
Experiencing art amongst a crowd is never particularly easy. It’s almost impossible to get an uninterrupted view of a work, and as for quiet contemplation ….
The flip-side of course, is that there is pleasure to be had in watching and listening to others’ enjoyment of particular works — especially children, who haven’t yet developed the self-censorship that inhibits adults.
But what I noticed about the Bondi exhibition that I didn’t see (or at least register) at last year’s NZ Sculpture OnShore exhibition in Auckland, was the huge number of visitors who seemed to regard the artworks as little more than a backdrop for their selfies. Now, as someone for whom photographing art has become a major passion (and who travelled over 2000km to Sydney to do just that), I’m hardly going to criticize other camera-wielding visitors. But I watched group after group race up to a work, pose themselves with a smart phone at arms’ length, snap a photo and move on, barely glancing at the sculpture itself. Some posed themselves (or their children) on works — despite the prominent “do not climb on sculpture” signs — to get “better” photos.
The experience of art is uniquely personal, and free exhibitions like Bondi make it possible for many people who would never dream of visiting a gallery to see and engage with the creative output of a large group of talented artists. How sad then, that for some visitors, the focus seemed to be on themselves as central characters in a landscape that contained so much else to appreciate.
One sculpture in the exhibition specifically referenced the way mobile technologies have changed our world-view. Fabio Pietrantonio has sculpted two figures; boys playing video games on hand-held devices. Set against the backdrop of dazzling blue water, their focus entirely on the object in their hands, the work acts as a reminder of how easy it is to turn inward and ignore the beauty of the world around us.
*There is also a sister exhibition at Cottesloe, Western Australia.