2017 | Talking to the Tax Man About Poetry l Data Art Portraits

Talking to the Tax Man About Poetry- Data Portraits’ is a body of abstract portraits of eight Canberra artists who are all also arts educators -  it visualises the realities of being a practicing artist in the current global economy using contrasting materials and forms to visualise financial and personal data.

These works were made for the group exhibition ‘ Talking to the Tax Man About Poetry - Canberra Institute of Technology Visual Arts Staff Exhibition’ (from Sept 29 - 8 Oct 2017, Foyer Gallery, ANU) ;  which was inspired by Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky’s poem- ‘Talking with the Taxman about Poetry’, written in 1926, which was a critique of the Soviet ‘New Economic Policy’. The works responded to the sensibility stated by the poem through the use of a range in materials, styles, subject matter, and techniques.  The works were subsequently exhibited as part of the Artnotapartfestival 2018, New Acton, 1-7pm Saturday 17 March Theme: Climax.

For artists it is increasingly difficult to survive and make meaningful work - it has come to a ‘climax’ with the realities of the hardships of  art making and art consumption creating a potential loss of cultural activity and discourse in our society.  The ongoing assumption in our culture that artists should work for free, ‘because they love it’ or because they will ‘gain exposure from it’ contributes to this struggle and prevents sustained investment in the arts by both makers and consumers. The work highlights the tension between our desire as artists to make works with meaningful relationships to the world around us with just trying to make a living and survive. We’re in debt, we’re  balancing creative lives as artists with financial and work pressures. We balance mortgages, meetings, micromanagement, parenting and domesticity with colour, ideas, discourse and intuition.  

Using a survey, two different types of data were collected from the eight artists: demographic data about each artist’s income, employment, family statistics etc., and personality data, including about each artist’s preferences for favourite colours, activities and dreams.   The sculptural works contrast material and form to highlight the financial realities of being an artist - what interests the ‘The Tax Man’ (bureaucracy etc.) is represented with concrete blocks; while the uniqueness and quirkiness of each participant artist -  ‘The Poetry’ (creativity etc.) is represented with coloured perspex and discs. 

The dimensions of each concrete block represents the artists’ total yearly income from all sources - art and other jobs (L), the cost of living (W), and total hours spent working (H). Each block has a recess which represents  these variables for their art practice only.  The ‘poetry’ component of each artist is represented by the towers of perspex discs emerging from the concrete blocks. There are three towers on each block, two represent the artist’s personality and one represents their family and pets. In the two personality towers the size and colour of each disc  corresponds to the answers the artist gave in the personality survey.

The graphic image ‘Competency Assessment Audit Meeting’ is a  two dimensional  representation  of the ’data portrait maps’,  a meetings of the artist/educators, ‘climaxing’ to a crescendo of stress and potential destruction caused by the bureaucratic and financial realities of maintaining a sustainable art practice and fighting for the integrity of arts education in an economic rationalist environment.