This is the introductory essay by Tony Bond AM published in the booklet "Transformer: Fields of Change" 1988
Other essays in the same booklet by David Hansen,    Arthur Wicks "Thoughts from Wilgie Mia "(transcript from a tape for ARX 87 performance in Perth), and Rosemary Adam are accessible.

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Introductory essay by tony bond am



Arthur Wicks is a phenomenon in Australia.  His work and his identity are inseparable.  This is not a unique state of affairs in art.  Since the thirties, surrealism and Dada provided an historical precedent for the kind of life project that Wicks has undertaken.  Duchamp and Dali are two people who are as well known for their total contribution to contemporary culture as they are for specific works.  In more recent time, some artists  have made an issue out of denying any separation of their art and their life.  Good examples of this are Gilbert and George who have made themselves into "living sculptures" since 1965.  Body art and Performance in the 1960's and  1970's have institutionalised this attitude to art practice.

The performance aspect of Wicks' work also relates to theatrical and poetic experimentation by artists such as Antonin Artaud who pioneered the theatre of the absurd.  Artaud threw himself so deeply into the problems of language and communication between human psyches that he ultimately became virtually autistic himself.

 Although I have referred to theatricality and to absurdity it is important to emphasise that for all the artists involved, including Wicks, the real project is extremely serious.  In the case of Wicks, he has been drawn to examine and expose the alienation of contemporary man.  He has acted the "outsider" but through his  entrepreneurship as an artist he has made his appearance firmly within the arena of contemporary critical discourse and in full public view.

We may be tempted to laugh at the sight of Arthur Wicks rowing a skeletal boat down a disused railway track, his evening dress saturated in the pouring rain and the boat creakingly collapsing around him, but something holds us back.  Although the sight is deliciously absurd, its tragedy rises above that of the sad clown to echo something essentially human.  This comes not only from the dedicated seriousness with which Wicks himself preserves in this impossible bizarre ritual, but also from the tenacity of the soaking wet audience of art lovers gathered in the downpour in that unlovely railway siding.  Oddly enough there is somehow a message of hope for humanity in the experience of such a performance.  Most of his work combines these elements of absurdity and hope, impossible aspiration, and the conviction of the attempt.  Not only that but the way the event looks is profoundly memorable.  Wicks is a conjurer of psychologically significant images.  They may be ephemeral but that is in itself an essential ingredient.  The exhibits of relics evoke out memories of the performance but they also stand in their own right as a metaphor for the way we come to know our own culture, that is through the debris that it leaves in its track rather than through its official institutional self- description.

Wicks often links his work into the major rhythms of the planet; solstice, tide, night and day are elements he has used to put human effort into a greater perspective.  He began life as a scientist and statistician but today he has opted for a more ancient role, that of Oracle, Seer, Shaman, Fool.  when we have none of these we will be less than human and partially blind.

Tony Bond
Curator of Contemporary Art
Art Gallery of NSW   1988

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