Smells Like Risky Business

catalogue essay for RISK, group exhibition at Kings ART, Melbourne, 2005

So where’s the pic of Yves Klein all busted and broken on the pavement after his leap into ‘the void’? Sure – looks good as a photo, but that whole French jouissance shtick is as laboured as an Akubra hat on an Australian politician. Klein’s ‘suspension of belief’ is a testament to how much the modernist world makes concessions for the artist. In such safely circumscribed zones of acceptance, risk is extinguished. His photo of non-action sensationalizes that which is desired to come, but returns to the drab reality that photography is one big cum shot that never comes.

Point-of-impact, frozen-moment, tableaux-vivant, film-still, performance-documentation – so many photographic modalities dare the viewer to think beyond the event while preventing any access to those images. Dude – it’s a camera: just give me the image of what happens next. Enough of this selective editing process. The recent rash of faked disaster-gore mpegs (mostly with people being knocked over by fast speeding cars and trains) are in the same carney tradition as Klein and his hucksterism, but they are driven by the base demand to realize that which comes next.

Risk-taking resides in the province of promotional charades. Nicole Kidman takes a risky role by being in a Lars Von Trier movie. Vin Diesel plays a risky comedic role and subverts his own persona. Kylie Minogue takes a risk with her image in a duet with Nick Cave. And my mum plays a risky role in hanging up her washing. Typecasting is hypecasting: no-one in the entertainment industries (and that includes everyone from Yanni to Martin Creed to Kerri-Anne Kennerley) is pigeonholed anymore. Nowadays, they’re all holes: pock-marks awaiting the greasepaint of their slippery nothingness.

Artists follow suit closely. How predictable to erratically/spontaneously/randomly ‘change one’s style’ – as if one’s identity is worth anything in the first place. In an era where schizophrenia is as invisibly ubiquitous as air-conditioning, the privileging of identity through a pseudo-salacious dance across media/styles/projects borders on the offensive. How outré to confound your own market – woollen threads died with raspberries from Mildura this biennale; inflatable bubbles covered with Metcards and Corn Flakes next triennial. Wow – I can’t keep track of your aimless ‘specialness’ as an artist.

Business and money-making is meant to be based on risk-taking, but it rarely is. Your house, your car, your dumb spouse, your stupid kids and the school you’re sending them to ensure that you take as many risks as I take suppositories. That’s why business flaunts its riskiness with all the flatulent pomp of a Ben Elton play. Check the names of companies these days. Wacko Gecko. The Bloated Frog. Harvey’s Old Datsun. “Are you crazy naming your company that?” Yeah – because you’re a real ‘insane’ character. You better go and check that the builder has finished putting child-proof fencing around your swimming pool: I’d hate you to risk having your baby float belly-up like your business will.

What stinks most about taking risks? The allusion to there being ‘something at stake’. The whole deal that you’ve invested so greatly into something that you put everything at risk to go that one step further to achieve your dream. That’s smelly enough. But then the culture that accords bravery medals to those that take risks pongs big-time. The guy who invented skinny leather ties in the 80s – people probably thought he was taking risks, but he succeeded. Big fucking deal. Sportsmen of any kind in a dangerous situation – like do I give a damn if you live or die? Those who climb mountains because they’re there. Those who sail the world in small boats. Those that walk under ladders. The only substantial risks are those that don’t pay off and remain hidden, lost, unknown. Like filmmakers with ideas. Actors with crabs. Artists with no ‘practice’. You using milk 3 days past the use-by-date. Me wearing boxer shorts and typing the name Bob Seeger.

Philip Brophy on behalf of Tom Cruise.

Text © Philip Brophy. Image © Tom Cruise.