A study of reality—Wetland and Light Event

| Paul Boye
 + Light Event Rebecca Baumann, 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Moore Contemporary, Perth. Photograph: Louise Coghill. Dichroic film.

A study of reality—Wetland and Light Event

A Study Of Reality—Wetland And Light Event | Paul Boye

The perth cbd is an unromantic place.1 Unromantic, where ‘romantic’ does not just stand for a penchant to idealise, but potential for adventure, marvel and love. The perth cbd should not be a romantic place. To seek adventure in the perth cbd is to invite unrequited feelings, losing out each and every time.

Across the perth cbd, a necropolitical zone is maintained. It is, as Achille Mbembe writes, ‘a purely instrumental calculation of life and of the political’.2 The perth cbd is an environment marked by decades of unstable local government, economic recession, vacancy and the rising enactment of state powers against displaced and under-serviced homeless populations. Aggression and disenfranchisement are openly witnessed, provoking a feedback loop of "dangerousness" and police response. The perth cbd is in a constant state of emergency, and as Judith Butler writes, the police wield the power 'to "deem" someone dangerous and constitute them effectively as such, is a sovereign power, a ghostly and forceful resurgence of sovereignty in the midst of governmentality’.3 In 2024, the perth cbd plays out the necropolitical push-and-pull of state power and subjugation of the marginalised daily, with all economic, political and cultural proceeds favouring the former.4


Recently, in the perth cbd, two temporary art commissions were exhibited as a part of the 2024 Perth Festival: featured within the vacant Carillon Arcade (notably not typically utilised as a gallery or performance space) Linda Tegg’s Wetland, developed in consultation with Balladong Whadjuk plant specialist Vivienne Hansen; and Light Event by Rebecca Bauman. Curator Annika Kristensen emphasises the ecological, communal and co-existent explored through the two arcade works:

Here within an urban relic, nature reclaims her rightful space, in two works that connect ground to sky and encourage reflection upon the reciprocal relationships between humans and our natural and built environments, as well the elliptical connections between past, present and future.5

There is something curious in this statement, with words like ‘relic’, ‘reclaims’, ‘elliptical’ and ‘rightful’ standing out against the tired vocabulary often found in similar projects—‘activation’, ‘intervention’, ‘site-specific’. In WA, this vocabulary and associated projects are common enough. The Fremantle Biennale has for years ‘activated’ temporary public spaces for artistic purposes—from Katie West’s riverside shelters hosting sunrise and sunset tea drinking (Sunrise Sunset, 2021), to Jessee Lee Johns’ ephemeral nation The Commonwealth of New Bayswater (2021) built up on jetties, moles and foreshores.

 + Wetland Linda Tegg with Vivienne Hansen, 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival 2024. Photo Louise Coghill. Water, wetland plants of Boorloo, architectural interventions, supporting structures.

 What is unique and perhaps daring about Kristensen’s two projects is the choice to install them in the Carillon City Arcade, despite being hedged by rather cursory nostalgic edifice—Carillon City as a site of retail boom and bust, failure and generationally shifting representations of perth cbd-ness—are sure to invoke a barrage of involuntary memory to any visitor anterior to all or any artistic activation. As such, the installations set out to romanticise the perth cbd on the grounds of vast dichotomous tensions between nature and culture. In commissioning works like Tegg and Bauman’s amongst such memories, tensions and concepts ought to anticipate conflictual questions about the public and private use of space: access and authority, agency and subjugation. On the one hand, it could be argued that these artworks insulate a temporary private space within the otherwise inhospitable perth cbd. This private space is sanctioned by state power (and the cultural legitimation that something like the Perth Festival provides) and sections out any “dangerous” elements that would otherwise infringe or subtract from the works intention, meaning and enjoyment.

On the other hand, is the very use of the perth cbd for temporary public art projects a step towards crucial development, aiming towards the putatively inherent capacity for art to promote reciprocity, awareness, critical dialogue, opportunity and so on. However, the nature/culture dichotomy, much like the private/public space dialectic that belies it, is biassed towards romantic conceptions of what is possible in and through such works. Caught up in this romantic conception is an assumption of the distinct social position of the artist and their work, which has the capacity for private exchange in the form of connoisseurship and cultural elitism, or public service in the form of community, dialogue and equitable opportunities for expression.

In the political history of artistic labour, questioning art vis-à-vis a dichotomy of public and private intervenes on the well-worn terrain of ‘aesthetic autonomy’, which Verónica Tello addresses through Marx’s identification of the artist as a distinct social position:

‘if autonomy is based on a division of labour—between the distinct labour of the artist and other kinds of labour (of assistants and participants)—then what kind of solidarity with those subjected to gendered and racialised bio- and necropolitically managed life is possible within and through art?’.6

As such, are artistic projects destined to be categorically realised along this dichotomy of private activity or public service? Or is it within the unromantic grounds of the perth cbd, and zones like it, that may open up a dissolution of aesthetic autonomy proper? This question is answered, often through necessity and marginality, by artist-run spaces and communities, but both Wetland and Light Event lead me to question this possibility for more established and state-representing organisations like the Perth Festival.

 + Light Event Rebecca Baumann, 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Moore Contemporary, Perth. Photograph: Louise Coghill. Dichroic film.
 + Wetland Linda Tegg with Vivienne Hansen 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival 2024. Photo Louise Coghill. Water, wetland plants of Boorloo, architectural interventions, supporting structures.

Is there a possibility to imagine Kristensen’s bold use of the perth cbd with these two works as setting a new precedent to allow for public use of public space, without submitting to a romanticism that simply sections away the real and lived violence of this terrain, both contemporary and historical? Perhaps, and this is an intuition observed by Christina Chau, writing in her review,

‘Knowing that Wetland is a temporary occupation before the Carillon City Arcade is redeveloped by Andrew Forrest’s property enterprise Fiveight, viewers grapple with competing conceptual layers of capitalist, geological, Indigenous, dream time, commercial and ecological life cycles’.7

The contemplative complications provoked by Wetland are met by Bauman’s Light Event as a lobby of reflection, almost acting as a waiting room between the temporary transformation contained by the Arcade, and the unromantic perth cbd that waits outside. Dichroic purples wash over me as I stare up into the Arcade recess, boarded up into a rotunda still accessorised with Art Deco-esque murals and shop front signage. Like many in the movement of Light and Space work, Light Event processes the worldbuilding of Wetland into a broad and blurred spectrum, an annihilation of self, a privileged solitude amongst the hostility that lies outside.

 + Light Event Rebecca Baumann, 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Moore Contemporary, Perth. Photograph: Louise Coghill. Dichroic film.

Is it possible that such works can bring us to a greater consciousness in how to better take ownership and accountability of public space? Or are we destined to submit to the cycles of death, displacement, development, boom and bust? Romantic urban idealists such as Michael Sorkin dreamt of the City, of ‘Open Spaces’ that ‘shall be freely open to all Individuals, Particular Publics, The General Public and to the Sky’.8 But in the perth cbd, a post-work and autonomous future is only dreamt by spaces like Wetland and Light Event, even if that future has arisen from an eschatological process.9

In an unromantic way, artists and curators may need to better consider what roles they play in development, where “development” must be understood alongside necropolitics, poverty, justice and the notion of the state. This must involve a critique of productive forces against the grain of creative production; critiquing rather than simply investing within the ‘productivist socialism’ of being an artist in Australia, and thinking towards new configurations of artistic labour. Here I am thinking about Kohei Saito’s vision of a ‘degrowth communism’: ‘a post-scarcity future without economic growth aims to reduce the “realm of necessity” and expand “the realm of freedom” without necessarily increasing productive forces’.10 A renewed vision of labour ought to inform the (temporary, artistic) public use of public space. It is not romantic to demand a right to the city which brings with it equal parts ownership and responsibility. Ever prescient, Henri Lefebvre writes that ‘social needs have an anthropological foundation. Opposed and complimentary, they include the need for security and for opening, the need for certainty and for adventure, that of organisation of work and play, the needs for the predictable and the unpredictable ...’.11

 + Wetland Linda Tegg with Vivienne Hansen, 2024. Installation view in Carillon City, Perth. Commissioned by Perth Festival 2024. Photo Louise Coghill. Water, wetland plants of Boorloo, architectural interventions, supporting structures.

A practical and idealist intervention in the perth cbd does not look solely like a temporary swamp in a food court, a colour wash in an abandoned mall, 35,000 people in attendance at a Fred Again headlined party, a spattering of artist-runs and studios barely holding onto commercial leases, murals, immersive light based sculpture, or ostentatious exterior signage and constant rebranding on the facades of museums and galleries. What it does look like is an openness to the alternatives that may come, and retaining a shred of romanticism to recognise it when it does. Art has come to play a significant role in urban planning, which itself requires, as Lefebvre writes, a ‘political program of urban reform not defined by the framework and possibilities of prevailing society or subjugated to a realism, although based on the study of realities’.12 Wetland and Light Event, germinating with Kristensen’s curious curatorial insight into the possibilities of the Carillon City Arcade, provides a study of realities within a reality that needs change. Instinctively and pessimistically, it feels overly romantic—perhaps sentimental—to imagine such changes to be made with the responsibility and vision needed to approach the necropolitical state of the perth cbd, against the grain of state-sanctioned police violence, structural racism and increasingly hostile conditions for the fundamental right of movement, assembly and access to publicly owned space.

I write this article after more than two hundred days of sustained protest against our genocidal and imperialist institutions and governments, a landscape that emphasises exactly the dichotomous tensions of public and private, and how the aesthetic autonomy of artists and protest organisers alike has cohered into a visual field of intervention and dissent. In these few months after the Carillon City Arcade installations have been deinstalled, dissensus challenges romanticism, nostalgia and authority with a force unparalleled by, but not entirely disassociated with, more codified contemporary art commissions. The question remains about the future of temporary public art commissions in the perth cbd, and it is my hope that a daring and forward embrace of the political nature of making art public is forwarded along with the new normal of sustained protest, dissent and resistance.


1. The lack of capitalisation in ‘perth cbd’ here is a purposeful neglect of grammatical convention. Instead of pointing to the singularity of capital-P Perth (or the geographical zone ‘Central Business District’), the common noun ‘perth cbd’ is designed to be interchangeable and universal, pointing to something and many things at once. From the outset, I’m invoking the playful tradition of language games in cultural critique in which Fredric Jameson seeks to divest from a moralising or psychologising critique of culture, or any framework that isolates ‘culture’ as an autonomous time/space. The commonality of the lowercase ‘perth cbd’ aims at something like a general intellect in the Marxist sense, rather than any kind of ‘art criticism’ or ‘political critique’ per se. I believe this is important for critical thinking in this city so as to not proceed with the standard templates of provincialism and urban exceptionalism. See Fredric Jameson, ‘The Aesthetics of Singularity’, New Left Review, issue 92, 2015, https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii92/articles/fredric-jameson-the-aesthetics-of-singularity ; accessed 29 May 2024.

2. Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, Duke University Press, Durham, 2019, p. 34.

3. Judith Butler, Precarious Life, Verso, London, 2004. p. 59.

4. In 2021 a particularly memorable and harrowing phrase was attributed to the increase of policing in the perth cbd attributable to Police Commissioner Col Blanch - “a sea of blue”. See ‘‘Sea of blue’: Police to significantly increase their presence in CBD following reports of multiple incidents’, 6PR Perth, 8 September 2021, https://www.6pr.com.au/sea-of-blue-police-to-significantly-increase-their-presence-in-cbd-following-reports-of-multiple-incidents/; accessed 29 May 2024. This is joined by a recent slew of shutdowns and threats to several homeless shelters and services available in the area. See Hamish Hastie, ‘‘Stop the politics’: East Perth homeless shelter closure pits Basil against state’, WAtoday, 24 November 2023, https://www.watoday.com.au/politics/western-australia/stop-the-politics-east-perth-homeless-shelter-closure-pits-basil-against-state-20231124-p5emlz.html; accessed 29 May 2024.

5. Annika Kristensen, ‘“A Field Guide for Sunbathing”’, A Field Guide for Sunbathing, Perth Festival 2024 Visual Arts Program, 2024, p. 10-11.

6. Verónica Tello, ‘Aesthetic Autonomy at the Border: Notes on Necro-Art’, in Natasha Lushetich (ed.) The Aesthetics of Necropolitics, Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland, 2018, p. 56.

7. Christina Chau, ‘Exhibiting elemental truths in the Perth Festival: Polarity: Fire & Ice and Wetland’, Artlink, 3 April 2024, https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/5184/exhibiting-elemental-truths-in-the-perth-festival-polarity-fire-and-ice-and-wetland/, accessed 29 May 2024.

8. Michael Sorkin, ‘Certain Regulations Pertaining to Public Space in The City’, July 2018, https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/positions/208510/certain-regulations-pertaining-to-public-space-in-the-city/, accessed 29 May 2024.

9. “We are coerced into work on pain of homelessness, starvation, and destitution. Post-work begins from these premises – that wage labour is doubly unfree, regardless of working conditions – and proposes alternative visions of the world that aim to abolish this social form.” See Helen Hester, After Work, Verso, London, p. 9.

10. Kohei Saito, Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism, Cambridge University Press, 2022, p. 218.

11. Henri Lefebvre, Writing on Cities, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2000, p. 147.

12. Lefebvre, p. 156.

Links & Info
Cite this ArticleCite

Art + Australia
Publisher: Victorian College of the Arts
University of Melbourne

Art + Australia ISSN 1837-2422

All content published after October 2023 by Art + Australia is available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) except where otherwise stated. For more information about use and distribution you can view our Editorial Guidelines.