BLACK SWANS, RED HERRINGS AND WHITE ELEPHANTS
16 October - 1 November 2008
Ruth Johnstone, Julie-Anne Milinski, Marion Piper, Andrew Tetzlaff, Ross Waller + Julian White
1. BLACK SWAN
Black swan (Cygnus Atratus). A large water bird found mostly in the southern regions of Australia.
2. BLACK SWAN
A mathematic / scientific term, ‘black swan theory’ refers to a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events beyond the realm of normal expectations.
2.5 BLACK SWAN
The term derives from the old belief that only white swans existed. Whilst it used to refer to an impossible event the discovery of black swans in Australia in the 17th century metamorphosed the meaning of the phrase to a perceived impossibility or unpredictable event taking place.
3. BLACK SWAN
‘Black swaning’ is a colloquialism used amongst artists in the late 20th century that refers to the perceived importance of finding new meanings in or new ways of art making. An artist caught up in this struggle would be said to be ‘black swaning’.
4. BLACK SWAN
The first of three so called ‘golden rules’ for defining art, the ‘black swan rule’ refers to the requirement of any work, at the time of its creation, to ‘push the envelope’ and introduce some visual language or new way of thinking as yet unexplored in art history.
4.5 BLACK SWAN
Derivation. See Black Swan 2.5.
1. RED HERRING
Herrings (Clupea-). Small silver fish found in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, Baltic, and Mediterranean Sea. Red Herring refers to the fish after it has been cured and smoked as the process gives the fish a red colour.
2. RED HERRING
A literary term. In story telling a ‘red herring’ is a narrative tool used to distract the reader or viewer from another element of the plot which is later revealed.
2.5 RED HERRING
The term derives from the use of red herrings (which have a strong odor) to train young hunting hounds in Britain to follow a scent trail.
3. RED HERRING
A derogatory term used amongst contemporary artists in the early 21th century to describe those that pine for ‘old school’ art making. Generally not artists themselves, they are identified by their belief that all art should be beautiful, uplifting and uncomplicated. The ‘red herring’ believes that contemporary concepts and complexities in art making are a distraction from art’s final goal of being simply visually beautiful, the counter argument being that art has always been complex and concept-driven.
4. RED HERRING
The second of three so called ‘golden rules’ for defining art, the ‘red herring rule’ refers to the requirement for any work to be in essence ‘new’ – some process on behalf of the artist must have taken place for it to be separated from its subject or real world referent and that this process must have come from the artist’s initiative, even if this is simply a re-contextualizing of an otherwise un-changed object.
4.5 RED HERRING
The naming of the rule derives from the curing process which changes the fish to a ‘red herring’ rather than just a ‘herring.’
1. WHITE ELEPHANT.
Elephant (Elephantidae). A large mammal found in most countries in Africa, also Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Indochina and Indonesia. The white or albino elephant is an elephant born with the hereditary condition albinism (hypopigmentary congenital disorder) which is characterized by a lack of pigmentation in the eyes hair and skin. Despite the name they are a reddish brown to pink colour rather than white.
2. WHITE ELEPHANT
An everyday term. A ‘white elephant’ is an object that the cost of keeping / maintaining outweighs the rewards of owning, although it’s perceived value prohibits it being disowned.
2.5 WHITE ELEPHANT
The term derives from white elephants being considered sacred by Southeast Asian monarchs. When a white elephant is given as a gift by a monarch it is considered a great honor. However as the animal is considered sacred it can not be put to work and becomes a burden due to the high cost of caring for the creature.
3. WHITE ELEPHANT
A journalistic term used by art critics to describe the nature of the art object in increasingly conceptually driven art practices. If the main body of an art practice is the idea and research than the cost and effort involved in creating and caring for the art object, be it in a conservation archive or a pristine white gallery can be compared to the sacred white elephant.
4. WHITE ELEPHANT
The third of three so called ‘golden rules’ for defining art, the ‘white elephant rule’ considers the art object invaluable even in contemporary conceptual driven practice. It states that there can be no concept without an art object to explain it, the object being the bridge between the audience and the artist’s ideas.
4.5 WHITE ELEPHANT
The naming of the rule derives from the fact that, despite their burden and cost, white elephants are kept. That there is an inherent and illogical value to some things, akin to sentimentality, that will always outweigh their cost.
Julian White - 2008