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Saville’s Shout: Balmain preselection … Biennale boycott stupidity …

Things are hotting up for preselection for the NSW state seat of Balmain — just a year before the election.

Never too early for preselection. Trouble is brewing at the birthplace of the Labor Party, and the biggest victim could be the New South Wales Greens’ one and only lower house member of Parliament.

Jamie Parker made history in 2011 when he managed to wrest the seat of Balmain from the hands of Labor member Verity Firth at the NSW state election. Firth, then state minister for education, had always been a good local member, but the Barry O’Farrell-led swing was too great, sweeping her out in the landslide. The race was so close that it took days to get a result, with half the suburb involved in the agonising recount. Parker, the former mayor of Leichhardt, finally got over the line but has struggled to make an impact, largely because of his minor-party status.

The next state election is not until 2015, but the NSW ALP is so keen to regain the seat that it opened the books for the preselection last week. Thanks to recent changes enacted by head office, it will be a community preselection, with equal weighting given to votes from local party members and Balmain residents, who have until May 3 to vote.

Already two good candidates have nominated: Firth, who wants her seat back, and the high-profile local mayor of Leichhardt, Darcy Byrne. This is great news for the locals, who, apart from a craft ale, love nothing more than a really good political stoush. Although we’re assuming there won’t be any Peter Baldwin-style physical violence this time around, passions are running high, and both candidates are determined to win.

The real challenger to Parker, however, is still unknown. The Australian Labor Party might have been born in the Unity Hall Hotel in 1891 but both Labor and the Greens could be swept away by the tide of demography as Balmain transforms into a Liberal seat. The Libs are yet to choose a candidate, but they won’t have trouble finding a good one. If NSW had first-past-the-post voting, mild-manned management consultant James Falk would have won the seat in 2011, with 32.6% of the primary vote, up from 23.8% in 2007. He didn’t even live in the electorate.

According to the last census, parts of the electorate are richer than Vaucluse and whiter than Cronulla. House prices are skyrocketing, and phalanxes of Audi four-wheel drives now block the streets of what was the workers’ paradise. Heaven forbid, our next local member could be an old boy of Riverview.

The stupidity of the Biennale protests. For those of us who hate winter, the only thing that stops us slipping into a permanent fog of Seasonal Affective Disorder is knowing that March kicks off the art season. This month marks the start of the Adelaide Biennale and Sydney Art Month, the Sydney Biennale opens this week, and the new exhibition from Sydney’s White Rabbit gallery threw open its doors last Thursday.

At the Sydney Biennale it’s normally the content of the art that’s controversial, but this time around the artists themselves have taken the spotlight. Debate has been raging in my household all weekend about the stand taken by the artists who decided to boycott the festival for political reasons. I thought it was a dumb idea, but others disagreed.

The artists announced the boycott to demonstrate their disapproval of the fact that longtime supporter and Biennale chair Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is a director of Transfield Holdings. Transfield Holdings owns a stake in Transfield Services, which recently signed a contract to manage the immigration detention centre on Manus Island. Belgiorno-Nettis resigned on the weekend, and whether Transfield will sponsor the Biennale in future is now up in the air.

For the artists involved, that’s probably an own goal, because boycotts are worth doing only if it is possible to achieve a desired result. For instance, Marrickville Council’s boycott of Israel in 2011 was idiotic and time-wasting because it was never going to change Israel’s policy towards Palestine. It just made the Greens councillors look stupid and helped the ALP retain the seat at the next election.

Here, boycotting the Biennale is not going to make Transfield void the Manus contract — it’s simply made it quit the Biennale, which will very likely mean less money for artists. Let’s face it: a group of contemporary artists boycotting an arts festival would be like me boycotting the Olympics — would anyone care? If you are going to withdraw your services over a principle, shouldn’t you check to make sure that you do something essential, like drive a bus?

Reformation. Anyway, back in the real world, Sydney’s best private museum — the White Rabbit gallery in Chippendale — unveiled its latest exhibition last week, and it is stunning. Called Reformation, it is the gallery’s most challenging and disturbing show, according to founder Judith Neilson. ”The show will definitely stir discussion and argument. The collection has always been about works that move you and make you think. [This exhibition] sums up the energy and edginess we’re seeing right now,” she said.

MadeIn Company, Play 201301.

MadeIn Company, Play 201301

Highlights include a video and photo work called One Metre of Democracy, in which artist He Yunchang experiences a doctor cutting into his flesh without anaesthetic (not for the squeamish) and MadeIn Company’s Play 201301, an enormous installation that looks like a leather-clad Gothic cathedral (pictured above). Up close, however, you realise that it is a bondage art work, covered in intricately constructed sex aids.

Fat Lady

Sun Hongbin, Fat Lady

If your child is going to White Rabbit for a school excursion, however, don’t panic. Those deemed unsuitable for children are clearly marked and easily avoided. One not to be missed.

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    stuart richardson
    Posted Monday, 10 March 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I recently read an opinion piece that stated that an artist accepting a govt.grant while simultaneously objecting to Transfields involvement with the arts would be the personification of a hypocrite. Are there any artists out there with a comment on this?

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