by Catherine Bassey
It’s a marriage of art and activism, according to multi-channel video and found footage artist Karla Lock of the exhibition Potatomation, a mix of works by Karla and artist Aaron Matheson, and journalist and author, Anthony Loewenstein.
The Potatomation Art Collective is a group of visual artists who created the art installation for the Sydney Fringe Festival in collaboration with Jubilee Australia, a not-for-profit organisation. The aims of both organisations was to raise awareness of Australian corporations (mostly mining companies) violating human rights and causing environmental abuses overseas, and prompt concern among Australians to demand a better legal framework for enforcing responsible corporate behaviour abroad.
“These artists approached us about developing an art installation for the Sydney Fringe that profiles concerns about multi-national companies doing more harm than good,” says Carmelan Polce, executive director of Jubilee Australia, a non-profit organisation promoting accountability for the causes of poverty and injustice in Asia Pacific.
“Ultimately, the idea is for Australians to think more deeply about what they believe the role of the Australian companies should be, to think about how much power and influence they should have, and then to think about how to limit them to the role that we believe they should have,” Ms Polce says.
Adele Webb, of Jubilee Australia, explains the concept for the exhibition. “We were having potato chips together which kind of created the image of continuous consumption. So we cut sweet potato and taro into figures and used them to tell the story. It’s sort of political but also a gentle form of awareness raising.”
Adele says potato and taro are the staple food in Papua New Guinea where there is much environmental damage. Some of the artists took the time to explain their works in the exhibition. The name ‘Potatomation’ is a combination of two words, potato and animation to form one word.
Karla Lock’s video installation showed a woman eating a green apple and a man performing magic tricks on an endless loop. The eating of the apple and the magic tricks allude to people’s attitudes to resources they think will never run out. “The video footage is an illusion, the easy lie that we want to believe these resources are going to last forever,” Karla says.
Aaron Matheson’s series of drawings focused on mining activities in Papua New Guinea. In one drawing he depicts the suburban scene from a window in his house. He says he sees suburban homes as castles that reflect personal values that do not always acknowledge an understanding of where the products we use come from. In the same drawing, there is a Papua New Guinea mask that, Aaron says, symbolises the way in which western attitudes do not always respect the values of other countries.
“We are working to elevate and amplify voices that have been drowned out, undermined, ignored, and disregarded. This campaign is to bring this issue to the attention of the Australian people, the idea that Australian mining companies are operating in the developing world without due regard for the people, the environment, and the social fabric,” Carmelan Polce says. “The proposed reopening of the copper mine on Bougainville at this time is a perfect opportunity for us to profile what’s happening.”
Karla Lock says public response to the exhibition has been positive. “It surprised us,” she says. “The people who came to the exhibition were clearly interested in the values of both art and activism.”