Art Essays

Newsletter 263

Published December 1, 2018
Kelly O'Dwyer nominates the 'base' features of today's Liberal Party

There’s an essay to be written on that new political buzzword: “base”. One is forever hearing how Donald Trump can depend on his “base” for blind, fanatical support, no matter what he does – even when his policies are directly contrary to the supporters’ own best interests. One wonders what motivates working-class people to cheer on a leader who is busy taking away their health care and food stamps, adding to their cost of living, and removing environmental controls?

Perhaps they’re not very bright.

Another group of people who seem decidedly dim are those diehard right-wingers in the Liberal Party who have become seduced by the idea of a “base” that will give uncritical approval to all their meanest, lousiest deeds. They imagine the party has a “base” made up of “misogynists, homophobes and climate-change deniers”, as Liberal Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer so eloquently put it.

The Victorian state elections, not to mention the Wentworth by-election, showed how utterly self-deluded they are in this belief. Depending on a mythical right-wing “base” is like balancing on a marble. If the Liberal Party has a base at all it’s one they share with their Labor opponents: a vast middle-of-the-road that contains the overwhelming majority of voters. Australians are resolutely centrist in their political beliefs. They may sway a little to the left or the right, but they always revert to the centre.

For a small group of right-wing ideologues to scare the government into assassinating Malcolm Turnbull was to drive a wedge into the party’s relationship with this – their true, one-and-only “base”. Now that Julia Banks has defected to the cross-benches the disintegration of the government is proceeding at alarming speed. Captain Scomo’s answer is to pull out his best Donald Trump impersonation, right down to the baseball cap. This strongman posturing is guaranteed to pour poison on any feeble shoots of Liberal recovery.

At last the Liberal moderates seem to be rallying, but the right-wing rump still continues bellowing in the dark. The only question about the federal election concerns the size of the defeat. The next big question will be: “Can we bear to live with Prime-Minister Bill Shorten?”

I’m dwelling on politics again because this week’s art review looks at a highly unconventional piece of political art: Nick Cave’s monumental installation at Carriageworks, called Until. Confronted with the imposing statistics of gun violence in the United States Cave has created an absurdly joyous, all-encompassing work that fills this venue more completely than any exhibition of the past. It’s a convincing demonstration of optimism in troubled times.

There’s also a political dimension to this week’s film review, which discussses Hirozaki Koreeda’s Shoplifters, winner of the 2018 Palme d’Or in Cannes. It’s a micropolitics that asks us to consider the relationship between society and the family. More broadly, it throws all of our received ideas of what constitutes a family into disarray. It’s one of the most touching, humane films to come out of Japan for many years. No wonder it caused outrage and shame among the Japanese. They might benefit from a very large installation by Nick Cave.