During WWII, Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts. He replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’
I first read that quote maybe 10 years ago and I so wish it was true but I’m pretty sure Churchill never said anything like it. I like the sentiment though. I like how Tim Winton calls most art ‘useless beauty’. Right out on the edge of the outback I can see a turning to this idea. A sense that, although hard graft, production and efficiency are important; a life devoted to the worship of those three gods becomes a hard-bitten, mean, existence. Sometimes you’ve got to do something that’s just weird and quirky and beautiful just for its own sake.
Travelling the Wheatbelt, Mallee country and the Esperance plains over the last month or so, I noticed a strong correlation too. The towns that were letting their weirdness hang out with public art did seem like happier places. Kulin was one of these. What started as a way of decorating the road out to the racetrack for the annual bush race meet has taken a turn for the surreal. There’s even a sign now, at the start of the Tin Horse Highway, warning drivers to check who’s behind them before they slam on the brakes every time they stop to look at tin horse sculptures. The fifteen kilometres took me more than an hour to drive.
Art, people revealing some of the depths of their subconscious, poking out from the scrub on a flat wide plain, give this lonely road a ghostly tinge to me; a little dose of the surreal. They hold an ‘experiment in temporary community and artistic expression’ – a festival called Blazing Swan out at the end of this road once a year too. I wonder how some of that crew, fresh from a few days of dancing and trancing would handle some of these sculptures that only just reveal themselves through the trees and the salt pans. I reckon Hunter S Thompson would have loved it. ‘When the going gets weird…’