Artists: Liam Colgan / Kristen Coleman

Author: Caitlin Eyre

There is often a great disparity between the way things are and the way we perceive them to be. With this in mind, how can we understand the true nature of things? In their solo exhibitions, King Single/Expanded Queen and Parallel, artists Liam Colgan and Kristen Coleman are exploring the difference between what is true and what is perceived, albeit in very different ways.

In King Single/Expanded Queen, Perth-based artist and curator Liam Colgan utilises queer theory to examine the way that social forces operate within domestic spaces. Drawing on personal experience, Colgan is particularly focused on the bedroom and how this personal and intensely private space has the potential to help shape, nurture and inform emergent queer identities. Colgan’s exhibition features a myriad of video and sound installation pieces, paired with both photographic and textile-based investigations. The title of the exhibition, King Single/Expanded Queen, poignantly represents the trajectory of Colgan’s developing identity. The narrative begins within the confines of Colgan’s adolescent bedroom, the emergent identity represented by the king single bed, and ends with Colgan’s performance of a camp and liberated ideal identity, as epitomised by the expanded queen.

The adolescent bedroom is undoubtedly a formative space in which young people feel comfortable to explore, examine and reimagine themselves. It offers freedom from the critical judgements of others and provides a safe space where an individual can act freely, without fear. The video installation, Caught in Reflection, candidly portrays Colgan dancing alone in their bedroom to Kate Bush’s 1978 hit song, ‘Wuthering Heights’. Pausing only to replay the song, Colgan mimics Bush’s dramatic and free-flowing dance steps repeatedly, for fifty minutes, to the point of exhaustion. In the artist’s childhood home, we are witness to the furniture and objects from their youth, while Colgan performs a private (since made public) dance routine. There is something very moving and liberating about watching Colgan dancing so freely displaying the kind of precious unselfconscious attitude of a person who is completely unconcerned. Refreshingly candid and beautifully presented, Colgan’s works offer a simultaneously personal andrelatable insight into the process of crafting identities within the private realm.

Liam Colgan, 'Sorry Mum II', archival pigment print, 2015, 68.5 x 99.0 cm, photograph courtesy of Liam Colgan

Liam Colgan, 'Sorry Mum II', archival pigment print, 2015, 68.5 x 99.0 cm, photograph courtesy of Liam Colgan

The photographic series, Sorry Mum, features Colgan dressed in a selection of handcrafted costumes, striking dramatic poses amongst the furniture of the family home. There is a clandestine quality to the photographs, taken through the windows of Colgan’s home, by an unseen photographer lurking nearby. It is as though we have taken the audacious liberty to peep through Colgan’s window, bearing witness to the artist’s most private acts. The mirrored reflection in the glass, reveals a darkened world outside and empty streets lined with bins and streetlights. It is the middle of the night, and it is in the quiet solitude of darkness that Colgan brings their self-expression to thrilling new heights. For this author, at least, there is only a sense of awe and amazement at viewing the wonderfully self-possessed and mesmerising creature within.

Dressed in self-made couture, which appears to have been crafted from torn plaid bedsheets, Colgan is armed with fierce confidence, striking powerful poses in artfully draped textiles and a theatrical snake-like scarf. Clearly nude beneath the textile creations, Colgan is literally and figuratively stripping down to a raw self, creating new ways of expressing their identity. One of the posters in the background reads ‘COMING SOON’, as if foreshadowing Colgan’s final transformation after this process of exploration. The title of the work, however, complicates this scene, and is perhaps meant as a symbolic apology for not fitting in to an expected gender role.

The trajectory of Colgan’s development continues in the video and sound installation work The Distance Between UnUnUnU. The work features a recording of Colgan’s parents chanting part of Alanis Morissette’s 1998 song ‘Thank U’, in which the singer expresses her revelations about coming to terms with the difficult situations in her life. The video segment features a naked Morissette, standing peacefully in the middle of an empty cityscape, symbolically shed of her negativity, doubts and fears. The chanting voices of Colgan’s parents play on a continuous loop, their melodic and fiercely emotional tones blaring from the sets of headphones provided. Positioned on the wall to denote the height of each of Colgan’s parents, the headphones suggests the difference of perspectives. The installation lends a sense of the difficulties Colgan had in finding, developing and presenting their true self to the world, but also expresses the artist’s acceptance (and perhaps even the appreciation) of the formative power of hardship.

The narrative reaches a resolution in the sound installation work, Soft Sovereignty. In this work, Colgan acknowledges that while the bedroom undoubtedly provides a safe space for reinvention, there comes a time when the space reveals its limitations and the individual longs to sharetheir true self with the outside world. The recording features the sound of bed linen being periodically ripped and torn, suggestive of the way in which Colgan has utilised the bedroom as a space in which to deconstruct and reinvent their identity. The screen, amplifier and speakers are positioned within a length of copper-coloured audio cable that has been installed to replicate the dimensions of a king single bed. In this way, Colgan illustrates that there does indeed come a time when the freedom afforded by the bedroom outlives its usefulness and instead become a kind of gilded cage.  Not everyone has the courage — or in some cases even the privilege — to step out into the world as their true selves. But for Colgan at least, the day has come to emerge from the private confines of the bedroom and begin the task of navigating life as their true self.

Kristen Coleman’s abstract light installation, Parallel, explores the cinematic landscape and utilises light to illustrate the conceptual ideas behind her moving image works. In Parallel, Coleman vividly illustrates the way in which cinema has impacted on the human subconscious, our own personal memories having become entangled with the vast archive of cinematic landscapes stored in our mind’s eye. Deceptively simple in appearance, the minimalist installation consists of a simple fluorescent light fixture that flickers deliberately in response to the presence of viewers within the exhibition space. While the physical materiality of Parallel is straightforward, the conceptual ideas expressed in the work are complex, thought-provoking and elegantly presented.

The interactive nature of Parallel offers a poignant physical expression of the simultaneously public and private nature of cinematic landscapes. Coleman’s work is inspired by the feelings that are generated when a sensory experience in the physical (public) world are interrupted by a memory drawn from the inner (private) world of the subconscious. As expressed by Martin Lefebvre, there are always two aspects to a landscape: the actual landscape and the landscape altered by what the individual viewer brings to it.[i] The installation mimics this observation by changing in response to our presence within the exhibition space, both altering the space and the viewer’s experience of it. Neither the work nor the space are fixed and static, but change and alter in response to the stimuli we introduce.

Parallel is a curiously philosophical work making us question the forces that affect our perception of reality, and our interpretation of the world around us. While the viewer’s experience of the fluorescent light is of constant flickering, the light itself, when unobserved is bright and unwavering. Through this installation, the act of viewing is by no means passive, bringing our own internal thoughts and experiences to seemingly ‘neutral’ unmarked spaces.

[i] Martin Lefebvre, ‘On Landscape in Narrative Cinema’, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, vol. 20, no. 1, 2011, pp.61-78