The state of being natural / dESKTOP PUBLISHER / NAaN - December 2017

Artists: Matthew Gorgula / Gemma Weston / Elyas Alavi

Author - Kathleen Linn


Teenage mean girls in Gemma Weston’s Desktop Publisher

‘Cher Horowitz: “Would you call me selfish?”

Dionne: “No, not to your face”’ Clueless 1995 film

Clip Art and Desktop Publishing are terms that immediately bring to mind the 2000s or even earlier. Today, the idea of desktop publishing is infused with nostalgia as we publish online constantly from our laptops or phones. Publishing has become enmeshed with Facebook posts, tweets or comments — a painful fact that seems to degrade the concept of publishing. The 1990s–2000s aesthetic and sentimentality present in Weston’s work intrigues me as I think of chatrooms and MSN Messenger from high school; and Clippy, the comic clipart paperclip that used to pop up on Microsoft Word to ‘assist’ you but didn’t really work and was phased out.

Looking at Weston’s work I also think of the girls in Clueless (1995) — nasty, wealthy teens whose impossible lifestyles suburban girls the world over attempted to mimic. There is a can of Impulse deodorant in the gallery, the smell of the change room after high school PE class. The mix of chemical propellants, cheap perfumes and smelly school uniforms worn by smelly, hormonal teens jolts into my mind. This smell seems to work in tandem with the heightened anxiety levels and whole-body, sickening physicality of our feelings and social interactions of high school, elements of which Weston’s work conjures in me. 

Weston alludes to teenage (mis)understandings, two-faced nasty girls at school who are friends with people and then mean behind their backs. Intertwining image and text in her work, Weston also utilises text as an expanded sculptural form, particularly in L’Armour (2017). The work moves between the readable and the indecipherable. Painted papier-mâché letters are linked together with a delicate chain, they hang from the gallery wall like a charm bracelet that maybe spells out ‘Who else knows?’. This is the perfect phrase for a high school mean girl: their social standing and concerns are entirely focused outward on others’ opinions of them. ‘Who else knows?’ or ‘don’t tell anyone’ are some of the most often spoken phrases of a teenage mean girl. The teenage mean girl sits in the family living room in 1998, doing her homework on the shared family computer while also messaging friends on MSN; the teenage mean girl switches between sweetness and a level of bitchy, nastiness only a teenage girl can muster.

For Confessions of a teenage drama queen (2017) Weston has created a series of pages of drawings and text, a different page will be displayed each day throughout the run of the exhibition.


What is a performance lecture anyway? Matthew Gorgula’s The state of being natural 

At the exhibition opening Matthew Gorgula’s artist talk felt more like a half-hour performance lecture in which he and three other performers occupied the gallery space. One performer was drawing at a height, their arm outstretched as far as it could go, creating a chain of interconnected lead pencil lines which snaked across the gallery wall, their pencil lifting from the surface and reconnecting again as each new question or section of the talk commenced. 

Against the left-hand wall two people stood, holding an accordion - their physical labour forming a durational, performative element of the exhibition. At times throughout the talk they would move the accordion up and down, bending their legs to form a kind of dance.

 Gorgula presented what, in my opinion, seemed to be a riddle, or perhaps a tautology: ‘Art on art is art on art therefore for art as art to be must art be art at all’ to the audience early in his talk. It can be seen to form a personal starting place of enquiry for Gorgula’s work in The state of being natural, a point through which to begin exploring what is natural and under what circumstances.

Gorgula’s talk continued by posing a series of questions to the audience around our understanding of art, the business of art and what art can be. At one point he says he wishes he had hired a writer to write his speech, or had the time to edit it more, as he seems to be editing it as he is performing it. A few times he says ‘oh no, I can’t read that out’ and I wonder what has prompted his self-censorship at this point in time. Is it the audience present and how different it feels being in front of a group of people to just writing from your home on your own? Although Gorgula poses this series of questions to the audience, there isn’t any participation from the audience, many of the questions are dense and it seems a bit unclear as to whether Gorgula would like input or not.

I almost trip on a jar placed on the floor of the gallery near the entrance, it holds flowers… later I find out it also holds urine and am glad I didn’t knock it over. I only visit the work at the opening and wonder how the exhibition would feel if seen without the performance lecture? I think I would read the objects more for their sculptural properties than I did tonight, as tonight I really saw them as props to the performance.


Bread-faces in Elyas Alavi’s Naan

Immediately humorous and light-hearted, Elyas Alavi’s video work Naan is projected in the FELTdark space, the video becoming visible from the street outside the gallery after dark.

Alavi utilises the comical scene of holding up many different flat breads, and also at one point a hotdog bun, in front of his face. Other people join Alavi in doing this including an older woman. Alavi stands in front of iconic buildings in Iran, Afghanistan and here in Australia. He travels on the subway holding two loaves of flat bread. In some scenes the bread is torn apart to reveal only his eyes or the bread is poised near his mouth just moments before it is devoured.

In an amusing way Alavi’s video draws out sameness and the shared experience of bread as a fundamental staple for people around the world. Bread is a significant food-stuff. It is mentioned in many holy texts and it features in various rituals. Strict rules govern the preparation of bread for ritual occasions and even daily life in a variety of cultures.

Alavi also says he has chosen to use bread as a means to explore the concept of the breadwinner and how this can impact a family who are dependent upon a certain person for sustenance, but due to war and its complicated effects this person is no longer able to provide for their family.

Alavi is himself a refugee from Afghanistan who lived in exile in Iran for fifteen years before moving to Australia. His work frequently explores these extreme situations and conditions he has been exposed to prior to coming to Australia.