Vote for me/ FELTspace - September 2016
ARTISTS: MIA VAN DEN BOS, ROMI GRAHAM, SASHA GRBICH, MARY-JEAN RICHARDSON - CURATED BY POWERHOUSE
AUTHOR – Ilona Wallace
Two white women stare down the length of their arms at their phones held aloft, front-facing cameras activated. They glitter slightly. The women are prints on a satin drape, trimmed with a kaleidoscopic fringe that glints in the light. Thick swipes of digital paint give the image texture and life – amplified by the real-life recreation of the portrait happening in the room. The artist (Mia Van den Bos) and her friend, the two women depicted in the painting, stand in front of their portraits and pose in identical stances to their print selves. On the wall-hanging behind them, stock image paparazzi snap their photo. In front, in life, a male friend frames up a shot on his phone.
“Is it good?” one of the women asks.
“It’s so good,” gushes the photographer.
Behind them, the painting poses on. The women are draped in pure white graduation gowns. Cracks cleave through the hems of their robes.
The two women stand out against their male admirers. The men are digital versions of cardboard cut-outs, rendered flat and lifeless through Van den Bos’s loose handling of the cropping tool. Uneven white edges frame the Shutterstock press pack.
Obsession with appearance – and the audiences that devour this performance – takes centre-stage in Van den Bos’s work. The selfie is mightier than the sword at once rejects and reclaims ideals of femininity: the women turn their backs on the male gaze, and instead entertain themselves, perfectly groomed eyebrows raised in self-assessment.
The external is also central to Romi Graham’s works – a collection of t-shirts ($200), keyrings ($40) and condoms ($2) for sale. The sharpened keys scream “DON’T FUCKEN TOUCH ME” on their colourful bargain-bin tags. This aggression is echoed in t-shirt slogans: “I’VE NEVER SHANKED A SEXIST MAN AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT”.
The keys embody advice given to women walking alone at night: in case you have to whack a weirdo, keep your keys in your fist, with the teeth poking through your fingers. But the comparative cheapness of this self-defence speaks volumes to the tokenistic insincerity of the trinkets. A grim reminder that in an Adelaide area notorious for sexual assaults, local nurses were warned by police they would be charged if found in possession of weapons for self-defence. Graham’s colourful items are glib and brash, satirising the deadly implications that lie beneath.
Mary-Jean Richardson’s works hang side by side. The first is a large painting of two pelvic bones, stacked in mirror image of each other. They’re not precisely the same, and it takes some Googling and close inspection to determine whether the bones are male or female. A gallery attendant later says to me: “Do you think they’re from women or men? I think they must be female, because of the pink background.”
It appears the gender stereotypes of colour sink bone-deep.
Beside these anatomical representations is a smaller painting. This one is barely a square foot in size, and is hazy and abstract. The paint has been layered in vertical strokes, and the colours fade in two bright, mirrored spots from sherbet orange to a deep purple. The smears seem to thrum and throb. These glowing smudges are a Rorschach blot next to the overbearing physicality of the neighbouring bones. The first painting is frank and clear, skeletal and precise. These spheres of colour, while not depicting anything human, have more personhood than the anonymous pelvises ever could.
After the brightness of the Front Gallery, and the boldness of the art works, slipping into the Back Gallery space is a comfort. It’s small and dark, and on opening night is warm from all the bodies that have squeezed in and out of the space. It cocoons.
In the Back Gallery, Sasha Grbich’s works are physical and carry a weighty intimacy. In a tank, a thermometer shows that the water is being maintained at 37 degrees – the body temperature required to sustain human life. On one of the final days of the exhibition, the read-out sits in the high 20s. Whether by design or an accident, it points to the fragility of art and human existence.
On a nail hangs a pair of headphones. A woman is speaking – grabs of speech that are almost English, or not. If I just concentrate harder, you think, I’ll be able to understand. The words are being read out in the stilted manner of a language learner – read, stumble, correct, repeat. The harder you focus, the faster the meaning slips away.
On the northern wall, you can see Grbich’s final item: a heavy object lodged in a wall.
It looks like a large shot-put, but roughly formed. It’s spherical and solid, but looks moulded by hand – smoothed in places by fingers stroking its surface. The wall is shattered around it, and the ball sits half in the room and half beyond it. It invites touch, but at the same time warns it off – what if your caress sends the ball plummeting back behind the wall? Though unremarkable and lumpy, it inspires affection – the object obtains vulnerability from its precarious position, but equally it is intimidating: the violence required by the ball to create such a lodging suggests something sinister and alarming.
Combined, the works across the FELTspace galleries bellow and preen, fight and cry. One artist does not represent the experience and feelings of another, just as women do not go through life acting on the thoughts of a collective hive-mind.
A gallery filled with male artists does not necessarily embody the ‘male perspective’, so why do we expect an all-female exhibition to present cogent feminist theory? While the works do consider aspects of female life, it can also be said that they consider aspects of life, human life, with no gender attached.
The greatest triumph of Vote For Me is its consideration of women as artists, rather than “women artists”. The artists’ philosophies and approaches are in conflict and in concert. Vote For Me presents ‘female’ art as diverse: a collection of works from a collection of individuals, just as it should be.
VOTE FOR ME/ Fontanelle - SEPTEMBER 2016
ARTISTS: Hissy Fit, Frances Barrett - CURATED BY POWERHOUSE
AUTHOR – Kristen Coleman
With beer in hand I stand in the crowd watching the battle between artist and curator, man and woman, in the large-scale video installation. The Wrestle is a performance piece by artist Frances Barrett; it is an act of endurance, an act of violence and intimacy, where artist and curator engage physically, and the winner doubles their fee. Barrett’s gamble is double-or-nothing, but I wonder what else the curator risks losing?
Located in the Back Gallery of Fontanelle, a large-scale projection, filling the entirety of one wall, a scene resembles that of a sporting arena. Artist and curator Frances Barrett, and 48Hr Incident curator Toby Chapman, wrestle. The spectators in the video, and the gallery crowd opposite, form a circle around the two combatants, much like a schoolyard brawl. The two initially seem evenly matched, and what ensues is a dogged determination to become victor. The outcome is all too predictable and my heart sinks a little. The repetitive loop sees them locked in an eternal struggle for parity; a relentless cycle of loss despite all of Barrett’s efforts.
I think about the ideas being raised throughout the exhibition, and I wonder if people view Barrett’s work as an act of shameless self-promotion, a pointless spectacle? Will her assertiveness bring discomfort and scrutiny? I think for some it will, I mean she never really had a chance at winning after all. I see it as an act of resistance against a well-established inequality of the sexes. The endless loop of Barrett losing, mimicks our (women’s) Sisyphean fate, endlessly striving for impartiality and respect.
Where Barrett uses a measured approach, Hissy Fit’s live performance, installation and video work, Heaven, is loud and confrontational. Hissy Fit is a collaboration between Sydney based artists Jade Muratore, Emily O’Connor and Nat Randall. The main space of Fontanelle is bathed in blue neon light and a thudding electronic set starts. The three artists front the gathered crowd head on and there is this expectation, or anticipation, of movement, though nothing happens. Their defiance of expectations is instant and impressive. A stance that is aggressive but restrained, Hissy Fit’s work engages with the notion of the hysterical woman. A medical condition historically reserved for women who, because of their biology, were supposedly more prone to hysteric paroxysm. Essentially it was an androcentric diagnosis for women whose behaviour deviated from what was considered appropriate (1).
The three artists are dressed in matching white hooded tracksuits, with a black motive on the back and repeated in a large decal on the wall. It’s a silhouette of three girls, reminiscent of the Mudflap Girl and the Charlie’s Angels’ emblems of the 1970’s, although here it is more biohazard than seductive.
For the better part of the next hour, Hissy Fit embark on a performative rave dance, that can only be described as a feat of endurance and strength. Towards the end of the set they repeatedly, and in time to the music, take mouthfuls of water and spit it at the wall. This act of spitting, of voiding bodily fluids, draws attention to a shared ethos with the punk movement. A public fuck you to a gendered hierarchy, perhaps.
Curator and writer Maura Reilly reminds us ‘If we cannot help others to see the structural problems, we can’t begin to fix them’ (2) which is what these artists, and the exhibition as a whole, are proactive in doing. The work of both Barrett and Hissy Fit opens a conversation about gender inequality, and the statistical position of women, not only within the arts, but also in a wider social and cultural context.
1. Maines, Rachel P, The Technology of Orgasm ‘Hysteria’, the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 1999.
2. Reilly, Maura, Taking the Measures of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes in ArtNews Special Issue: Women in the Art World, June 2015.