Things of Beauty

This isn’t meant to be an art blog as such. I’m more interested in critically articulating daily life as I find it. However, art does quite frequently pop into my daily life. Thank dog for that.

I’m still amazed and relieved that the AGNSW Francis Bacon exhibition had me shuddering with delight, at how blobby bits of colour scraping congealing screaming could affect me so viscerally. Bacon was the reason why I decided to study painting – because I believed and still do believe that no other medium could make the visceral link between bodies, light and sheer goopy stuff quite so well.

Astonishingly perhaps, I often find it hard to communicate exactly why or how seeing art in this way is so important for me. Discussing Bacon’s work with friends who are view art through an interpretivist/representationalist mode is hard. Sometimes it feels like being stuck with a slow reader. Harsh I know. Maybe its more akin to trying to dance with self conscious straight (and I use that term with considerable reservation) people. By that I mean people – even those of the Alphabet Soup (GSTBIQ) variety who move according to a panopticon of how they imagine themselves being seen, who don’t allow the music to enter them….

I feel that great art, like wonderful music acts to destabilise and decentre ourselves – we lose our grip on ourselves – we are profoundly not a Kantian subject of the sublime moment, but an aggregation of forces and impressions. Good music should have us falling over surely? and good art make us lose any grip we may have on sustaining a pose of composed perspecting presence.

So, back to Bacon….. and fine, wonderful words. I gasp and stutter, and tears also filled my eyes rereading Deleuze’s essay on Bacon. Derived from his earlier work on Cezanne (the logic of sense), Deleuze articulates precisely and passionately how the disaggregating brilliance of Bacon’s painting affects the viewer physically. these are paintings not of figures, not of stories, nor of a narrative of inner psychic turmoil – but a creation and extension of torment, of blood and piss and shit and the fleshiness of fucking into colour, wild blobs that catch our eye and hit us in the stomach.

The art that I love is profoundly material, and it causes my skin to prickle, my clit to throb, my head to swoon, and knees to wobble. My hands grasp air and I pant. I’m on the edge of crying and cumming and I can’t help smiling and quite often moaning. It is intense, but not transcendant, it is of the now, a deep immersion in the present mess of body and being.

I still have the aftershocks thrumming inside me, and they have impelled me to give up the grump and face The Melbourne Artworld. More specifically, the Melbourne Queer Artworld. For all I whinge about Helburnia, the Midsumma festival has a much stronger and richer cultural component than Sydney Mardis Gras has had for a while. OK – it’s not as ‘edgy’ as the sydney queer underground is – or maybe the underground here is so underground and so queer that it is invisible to all but its own inner circle, but I doubt it.

Melbourne fringe culture does seem to be frighteningly dominated by small cliques of 20 somethings that seem to have gone to school together somewhere in the eastern suburbs. It can be quite unnerving, and off putting. Putting this aside, the curated exhibitions and structured shows are really interesting. It’s a lead-time kind of place, where cultural producers plan ahead, submit proposals and establish their legitimacy before and during their output of art or performance – something which my own rag-tag guerilla theatre style finds difficult to grapple with. But that’s for another post.

This week I went out to two ‘premier event’ art shows. The first – was in a hot steamy white box in Fitzroy, with not enough water on offer, and way too much bad wine. Grumble. Fumble through masses of sweating bodies to peer at glimpses of the works. My favourite pieces were by Hillary Green – a couple of photographs that were rich with ambiguity and compellingly distinct from Alexander Edwards’ prints that they faced. The latter were a bit like Ross Gibson (the Liberace of the artworld) for the S&M crowd. Stylised edgy banality with horrid labels incorporated into the print, and then framed in thick black wood. It was not the first time I’ve had a strong urge to sodomise someone with a copy of Derrida’s Truth In Painting, and may not be the last. . The rest of the pieces were – ok, with some verging on exquisite badness. the feature artist Matto Lucas had 5 or 6 large c-type prints, titled ‘wabi-sabi’ and tragically laden down with some of the most appallingly pretentious wording that I’ve read for a long time. The floorsheet included very long titles, and a catalogue ‘statement’ redolent of the worst of COFA MA curatorship students.

Aside from promoting illiteracy as a lifestyle improvement, Lucas’s works were actually quite wonderful and worth seeing as live prints. Each print is person height – adult body scaled – so we look at fragmented ghostly body bits from the corner of our eyes, and face to face…. the figures disperse fuzzily through colographic shading, and bright bursts of transluscent stains, with drips and marks and scratchings throughout. They are a little bit too cool and stainless steel for my personal tastes – but they have moments of profound disturbance – almost a photopainterly tribute to Francis Bacon or my favourite dripper Marlene Dumas. I say almost – because the flourishes of colour and the disaggregation of forms somehow evoked a return to self, an internal loop of narcissistic preoccupation that felt ‘cool’. It could have been the bad words, or the large fields of grey behind each figure. It could have been the besuited ageing twinks pressing around me. I hope they bought a print, the works deserve to sell – they belong in the renovated warehouse with polished concrete floors of a rich gay couple. However, no red dots appeared at the opening, except for a couple of the very reasonalbe priced and modestly scaled drawings by Mel Simpson.

Last night, the hotter than my body at 6pm temperature dissuaded us from cycling south to Newport, and instead we buckled into Sir’s still rolling but almost unregisterable car. Blue and Pink phenomenon is another premier event, however the heat and 2 other premier openings on the same night, kept the crowds low. Bad for them, good for us wanderers, peerers, viewers, voyeurs.

I really wish the curator Jessica Bridgefoot could have added more words to the floorsheet – and to the promotional material – because each room deserves a catalogue essay. I have had a prickly nightmare where Liam Benson’s sparkly blackface detournment faces off against Paul Yore’s viscious (vicious viscosity) visual satire.

Instead, they are separated by one of the thick concrete walls. Benson’s crowning portraits facing out from the adjacent wall – which we can imagine as a kind of structural ground; a metaphor of Baz Lurrhman’s camp Australiana – which both artists engage with as a form of hysterical flaunting mimesis. Benson is far more Irigarayan in his approach – and I haven’t discussed it with him – but he nestles in close, to the campness, the excess, the joy, and this is what he sings out in his voice pieces. His original ‘Australian Queens’ (my term) works were shown after the Hey Hey It’s Saturday blackface scandal. As a white man, he takes ‘blackface’ to it’s hysterical edge, covering his white face in black glitter while wearing a princess tiara, or in blue glitter while wearing the Australian coat of arms. In Blue and Pink he had gloriously glittered body paint bogan flag self portrait next to his unglittered blackpainted face wearing a glittered tiara of the words “I will never be black”.

Blackface makes me uncomfortable. Especially when it is glamorised, or glammed up with seductive components of glitter and delight. It is something I want to not look at; to place aside in the ‘don’t go there’ box of self censorship. I appreciate Benson’s intent, appreciate his own capacity to make me feel so uncomfortable under my skin, as delight and refutal rub up against each other. Because of the ambient noise, and the other works, his video pieces weren’t as compelling as I’d hoped. Their meditative quality – of singing topless in a black lake, or of the deeply queen-teary satire seemed muted somehow…. whereas the prints – sung simply and strongly by force of their silence.

Paul Yore is possibly my favourite Melbourne artist. Or favourite living artist. I first saw his Justin Bieber tribute while popping into Westpsace on the way to a yoga class. I spent the next half hour shuddering with shimmery pink golden twinky boy delight. I saw his textile works at the Proppa  Now show in Collingwood but didn’t realise they were by the same artist. Imagine Juan Davila, Gordon Bennet, Joe Orton and the Museum of Art Brut thrown together and dipped in LSD and you might come close.

Yore does hysterical flirting mimesis as a screaming screeching harpy fuckyoupthearsefuckyoucuntsthelotofyou PINK!!! GLITTER!!! toys!!! The diarama of Australia needs to be in a museum – installed next to a Moffat style mashup of the olympic ceremony and that silly movie. Neon pineapples, a rooftop phallic imaginary, so much stuff, organs, organs, organs, kinetic chimes, robots, record turnstiles, painted carpet, and the Aboriginal Language Map weaving as I walked in. the organ chords weight down in a continuous grating intensity that was unbearable and yet I loved it loved it loved it, may have to go there for some therapy on bogan day. Yore’s work fulfil’s my own deep existential credo of ‘if someone points a gun at your head; dance, scream, sing, shout with every last breath you have’. There is a vicious imperative fuelling his work. Rage, disgust, outrage at EVERYTHING, especially twinkyfied dinky die racist complacency screams back in colour and sensation and serious lust for life.

the other work I want to write about, and this will be the last piece, because I’m almost at the end of my ‘write continuously for one hour’ daily practice, is the Deborah Kelly video, Beastliness, installed downstairs from Liam Benson’s photo room. The disco beats thud throughout the walls and lure us down stairs – where her iconic hairface redhead fills a large wall screen. OK – how do I describe a time based work as more than a diegetic summary?

Deborah Kelly’s beastly collages have been moving around various exhibitions for a couple of years. they are a contemporary queering of Hannah Hoch, and similar to the Lendon/Sandresegar cutouts that Kelly curated in Sexes. In this animation they merge to become something entirely living and marvellous. Am I the only person who remembers Lynday Dements Cyberflesh Girlmonster? Dement’s digital collage of body part images taken from female volunteers was incredibly cutting edge (LOL) at the time – and rightly featured on the cover of one of Elizabeth Grosz’s books. The shift from Dement’s CD rom to Kelly’s animation could almost mirror Grosz’s own shift from deconstructing feminist philosophy to a radical engagement with evolutionary biology through a Deleuzian framework.

In non-theory speak this means the following: that Beastliness presents sexuality and desire as profoundly animal; that figures emerge and aggregate and de-aggregate in a continuous thrumming thrilling cycle of encounter and exchange. This work is purely, wonderfully, divinely digital – where scale and focus and splitting are moved to pull us the viewer in and out and swirling about from a face, to a mouth, to the dances of tongues, tits, insects, foxiness, hares, shoes, legs, feathers, hairs, skin, molecules…. and that desire and delight have not gender, no species, no fixed identity or space, but are continuous emerging and moving across and throughout bodies in strangely exquisite ways.

I insisted on watching the whole piece 3 times, and want to go back for more.

Afterwards we rolled down to Williamstown beach, stripped down to our lycra interstate contestedly termed raiments (swimmers in NSW, bathers in VIC), and waded into the water. After 6 metres, it reached waist height, and after another 12 we were above our heads and past the crowds of hot Melbournians cooling lower halves by standing in the bay. We floated, sharing a mango I’d stashed in my swimmers, and then floated some more looking west to where the sun, turning red from all of the dirt carrying desert winds bathed the sea and us in incredible light. Swimming in a sunset, where colour pools into silken swirls swathing around our limbs was simply, unspeakably beautiful.

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