Review: THE PUBLIC BODY .03 at Artspace, Sydney
Have you ever considered the premium on self-discovery to be an insidious canon fabricated by loftier echelons of regime that seek to pestle you into trans-fat, ab aeterno? Ever wondered if there was a toggle near your coccyx that when slid to the left, curled all your skin back so you could see if you were really made from Nutri-Grain? Have you ever thought of yourself not only in relation to the cosmos but also to the cosmetic industry? These and more questions are answered.
A curatorial foray into self-discovery/destruction is incepted and shockingly hasn’t been shut down because it revolts and revolts. Skin mingles with craft, mingles with zeitgeist mingles with animation mingles with silicon. You are asked to birth yourself from selfie-dom, don your best, darkest existential crisis as a cloak and walk, maiden-like, realising stuff, realising things in 2018 among fleshy folds of gyprock. Go alone, without friends or people you’ve only just met who can’t yet hold the space properly between your bodies. They’ll ruin it. Don’t look any of the other punters or the Patricia Piccinini sweeties in the eye (if it has eyes). You are here for yourself, your own body and its future.
There’s no denying THE PUBLIC BODY .03 is trying to do a real thing this time. No dilly-dallying about. The message is cybernetic, it is 3D and it is clear: Bodies are being globalised, homogenised with the digital and there is no turning back. The dystopian future is mega bleak and just an endless cesspit of formulae and body assortment. Cue Jon Rafman’s prophetically nauseating Dream Journal: A forty-nine minute animation, not dissimilar from video game aesthetics of 2002. In the room there’s a shag-pile rug for comfort because the pot-bellied orphans suckling on the udders of their ‘carers’ is obviously unnerving. The film plays like an allegory for the exhibition as a whole. A complete distortion of body and consciousness. An amalgamation of deep-web desires and hard labour with subconsciously appended body politics on a semi-autonomous trajectory (put simply: capitalism). Rafman has reimagined our daily lives, albeit nightmarishly, the more you watch, the more familiar it is.
On to another video because there are many exhibited and because videos are what we will be in the year 3000. Jacolby Satterwhite’s Avenue B plays as psychological warfare dressed as nostalgia. There’s a pop video vibeology with its disco gays and drilling dildo that again transmits a temperament throughout the space: keep dancing because you’re really just a hopeless gofer spat straight out of a spread-sheet’s anus and there’s nothing you can do about it (you’re an emoji).
We are formulaic, an erection of physics but forever malleable by way of division, subtraction, put to the square root of, as suggested by Tabita Rezaire in her psychedelic film, Premium Connect. Rezaire’s work covers vagina-emulating molluscs, African beats and ethereal voiceovers substantiating our genuine existence in the matrix. And on the topic of data, Rachel Maclean’s ghoulish ‘We Want Data’ prints are too recognisable. The teletubbies have well and truly been through the system and come out the other end as self-obsessed dingbats. There’s no cuteness here, just super-jaded flesh balls that can’t discern between psyche and emoji – all while being worshipped by electricity-hungry rats (sounds a bit like Instagram tbh).
The THE PUBLIC BODY .03 is an existential trip but not everything is as confronting and brash as Piccinini’s wall of buttplug-bats. There are a few demure pieces that have perhaps purposefully been placed in a sanctuary opposite Maclean’s data diatribe. The respite includes the aptly named animation ‘We Need Sanctuary’ by Kate Cooper, Celia Hempton’s delicate nudes, Yves Scherer’s quiet floor sculpture and Francis Upritchard’s ironically quieter puppet-person that you watch with bated breath, half expecting it to telepathically pass on cryptic words of comfort after the body onslaught.
There’s a trick toTHE PUBLIC BODY .03. The deep emphasis on provocative transformation, on an increasingly departing consciousness is a cover. It is a cover for a special message to art goers and to people who were having a pie across the road and needed to use the loo. Yes, the artists and curators offer an intergalactic denunciation of our seemingly unconscious path but listen to what Jan Nelson says about her Black River Running #10: ‘…I transform my portrait images as I pass them through consecutive processes until the original is lost to a pulsating sublime.’ She transforms, she passes them through the filters. There’s the trick. THE PUBLIC BODY .03 is a wake-up call for those enlightened enough to venture into it: You are still awake! You are still selecting the filters. You are still in charge of losing yourself to a ‘pulsating sublime’, which sounds like a beautiful way to bow out but is actually really freakin messy and macabre. There’s still hope. But not for long.
George Haddad is a Sydney based writer who is currently studying a Creative Arts Doctorate at Western Sydney University. His debut novella Populate and Perish was the winner of the 2016 Viva La Novella Prize.
THE PUBLIC BODY .03 is presented at Artspace Sydney from 31 August – 28 October, 2018. The exhibition features Kelly Akashi, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Badlands, Archie Barry, Kate Cooper, Hannah Donnelly, Cécile B. Evans, Doreen Garner, Angela Goh, Celia Hempton, Jess Johnson, Oliver Laric, Rachel Maclean, Jan Nelson, Patricia Piccinini, Jon Rafman, Tabita Rezaire, Jacolby Satterwhite, Yves Scherer, Francis Upritchard, and is curated by Talia Linz and Alexie Glass-Kantor.