At the top of the stairs is Minnie Mouse. She is a foil helium balloon, as tall as a ten-year-old. She greets us with a raised hand, a wide smile, topped with her trademark bow like a birthday present. But Minnie is collapsing; her body has begun the inexorable decline, slowly crumpling in on itself. In another few days or weeks she’ll be lurched forward, sickly and shrunken, wide smile distorted, her withered arm reaching out, help me.
Remedial Works, curated by Andrew Varano, unpacks the many-layered relationship between art, sickness and healing; and the paradoxes of considering this while operating within a capitalist society.
The gallery is stark white from floor to ceiling, like a room made of hospital sheets. It is a transcendental state, a cloud land, a movie depiction of Heaven. One wall, however, is painted an astringent grassy-green.
In this space floats a circle of intricate strings, like corals or hanging vines. Silver foil, beads, pipecleaners, wire, stones, shells, clay, plasticine; teardrops sewn from gauze and filled with glitter. Growth-like sculptures on the floor hide diffusers, emitting scents designed to ease anxiety. This is Jess Tan’s recurring dream (silent reading time), a delicate microcosm of objects collected and clustered, arranged to soothe. The original functions of Tan’s materials are stripped away, repurposed as adornment, transformed into plasticky shimmering talismans. As Varano writes in the catalogue essay, the installation “manages to allude to bodies, a landscape and emotions all at once”; it is a safe space, created from the detritus of anxiety, from which to look inwards or outwards at the self or the world.
Shana Moulton’s video series Whispering Pines sees ‘wellness treatments’ taken to their extreme: transcendence and escape from the body. Moulton’s alter-ego Cynthia, a hypochondriac constantly seeking spiritual and physical betterment, wipes her whole self away with Swisspers; becomes a clay form, pure matter, imprinted with patterns by massage tools; traces the path of a labyrinth with her finger to the soundtrack of Constant Cravings. Set against the green wall, Cynthia’s – and by extension our – desire for control of the body are parodied with humour; the effect is one of deep unease. The rounded form of the massager pushed deep into Cynthia’s clay neck is an image that’s slow to fade.
In Clare Milledge’s work the artist is a shaman figure, hovering at a veil between worlds. The gallery component of Strigiformes: Binocular, Binaural (2016) is a large-scale banner, a gauzy rainbow spectrum layered with painting and attachments, that also functions as the backdrop to a performance. The banner is compelling in itself, but I wish I’d seen the performance: it feels like I’m only engaging at the surface. Perhaps that’s the point.
Nearby, Pakui Hardware’s fleshy and machine-like forms On Demand (2017) are drawn from NASA satellite footage of the surface of Mars. Evoking both bodily and planetary landscapes, they suggest a human-machine hybridity in which the body is replaced by metal parts and cell forms. Anicka Yi, too, takes a future-scientific approach in her 3D video The Flavor Genome (2016). Profoundly compelling, the video – which falls somewhere between documentary and meditation – forces a literal shift in perception through the wearing of 3D glasses, while probing the possibilities of senses other than sight.
On a shelf in the gallery is the bandaid-rip-off moment of Plaster your Body with Disney (2017). Here, Sophie Cassar plays with the romanticisation of chronic illness – ‘sick girl aesthetic’ – probing the twin notions of art as healing, and sickness as art. Sick girl aesthetic is rose-gold, a gauzy veil, a sensuous and weightless state. It also includes gift shop kitsch, Disney-themed nail art, and teen-girl-like collage. Cassar’s artist books make tangible the online discourse around chronic illness, presenting memes and screenshots, email conversations with chronically ill and disabled friends. In another video, Mickey and Minnie are presented as healers, chivvying the sick and downhearted to relentless cheer.
Mirroring the Minnie Mouse at the entrance are several smaller helium balloons, their hand-sized surfaces encrusted with layers of puffy stickers: cute Disney characters, stars, animals, yellow smiley faces. I’m reminded of a line from a poem: “your face and body / covered so thickly with scars / only the eyes show through” . These foil balloons are sold in hospitals, given to immunocompromised patients instead of flowers. Why do we give hospital patients things that inevitably die? Clearly it’s black humour. In this work, the body is presented as sculpture; chronic illness as performance, every frailty documented and enhanced. It’s mortality with perfect nails, in a cute pink dress.
We pass Minnie Mouse again on the way out. She wobbles on her weighted feet, still smiling. She is so happy.
Anna Dunnill is an artist and writer based in Melbourne. In addition to her solo practice she is one half of collaborative duo Snapcat with Renae Coles.
‘Remedial Works’ was exhibited at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 11 November – 24 December 2017.
 Sophie Cassar, Minnie Mouse AirWalker Balloon, 2017, Mixed Media.
 Andrew Varano, Remedial Works Digital Catalogue, 2017. http://pica.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/RemedialWorks-DigitalCatalogue-FINAL.pdf
 Margaret Atwood, “You Refuse to Own”. Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995. London: Virago, 1998. Originally from Power Politics, 1971.