The Phenomenon of Queer
MELBOURNE: Unbeknown to some people, the west has long been a hotbed for artists. Now with spaces such as The Substation in Newport, the west has well and truly arrived as an area that is forging a vital arts community in Melbourne. Rachel Cook spoke to curator Jessica Bridgfoot about the exhibition, Blue and Pink Phenomenon.
Nothing can really prepare you for Paul Yore’s, ‘The Arse End of the World’. This technicolour ride through a sort of queer adventureland, which is at once gorgeous and grotesque, is a place where phallic worship sits right alongside Disney figurines. Once you enter the ‘house’ you become immersed in a perfect mix of nightmare and unadulterated glee. This is either Tales of Toyland gone mad or a ‘queer’ paradise, depending on how you look at it, and it is almost majestic in its delivery.
Then just down the hall, in a sunken room, throbbing dance music pulls you in and it is here that you witness one of the most inspiring interpretations of this exhibition’s theme which is to ‘explore the phenomenon of queer’.
It is Deborah Kelly’s, ‘Beastliness’ (2011), an animation featuring ‘post-species’ creatures. Via some spectacular animation you travel down the throat of a 'beastly', red-headed woman (see image) only to witness the wildest dance party you have ever seen. Here creatures such as female figures with fox heads dance with other female cross insect figures in orgiastic joy.
Kelly, an established mixed media artist, known for her socially engaged public artworks brought us the Hey Hetero series (in collaboration with photographer Tina Fiveash). The series shone a light on heterosexual privilege via simulated mainstream 'advertisements', which were shown in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Wellington and Berlin.
To get through to Kelly’s work you pass through Liam Benson’s Motherland series where Benson gives the concept of ‘Australiana’ the queerest edge you will ever see. Then there’s his video, Sirens, where he (and subsequent other Benson’s) perform Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ in water. An alluring work, to say the least.
Blue and Pink Phenomenon is only the second ‘queer’ show The Substation’s curator, Jessica Bridgfoot has organised as part of Midsumma and she says that she always tries to extend the subject into a broader social context.
Bridgfoot sees the idea of queer or queerness as being “now less linked to gender politics and more aligned with an undercurrent of sexuality and individuality that runs through contemporary society.”
One of her motivations for creating the show was via academic Sara Ahmed (Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006), The Promise of Happiness (2010)).
“I read a text by a queer theorist Sara Ahmed that proposes a ‘Queer Phenomenology’ - that the spaces we inhabit and co-habit can affect our sexual orientation,” Bridgfoot says.
“I thought this was an interesting idea so I started exploring this in the context of contemporary Australia – with references to multiculturalism, colonialism and consumerism and the inescapable linkages between identity and sexuality.”
In putting together such a show, as with any exhibition, considerations of budget and logistics are always the curator’s nemesis. However, a good curator relies on intuition, and in choosing which artists should be involved in Blue and Pink Phenomenon, Bridgfoot says it was all about instinct.
“My first response to an artwork is emotional or visceral rather than intellectual, which comes later.
“I look for work that’s arresting, but has an ‘after burn’ that keeps me thinking . There are other major considerations of course – whether the messages and intentions of the artist’s work with the premise of the exhibition [and] whether they want to be in the show at all.”
Besides Yore, Kelly and Benson the exhibition also features work from Makiko Yamamoto, Deborah Pauuwe and Drew Pettifer and the diversity of the work ranges from installation, to video, to photography – all of it raising questions about identity, gender and sexuality, and of course the nature of ‘queer’.
Pettifer’s billboard installation with images of iconic gay protests starting with the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 up to the recent ‘Pink Dollar’ protest over economic rationalism in Melbourne in 2011, (each image has the banner ‘Still Revolting’), which as Bridgfoot says is “a clever double entendre”, reminds us that the fight for queer rights has been a long fought battle which is also clearly far from over.
Blue and Pink Phenomenon is what a good exhibition is all about. Some of the work is joyous and some confronting, but it is nothing if not thought-provoking. It raises the questions that we need to be asking and has integrity enough to not pretend to offer any of the answers.
Blue and Pink Phenomenon, The Substation, 1 Market Street, Newport, thesubstation.org.au
(Image) Deborah Kelly, 2011. Still from Beastliness.