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Teen fun in dystopic times

Ann Finegan: Campbelltown Arts Centre, The List

Ann Finegan is a Sydney writer and educator. She is also creative co-director and chief curator of Cementa_15 Contemporary Arts Festival in Kandos.

Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, Past/Present/Future,  2014 Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, Past/Present/Future, 2014
photo Zan Wimberly
Titled somewhat tongue-in-cheek with a reference to A-listers and celebrity culture, The List, at the Campbelltown Arts Centre gallery, is a youth-focused group show that ever so lightly sends itself up while investigating suburban politics and culture.

Famously and shamelessly Westie, on the outer reaches of Sydney’s suburban fringes, there’s only one train stop further than Campbelltown, and the freeway soon gives way to the open road to the ACT. In the tradition of humour celebrating a certain impoverishment, Tom Polo’s hand-painted billboards kick off the show and can only properly be seen in the Minto paddocks if you happen to be sitting on the right side of the train. As if in a stumbling, hesitant voice the billboards are spaced at quite a distance from each other: single words and brief phrases spell out “All I Know” “Is That” “We” “Just Keep” “Doubting” “Ourselves.” For a group exhibition targeted at local youth, Polo captures the tension between self-perceived limitations and the ludic tone of self-deprecation.

George Tillianakis worked with a group of seven or so teens on a horror flick which is shown across two video screens in the gallery. On the left, shot in negative, life in the ‘burbs is summed up as a group zombie walk. In long, tacky wigs like witches’ locks, the troupe makes its way across the park towards a sign saying, “No Access to Hospital.” On the opposite screen, in colour, various scenarios play out against a brick wall, a metaphor for “up against the wall” and “hitting your head against a brick wall.” A teenager on the floor has a fit while another uselessly “shines a light on” him with a torch, hardly likely to attract political attention. A tall figure dons a sheet with two peep-holes in reference to the local legend of Fisher’s Ghost, then folds it into a burqa in a gesture of cross-cultural solidarity.

Given that curator Megan Monte aimed to engage local youth from within the popular cultural frameworks through which youth perceive themselves, Tillianakis, raised in nearby Blacktown, admirably succeeds. There’s nothing high art, but rather B-movie horror informing this take on disenfranchised political reality (the no hospital access a comment on recent Federal budget cuts or general lack of services?). Tillianakis’ tone is light, not afraid to play out dark subject matter through teen antics of ‘acting stupid.’

Robin Hungerford Robin Hungerford
photo Zan Wimberly
Pilar Mata Dupont (see video interview, RealTime Profiler 4) placed the viewer on a sofa, under spotlights, to watch the horror show of contemporary political reality performed as a cheery musical with dance numbers and choruses: “We are the force that keeps us safe. You are missing documentation. I’m sorry you can’t get through. Please go to office for intrusive interview.” Robin Hungerford’s hand puppet scientist was as mad as Sesame Street, and in delirious conversation with a head in the sky straight out of The Wizard of Oz. As a comment on the dampening down of visionary thinkers, it soon became apparent that this scientist engaged in saving the world’s energy crisis needed to see a doctor and be locked away.

The dark political commentary eased somewhat in Uji Handoko Eko Saputro’s giant mural of a ghost, depicted as a long, heavy worm propped up Salvador Dali-style by naked footballers bearing crutches. In case you didn’t get the connection, a banner tells you the name of the local football team, “Campbelltown Rugby League Ghosts.” Additionally, a baseball cap on a plinth spells out the further association of Fisher’s Ghost with Campbelltown’s biggest art prize. (In the 1860s the ghost of a murdered local chap called Fisher apparently pointed out where to find his body.) However, a small figurine of Casper, the Friendly Ghost, also on a plinth, was needed, it seems, to boost the story with international comic book lingua franca, as if to say that even with the aid of football references local culture still needs help.

Zanny Begg, Zanny Begg,
photo Alex Wisser
Zanny Begg moved beyond football and TV into what may be bleakly called local industry. In keeping with the times, and the proliferation of incarceration centres, her focus was on Indigenous youth filmed inside Reiby juvenile justice detention centre. Supplementary photographs showed boys alone, their backs turned, in their rooms, such that attention was on the identifiers on the walls: a patch saying ‘Koori Brothers 2014,’ another ‘Koori Family Boys,’ Adidas and heraldic blazonry adapted with Koori flag colours. The dominant video showed boys playing cards, riding bikes and walking around inside the enclosure, gang-like, in black handkerchief masks, like Jesse James. This was for legal reasons of anonymity but hinted at the outlaw activities that would have landed the boys in detention. With a deflated sense of the future the boys talked about life, dodging school and freedoms lost.

Michaela Gleave sealed viewers off from her installation. The audience had to look into the room through a glass panel, as if in the visiting room of a prison, in slightly unnerving resonance with the Zanny Begg work. Inside this plain and relatively empty room, again resonant with the rather empty cells of the Koori boys, was a pile of glitter and a vacuum cleaner, as if the fun had been cleaned up, held in abeyance for later. A series of what Deleuze would have called ‘order words’— or big abstract signifiers—was projected as if by random association, one after the other, on the back wall. These came from Gleave’s surveys of locals for the words which defined their lives. A selection read: Autonomy, Sacrifice, Commitment, Luck, Relationships, Economy, Realism, Conflict, Reliance, Respect, Persecution, Destruction, Togetherness, Happiness, Knowledge, Control. “Happiness” appeared more than once in this list sourced from a survey of locals. A further component invited viewers to don headphones and listen to a deep synth track while peering through the glass. This added an abject note to the installation, distancing and distracting the viewer from what mattered most.

Like Shaun Gladwell’s video installation, Gleave’s was a sobering work that referenced compromised opportunity and political reality. Recently back from Afghanistan and the practice of troop gifting to local people for political gain, Gladwell experimented with giving new skate decks to Campbelltown skate-boarders in exchange for appearing in his video. Less innocent than it seemed, skaters had to weigh up whether this was a fair exchange, and whether they were really being given something for nothing.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, The List, curator Megan Monte, artists Abdul Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Zanny Begg, Kate Blackmore, Marvyn Gaye Chetwynd, Shaun Gladwell, Michaela Gleave, Uji Eko Saputro (aka Hahan), Robin Hungerford, Pilar Mata Dupont, Daniel McKewan, Tom Polo, George Tillianakis; Campbelltown Arts Centre Gallery, 9 Aug-12 October

Ann Finegan is a Sydney writer and educator. She is also creative co-director and chief curator of Cementa_15 Contemporary Arts Festival in Kandos.

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 50

© Ann Finnegan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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