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Owen Leong, AUTOevacuations Owen Leong, AUTOevacuations
It is 6.30 on a hot and sweaty Melbourne evening and the sun is still beating down as we step into Blackbox for the opening of Liquid Aesthetics. Melburnians like a party with their exhibition openings, but here is a full-on night club experience: the pulsing throb of dance music (does my memory serve me right?), the dimly lit interior, the large screen projections and massing bodies, more intent on the art of connection than Art. It’s a queer experience, not just because the exhibition is the premier visual arts event for this year’s Midsumma Queer Festival, but also because in one movement we plunge from day into night: from the ordinary world into the subterranean world of desire.

In this strange world, B-grade movie images of nubile women clash with guttural animal sounds; violent erotic couplings find themselves accompanied by a forest bird’s song; an animated doll melts her finger in a pot of boiling liquid whilst an exquisitely beautiful and scarred boy with antlers laps milk and honey. Meanwhile in a curtained off cubicle, Monika Tichacek’s The Shadowers (2004) is relentless and, as the camera tracks the journey of spittle sliding down cotton threads, I cannot resist my impulse to gag. Over the top of this mix, the dance music continues to pump and people throng. In this first heady encounter, with its mix of attraction and repulsion, I am unable find the critical distance to make sense of it all.

Susan Long’s big screen montage sampling of B grade movies, The Dolls House (1995), in conjunction with a funky dance compilation by Susan Forrester, sets the pace for the night. It is raunchy and provocative. My second encounter with Liquid Aesthetics is a much more sober and sobering affair. Without its musical accomplice, The Doll’s House has lost its opening night verve. Other works emerge as more powerful forces.

Tichacek’s The Shadowers still asserts itself as a powerful and dissembling presence, perhaps moreso by being curtained off from the other works in the show. I had seen stills from the installation at a recent exhibition at the Karen Woodbury Gallery, but these offer no preparation for the event itself. It is a demanding work concerned with power and desire; a work that is simultaneously abject and erotic, but above all, compelling.

The Shadowers’ evocative and heart rending soundscape seeps out of its space and threatens to overwhelm the other works in the exhibition. Travis de Jonk’s The First Times (2005), with its kaleidoscopic images of erotic couplings, is at times dramatized by the base animal howlings emanating from behind the curtain and at other times appears almost comical, as forest birds twitter in time to the multiplied humping. Owen Leong’s AUTOevacuations (2005), on the other hand, holds its gravity through every change in mood. This delicate and wounded creature just keeps on lapping. Neither is Mart Lebedev’s Beast (La Bête, 2005) moved by the unfolding drama.

However, Van Sowerwine’s stop motion animation Clara (2004), a work that got lost in the crowd on opening night, now asserts itself as a force. Clara is an acutely observed narrative about loss. In Sowerwine’s hands an awkward and clumsy animated doll, Clara, effects the complex human emotions of grief as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her loved one. In the dullness of grief Clara sticks her finger in a boiling pot of liquid. Even as we feel the searing pain Clara remains oblivious. Here the artist resists the urge for pathos, acknowledging that beyond grief there exists the insatiable drive for survival. In a final scene, Clara observes a replanted flower struggle to live and then begin to bloom. In that moment, she becomes aware of the pain in her finger, puts it in her mouth and sucks it.

The curatorial intention behind this exhibition was to showcase the work of queer identified artists working with the ‘liquid’ aesthetics of screen based installation. The nature of liquid is such, however, that it tends to be hard to contain; sound fills a space, emotions mingle and the repressed slips in with a vengeance. In Liquid Aesthetics there was much spillage, plenty of slippage and a lot of flow. If one thinks critically about queer, this fluidity works. It is precisely liquidity that sets and keeps queer in motion.

Liquid Aesthetics, curators Edwina Bartlem Meredith Martin, Midsumma; Black Box, Victorian Arts Centre, Jan 20-29

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg. 26

© Barbara Bolt; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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