Jay Younger

Between delusions
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
2-25 February, 1989

"Anxiety as Style" is the theme of Jay Younger's installation. The anxiety in her images is not real. Though a woman walks blindfolded on a narrow wall; though the tension in a rope is causing it to break; and though the clock, frozen at the "witching" hour, says that time is running out - this is all just so much cliché. The images yield themselves up passively as so much beautiful surface, so many glossed poses.

The gloss and velvety texture of the giant Cibachromes seduce the audience and capture the gaze. But, in postmodern fashion, the images reveal only reflection, cliché - a lethal romance. The exhibition exposes the nadir of postmodern feminism. Can feminist art afford to play the postmodern commodification game with its self-reflexive irony? Won't this strategy always turn in upon itself? Feminism risks the commodification of its own language. These images beg a new aesthetic, a new language, and a new value system.

The exhibition flaunts the futility and inherent contradiction of a postmodern "style" (particularly of neo-conceptualism). The full-blown images burst the boundaries of narrow aesthetic discourse, but are left in empty space. One of the Cibachromes displays a magnet suspended in space. It is a powerful symbol of the patriarchy. The magnet emits lines of force, ordering free space into phallocentric binary thought. Feminism is left, between delusions, as so much commodified style.

A woman walking alone in an empty stairwell, looks behind her, perhaps to see if she is being followed. There is nothing there, only her own anxiety. But she is dressed in a very fashionable tightly tailored suit and the look cast over her shoulder is a classic fashion pose. Her anxiety is a pose. So that the very medium of the images works against itself. The photograph becomes a device of duplicity. Its realism is an illusion and a construction. The vitality of artistic language and the need for a feminist language is killed by a commodified style. Postmodernism's solution to "play" with clichés in endless deconstruction is rejected. Feminism cannot subvert dominant meaning through the ironic juxtapositions of contemporary clichés. It demands an autonomous language.

Rusty modernist ladders were "artistically" arranged at each end of the exhibition, beneath the reflecting image: ANXIETY AS STYLE NICE BLUE VERSION NOISREV EULB ECIN ELYTS SA YTEIXNA. They proffer the modernist solution - instruments of construction used to attain the height necessary for progress and enlightenment. They, too, are rejected as so much stylish debris. Reflecting images above and ladders beneath - modernism and postmodernism mirroring and parodying each other. The audience is caught between, anxious themselves, at the nihilist quality of these works.

The nihilism of between DELUSIONS is reminiscent of Kiss of the Spiderwoman, where a marginalised homosexual, caught up in a mainstream filmic fantasy, martyrs himself for another. There is a lasting sense of the futility of his suffering, the meaninglessness of his life and death. The brutal reality of his situation is constantly juxtaposed with a filmic romanticism, so that reality and romance are blurred both within and without William Hurt's own mind. Marginalised feminism experiences the same delusions. The essence of anxiety is rendered as so much romantic and beautified style.

The closing performance to the exhibition, entitled The Carnival Is Over, featured a violinist playing the title song and a trapeze artist. Both artists were women dressed and poised in red. The trapeze act made an interesting reference to Wim Wender's Wings of Desire, showing concurrently in Brisbane. For me, this reference gave the exhibition a much needed escape route from its overwhelming nihilism. Wings of Desire is a positive revitalisation of romanticism. It successfully transforms the commodified clichés of romanticism into a new poetics. Poetry is a reworking of language - unaccustomed paradigms are juxtaposed to create new meanings, simultaneously drawing attention to language itself. This poetics, so masterfully evoked in Wings of Desire, is perhaps the new language that Jay Younger is also calling for.

Jay Younger (Artist/Director), The Carnival is Over, Final Performance, Between Delusions. Performer: Sharon Weston. Photo: Jay Younger.