Mikala Dwyer

Sarah Cattier Gallery, Sydney

Objects whirling around in a visual collision of high camp and kitsch; a simultaneous sense of excitement and profound disorientation fills the cold space of a small white room. I close my eyes and then take another look. Traversing the outer limits of bad taste, reams of red satin splashed with pink sequins drip off the roof and walls. Away to one corner, twisted pantyhose strangle inanimate objects in what appears to be a lurid fantasy about violence, sex and nail polish.

In her first show with a commercial gallery, Mikala Dwyer's recent nail-polish paintings and decorative installation, Woops, evoke a delightfully daggy juxtaposition of recycled refuse and sparkling satin sophistication. Combining minimal art with excessive decor in a lurid rumble of artistic wrestling, no holds are barred as the artist sticks, glues, stitches and drapes an array of disused domestic objects in pink and red shrouds, like surreal burial mounds, as the wafting sounds of Radio Decor provide a strangely ethereal dedication.

While at a glance such uncanny juxtapositions may appear as being simply for the sake of outrage or even novelty, a closer inspection of Dwyer's work reveals a wider challenge to the conventions of artistic taste, style and the strictures of the gallery system. Dedicated to the recycling of homeless objects or abandoned consumer products, Dwyer's work has often been reduced to the homogenizing and derogatory label of 'grunge art'. Yet not only does this unfortunate term tend to belittle her immense talent, but it also fails to acknowledge that such processes, for many artists, are a necessary and imaginative condition of artistic improvisation in the face of those issues and anxieties characteristic of our present cultural moment.

In a series of metaphorical allusions to 'the home' and 'the body', Woops is characterised by a brilliant manipulation of the aesthetics of both content and formal design. Crucial to this process is the re-use of recognisable consumer objects. Strolling through a glittering mélange of lipstick, mirrors, books, lights, clothes, chairs, a 'body bag' and dressing table covered in reams of vermilion satin, there is something strangely familiar and almost reassuring in the loving drapery and precise juxtaposition of what, at first, appeared to be randomly combined icons and objects.

Yet the quaint vignettes and mock homeliness of Dwyer's work is as deceptive as it is decorative, as mendacious as it is metaphorical. As the same time as her objects promise to reveal an inner intimacy, this is denied and the viewer is suspended in a twilight space of 'pure' decoration where the traditional subject-position as detached observer is inhibited by both a glaring absence of any direct meaning along with a nagging desire to pry below the covers. This same process is at play within her miniature monochrome nail-polish paintings, only for the discerning patron, littered around the gallery like glossy place-mats.

Although Dwyer's work resists any simple explanation or cursory summation, Woops nonetheless succeeds in disabling the comfortable contemplation of the work as either cultural artefact or even commodity capital. Seduced by the emotionally charged decor and abandoned to nostalgia, Dwyer opens up for the viewer both a space of collective cultural memory and a time for personal reflection on that strange conjunction of icons and objects that together, make up a life.