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A parrot on my shoulder with eight hundred new teeth
While exhibitions claim to 'explore issues of diversity and marginalisation' with monotonous regularity, this claim seemed justified and important in the exhibition of works by Joanne Kaspari and Art House at Metro Arts. Kaspari co-ordinated and contributed to the exhibition which resulted from her twelve months as artist in residence with Brisbane's Stones Corner Adult Mental Health Programme. This residency was funded by Arts Queensland. Art House is the group who are participating in this scheme which makes art part of their mental health programme.
Some works in the exhibition were by Kaspari, some were by Art House members, and others were the result of hands on collaboration between Kaspari and the latter. The result was a startling collection of objects and images: a huge yellow duck painting (by Shirley and Olivier); free standing, brightly coloured sculptures made from found objects and wood working offcuts (by John Storr); intricate woven thread sculptures (by Annette); huge works on paper contrasting Kaspari's assured portraiture with Robert John Bickman or John Storr's less technically proficient but no less enthusiastic and competent self portraits.
Given the nature of the project and its commitment to making art work for people in meaningful and practical ways, and that Kaspari's role was to help the participants toward ways of doing this, it is not surprising that the greatest dynamic of the exhibition is found in the collaborative works. It was here that contrasts between style, subject matter and genre rewarded our attention most. The Kaspari/Bickman and Kaspari/Storr works are portraits (by Kaspari of the other) at the same time as being self portraits (by Bickman and Storr). Both painting the same subject on the one huge sheet of paper. This doubling of the subject acts as a very suitable theme for the exhibition.
The immediacy of these and many of the works of the exhibition is made all the stronger by their being life size. With this scale comes an insistence and self assertion which Kaspari says has been an integral part of Art Houses experimentation with diverse media. The written word is used often in the works, most obviously and very successfully by Bickman in his sculpture My Little Man, My Little Man, My Little Man!. Here excerpts from popular magazines, advertising, television, and the artist's own musings cover three intersecting timber men. 'What is soul/ For heaven don't die/ Sex is forever ... The doctor can x-ray you and me/ Every cell in your body and never see you ... The man behind the voicemaster/ Royal Wedding/ Jack the Ripper ... Alma Park Zoo/ Longbeach Mild Australiaaa.'
The exhibition produced a very strong sense that Kaspari's interaction with these participants in the mental health Programme resulted in their finding new positive ways of expressing and identifying themselves. Kaspari's work, both on the walls and during her residency has been able to generate and hold a unique exhibition of disparate works together.