Brook Andrew & Rea

bLAK bABE(z) & kWEER kAT(z)
Gitte Weise Gallery, Sydney

The new works by two of Boomalli's senior member artists - Brook Andrew and Rea - shown in the heart of Sydney's pink zone at Gitte Weise Gallery on Oxford Street, were given greater resonance by their inclusion in the 1998 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. Since its inception twenty years ago Mardi Gras has been all about visibility. Initially conceived as a radical political action, Mardi Gras has evolved to become Australia's most popular annual cultural event. Nowadays, Mardi Gras is an ecstatically colourful expression of gay pride which reinforces the gay and lesbian community's sense of collective identity and promotes awareness of issues closely related to that constituency. Similarly, in bLAK bABE(z) & kWEER kAT(z) Brook Andrew and Rea, who identify themselves as 'blak' and 'kweer', use new media to strategically counter the personal sense of invisibility engendered by their own embodiment of multiple differences-Aboriginality as well as homosexuality.

Many of Brook Andrew's previous installations have chronicled the relationship between whiteman's kitsch representations of Aboriginality and the lived history of Aboriginal people. Widely recognised for delivering potent critiques of colonialist systems of thought, Andrew's parallel concern has been to reclaim appropriated Aboriginal imagery. Forming part of that secondary project is dazzle my soul/image is everything/Just is sw(e)eat, an animated sculpture consisting of five shocking pink neon boomerangs hovering above the Oxford Street strip on the gallery facade. It could prove to be an instant classic. Whereas Andrew has formerly used familiar Aboriginal motifs as a kind of rhetorical visual language, dazzle ... shows him forsaking subtlety in order to fully exploit the seductive power of the icon. Indeed, launching such an engaging and legible symbol into the public domain is an exciting development for gay and lesbian Aborigines in their struggle to assume a position of greater prominence.

Andrew's NGAJUU NGAA Y NGINDUUGIRR (I SEE YOU) produces considerably more complex and ambiguous readings. The two parts of the impressively-sized work are installed on opposing walls of the gallery. Rendered in blue neon text is the Wiradjuri phrase contained in the title which is captured in reflection by a glossy Duratran of the eyes of an Aboriginal male (sourced from an anthropological photograph). Framed by these two complimentary yet contradictory elements the viewer occupies an unsettled space that is marked by a series of transgressive dichotomies. Feelings of anxiety are provoked by attempting to reconcile the disjunction between text and visual sign, the contemporary and historical, observing and being observed. Unable to neatly resolve the work's internal tensions, the viewer is thus provided with a powerful insight into the ways in which existing binary structures effectively marginalise those with fluid cross-cultural identities-the so-called "in-between".

Rea's series of eight digital Cibachrome prints, cryptically titled rea: code I-VIII, is an articulation of the experience of liminality. Typically, Rea, via the intense utilisation of computer technology, pieces together fragments of personal and cultural memory as a means of revealing the power relations which dictate how the 'blak' female body is represented and therefore defined. Her methodology involves a process of critical deconstruction and informed re-construction which serves as a metaphor for her own correlative empowerment. In rea: code I-VIII gender, race and sexuality converge in a dizzying interrogation of everyday objects and signs. Suggestively linked by a thematic study of prevailing conceptions of femininity are disparate references ranging from pornographic playing cards to notorious garden Jeddahs. For example, the whore/virgin complex is examined in Fetish, where our view of Rea's naked body is filtered through a texture of Black Cat sweets, and its antithesis She Shoots, where white Milk Bottle lollies are associated with an iconic depiction of the Madonna. Although finely executed and thoughtfully presented this series perhaps lacks the acute clarity of purpose so characteristic of Rea's prior work. Nonetheless, several significant progressions are evidenced in her art practice. Traces of painterly style and the bold placement of her own form within the image signal an intention to register a more personalized account of an existence negotiated within boundaries that most people never even see.