primavera 2000

the belinda jackson exhibition of young artists
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Notable in Primavera 2000 is the absence of artists working with sound and screen-based media. In place of video and computer-based works are paintings, photography and handmade objects and installations which explore diverse yet overlapping concerns: diasporic identity, constructions of masculinity and femininity, the body, the everyday, the relationship between animals and humans, and the influence of the media-magazines, film and television- in contemporary western society. In Daughter Aid: A Strategy for Dealing with Daddy When He Happens to be Joseph Beuys, 1999-2000, Beata Batorowicz poses as the fictitious daughter of Beuys in order to explore more generally the complex relationship between fathers and daughters. In a series of large-scale colour photographs Batorowicz wears head pieces and muzzles resembling foxes or rats and made from Beuys's favoured materials of fur and felt. Words written across the photographs refer to Beuys's work and his war-time experiences, and chart the daughter's attempt to establish her own identity independent from her dominant father: 'Daddy, you can't muzzle my thoughts' and 'Daddy I prefer to stay with all the fur balls in the forest'. More compelling are Batorowicz's head pieces and muzzles and her series of 'feminine' objects-a compact, tweezers and nail scissors- which are covered with fur and transformed into animal-like forms. With their plastic eyes, fluffy fur and whiskers, the costumes are reminiscent of stuffed toys or goofy cartoon characters, yet the muzzles and leather straps have more sinister connotations, pointing to the daughter's difficult relationship with 'Daddy'. Like Batorowicz, David Sequeira adopts a persona in his work but in his case to playfully comment on cultural identity. In David as Akbar, 1996-2000-a series of miniature portraits painted by Indian artist Yaswant-Sequeira is depicted as the sixteenth century emperor Akbar. In assuming this regal persona, surrounded by a field of colourful geometric patterning, Sequeira makes an irreverent, almost camp commentary on his Indian cultural identity- an identity which he wears like a costume. Similarly, in a collaborative work with artists Rajesh and Puran, Perfect Kingdom, 2000, which features paintings of exotic animals- tigers, peacocks and elephants-in combination with views of the Indian landscape, Sequeira seems to allude to the 'tourist' encounter with cultural identity through means of 'authentic' souvenirs. Hanh Ngo's installation Broken Vietnamese, 2000, focuses on language as a signifier of cultural identity and is based on Ngo's recent experiences in her native Vietnam. In Hanoi Ngo had difficulty mastering the unique tones of the northern Vietnamese dialect, in effect having to re-learn her native language. Language difficulties, rather than physical appearance, set Ngo apart in Hanoi, isolating her and raising questions about the notion of 'home'. In Broken Vietnamese lacquered Vietnamese letters, complete with distinctive diacritic marks, are displayed on the wall. From among the wall of letters emerges a sentence in English- 'this is not your country'. A series of black squares on the floor are piled with egg shells which Ngo has meticulously broken into small pieces. On close inspection, isolated English and Vietnamese words can be detected on each fragment, forming a repetition of the sentiment on the wall and, in the process, acting as a metaphor for the difficulties of understanding (literally) 'broken English '. Natsuho Takita also refers to the difficulties of communication in Untitled, 2000, a series of paintings based on indiscriminately sourced photographs which are abstracted to the point where the images are no longer recognisable. Given the profound impact on the artist of her move from Hiroshima to Australia, Untitled can perhaps be understood as a metaphor for the loss of meaning in translation. David Jolly also uses photography as a point of departure for his paintings. Paintings on Glass, 2000, as its title suggests, is a series of paintings on the reverse of glass, giving the imagery the flat, tonal qualities of animation. The works are painted directly from photographs taken by Jolly which document aspects of everyday life- a rainy day spent indoors compiling music, rippling water on Sydney Harbour, a stretch of highway outside Canberra. There is no obvious narrative connecting the images; they appear to be sourced at random from the artist's photo album. The flattening-out of the images that results from Jolly's practice of painting from photographs and on glass, makes strange the everyday moments depicted in his works. Michael Zavros- another artist painting exclusively from photographs- is represented in 'Primavera' by Suit Suite, 1999-2000, a series of small photo-realist paintings of photographs of men from fashion magazines. The works are close-up images of shoes, belts and shirts, as well as men dressed in suits. The paintings fetishise detail-delighting in the shine of a shoe and the turn of a cuff-an aspect which is reflected in the artist's painstaking process of painting the small, precise works with a pared-down brush. Despite the abundance of detail, the men have no individuality; their faces are never shown. Together the paintings form a sea of 'suits' and refer to generic western constructions of masculinity. Megan Walch is interested in the genre of 'reality TV' in which footage of actual accidents (car crashes, explosions) and natural disasters (landslides, tornadoes) caught on camera by bystanders, is compiled for television viewing. In Shocking Crashes and Chases No 11, 2000-a painting inspired by a TV show of the same name-gooey, pendulous formations and plasma-like substances shift in and out and focus, while ambiguous fragments fly by or explode in a frenzy of speed and movement. Walch is interested the notion of the spectacle and of extremes in materialistic western culture, as well as the capacity of paint to address these issues in an increasingly high-tech media-saturated society. The 1970s film 'Coma', a medical thriller in which corrupt doctors kidnap comatose patients in order to peddle in body parts, is the starting point for Charles Robb's work Support, 2000. In a hospital setting four lifelike figures, cast from the artist's own naked body, are suspended at varying heights from the ceiling. One of the figures- the only one with its head intact-is suspended above a bed, and all are connected to each other by tubes. Despite the violence implied by the decapitated heads, Support is not a representation of the abject body. Rather, the neat dry wounds and pink, hairless skin-in combination with the apparent weightlessness of the bodies-work to make the figures seem, iron ically, immaterial or disembodied. Perhaps the most compelling work in Primavera 2000 is Lisa Roet's series on apes. In Ape and the Bunnyman, 2000, Roe! re-enacted an experiment in which apes were trained-with rewards of Coke and chocolate-to communicate in a basic form of human language. Intriguingly, researchers discovered that apes respond more effectively to people when they are dressed in bunny suits. In a series of photographs Roet has superimposed the bunnyman figure alongside images of a captive ape in an attempt to visualise how the ape might imagine the bunnyman. Roet's empathy for the animal alludes to the similarities between apes and humans, a theme which is continued in her drawings of the ape's fingers and thumbs in Chimpanzee Thumb, 1996, and Gorilla Index, 1999. While not intentionally political, Roet's work draws attention to the cruelty of experimenting with and confining apes in concrete chambers with ropes and bars substituting a natural environment. In White Ape No 1, 1999, and White Ape, No 2, 1999, Roe! sculpted busts from a death mask she took of an ape which died during her residency at Antwerp Zoo. The effect of the busts-a format associated with human power and authority-is more profound when one learns that the dead ape is the same one depicted (alive) in the bunnyman photographs. This series raises questions about the relationship between animals and humans at a time when medical and scientific technology is challenging assumptions about the limits of the human body and existence. Roet's work is particularly interesting given contemporary debates about cloning, genetic engineering and the ethics of medical developments which endeavour to make viable the transplantation of animal organs into human bodies.