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Seven monitors in a darkened room light up periodically with candy-coloured vignettes starring pink-cheeked urchins and their beleaguered dad in a variety of ridiculous costumes and scenarios. Daddy vacuums his face. Esther sits in a lime-green highchair stuffing fistfuls of a giant nuclear-orange cake into her mouth. Daddy chews a mouthful of plastic toys. Sadie models a monster costume made of leftovers—bread crust mask with eyeholes, carrot ears and banana skin helmet. Daddy is attacked in slow-motion by a face-hugging cuddly toy. Daddy and Sadie pretend they are Mexican wrestlers—they have a rematch every six months, but Sadie wins every time. If you did not know Bryce Galloway or his work, you would wonder what was going on—child exploitation for the sake of art? Ritual self-abasement? Domestic masochism of the artist-as-dad? Whatever it is, Galloway was mixing these faux-innocent motifs into his practice long before he became a father.
In the early ’90s, Galloway and fellow Elam School of Fine Arts student Daniel Powell started the art rock band Wendyhouse. Armed with little more than a Casiotone, some warped lyrics, and a post-apocalyptic play-pen aesthetic, Wendyhouse won a select core of fans and continued to make music long after art school faded into halcyon memory. Actually, Wendyhouse refused to die, despite both bachelors settling down to become fathers-of-two, albeit in different countries (Powell now resides in a German hamlet, while Galloway lives next to Peter Jackson’s Weta empire in Miramar, Wellington). Galloway and Powell continued their collaboration long distance, sending each other song tracks composed to a set title and length, which they mixed together, regardless of the ensuing cacophony.
Witnessing Wendyhouse’s reunion in Auckland a couple of years ago was a tragicomic ode to the middle-aged spread—pot bellies and comb-overs jostled with kids’ toys and plastic musical instruments—props now probably necessities of parenthood rather than voluntary art boy accessories. There was a jaded acceptance on the part of Powell and Galloway that life really had ended up imitating art.
But the plight of parenthood; sleeplessness, poverty, lack of sex, is all fodder for Galloway’s art, and nowhere more so than in his zine, Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People, now into its thirtieth issue. Distributed free in Wellington, this unassuming A5 photocopy packs an emotional wallop with every issue. Galloway strips bare his domestic tribulations in nervy line drawings which become progressively more frazzled with tot-induced sleep deprivation. His highly understanding de facto wife (or DW as she is referred to in the zine) allows him to publish intimate details of their sex life, finances and child rearing dramas, including an incredibly graphic account of the caesarean she had to undergo. Perhaps an obvious comparison with this kind of warts and all self-portraiture might be American Splendour comics or the R. Crumb school self-deprecation. But Galloway’s world feels far more real to me than that of any self-professed American loser. References to his job as a lecturer in an art school, his ambivalent experience of long-distance Masters study while teaching, and his awareness of his own shortcomings under the highly competitive performance based research system, pepper his accounts of domestic dysfunction, bringing the work all too close to the bone of would-be academics like myself.
But whereas the zine’s raw humour can at times be so black it is painful, Daddy Doo is utterly charming, reminding the viewer why the sleeplessness is worth it. Galloway has found his perfect props, foils and collaborators in his two young daughters. Sadie, like her father, is a born exhibitionist and relishes posing. In one shot, a pancake with eye and mouth holes covers her face; she looks like a low-rent Hannibal Lecter. Esther on the other hand does not want to play, tears the pirate hat off her head and stares incredulously at the whole celery Daddy places before her. Galloway the aging rocker makes a metal symbol at the camera—but it turns out he is doing a shadow-puppet of a snail for the kids. At one stage, he is too tired to pose; instead a balloon with a baggy-eyed self-portrait stands in.
Taking in all this hard work and invention, I am struck by how feminist Galloway’s project is. It reminds me of the indomitable Mierle Laderman-Ukeles, an artist-cum-mother who, exhausted and frustrated with her lack of time to make art, coined the term Maintenance Art, and announced that from here on in, every nappy changed, meal cooked and floor scrubbed would be art. Galloway’s most obvious nod to the sexual politics of parenting comes when he tapes two milk bottles to his rather hairy torso—creating an absurd image of male mammaries and playing havoc with our sense of propriety. Baby Esther does not care and suckles anyway. Later, when Galloway is removing the tape with Sadie, he gets a home-style chest waxing. Galloway shares Laderman-Ukele’s ‘two birds with one stone approach’, and rolls art and parenting into one witty package. And although his work makes me want to laugh and cry, I fear Galloway’s fate will be the same as that of his feminist predecessors: relegated to footnote status for making art that dares to perform a function outside of itself.
Copies of Incredibly Hot Sex with Hideous People are available for $2 plus postage and packaging, email email@example.com for further details.