Human Action as Performance, as Human Behaviour
Joseph Breikers, Channon Goodwin, Anita Holtsclaw, Daniel McKewen, Marianne Templeton, Tim Woodward
Metro Arts, Brisbane
23 April – 10 May 2008

‘Perfection: Human Action as Performance, as Human Behaviour’ was an exhibition of six emerging Brisbane artists who explored the divergent nature of performed action in contemporary art. The venue, Metro Arts, can be difficult to work in as the space tends to dominate the work. The contributing artists, however, are the prime movers behind the artist-run initiative Boxcopy Gallery, and this experience no doubt helped them to design ‘Perfection’ with a simple directness that gave each work a strong presence and sense of autonomy.

In Perfection each artist’s conception of ‘performance’ and ‘perfection’ was influenced by, or derived from popular entertainment media, where even celebrities’ private lives serve the media’s insatiable appetite for generating seductive public images. The artists juxtaposed the unavoidable imperfection of being human against the seamless imagery of the performed ‘life’ as published in the mass media.

Marianne Templeton, Channon Goodwin, and Joseph Breikers undertook this task with dry humour, adolescent fantasies, and kitsch musical tastes, exploring the relationship between humour, entertainment and contemporary art practices. It was this satirical exploration of humour that offset the occasional lapse into a laboured rendition of the performative concept in the curatorial thematic.

Marianne Templeton’s drawing series Loose Leaf (2008) explores the vocabularies of popular culture in a series of diaristic and mostly comical sketches on A4 pages. The drawings offer a fragmented documentation of the consumption of screen culture, which includes animation, current affairs programs and soap operas. Isolated and reconstructed from individual pages into a structured wall installation, there was a critical and ambivalent tenor to the drawings which were also entertaining. Drawing is a performed process and each of Templeton’s lines activates the paper to reflect the artworks own production. While this relationship between drawing and performance is valid, it was not obvious to the viewer in this context and weakened the curatorial premise of the exhibition.

Joseph Breiker’s sculptural work Portal 2 (2008) explores social practices that exhibit and encourage regressive adolescent behaviours, as well as mainstream culture’s eagerness to utilise these desires as styles of entertainment. The scale, contour and materials used to create the sculptures are reminiscent of scale models, and each is placed in a Vaseline-filled vitrine that is situated directly on the gallery floor. Portal 2 is formed with a humorous abject canon in mind, but also can be considered as a socially realistic specimen from the bedroom of a stereotypical adolescent boy’s life. Breiker’s iconoclastic work also employs an imitatory masturbatory performance, as suggested by his Vaseline coated phallic structures. These mock and provide acerbic insight into the mass media exploitation of disaffected youth.

In Channon Goodwin’s Key Tricks (2008) the creative potential of procrastination is explored. This looped video focuses on Goodwin’s hand, which manipulates a common house key that dances to the beat of unsettlingly mediocre nineties dance music. Goodwin’s performance inevitably stumbles and makes errors, and in doing so it related potently with the curatorial premise of imperfect human performance. The absurdity of re-performing idiosyncratic time-wasting activities established a humorous tone that was enhanced with kitsch musical preferences and amateurish video footage. Key Tricks successfully juxtaposes mass media entertainment with human performance.

Anita Holtsclaw’s The Isle (2007), a video performance and installation, deconstructs cinematic visual codes and was perhaps the most overtly performative work in the exhibition. Holtsclaw filmed herself walking through a vacant concrete courtyard surrounded by ferns and palms. She performs gestures derived from traditional female cinematic narratives, and lingers in a series of conventional poses in order to focus upon and critically examine filmic constructions of femininity. By placing traditional modelling gestures into an unfamiliar landscape, Holtsclaw creates a level of estrangement that allows the viewer to recontextualise the gestures and form a critical view of glamourised female attitudes and behaviours. The artist’s appropriation of modelling gestures leaves the viewer wondering whether she is aiming to undermine, uphold, or simply bring attention to these conventions. The sombre tones of the work were distinctive in ‘Perfection’ where the viewer was primed for an exhibition that embraced humour, popular entertainment media and critical ambivalence.

Tim Woodward’s large-scale colour photograph Self Titled Image (2008) depicts an empty police car parked in a city street. The everyday sensibility of the image was quite unnerving in the show, and Woodward’s mapping of his own daily discoveries was subtly aligned with Perfection’s curatorial themes. Self Titled Image presents the police car as a prop to assist in the professional persona of the policeman. The policeman plays a role, as we all do, and so we are left to reflect upon not the fictional psychology of the celebrity but also our own propensity to fictionalise as we play out the social roles we feel we must ourselves perform.

Speaking of fabrication and social relationships, Something 2.0 (2007) shows Daniel McKewen as an obsessive fan who appropriates footage and manipulates text in an attempt to fuse the public spectacle with the artist’s own fabricated narratives of celebrity relationships. McKewen affixes text including ‘she knew there was something between them’ to looped footage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie from the blockbuster movie Mr and Mrs Smith. McKewen’s rendition of Something 2.0 allows the viewer to contextualise the work within the broader framework of popular culture; the text in this case linking the work with the alleged affair between Pitt and Jolie during the filming of Mr and Mrs Smith (which in turn led to divorces, adoptions and births, etcetera). It appears that this artist uses deconstructive frameworks to critique mass-media representations of celebrity. The work does however clearly convey McKewen’s unrequited infatuation with the notion of celebrity, and this preoccupation demands a prolonged consideration of the work.

A more consistent curatorial logic in Perfection would have allowed the viewer to negotiate and analyse the mechanisms and manifestations of the perfect performed body in mass media entertainment with greater coherency. However, and despite the fact that each work did not necessarily work in concert with the curatorial theme, the artists offered a greater understanding of the relationships between individual contemporary practices and popular entertainment media forms and conventions. This undoubtedly was the predominant strength in the exhibition.