sebastian moody

first of all, last of all
No Frills*, Metro Arts, Brisbane
One Night Edition 6-9pm, 4 June 2010

The one-night-only exhibition ‘First of all, last of all’ by Sebastian Moody presented a characteristically simple and yet somehow diabolical proposal. Upon entering the long and narrow No Frills* gallery through a curtain, exhibition guests found themselves on the service-side of a Japanese whiskey bar. Inspired in part by the artist’s recent travel to Tokyo’s Golden Gai district, the ‘bar’ was stocked with sake, whiskey, plum wine, Asahi beer and sides including dried and salted plums, fresh fruit, wasabi peas, and chilli broad-beans. For the confused viewer Moody was on hand and in the role of artist-as-master-of-scenario, gently guiding service transactions along. After a given time behind the bar the viewer/participants were admitted through a roped-off pass-way to join the rest of the evening’s viewers on the patron’s side of the bar.

As a work of participatory practice, ‘First of all, last of all’ issued a succinct conceit addressing power relations in labour and leisure. Fundamentally the work functioned by providing only the bare necessity of conceptual structure into which the audience readily supplied its content through the raw material of behaviour. After the passing of a certain amount of time and alcohol, the degree of stage-management was able to devolve and participants moved fluidly towards their preferred levels of engagement both behind and in front of the bar, providing a wonderful display of what is known to BDSM taxonomy as ‘service top’ and ‘service bottom’ role play.

The risks taken in this genre of exhibition can be considerable. Whereas a sculpture or other object-based exhibition can be forgettably unsuccessful, a social practice show bears its failure directly in the experience of the viewer. As with other practices, social/participatory work requires trial and error, and a honing of skill. Moody’s attention to situational interventions derives from a time preceding much of the recent discussion of social practice and his debts lie more heavily to the concept and performance artists of New York of the 1960s than to the relational aestheticians of the 1990s. His pieces are marked by an authorial distance registered in the sensibility of the fascinated, benign behaviourist and include most recently, ‘This is Now’ a project exhibited within the Next Wave Festival, 2008 and ‘1:1 scale’ which, in 2009, recreated a miniature sculptural setting to human ratio.

The exhibition’s success resided in Moody’s ability to realise a situation that oscillated seamlessly between bar (non-art) and gallery (art) environment. The low-lit bar and décor provided ample cues for the viewers without sliding into an emphasis on artifice, or a temptation to make the physicality of the installation the exhibition’s centre. Through evoking a foreign, possibly exotic scenario Moody extended the conditions for a suspension of belief and also achieved the piece’s ultimate effect of a triangulation between the personal experience of the artist (recreated) the shared experience of the audience (generated) and an abstracted exploration of power (observed).

Sebastian Moody, First of all, Last of all, 2010. Detail. Photograph Paul McCann. 

Sebastian Moody, First of all, Last of all, 2010. Detail. Photograph Paul McCann. 

Sebastian Moody, First of all, Last of all, 2010. Detail. Photograph Paul McCann. 

Sebastian Moody, First of all, Last of all, 2010. Detail. Photograph Paul McCann.