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After living and working in Amsterdam where he exhibited in 1982-86, Luke Roberts has returned to Brisbane, and his exhibition at Sellas serves another example of that commercial gallery's courage in presenting works normally taken on by non-commercial spaces.
As the title of the exhibition "Logic Assassinates" suggests, Robert's latest exhibition displays a new refinement in his on-going challenge to conventional sensibility. For one thing the artist is challenging the notion of saleable exhibition practice by presenting a body of work that does its best to overturn the viewer's preconception about what art, and an art exhibition, ought1to be. Through the arrangement of disparate, often appropriated works, and their categorisation into units I-XLII, Roberts denies the viewer the "presence" of the artist, and in so doing he also denies the comfort of an easily accessible interpretation.
And yet the text which accompanies the exhibition, containing the artist's credo, is an insistent statement of such a presence. Roberts seems determined to undermine any stable aesthetic, even the antiaesthetic upon which his works are based. The subversion of every rationale is implicit in an extract from Lewis Carol's Through the Looking Glass, included in the artist's statement, where Alice is totally bewildered by the Knight's multiple naming of one song. This is apparently a reference to the artist's desire to weave multiple layers of meaning into his work, some more obscure than others.
Such notions also underlie the performance which preceded the opening of the exhibition. Entitled Despair of the Parrot this performance relied on the simultaneous viewing of apparently unrelated activities. In one corner a musician in formal black tie accompanied the ethereal music of a woman's voice with a double bass. At the front a classically proportioned muscular man with a bronzed torso sat in a chair while a hairdresser, also in formal black tie, cut and styled his hair. During these events Roberts sat at a makeshift dressing table and transformed himself into a striking resemblance to the dead artist Frieda Kahlo. The mock formality of the occasion, and the celebration of ideal or mythic female and male identities, seems to fall into the strategy of mythifying myth which results in such ideals becoming cast into a labyrinth of contradictions.
For example, made up as Kahlo, Roberts entertained a further gesture of ironic self-deification by donning the robes of "Pope Alice", a long standing alter ego of Roberts. But even the mythologising of myth was subverted when the deliciously decadent atmosphere of the performance was shattered by the entrance of a "bagwoman" (another ambiguous comment on sexual identity in that the "woman" was played by a beefy man) who engaged in a tireless manic monologue consisting of Queensland colloquialisms.
The pleasure of appropriation and the mythologising of myth is an attempt by artists to reassess the position of art. The problem lies in the establishment of new signifiers to supplant the old. Roberts uses a plethora of antiart strategies to problematise conventional notions of art and the art "exhibition". For example, the viewer is confronted at the door with a painting nailed to the floor; s/he makes the choices whether to walk on it or not. This denial of art's "proper" stature is a theme Roberts playfully carries through to other works, also near the entrance was a large dark painting which the catalogue informed was the work of another artist, Mark Webb. Like Roberts' own works this was left leaning casually against the wall, in total contradiction to the notion of a coherent exhibition “hanging”. Further inside, a small bas relief of the three graces hangs on the wall well above eye level - its frame leans against the wall on the floor below.
The denial of the coherent identity of the artist genius and the conventional notion of an exhibition was continued in the motley collection of small modern art history books upon which Roberts overlaid his own imagery, denying the original artist his status while at the same time creating something new. There was also the upside down print of the Mona Lisa (with its reference to L.H.O.O.Q) which is an allegory of art's constant need to turn itself upside down. However, the artist runs the risk of re-presenting just the cliche when the image itself has already been so thoroughly decontextualised by popular culture.
The use of appropriation is common today, but it is amplified and taken to the limit by Roberts' lack of concern for coherence, either the coherence of the artwork or the coherence of the exhibition. It is in this sense that Roberts is of interest in that he, more than most, continues in that critical tradition which would deny the commodification of art as well as its easy classification into art historical categories.