Jay Younger

Trance of the swanky lump
Brisbane City Gallery, Brisbane, and The Australia Centre, Manila

Jay Younger's latest installation engages issues which were foregrounded for the artist during her recent residency in Manila. Specifically, the divide between those who 'have' and the majority who 'have not'. Cycles of oppression and advantage are passed down through families and cultural groupings, and are slow to change. How then do we escape the inevitability of class, gender and global inequities? Some women have escaped economic dependence, only to become enmeshed within the corporate system. In this exhibition Younger questions 'the evolving roles of women in the patriarchal corporate world in relation to notions of commodity and sexual fetish.'[1]

The viewer is given the first clue to this exhibition in the virtual work, projected live, on a video monitor in the Brisbane City Hall Foyer. It is a surveillance image, a calculated seduction. Music pulsates enticingly from the gallery below. I descend the spiral staircase into a dusky hot pink flush. An unexpected flash of movement captures my attention. There is another set of stairs to the left, blocked by a sign, 'emergency exit only'. I glimpse a figure in flight: a life size projection, female, sensuous, androgynous, disappearing around the corner.

In the centre of the gallery, guarded by four Samson-like pillars, spins a giant 'diamond', come disco-mirror-ball. It revolves hypnotically, strobing the room. A sleazy cabaret ambience transforms the City Hall basement. Occupying a centre of power, gallery and 'nightclub', the installation leaks beyond its boundaries: it resounds up the stairs, transmits into the foyer monitor and ruptures the perimeter of the gallery space with video projections.

The floor is alive with swarms of pink-glitter, stiletto shoes. They roar about on motorised wheels like miniature dodgems, constantly traversing the circuit, risking crushing encounters, and strutting their stuff... till their batteries run down. On the far wall, behind the mirror-ball is the central video projection, this time a recorded surveillance. We are invited to contemplate (mainly) women, as they linger in front of the diamond rings in a jeweller's window. Many are eating distractedly. Oral satisfaction and desire circulate in an inextricable exchange. To each side are the magnified shadows of the diamond, now cast as a dark ball, linked chain, and hook. They turn in an endless revolution. These amplifications are inescapably sadomasochistic, and project the hidden desires and submissive demands that lurk beyond the threshold of desire.

Here we have a disillusioned 'Cinderella romance' desperately seeking escape. I become aware that the only figure of the piece, whose direction is well defined—and that is up and out—is the eternally escaping projection at the exit. Yet while the act of flight signifies one intention, she remains caught in the moment, unable to exit the space where recognition awaits. While Younger's escape strategy is aimed at the heart of the problem it is strategically 'peripheral'. She attempts a tangential route out of a closed cycle of reproduction.

Surveillance is a complex and brooding presence in Younger's work. Her early photographic montages dealt with repression and interrogated the 'gaze'. Featured was a figure, 'frozen' in a threshold moment of indecision. This installation invokes the same precipitate moment where the 'subject' remains immobilised, caught in a web of signifiers, uncertain, desiring an imaginary escape, unable to move beyond the moment. Like Kristeva's 'thetic' this recurring motif is a subject-in-process, unstable, shifting and open, a position of both masculine and feminine identification.[2]

This installation probes a nomadic consciousness which is political and committed to a feminism of differences. At stake is how to reconcile historicity, and therefore agency, with the desire for change. Younger's works negotiate between unconscious structures of desire and conscious political choices. Rosi Braidotti asks, 'By what sort of interconnections, sidesteps, and lines of escape can one produce feminist knowledge without fixing it into a new normativity'.[3] Younger is careful not to posit a didactic vision, rather she invokes the concept of escape, as an hermeneutic strategy.

Younger's work moves beyond oppositions and complementarities.[4] She conjures a polyscopic vision where there are several possible positions from which, or in which, identification and (mis)recognition can occur, and from which significations can be construed. Her commitment to a deconstructive critique of culture and subjectivity continues as an integral part of a process of reconstruction. This discourse acts as a catalyst to precipitate and clarify a complex vision of (im)possible futures, and asks, 'where to from here?'

notes: 

[1] Artist statement, 1997.

[2] Kirsten Campbell, "Theorising Possibilities: Kristeva and Feminist Epistemology", from 'A Day with julia Kristeva', Conference, Artspace, Sydney 1996.

[3] Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, NY: Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 67.

[4] See jessica Benjamin 199 5, 'Sameness and Difference: An "Overinclusive" View of Gender Constitution', in Like Subjects Love Objects: Essays on Recognition and Sexual Difference, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, pp. 49- 80.