Space and perception
Counihan Gallery, Brunswick Town Hall, Melbourne
20 January – 13 February 2005

Diverse and complex spaces are mapped, traversed and transgressed in the group exhibition ‘Transitions: Space and Perception’. Part of Melbourne’s 2005 gay and lesbian Midsumma Festival visual arts program, ‘Transitions’ brings together the work of the queer identified Australian artists Marryanne Christodoulou, John and Stewart Construct, Tristan Jalleh, Marcus Keating, Natalie Kosnar, Jesus Manongdo, Freya Pinney and Yandell Walton. Although each of these artists focuses on certain kinds of spaces in their work, whether they are architectural, psychological, corporeal, public or private spaces, the discursive and formal boundaries that delimit these realms are made to disperse and fade in this exhibition.

The implications of John and Stewart Construct’s series of model houses with witty, mock-storybook titles exceed the limits of their miniature architectural spaces. The Constructs reproduce icons of the International Style, including Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, to offer a cutting critique of other universalising cultural forms and identities. The uniformity of this modernist aesthetic, often articulated at the expense of an appreciation for the cultural peculiarities of those who inhabit these building, is subverted by the Constructs who populate their tiny houses with an array of toy figures and animals. In The bears were having some difficulty adjusting to their new living arrangements. Status anxiety was a real issue (2004), two toy pandas ravage tiny dismembered male bodies. In their reference to bears, a gay subculture that does not subscribe to a cult of boyish beauty and pop fashion, the Constructs also allude to the loss of specificity associated with the word ‘queer’—an inclusive term that transcends categories of gender, sexuality and philosophy sometimes at the cost of an appreciation for their differences.

The spaces between more personal relationships are explored by Natalie Kosnar and Marryanne Christodoulou. Kosnar’s dual screen installation, Flipside (2004-2005), places the viewer in the middle of an intense discussion between two lovers. As the women converse and clash over two opposing monitors, the viewer stands in the space between them in the impossible position of trying to see both viewpoints at once. The women’s opposing perceptions of the issue at hand divide them, and also affect our own perceptions of ourselves in relation to their drama. Alternative interpersonal spaces are mapped in Christodoulou’s photographic installation, Billie and Iris (2004). This collection of black and white photographs forms an open-ended narrative of love (and loss?) in which the viewer is left to fill in the gaps. The photographs of a barren landscape, barbed wire on a cyclone fence, a rose, bucket, open drawer and a derelict building, amongst others, present us with spaces that are devoid of explicit references to human presence. Instead, that presence haunts the empty spaces between the photographs, which are filled differently by each viewer’s imagination.

Freya Pinney addresses more intimate and corporeal spaces in her Tongue in (and out of) Cheek–A Cabinet of Curiosities (1999-2005). Pinney fills a glass display cabinet with an array of relics and documents, including tongue casts, photographs and videos, that all relate to her process of tongue writing. By using food colouring to inscribe perspex and female flesh with her tongue, Pinney devises a performative language that occupies an intermediary zone between speaking and writing. In the video, ‘A, B and C’ from the Nipple Licking Tongue Writing Alphabet (2005), Pinney applies blue and red food colouring to her tongue and writes a broken alphabet directly onto a naked female body. As private and intimate spaces are made public, and the female tongue takes on a phallic quality, the performative body becomes a site of transgression and malleability. In contrast to Pinney, Yandell Walton emphasises the subconscious dimension of subjectivity. Walton’s video installation, Untitled (2004), projects the image of a naked woman who constantly twists and turns under water onto a glass tank so that the woman appears to be trapped within its walls. The unconscious is represented as a fluid dream world where perceptions of time, space and reality are disjointed and warped.

The way that the context in which an image is presented has an impact upon its reception is explored in Jesus Manongdo’s Billboard (2004). This photographic image of a masked man wearing a rainbow flag bandanna and fur was also installed in the public space of Billboard Park in the inner city suburb of Fitzroy during the Midsumma Festival. At close range in the gallery context, the pixels that comprise the image become more pronounced and allude to the more commercial environment in which Billboard (2004) made its public debut. Crossing the boundaries between art and commodity culture, Billboard (2004) both reclaims a commercial site for cultural critique and draws mass cultural forms into the gallery.

Transitions: Space and Perception is indicative of the fluidity of space in its many manifestations. As subjects of different genders, races, sexes, classes and ages, we all occupy multiple locations simultaneously—slipping across the lines of identity as we move between different kinds of space. Moreover, this exhibition elucidates the mutually constitutive character of our relationships to these spaces. Although we actively produce the physical and psychological zones in which we live, those spaces also have a dramatic impact on how we perceive the world and engage with each other.