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The Institute of Modern Art’s annual survey of recent Queensland visual art graduates is always a difficult exhibition, and Fresh Cut 2006 proved no different. Whether intentional on the part of the curators or not, all of the works selected for this ‘best of’ show are, or aim to be, intensely personal. Domestic spaces and objects—bedrooms, kitchens, books, cooking utensils, food, washing machines and crockery—overwhelmed the exhibition.
Gail Cowley’s installation of chipped enamel ware bowls scattered and piled in a corner was a disturbing commentary on the effect of forced institutionalisation (be it in a prison or psychiatric ward) on individuals. Inside each bowl is a naive portrait of an inmate, and while these anonymous faces were discarded in a jumbled, forgotten heap, Cowley had been careful to ensure that in their hair colour or clothing, flourishes of individuality persist.
Much less grim was Kirra Jamison’s wall-mounted installation of ’50’s pastel plates on a painted map of creeping veins. The effect was that the plates looked like blooms or nodes on a tree branch or nerve system, or more specifically, like the space where the annotated illustrations on a family tree might go, drawing attention to their possible interconnected histories and origins. I wonder, however, what complex interconnected histories could really be found in a selection of mass-produced kitchenware items from the same, reasonably recent era. Perhaps this is a deliberate allusion to the limits of white Australian history, or a suggestion that growth does not imply change, but ultimately Jamison’s salmony pink veins, buttery yellow plates and powder blue saucers felt to me like a kitsch exercise in colour coordination. Sharing the same room were Florence Tetuira’s three etchings of dillybags drawn onto an illustration of woven fabric, which similarly consider heritage, ownership and the transformations of functionality.
Like Cowley and Jamison, Ritchie Ares Doña, Andrew Rewald and Peter Booth had all taken actual domestic items and altered them into familiar but mutated forms—each of them nudging at the absurdity of our daily lives and environments. Ares Doña used books, perfectly cut and folded, to create assorted accordion shapes while Booth stretched a washing machine into a monstrous domestic monolith. Most successfully of this group, Andrew Rewald used kitchen utensils to create strange, Cronenbergian objects—reminiscent of genitals, orifices and organs—mounted onto plaques. Rewald, himself a chef, honours the decades-long history of debates about the kitchen as a gendered space by offering up this gruesome trophy wall.
Moving from domestic to personal politics, Davina Kelly’s series of embossed lino prints depicting couples sitting at public bars describe the irony of ’60’s and ’70’s liberation movements for Aboriginal women. Davina uses the example of their newfound access to pubs in which political freedom often resulted in personal subjugation. These seemingly friendly moments at the pub are neatly undermined by a pair of hands groping a breast or a dirty leer, a mood echoed in the harsh cut of the print. In the next room, Christian Flynn’s text work, which spelt out Grief Fear and Hurt in large, crossword form, articulated the often unspoken emotional effects of domestic and everyday violence.
Emma McLean’s retched video-performance piece, in which she chews, gags and regurgitates raw sausage, aims to ‘expose the very normal actions that are seen to be intrinsically embedded in a woman’s role’. Cooking? Eating? Giving head? It’s never entirely clear just what Emma’s beef is. Similarly ambiguous is Paul Mumme’s video loop of a man with an umbrella, standing in a pool in the rain. Bill Viola aside, slow motion and water is not implicitly profound and Paul has a way to go before he sufficiently expresses his ambitious interests in cyclical time, repetition and everyday unrealities.
QUT’s only participants in this year’s Fresh Cut, Daniel McKewen and Kirsty Bruce both draw on advertising and magazine iconography, with markedly different results. Daniel’s two works—one a closely cropped triptych of a familiar jaw line (Brad Pitt’s?) with dangling cigarette, the other a smiling model emblazoned with the phrase ‘he knows her’—are a mish mash of anti-consumer, anti-advertising, anti-celebrity angst. As a self-declared ‘die-hard pop-culture junkie’ I’d have hoped McKewen would have had a more nuanced approach to contemporary fan cultures rather than dismissing them as mere ‘complacent consumers’. More engaging were Kirsty Bruce’s pencil and watercolour reproductions of photos from teen magazines. The illustrations, which could sometimes just as easily be reproductions of actual friends and photographs, were cut out and tacked up on the wall like favourite pictures pinned up on a girl’s bedroom, a sweetly understated reappropriation of teen consumer cultures.
Similarly working with the ideas of personal nostalgia and pop cultural iconography, Jennifer Lowrey’s loose, gestural paintings of rabbits were some of the most striking works in the show. While her inspiration from Beatrix Potter’s children’s stories is clear—bunnies in tweed suits, mummy bunnies in aprons and house coats—the paintings are ultimately quite macabre, so much that Lowrey is surely being ironic when she describes her ‘carefree bunnies’ as a ‘utopian ideal’. The figures in That’s Not the Only Reason (2005) are so fluid they look like a napalm melt of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, meanwhile the squirming mess of limbs in Lippitty Clippitty (2005) and Muscles Better and Nerves More (2005) seem to reference Beatrix Potter’s well-known bunny-boiling techniques more so than her actual illustrations.
In many ways the works in Fresh Cut 2006 are quite similar, all focusing as they do on the domestic and the personal, unfortunately it is this very similarity that ultimately undermines the show. For the most part, the works are so narrowly personal that they refuse to sufficiently engage with each other, or with this reviewer. The personal can of course be political, social or even philosophical but not intrinsically so, and I look forward to this year’s fresh cut going on to make those connections a little more firmly than they have here.
All quotes are from David Broker and Vanessa McRae, Fresh Cut 2006, ex. cat., Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2006.