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Simon Scheuerle’s exhibition ‘Ooops Winter’ hits at the core of the social disfranchisement that inhabits the urban design project known as Canberra. Walter Burley Griffin’s design for Canberra has given Australia a national capital praised for its liveability and unique relationship to the natural environs. The suburbs and bush intertwine gracefully and allow the residents a lifestyle that is seemingly free of the urban degradation of some of our larger cities. However, the flip side of such a purpose-built city is flatness in the cultural and social landscape. There is little grit and no resistance to the banalities of a consumer driven society. Scheuerle recognises the complexities and contradictions that underscore the social capital of Canberra and he goes a long way in extrapolating the local to identify global issues central to us all.
A recent graduate from the School of Art, Australian National University, Scheuerle in a former life, lived for a couple of years on the streets with skateboard and backpack, gaining enough street cred and worldly experience to give his social observations a septic intensity. He takes on consumer culture, fast food, and horror film, and does so adroitly by underscoring urban design as what guides the citizens’ notion of social responsibility. In Ooops Winter Scheuerle sets up an ordered grid of sculptural works placed on green carpet tiles that, in their organisation, reference the urban planning design of Walter Burley Griffin. In a work titled Exploring Popular Culture a small figure dressed in a red raincoat kneels behind Minnie Mouse who has been forced head down, arse up. Closer inspection reveals that the dwarf figure in the red raincoat has its right hand up Minnie’s arse while the left holds a pair of scissors. Nearby, and the central piece in the show, is a work titled Not Hilarious, a full sized adult male clown, a lurker, in a dirty pinstripe suit, red nose, coloured shoes, with bandaged hand; lying flat on his back, the face covered in a cold cream mask, orifices blocked, comatose.
The lurker is central to Scheuerle’s concern with notions of social responsibility and refers to a homeless or displaced person who has no voice, but nonetheless bears witness to the world. The lurker is anchored in the space by a small garden table set with oversized pharmaceutical pills, and an accompanying super sized fast food drink container. Alongside these is a work titled Zombie II, a sapling, its slender trunk snapped in half and folded back on itself, the lower half constrained between wooden stakes by neatly placed cable ties.
As we take in the possible scenario for such a bizarre assortment of incidents we are finished off by an oversized toy rabbit hanging inverted above us, strung up by its foot with a rope that works its way over a ceiling joist, along the ceiling, back to the rear of the gallery, and mysteriously disappears behind a screening wall. This once comforter of small children has been transformed into a snarling, ravenous monster with gaping mouth full of sharpened incisors and clawed feet eager to rip the flesh of unsuspecting passers-by.
Scheuerle is of course a horror film devotee who uses theatrical codes of dress, make up, and scale to address issues of power relations. His polemical position is none too subtle, and his use of the synthetic/natural and culture/nature dichotomies leaves out a range of complexity. But it is his willingness to take on issues of the unimaginable, such as homelessness in a nascent city, that make us re-evaluate a life lived in Canberra.