david m. thomas

dream job
Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
1 October - 14 November 2010; 2 December 2011 - 18 March 2012

Incorporating multiple works under the collective installation title Dream Job, David M. Thomas’s exhibition principally consists of three digital video sequences projected and framed by an abstract background set.

The video work adapts the Saturday detention scene from the film The Breakfast Club (Director, John Hughes, 1985). An off-screen interviewer poses broadly sweeping questions including ‘what is important to you’ and ‘how do you feel about people’ to which Thomas’s five teenage actors recite strangely polished statements concerning the nature of identity, perception and creative enterprise. The nonprofessional actors’ rehearsed and detached statements seem to be beyond their years and their subtle gestures lack conviction. The absolutely conclusive giveaway is when one of the teenage actors states that: ‘I never thought I would have a home studio, like I always liked being in the studio, and then just one day I was sitting on the couch, staring out the window, and thinking this is costing like a thousand dollars a day, just to stare out the window’. (Jay Mascis of Dinosaur Jr).

The source of all the actors’ statements are: writer Charles Bukowski; actor Marlin Brando; Jay Mascis musician of Dinosaur Jr; James Newell Osterberg Jr aka Iggy Pop and actor Brooke Shields. Each become unlikely collaborators in Thomas’s script, their statements having been lifted directly from interviews available from YouTube. It is as if Thomas has been researching and preparing for a fantasy interview. Complete with an almost dreamlike set.

In the gallery, the projections are framed by a bright geometric wall painting inspired by iconic 1970s sets such as ‘The Benny Hill Show’, or ‘The Dick Cavett Show’, which aired opposite ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’. It is interesting to note that Cavett was unusually receptive to working further afield of the mainstream entertainment industry of the era and invited an unconventional mix of personalities on to the show, including up and coming rock and roll artists, authors and politicians. Similarly, Thomas resists and engages the audience’s expectations by imploding the parameters of self-portraiture.

The sequences are inter-spliced with images of the artist as a self-performer in his own studio, further blurring the boundaries between where the creative process starts and ends, between the sites of production and presentation. The artist appears faceless and shirtless thumping clay; or rather his face is replaced by an ordinary advertisement—Bvlgari, Emporio Armani, or the like—cut from a glossy magazine depicting a beautifully airbrushed feminine face designed to inspire a sale. Aspects of the geometric set appear as an unfinished backdrop and are at times animated and embedded within the projected sequences as moving paintings, almost like modernist art ‘ad breaks’.

In another segment the artist appears ‘faceless’ without moulding clay, as if simply watching, saturated by the glow of the geometric background. The image conjures Martin Kippenberger’s series of self-portraits from the late 1980s, in which he depicts a rather unflatteringly image of himself, with an exaggerated beer belly, wearing high-wasted underwear, further referencing the photograph of Picasso painting in his white trunks.

However, Dream Job may in fact be akin to a job application in response to Kippenberger’s The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ (1994). This installation endeavors to complete Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika, aka The Man Who Disappeared, by presenting a fictional world of full employment. It concludes with its protagonist applying for work in response to an advertisement which states, ‘Whoever wants to be an artist should sign up’. Kippenberger’s installation consists of varied desks and chairs set within a green indoor soccer field complete with bleachers. Each desk represents a job interview, but also the performance of every job applicant and every artist, and the capacity to reinvent the same subject with each new performance.

As in The Breakfast Club, Thomas’s five teenage actors are abandoned to detention, a holding cell or pattern of suspended action or progress. But Thomas’s version picks up where the film left off. The social cliques and stereotypes of the film are today turned upside down and back to front: being a nerd is cool, a jock is gross and the apparent stupidity of Paris Hilton can become an astute business manoeuvre. While the work avoids standard identity traits such as gender, race and sexuality, neither is identity defined by unique qualities. Thomas does not present a singular position. Instead, the work adopts multiple identities that are proliferated and mediated by screens or a televisual world.

Audiences may expect to gain an insight into the subjectivity of the artist, especially in viewing self-portraits, and Thomas both resists and engages with this hope. The artist appears as a self-performer, yet the self-portrait disappears into these pervasive cycles of re-presentation. The singular, poeticised identity of the artist is substituted with the complex morphing of multiple moulds, applicable to everyone. Focusing on the role of the artist within culture and the art world, Thomas’s Dream Job deftly toys with the fictionalised and romanticised caricature of ‘the artist’.