Steven Carson


In Australia today some particular domestic objects have come to symbolise aspects and periods of the past. The Hills hoist, flying ducks, or pictures of the Queen are potent symbols which, through popular, academic and creative discourses represent a set of complex ideas and debates. Steven Carson used a number of these identifiable objects in his recent exhibition Decorism. The exhibition created a multi-faceted and witty comment on how Australia's past is popularly consumed and constructed. By using objects that are part of a collective cultural memory Carson also runs the risk of reinforcing some of the myths and stereotypes of our past rather than extending or modifying the picture.

Each of the thirty-two small assemblages in this show, was constructed with domestic objects and images and had a central feature such as a biscuit tin with a kangaroo painting, a wall vase, a jig-saw puzzle lid or a set of flying ducks. These objects were surrounded by more domestic paraphernalia including drink coasters, tartan material and plastic bottle-tops. Carson built up a layering of familiar household items from different decorative eras, some mounted on canvas, others stuck to pressed metal. In one work 1930's linoleum surrounded a 1960's ornament, in another a 1950's three dimensional image sat on a piece of lurid blue 1970's fake fur. Titles such as Every Girl Goes Through a Horse Phase, My Three Queens or Pepe the Mexican Wall Vase expressed a satirical or camp humour-it was in the titles that Carson subverted the popularly understood function and message of the objects and images.

The objects in the assemblages were attached in various ways-with invisible glue or, more evocatively, with creamy brown industrial glue that oozed out the sides of the objects or with a black industrial foam that bordered the objects. In some glue was used like a fine cake icing decorating the top of the work. The contrast between the fussy collected objects and the oozing brown glue/black foam emphasised the fact that these were contemporary reconstructions which reflected on the objects previous functions.

Carson confidently embraced the art gallery as a backdrop to these works. The white walls, halogen lights and the grid formations all reinforced the authority of the gallery. No attempt was made to recreate or to allude to the domestic environment. Rather the works were to be viewed within a tradition of collage and assemblage where the objects and images are taken from their original domestic context and reconstructed for new meaning.

The thirty-two works in Decorism represent years of collecting. Fossicking in opp-shops, searching markets and always keeping 'an eye out'. While the artist as collector and the use of found objects is not a new concept, Carson combines his objects carefully to prompt a range of memories: the smell of granny's cupboard or the particular boredom of doing a jigsaw, watering the garden on a hot summer evening or the feel of a velour bedspread. Such memories are unrecorded, seldom are they part of an oral tradition and neither can they be photographed-they remain elusive. Intuitively Carson has created a series of works that have the capacity to allude to forgotten experiences. People respond in different ways based on their own memories and experiences.

The exhibition opening combined the wonder of a child's birthday party with the seriousness of an art opening. The rush was on for one of the cup cakes-stacked high on a display stand, decorated with feathers, plastic dolls, astronauts and other toys. The cakes had large doses of food colouring in blue, orange and yellow and were liberally iced and decorated. They were more glamorous that the usual kids' party patty cakes but evocative of childhood memories. The cakes complimented the exhibition in their fun and their sophisticated use of memory.

In his exhibition notes, Carson states that the works are inspired by an interest in the decoration of the domestic environment. The work is about the lived experience in the home and the chaos of everyday life. Our homes have never been simply decorated with contemporary objects, instead most of us live with a mish-mash of items-the laminex table, the bean bag and the Freedom sofa all share the same space. By choosing to examine the objects that people have in their homes Carson takes part in a broader re-consideration of the home, which for too long has been examined for its architectural features or been typecast as a prison of domestic drudgery for women. Only recently has what people do with and in their domestic space been seriously considered. The exhibition spoke eloquently of the mixture of objects with which people claim their own space 'making a house a home'.