And the Difference Is… (Review for Photofile Issue 87 August 2009)

Simon Pericich 2009

Simon Pericich 2009

And the Difference Is…

Gertrude St Contemporary Art Spaces

200 Gertrude Street

Fitzroy Victoria 3065

May 22 to 20 June 2009

The second incarnation of Gertrude St’s The Independence Project series, And the Difference Is… is a coming together of Australian artists with Singaporean artists from the National University of Singapore Museum. Proposing cultural, ideological and interpersonal exchanges this exhibition sought to actualise the aspirational gestures of engagement made between the artists. It endeavoured to breakdown the cultural specificity that often shapes an artist’s practice ultimately demarcating it from a critical and social understanding of different cultural contexts.

This idea of cultural understanding is played out in Danielle Freakley’s work Forcing English. Made up of a short audio track accompanied with a storybook of mythologised Chinese tales, Freakley explores the genuine and often humourous language mis-translations that emerge out of cultural exchanges. The audio track in Mandarin narrates the stories that are outlined in the book and is intermittently overlayed with Freakley’s own valiant attempts at replicating the pronunciation. This heteroglossia of narrative voices creates a curious interplay between what is written and between what is spoken, resulting in a work that uniquely captures the moments where these mis-translations occur – moments where new hybrid forms of language emerge in the midst of cultural difference.

Charles Lim’s work also explores this notion of difference by looking at how it is contextualized in ethnographic representations of the east’s perceived exoticism. The work is a reproduction of E.J. Banfield’s account of the first durian plant to be grown in Australia. Written in chalk it fills an entire wall of the main gallery space whilst directly underneath, a pile of durian lollies is sprawled over a small white plinth. The text in itself reads as a botanical fetishisation of the exotic fruit, as it describes its bulbous but spiky exterior and its cacoon like interior that encases nodules of pungent flesh. It displays a frightening similarity to the west’s ethnocentric and fetishistic representations of an eastern ‘other’. The work is incredibly poignant, as it acts as a visual statement of how these representations are evidently imbued with inherent prejudices.

A critique on representations of conflict and the hyperreality of the modern image industry informs Simon Pericich’s work, INTERNATIONAL MAKE-OVERS & OTHER CATASTROPHES. Taking fifteen newspaper images of victims of disasters and hardship and embellishing them with commercial make-up and stickers, these bricolages create miniscule vignettes of profound narrative. Framed with small rectangular black frames that display crystallized globules of melting condensation, this aesthetic gesture can be read as a metaphor of the slow degradation of the systems that control our everyday. Whilst the stickers, glitter and make-up applied to images act as barrier-like façades – shielding the internal feelings of the subject away from the exterior – there is an underlying sense of helplessness and dread as the frivolous nature of the make-up all but heightens the absolute reality of the situations faced.      

With the multiple curatorial voices present, there is a possibility that the thematic flow of And the Difference Is… may have appeared disjointed. For example, Heman Chong’s work of minute monochrome teardrops that spread like an irregular moss across the entranceway of the gallery sat awkwardly next to Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s mixed media contraption that explored female subjectification for instant male sexual gratification. However I suspect that this tension is exactly what was intended, as it results in a valuable conceptual space – an in-between space where new connections and in this case, disjunctions can emerge between different artist’s work. Instead of a one-way didactic stream of ideas, And the Difference Is… fostered back and forth discussions, resulting in discourses that successfully explored difference and sameness, dislocations and interconnectedness.

Copyright Leon Goh & Photofile 2009

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