CICADA-SeeSaw-Banner-970x90-1.jpg
Reviews/Visual Art

Intrigue in Thompson’s powerful gaze

14 June 2019

Christian Thompson, ‘Ritual Intimacy’ ·
John Curtin Gallery ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

The spaces of John Curtin Gallery have been transformed by ‘Ritual Intimacy’, an exhibition surveying the last 15 years of Bidjara artist Christian Thompson’s career.

Originally curated by Hettie Perkins and Charlotte Day for Monash University Museum of Art, ‘Ritual Intimacy’ has been installed within an intricate floor plan of distinct rooms and resting areas designed to encourage contemplation of Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice.

It’s a dense show with the potential to be discombobulating, but the exhibition design and accompanying room sheet successfully showcase Thompson’s rich practice and the context behind his selected works. Spanning photography, sound, video and performance, these works reveal thematic links and trace the artist’s interests in language, song, ancestry, and living cultural traditions. The exhibition is also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on Thompson’s career and work.

Projected onto one wall is ‘Heat’ (2010), a three-channel video featuring the granddaughters of Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins. Each woman stares straight ahead as air from an unseen source whips their hair around their faces. Intended by Thompson to evoke the feeling of being on desert country, the footage imparts a sense of resilience as the women remain stoic while being buffered by outside forces.

On the opposing wall are five prints from Thompson’s iconic photographic series ‘Australian Graffiti’ (2007), which are stylish self-portraits of the artist adorned with cuttings of native flora; a low-slung crown of banksia flowers, a jaunty garland of grey gum leaves. While his eyes are obscured, Thompson’s posture hints that he can see from under the shadows of his foliage. Forming tensions between strength and fragility, masculinity and glamour, these works reflect on a corporeal connection to the Australian landscape, and the power of the gaze.

The artist’s exploration of identity and representation continues in the Northern Gallery, a large room of stunning C-type prints relating to Thompson’s experiences working with the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Australian photographic collection in Oxford.

In works from the series ‘We Bury our Own’ (2012), Thompson has staged personal reinterpretations of the ‘essence’ of selected photographs from this collection, using costume and symbols to invoke hidden meanings and unseen practices. These works re-inject museological specimens with an intimacy, subjectivity, and uncertainty of meaning, contesting the authority of ethnographic collecting. Thompson terms this process ‘spiritual repatriation’ – a concept that is particularly relevant with the increasing global pressure on museums to repatriate their collections.

Thompson’s challenge to the legacies of colonialism is more explicit in works such as the series ‘Museum of Others’ (2016), in which the eyes of famous ‘dead white males’ (an explorer, an artist, an anthropologist) have been removed and replaced with the artist’s own. Viewing such an evocative array of prints is made even more powerful by the atmospheric leakage of overlapping songs from other nearby works in the show.

‘Ritual Intimacy’ is a rich exhibition in which it is worth lingering to soak up the aesthetic pleasure of this collection of thought-provoking and vital works.

‘Ritual Intimacy’ runs until 21 July.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Jenny Scott

Jenny Scott received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) from the University of Western Australia, and has spent the past ten years working and volunteering in the arts sector on Whadjuk Noongar boodja. She has fond memories of the dangerous thrill of the playground roundabout.

Past Articles

  • A 20 year wait for a queer take

    Focusing on the perspectives of queer West Australian artists, this year’s ‘HERE&NOW’ exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery is both stylish and thought-provoking says Jenny Scott.

  • An exuberant return

    As Djuki Mala returned to tour WA this month we are re-posting Jenny Scott’s review of their 2018 performance at Fringe World.

Read Next

  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage
    Reviews

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music
    Reviews

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic
  • Pull the Pin A scene from Pull the Pin in which Caitlin Beresford holds a bowling ball up in front of her. The room is dark and she looks pensive. It’s a strike!
    Reviews

    It’s a strike!

    20 June 2022

    Local theatre company strikes just the right note, with a feel-good story of female friendship and tenpins, writes Claire Trolio.

    Reading time • 5 minutesTheatre

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio