Review/Perth Festival/Visual Art

Emotional terrain

11 March 2020

Curated by Gemma Weston, ‘The Long Kiss Goodbye’ is an exhibition that reverberates with emotion, discovers Miranda Johnson.

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Review: Gemma Weston (curator), ‘The Long Kiss Goodbye’ ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, University of Western Australia, 1 March 2020 ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Originally intended to be an exhibition about the strategies of making art – including collaboration, exchange and mentorship – “The Long Kiss Goodbye” finds the places within these strategies where emotion and feeling take hold.

The exhibition’s title is taken from that of its central work, Sarah Contos’s massive fabric quilt made from screen-printed imagery, discarded materials and leftover scraps from previous projects. It won Contos the inaugural Ramsay Prize run by the Art Gallery of South Australia for artists aged under 40 working in any medium.

In the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery Contos’s quilt acts like an anchor point, set among a mass of other work and highlighting the connections between artists and artworks. Throughout the exhibition, there is a focus on the art object as an access point to moments in which emotions are heightened, if not always explicitly communicated: desire, loss, grief and shame.

Feelings hover like sinister presences in Contos’s quilt. Images of glamorous figures, mostly old Hollywood-era women in lingerie, perpetually avoid our gaze, their eyes replaced with adornments so we cannot engage with them. Perhaps it’s to obscure any possibility of human contact with their inanimate forms, or perhaps it’s to protect them from our intrusive gaze.

Signs of violence, destruction and rebirth emerge throughout the exhibition, in the ashes of visual diaries transformed into jewellery, and, in a more literal sense, through Michele Elliott’s photographs of handkerchiefs – a shared exercise in remembering lost fathers.

The points of connection between Brent Harris and Iain Dean’s works – recently formalised through an Australia Council mentorship – are drawn out across the gallery space. Both play with anxiety over originality and influence, and there’s a particular similarity in their splashes of orange paint and figures that seem mysteriously inhuman but not quite animal.

Brent Harris, ‘The Other Side’ (installation view), 2016, oil on linen, 244 x 175 cm, courtesy of a private collection. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Dean’s central installation of a series of birdhouses arranged around a central examination table – as though they are silent doctors waiting to assess a patient – also feels like a threat of impending intimacy or vulnerability catching you unawares.

The melancholic nature of the exhibition is based in the psychological desire to attach our emotions to objects. This feeling reverberates between each work in the exhibition but is particularly evident in Penny Coss’s work. Coss’s meticulously arranged, idiosyncratic fabric installation ANXIOUS SPACES, is a thing of glorious beauty, rich in texture, colour and mysterious logic. Twice during the course of the exhibition, Coss performs an intuitive rearrangement of the installation, highlighting the nature of anxiety, which often manifests in the need to control the narrative, stay ahead of any imagined problems, and ensure perfection.

Ruminating in the wake of this exhibition, my central sense of the show was one of how emotions cannot be bound, and the idiosyncratic, surprising ways they cling to beings, objects and memories. Any attempt to contain them, to anticipate where they might land is an exercise in failure. It is an acceptance of the impossibility of controlling emotion while simultaneously exhibiting the sometimes beautiful ways we continue to try regardless. Thinking through difficult emotions can take you to places you never expected, presenting dreamlike associations and melancholic attachments to objects from your past – powerful talismans with the ability to protect. Or harm.

As the show’s title suggests, ‘The Long Kiss Goodbye’ stills a moment of departure, guiding you through your feelings and suggesting, gently, that you’ll never really be able to let them go.

“The Long Kiss Goodbye” runs at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, University of Western Australia, until 9 May 2020.

Pictured top: Sarah Contos, ‘Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye’ (installation view), 2016, screen-print on linen, canvas and lame, digital printed fabrics and various found fabrics, PVC, polyfil, glass, ceramic and plastic beads, thread, artists’ gloves, 330 x 610 x 25 cm, Gift of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation for the Ramsay Art Prize 2017, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photo: Ilkka K Photography.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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