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Reviews/Visual Art

A 20 year wait for a queer take

21 October 2020

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.

‘HERE&NOW20: Perfectly Queer’, curated by Brent Harrison ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, 10 October 2020 ·

New ideas and fresh perspectives are at the heart of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery’s annual “HERE&NOW” exhibition, which sees an emerging local curator appointed each year to compile an exhibition that showcases contemporary visual art practice in Western Australia.

Curated by Brent Harrison, “HERE&NOW20: Perfectly Queer”, presents new works by eight artists, exploring the many facets of queerness and queer experience through resistance, long and often hidden histories, and rejection of binaries and of chosen family and community.
 
Spanning multiple generations, and different stages of their practices, these artists have drawn from lived experience to create works within what Harrison calls a “shared lineage” of queer (LGBTIQA+) history.
 
On the back wall of the gallery space is Jo Darbyshire’s Downunder, a fascinating installation which re-contextualises a selection of works from the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art and the University of Western Australia’s Art Collection.
 
Each artwork has been paired with text from a secondary source discussing or gesturing to the queerness of its artist, texts that are often shrouded in ambiguity and euphemism. Hung in a line high on the wall, these works require visitors to literally and figuratively consider them from a different point of view. The result is a critique of the “straightwashing” prevalent within the Australian art world, as Darbyshire reinserts queerness back into the canon.
 
Themes of legacy, revisiting and memorialising the past continue in Benjamin Bannan’s Salvation Rainbow a minimalist aluminium altarpiece dedicated to Perth’s Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their activism during the AIDS epidemic.

Installation view, Brontë Jones, (left to right) ‘Wet Ride Scrub Daddy (Part 2)’, 2020, D-locks, Wet Ride lubricant, carabiners, Scrub Daddy sponge, ‘Wet Ride Scrub Daddy (Part 1)’ (still), 2020, Two-channel video, 9 minutes. Photo: Bo Wong

Finding likenesses between this epidemic and the present-day global COVID-19 pandemic, Janet Carter’s portraits drawn during social distancing will feel uncomfortably familiar to many.
 
Other works in the exhibition embrace elements of the surreal or peculiar typical to the original definition of the term “queer” – such as Nathan Beard’s beautiful paired sculptures of hyper-realistic floating hands, or Colin Smith’s Bloodletting, a semi-religious medical waiting room covered with a disturbing infestation of leeches made from air-dry clay.
 
Permeating many of these artworks are personal coded messages, subversion and symbols, which can be interpreted as the legacy of necessity (with queerness being illegal in Australia in the not-so-distant past) or a strategy for survival in a world of assumed heteronormativity.

Andrew Nicholls has built a world of deeply detailed iconography, based on 18th century porcelain figurines, within the meticulous large-scale ink drawings of The Four Seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). Lill Colgan’s evocatively pinned blouse has a “secret acronym” embedded into its fabric, while Brontë Jones’ intimate video Wet Ride Scrub Daddy accumulates anecdotes, products, personal photographs and other ephemera between hand-held footage of cycling journeys and bicycles being washed.
 
There is plenty to enjoy, and to consider, in this stylish and thought-provoking survey of queer art. The importance of these works being presented in this space becomes even clearer against the mind-blowing fact, as stated in the introductory text, that this is the “first exhibition in over twenty years to exclusively feature the work of local queer artists at a Western Australian institution”. It’s hard to disagree with Harrison when he writes, “I hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years for an exhibition like this.”


‘HERE&NOW20: Perfectly Queer’ continues until 5 December 2020.

Pictured top: Colin Smith, ‘Bloodletting‘, 2020, painted false walls (MDF, timber), oil paintings (oil on ply board), air-dry clay, enamel paint, gold foil alphabet stickers, gold foil contact sheeting, hip chair, muslin, metal curtain rods, fake tree, chairs, water cooling dispenser, clock, scrap paper bin, installation dimensions vary. Photo: Bo Wong

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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.

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