Reviews/Visual Art

Exhibition casts a confusing spell

22 March 2023

Though bemused by the aptly named Confusion Spell Jaimi Wright is nonetheless enchanted by the artworks on display.

Confusion Spell, Sweet Pea
Lawson Flats

I get excited when I see new kinds of innovation in public art, not just as a reviewer, but also as a viewer. Exhibitions that push boundaries and traditions pave the way for new and fascinating inspirations that colour culture.

Confusion Spell is a group exhibition, curated by Andrew Varano, that seeks to create such change by rewriting the concept of confusion “as a positive opportunity for introspection, expression and creative departure”. Presented by local gallery sweet pea at the gallery’s sibling space, Lawson’s Flats, Confusion Spell is the first of a series of four group exhibitions that will be presented at this venue in 2023.

The artworks in Confusion Spell – by Iain Dean (WA), Bruno Booth (WA), Brian Fuata (NSW), Maggie Lee (New York), and Jess Tan (WA/Vic) – are highly original and meaningful, and collectively, impressively varied.

Iain Dean’s This is me, this is me giving up, this is me done (2020) conveys an amusing and highly relatable nonchalance to emotionally checking out. A simply rendered black and white figure has collapsed against the edge of the canvas, surrounded by both mottled and bright graphic oils that are akin to a television with no signal; a snapshot into their mind.

Bruno Booth’s collection of works (2021) in graphite on paper and archival jet print, are a collation of memories and often patronising conversations he has experienced about his disability. The broken, meme-filled and monotone quality of the prints create a sense of wry reverie, allowing the audience intimately into snapshots of his life.

Based on the short story In a House Besieged by Lydia Davis, Brian Fuata’s of a house besieged (preposition tweaked) (2019) is a disarming and intriguing recording of a performance on the exploration of the inner self. As Davis’s story follows a man and a woman trapped in a house and besieged by an unknown force, Fuata reflects this with his utterances into the microphone, undecipherable in the dark room if not for the subtitles enlightening the madness below. The result is a claustrophobic but all-absorbing piece of work.

The artworks themselves, then, are engaging, but they become lost in an exhibition delivery subsumed by its own disorientation. The curatorial intent feels too focused on the exploration of confusion rather than what each artwork and its themes can contribute to the exhibition, and how they connect with an audience.

The artworks have no didactic panels, and while didactic text is contained within the exhibition room sheet, there is no indication of where each artwork is situated within the gallery. The artists’ statements within the pamphlet are formatted in an off-kilter fashion and separated sporadically by intermittent questions, Who is it?; How can it be?; How can I know?, which makes it difficult to know where the questions end and the statements begin. The artists’ statements are also elaborated upon randomly in other places within the pamphlet, unnecessarily convoluting them.

While this exhibition seeks to redefine confusion in positive ways, the execution of the exhibition format feels like it creates the kind of alienating and disorientating relationship that it intends to challenge.

The methods and perspectives of the fantastic artists in Confusion Spell do make the visit to Lawson Flats worth it, provided you push past the spell its layout has created.

Confusion Spell continues at Lawson Flats until 14 April 2023.

Pictured top: Brian Fuata, ‘A house besieged (preposition tweaked)’, courtesy of the artist

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi is a Development Coordinator for ARTRAGE and your friendly neighbourhood arts writer. She also writes for Art Almanac and ArtsHub as she cannot keep still. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

Past Articles

  • Variety is the spice of life at Print Award

    From sepia dreams to a vibrant tribute to life, the 46th iteration of Australia’s longest running print prize has generated innovation aplenty, discovers Jaimi Wright.

  • Youth Pulse beats bright

    The breadth of talent on display in this year’s exhibition of Year 12 graduate work leaves Jaimi Wright assured that the future of WA art is in safe hands.

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