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How to find hope

Review: Moana Project Space, ‘It is a long time since this moment’ ·
Old Customs House, Fremantle ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

“It is a long time since this moment”, presented by Moana Project Space, explores the possibilities of care and connection in our current age of late capitalism and eco-anxiety. This show forms part of the “Unhallowed Arts” program, a series of Perth-based events organised by SymbioticA to celebrate 200 years since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published.

The Moana curatorial  team (Jess Boyce, Grace Connors, Miranda Johnson and Matthew Siddall) have taken Shelley’s text as an expression of scepticism over Enlightenment ideals, specifically those surrounding the concept of progress and mankind’s control over nature. In a gesture to Moana’s roots as an artist-run initiative, the participating artists are all emerging and experimental practitioners – with the show’s title also referring to the period since the closure of Moana’s CBD-based gallery space last year. The works examine our interactions with non-human entities, the natural environment and each other; questioning and testing the constructed boundaries that separate us from our wider ecologies within the context of the Anthropocene.

A video of a woman in bathers behind a row of pot plants
Marisa Georgiou’s ‘Afternoon Fountain Routine’ (2016) invites the viewer to act as a voyeur to Georgiou’s sensual bodily interactions with the greenery.

In Marisa Georgiou’s Afternoon Fountain Routine (2016), a playful and calming video that runs for almost 20 minutes, the artist uses their body to disperse water from a hose onto a balcony full of potted plants. It is an intimate action set against a familiar domestic backdrop, inviting the viewer to act as a voyeur to Georgiou’s sensual bodily interactions with the greenery. The artist’s movements resemble a meditative act of personal self-care (rather than any kind of effective gardening technique), perhaps revealing the performative nature of the relationships we have with our pot plants.

In another sensual video, Columba Livia (2017), the artist Nadege Phillipe-Janon slowly inserts pigeon feathers into their mouth, one-by-one, thoroughly caressing each feather with tongue and lips. This video provoked a visceral reaction for me – it was hard not to cringe while watching the feathers penetrate such an intimate bodily boundary (not to mention the taste). Intended as a comment on the undeserved reputation of the pigeon as a disease-carrier, Phillipe-Janon’s work encourages us to reflect on the human tendency to categorise and moralise the natural world, as we designate some animals as “dirty” and others as “clean”. Archie Barry explores how these evaluative tendencies are extended to people in Shutter utter (2018), in which the artist’s blinking is enhanced to super-speed to critique the power of the gaze.

video screen with a picture of a person holding a feather
Reflecting on the way we categorise the world: Nadege Philippe-Janon, ‘Columba Livia’ (2017).

After applying sunscreen or coconut oil (your choice), visitors can put on a head torch to explore the vault containing Matt Aitken and Mei Swan Lim’s installation Aqua Familial (2018). The framed photographs, plant matter and other trinkets in the bunker (defined on the room sheet as “various personal possessions from artists’ living room”) are accompanied by a soundscape playing on a record player. This private, and very relatable, collection of artefacts provokes an instant sense of nostalgia, despite the artists and their families remaining strangers (to me). It’s as if the artists have shored their emotional landscapes through the creation of the work, producing a place they can retreat to in times of crisis. Outside in the gallery space, the works of Red Slyme Incubator identify this crisis as imminent and specifically environmental; their elaborate assemblages react against “greenwashing”, instead encouraging pathos and rage-based responses to climate change.

These distinct works cohere in a thoughtful exhibition that encourages contemplation of our place in the Anthropocene – how we can find hope, understanding and other strategies to survive when the future seems bleak.

‘It is a long time since this moment’ plays Old Customs House until November 2. 

Pictured top: Matt Aitken & Mei Swan Lim, “Aqua Familial” (2018).

A series of tubes and vessels that look scientific, with red wires draped over the equipment.
Red Slime Incubator, ‘Erwartung (expectation)’ (2018): a reaction against ‘greenwashing’.
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