Review: Taylor Reudavey’s “I Know How Hard It Can Get”
Moana Project Space, 9 September
Review by Belinda Hermawan
Taylor Reudavey’s multimedia exhibition “I Know How Hard It Can Get” delves into the finer details of what is essentially a divisive but nonetheless important conversation in Australian society: federal unemployment and welfare policy. In a country that has traditionally prided itself as being egalitarian, Reudavey’s inquiry probes the philosophies and assumptions to which both citizens and politicians subscribe, exposing the viewer to both sides of the proverbial coin.
The exhibition comprises of five pieces, the highlight being the half hour short film Bludger which explores unemployment by documenting those directly involved in the often dehumanising process. This is where Reudavey shines, balancing a number of compelling subjects, all presented as valid in their conflicting sympathies and opinions. Each viewer will see Bludger through their own filter, and what works is the accessibility of these journeys: you are more likely to automatically connect to the beliefs into which you’ve been socialised, but here you’ll also be put in a position to pay heed to an opposing view. For me, as a human resources professional with no working knowledge of the challenges of JobActive, for instance, I found myself feeling more empathy for those struggling to make ends meet. The film helped me to see its subjects as my fellow citizens, too often marginalised as mere application numbers in a line for welfare.
The exhibition’s video inclusion of former federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s rhetoric is, therefore, particularly relevant background. In a speech to parliament in 2015, Hockey asserted we were a nation that could be divided into two – ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. This dichotomy echoed the United Kingdom’s George Osborne, who coined the terms ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’, and the debate in the United States surrounding Mitt Romney’s identification of the 47% of Americans dependent on government welfare. Perhaps the audience will even self-identify into one of two groups, whether consciously or not.
Ultimately, however, the inclusion of additional supporting material is where Reudavey’s installation falls short. The foldout chairs set up in front of the Bludger screen only somewhat mimic a waiting room. The laminated signs of Reading Material, depicting the patronising rules one might encounter in a Centrelink office, are too clinical a reduction. These signs would have been more effective if presented in greater number or with some sort of treatment; it is as if the artist was afraid to satirise or otherwise make comment lest the neutrality of the installation end up compromised. The same goes for the basic inclusion of welfare paperwork in Like Clockwork, which had the potential to be a more dynamic statement on red tape. Similarly, the minimalist painted desk, clipboard, pen and slideshow of Lift came off as a hastily arranged addition, a structure that could have said more if it had been built up with either realism or surrealism.
“I Know How Hard It Can Get” should be commended for collecting uncomfortable truths and putting them forward for public dissection amongst both the haves and have-nots.
Belinda Hermawan is a former sessional academic in Political Science at the University of Western Australia and current Studios Manager of Paper Mountain.
Top: Taylor Reudavey, Bludger, 2017, still from HD video 33:08, Written, directed & edited by Taylor Reudavey, filmed by Graham Mathwin.