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Cruising the cubicles

Review: Benjamin Bannan, Brent Harrison and Wade Taylor, ‘looking now anyone here?’ ·
Paper Mountain ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Benjamin Bannan, Brent Harrison and Wade Taylor have produced an ode to the public toilet as a space of liberation.  Their group exhibition is a tender and personal homage to these spaces, which are cast variously as historical and current, dangerous yet comforting, and sanitised yet erotic.

In an exhibition by three young artists exploring gay beats, it’s easy to assume that there would be huge differences between contemporary experiences of cruising and 1980s and 90s experiences of men who have sex with men (MSM) , most obviously due to the invention of smartphones and the ubiquitous hook-up apps. However, it’s clear that whilst some things change, some things stay the same. The spaces and places of illicit pleasure have always been centred on the search for physical connection, whether in a public space or through the relative privacy of a phone screen. Amongst people whose desires are other than hetero, there’s also the pleasure of finding yourself in history, of knowing that your actions and behaviours have a grounding in the people and behaviours of the past – of a community. For this reason, in an exhibition focused on secret (yet public) sex between MSM, it’s impossible not to think about the importance of having these links to an ongoing lineage that has been so decimated in recent history.

This lineage comes through clearly in the works, with each artist’s practice focusing on the ongoing relevance of these beats to their practice and identity. Brent Harrison takes apart each benign aspect of a toilet cubicle to show it in a singular light: a hand drier, a soap dispenser, a waste paper bin overflowing with used paper towels. Here, the clean innocuous plastic items take on a larger significance within themselves. This is particularly with the glistening, lurid puddle of hand soap overflowing from its vessel, defying its original purpose as it utterly fails to achieve any kind of attempt at hygiene. In this way, the objects are truly queered, refusing a purpose bestowed on them whilst achieving some other kind of function altogether – as active agents of desire.

Wade Taylor’s series of oil paintings represent the outside of various toilet blocks, capturing them as abandoned, anticipatory sites of fleeting pleasure, but also as places where danger can await. In a contrast to the mass-produced conceptual designs of Harrison’s installation, there’s an element of the personal to Taylor’s oil paintings, the aging, under-maintained toilet blocks representing the frisson of an exciting encounter minutes away, or of an imminent threat of violence from the unknown other, but either way a space of everyday normality that still provides a promise of escape.

Opening night guests take in the works. Photo: Supplied.

Central to the exhibition is the cubicle itself, a recreated structure built by Benjamin Bannan, in which the viewer must finally enter. Crouching to an uncomfortably low level (but not quite low enough to be on one’s knees), you look through a meticulously drilled glory hole, to watch the video Other Side of Glory (1998), by local gay filmmaker Neil Buckley. The film chronicles the history of beats, successfully uniting the lineage between these younger gay male artists and the wider history of beats in Western Australia. In the privacy of the cubicle space, the viewer is placed in position, a participant rather than an onlooker in the codes and behaviours of cruising. From casual observer to active participant, you are unavoidably implicated in the event as it unfolds in front of you, and reaches backwards throughout history.

‘looking now anyone here?’ runs until May 31.

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