RE/GENDERED at Platform, Degraves St Subway, Flinders St Station
Last day this Friday, 12th February!
Presented by Platform as part of Midsumma 2010. Curator Laura Castagnini. Artists: Monika Tichacek (Sydney), Tejal Shah (India), Jake Wotherspoon (Melbourne), Drew Pettifer (Melbourne), Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore & Anastasia Zaravinos (Sydney), Liam Benson (Sydney), 4evamore (Melbourne), Michelle Tran (Melbourne), Gerard O’Connor & Marc Wasiak (Melbourne).
The theme of Re/Gendered, the Midsumma show currently on at Platform, rests on Judith Butler’s assertion that gender is performance, and a performance that is in a constant state of flux- ever shifting, breaking down and building up again. Appropriate then, that a running motif of the show is a set of red stage curtains framing each of the boxes in the Campbell Arcade gallery space. These miniature proscenium arches delineate a transitional space that can be read in a number of ways: between the internal and the external; the performer and the performed-to; the touchable and the untouchable; the sensory and the sensible. Dichotomies all of which relate in various ways to modern experiences of gender- and around which the work in Re/Gendered effortlessly twists and curves, rendering such binaries obsolete.
There is a strong video presence in Re/Gendered, which although it can often get lost in a gallery space, seems to work well in Platform, where each piece has a separate little viewing booth to itself. A range of different styles, from the high-production decadence of Monica Tichacek’s ode to Amanda Lepore , “Lineage of the Divine”, to Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore and Anastasia Zaravinos’s low-fi, track-pants spectacle of attraction/repulsion. “Drag Acts Tejal Shah’s piece “Trans-” points explicitly to a publicly constructed idea of gender- showing a man putting on his makeup, and a woman shaving her face: simple, banal acts suddenly rendered revolutionary via the inversion.
Humour, or at least, irony, is a strong component of all the work- whether it manifests in Gerard O’Connor and Marc Wasiak’s super-saturated juxtaposition of an imposing drag queen with an old age pensioner (Drawing attention to their common struggle against so biological “reality” via dress) or in the exquisite irony of Liam Benson, in hair extensions and a tiara, performing a pitch-perfect rendition of John Williamson’s “True Blue”- against a wood panel backdrop that anyone born in the 80s will immediately recognize.
But it’s not all tiaras and jock straps. One of the most beautiful pieces in the show is a simple photographic portrait by Michelle Tran. A young man sits at a table staring quietly confident at the camera: nothing overly remarkable about the composition or the setting. But the fragile beauty of this person, with their ambiguous, androgynous, but somehow definite performance of gender, on a contrastedly more muted scale than that of the drag in the boxes adjacent, has a steadying quality. The picture of an upturned painting (a ship on rough seas?) which is its sister (or brother?) print merely hints at an underlying volatility.
Appropriately, performance played an important role in the opening night party- a carnivalesque event which included Warholian drag acts, Ghetto Pussy’s cracked-out queer electro pop and a special appearance from all-girl boy-band 4evamore, complete with paparazzi scrum. On one hand, it felt like a celebration of Melbourne’s strong Queer arts scene, but without the tokenism that might imply- the “Queer art” scene is so strong, that it hardly bears delineating from the rest of the scene. However, the particular issues that Re/Gendered deals with do: and they are dealt with here with the humour, complexity, and subtlety that they call for.
With its massively attended opening night, media coverage and high caliber of national and international artists, Re/Gendered represents a high benchmark for young curator Laura Castagnini. It also represents another interesting use of the Platform space, a notorious installation challenge: the boxes are always smaller, more uniform and fewer in your imagination, and installation day can bring some rude shocks! And yet it continues to showcase artists who relish that challenge and draw out yet more of it’s unique qualities- in this case, it’s grungy, subterranean digs reflecting perfectly the idea of something brewing under the surface, and it’s DIY smash-and-grab, anything goes installation ethos on parallel with Re/Gendered’s positing of gender as unstable, shifting ground.
Watch a story on ABC arts online about RE/GENDERED here