Tricky Walsh, Mish Meijers & Alicia King
CAST Gallery, Hobart
17 October – 8 November 2009
Craft Victoria, Melbourne
22 January – 5 March 2010
Year of the Metal Tiger
Dan Bell (in De Tetris Totems, Lisa Radford & Kati Rule)
Sutton Gallery Project Space, Melbourne
4–27 March 2010
Three recent exhibitions each draw on traditional practices and ritual as a way of mediating contemporary culture and a way of looking to the future. Recent work by The Holy Trinity, Adam Cruickshank and Dan Bell reveal our arbitrary methods of assigning value and finding meaning in everyday life. Objects of daily consumerism have been reconfigured using cultural representations of deification and fetishisation through sympathetic magic.
The Holy Trinity are the fictional alter egos of Tasmanian artists Alicia King, Tricky Walsh, and Mish Meijers, who recently collaborated to create 1200CC Mary at CAST gallery in Hobart. This experiential installation incorporated psychedelic manifestations of adolescent escapism from popular culture and social constructs, questioning in the process ‘the sanctity of native faith’.1
On the opening night we were greeted at ‘the beginning of a new universe’ where we were offered body-part confectionary from holy fonts made from tattooed latex. On the floor lay taxidermied cat-heads, embodying a primitive futurism, while above us floated intergalactic clouds and a ‘satellite’ for communication between deities. Above our heads sprawled a 15-metre handmade rainbow — what Alicia King described as a superhighway of transmissions.
Everything played a symbolic role in the installation, which was then activated within the performance. A life-sized Virgin Mary made from blue marshmallow awaited our ritual worship in the grotto, where she floated — surrounded by the disarming presence of plaster machine guns and painted skulls. In the flickering candlelight of a clubhouse we could while away the time with a copy of Girls with Guns and a video of Jesus undressing. Just like old times. Such video projections signifying the Christian deities served to make their presence permanent in the space, perhaps in reference to the eternal flame of Catholic sanctuaries. Above a sewer-like drain, a video projected The Holy Trinity conducting rituals on BMX bikes amidst smoke bombs in the woods and sand dunes at the back of Seven Mile Beach in Hobart.
On the opening night the three artists performed as embodied deities. Think God as ‘recoding the universe with bent Star Wars-esque glamour’,2 Jesus as a sexless form of sacrificial flesh, and The Holy Spirit as a penetrating female spirit — part viral worm, part tempting serpent — all tearing about on BMX bikes as they communicate over their cat-head voice modulators. The blue marshmallow Mary was then burned in an elaborate procession involving cat monks, replica guns and blowtorches, before being offered to audience members to eat.
The Holy Trinity views this transformation as allowing the viewers to form a deeper connection to the universe by ingesting part of the sacrificial virgin/mother figure within their own flesh and blood. ‘Deities offered sermons, which are published in the exhibition catalogue, as a propaganda tool used to spread the word of The Holy Trinity into the masses. It is a visual philosophy that communicates on an intuitive and symbolic level that allows access to the pre-language part of the psyche.’3
King sees this modern form of totemism in Western culture not in consumerist so much as in technological terms — here we can see concepts of sympathetic magic in operation. King says of the work: ‘Mostly, we have displaced this natural world fetish into an awe of technological instruments. We sit before them like oracles awaiting illumination. They connect us to other believers and inside the network we construct communities of like-minds.’4
In his recent Melbourne exhibition, Reverse Cargo at Craft Victoria, Adam Cruickshank combined the absolute interconnectedness of traditional Papua New Guinean forms with disparate objects sourced from our modern consumerist society — Ikea pencils, measuring tapes, disc drives and plastic key tags.
In Ikea Headdress, Cruickshank used the underlying structure of a bicycle helmet to create a ceremonial headdress fashioned from thousands of pencils, emblematic of what he refers to as instant gratification and waste. This form of ‘Reverse Cargo’ draws on an aspect of sympathetic magic that James Frazer described in the Golden Bough as ‘contagious magic’ — whereby associated ideas have their basis in ‘a material medium … (that) is assumed to unite distant objects and to convey impression from one to another’.5 Reverse Cargo does not adopt the laws themselves, but reminds us of the inherent relationship between artistic, industrial and technological progress.
In another work, Cable Roots, Cruickshank had hand-woven power cords to create aesthetically beautiful and unexpected sculptures. The juxtaposition here is weaving with electricity — the former being fundamental to the way of life for people of the South Pacific region while electricity is a symbolic of our Westernised survival mechanism. The theme is central in this exhibition and the techniques employed are, as Cruickshank acknowledges, relatively fast compared to those used by traditional craftspeople who have refined their skills over centuries. The appropriation of traditional craft further emphasised the ramifications of living in our culture where everything is carried out using a form of unenlightened shorthand.
While totems were traditionally natural, living things, Cruickshank views the desire and fetishisation of products as a kind of modern totem. Reverse Cargo’s totemisation of everyday objects draws our attention to the psychological distance between our daily accumulations of consumerist material. The fetishisation of objects and technology has its own religious reference in Cruickshank’s work, in the sense that there is a leap of faith involved in desiring what is unobtainable economically or otherwise. As Cruickshank comments: ‘We’re led to believe that anything is possible and there is an aspect of millenarianism in our culture’s depiction of fame and wealth and power, however dubious. People will always look for new ways to ritualise and defy. It’s in our nature’.6
Dan Bell’s recent work, Year of the Metal Tiger, was presented at Sutton Gallery Project Space as part of Kati Rule and Lisa Radford’s De Tetris Totems exhibition. Bell used the transient forms of jewellery and used objects to create a constellation of lucky charms that were defined by virtue of their origin in relation to a specific situation. The charms belong to a decentralised and interconnected network that contains what Bell sees as an inbuilt obsolescence — the same construction philosophy applied to contemporary consumerist objects.
The charm works also share elements of sympathetic magic, such as deific symbolism, correspondence and transference. Before each individual piece is given to a new owner, the work is imbued with the maker’s sweat — a personalised transference takes place between the creator and the wearer. Bell considers this process of atomising the work as the way in which people will be able to relate most closely.
Flotsam and jetsam is another idea Dan is drawn to — given that ‘one is the accidental wreckage and the other is intentionally disposed of’.7 By virtue of their close proximity to the body, these objects are ascribed a new form of value — ‘Placing something that may have little supposed value close to the body, and as an item of transient fetishism, creates a situation of suspended worth’.8
Bell’s network of charms also possesses numerological significance, a kind of ‘false cosmology, or arbitrary constellation’.9 The geometrically arranged chains are suspended from 23 hooks, a number of apparent significance — 23 was the artist’s age at the time of making the work in his studio at 23 Kerr St, while the exhibition took place at 230 Young St. The project also took place in the Chinese Year of the Metal Tiger (also his birth sign), and incidentally comprises 52 pieces to mark the weeks of the year. This astrological and numerological pattern encourages us to consider the ways we may interpret meaning using alternative belief systems. Yet the contradictions of worth and worthlessness manifest themselves in Bell’s intricately handmade objects using a variety of ready-made objects that seem to have undergone a sort of alchemy.
In all three of these exhibitions, the new becomes the ancient and an expansion of reality occurs. Their symbolic meaning takes the conceptual challenge posed by the familiar to a heightened visceral realm. The viewer who enters these works through their inherent crafted humour will be rewarded with a sense that opposing belief systems have collided to create new forms of futuristic primitivism.