Dan Arps, Hugo Atkins, Stuart Bailey, Mike Brown & Jan Lucas, Stephen Bush, Danielle Freakley, Greatest Hits, Ian Haig, Andy Holden, The Kingpins, Sarah Larnach, Jan Lucas, Rob McLeish, Elizabeth Newman, Alexander Ouchtomsky, Sean Peoples, Gareth Sansom, Gabrielle de Vietri and Alex Vivian.
Neon Parc, Melbourne
3–27 February 2010
Canadian Pharmacy is the name of a world famous spam brand, originating in -Russia, which sells fake prescription drugs to online buyers. It is an ironic starting point for an exhibition that inverts the logic of spamming — instead of one product (impotency medication) marketed to the greatest number, here there are many unique images and objects, and one small gallery in which to see it all.
Sarah Larnach’s two watercolour paintings are of a teenage metal fan, pouting in black jeans and a Megadeth t-shirt. Like an analogue of faith, the work wills you to will yourself to suspend the habit of reflection that drives the old game of truth and appearance, or at least it shifts key from knowledge and criticism to attachments and emotions. It seems, or feels like, what this and other works in the exhibition have in common is a play of stylised, non-tragic affects — the creation of a sense of that proxy state of shared intimacy that you’d expect from listening to music, rather than looking at art. Sin Average, Lust Average, Desire Average and Envy Average, Gabrielle de Vietri’s delicately painted pairs of tights, similarly do what Larnach’s watercolours do — they become minimal signs for longing, half-hidden in everyday imagery.
The ancient plasticine computers in Stephen Bush’s bright pop paintings, with colour sample names such as Davey Grey, like the murky, psychedelic collage-drawings by Gareth Sansom — made up of muddy abstract and figurative blots of paint and pencil, with a pasted-on impotency medication packaging — are less subtle and moody. Along with Mike Brown and Jan Lucas’ tiny embroidery pieces depicting spacey patterns and little, computer game-like figures, and Ian Haig’s nerdy sex toy vacuum cleaners, these works stage a clash of content in loud and comic, but mostly familiar ways. The homely psychedelia of Brown and Lucas’ work aside, the overall tone of the exhibition is wry. This is echoed, albeit with more layer and detail, and with different emphasis, in The Kingpins’ video Polyphonic Ring Cycle. Dressed up in Elvis suits with a life-sized third leg attached to the crotch, drawn-on moustaches and giant, felt Pharaoh hats, the video shows the four artists enacting a very basic ancient Egyptian-themed electric boogie dance -routine. Set to a medley of rap ringtones, the work can be read like a junk mail catalogue of macho images from high and low culture.
Somewhere in between these two types of work are Sean Peoples’ sculpture ‘Bob’ the Ball, a scrappy, multi-coloured polka-dot ball, and Danielle Freakley’s Perfection, which is made up of the profile of a man, resembling Jesus, depicted like a king on a pizza-sized plaster coin, and a questionnaire of the attributes that make up your ideal match. Peoples’ ball is such a silly, unassuming object — with an ever-so-slight abject undertone — that it perfectly symbolises the unchecked freedom of art making. Freakley’s Perfection, though similarly scrappy, is totally indifferent to this sense of happy autonomy, but only because its meaning is so introverted. The list of attributes in the questionnaire — ‘taste in music’, ‘taste in film’, ‘hobbies’, ‘insanity levels’ — continues for several pages in a font that, in mock-horror style, looks as if it was typed out on a real type-writer. One already filled-in copy that is presented on the wall uses a series of abbreviations to compile a personality from the traits of romantic interests ‘rom’, ex-partners ‘ex’ and celebrities ‘cel’, with a number value next to each, turning it into a pseudo-psychological profile. On the coin-portrait, blue, purple and orange-brown paint splatters badly mimic the look of a rusted antique, while the eyes of the face are closed like a funereal memento. Radicalising the forms of ironic contrast and affective self-regard of the other works in the exhibition, this piece then pushes them into strange, sovereign territory.
The exhibition as a whole is arranged like a busy Salon des Refusés. This means that the work is short of space in the gallery, while the all-over look gives the impression of market excitement about the latest pieces by a set of outsider figures. But regardless, this aesthetic of hype still relies on the resourceful presentation of a broad range of work from several generations of artists. With its own sense of history and understanding of contemporary practice, Canadian Pharmacy is also, in part, a quasi-survey exhibition — which is why Ashley Crawford’s accompanying text is a genuinely reflective counterpoint. It is a short, personal confession of unwittingly deleting the only email ever sent by William S. Burroughs. The story sets the simple, disastrous click in amongst the set of circumstances that surround it; and the message is — regrets aside — that it was just another moment in time.