Shane Forrest: Float A-Space on Cleveland Sydney November 8-15, 2006
Like every adolescent boy that has ever fantasised about owning a pair of X-ray specs, Shane Forrest has imagined peering through the walls of other's peoples houses. In Float, Forrest depicts a bug's eye view of what goes on behind closed doors in an average suburban Aussie street. And, just as twelve year old boys everywhere have always suspected, the couples inside are getting down to business.
Of course this really comes as no surprise. All serious students of pop culture know that cul-de-sac culture is a hot bed of sex. We read all about it in the steamed-up pages of pulp fiction or in more highbrow tales of a bored and lascivious middle class by literary luminaries such as John Updike. In paintings of cosy and familiar rooms, Balthus draped young girls in seductive poses over upholstered furniture, while in Edward Hopper's sun drenched interiors everyone seems transfixed by a kind of post-coital melancholy. From the manicured lawns of TV's Desperate Housewives, to Charlotte Haze's modest backyard in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, or Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, the landscape of the burbs is made for love, or something like it.
Shane Forrest adds another chapter to this tradition, treading the tricky, and well-trodden, fine line between art and pornography. In the majority of his thirty views of typical Sydney homes, couples are doing the wild thing. If nobody is home, sex is usually still on the agenda: porno plays on the telly, or collaged novelty playing cards left lying around give full frontal views of bodacious babes fingering themselves.
Each of Forrest's artworks resembles a doll's house post-cyclone: collapsed, flattened, and skewed. Some are literally folded into sculptural wall hangings, while others are two dimensional works on paper, but all of them afford simultaneous glimpses of interior and exterior. Forrest combines layers of painting, drawing, photography and collage to accentuate his visual strategy of multiple perspectives. In the tradition of Indian/Pakistani miniature panting, he has paid loving attention to decorative surfaces. Brick walls, fake wood panelling, chequerboard lino, Persian carpets and floral wallpapers are rendered in detail and sometimes supplemented by swatches of the real thing. Forrest also takes care to point out each home's assets, from two car garages to spacious bathrooms and built-in swimming pools.
In fact, the titles in Float, phrases like Semi Detached Original Features, Old World Charm, Over Sized Living Under-priced Luxury, read like a list of real estate huckster clichés. Forrest clearly has a cheeky sense of humour and a social conscience. He seems intent on poking fun at a property obsessed middle class, keen on 'keeping up with the Jones' by conspicuously displaying one more satellite dish, BMW, or shabby chic renovation; a morally deficient culture that defines itself by what it consumes rather than its ideals.
Maybe Forrest's frisky couples are a reminder that there are more important things in life, things like love, lust and making babies? Interestingly, the work titled Our House is one of the most chaste. Nobody is home at Forrest's house, and nothing remotely saucy is going on. Perhaps he has neighbours who bang the bed-springs at full volume 24/7, driving him to a raging, jealous insomnia, and these works are a form of catharsis? Then again Forrest may just be fixated on sex.
Either way, I find it unnerving that in Forrest's work, only heterosexuals seem to be getting any action. Although some women are seeing to themselves, leaving their sexual orientation open to interpretation, there aren't any same sex pairings, or even men flying solo, a statistical improbability to say the very least. Are there no loved up queers in Forrest's virtual community? And, call me old-fashioned, but Forrest's tiny portraits of people in Karma Sutra poses distract me from the quirky charm and political subtlety of his complex compositions. But I guess sex is distracting, maybe this is the point?