Lawyers, Guns and Money 19 June - 7 September Experimental Art Foundation Lion Arts Centre, North Terrace, Adelaide.
The first exhibition in the series, Lawyers Guns & Money, at the EAF is a feel-good experience for those wearied by the post-modern predilection for navel gazing. The politics of identity are swapped for responses to current political conditions and events. The phenomenon of Pauline Hanson, the politics of repression, and the disturbing track record of the Howard government are dissected with humour and spirit. Awareness that moves to encompass social and political transformation is to be celebrated.
In a state of denial, I walked across the gallery to John Reid's work table covered with neatly rolled and stacked banknotes, piles of dollar notes and small heaps of perfectly dissected pieces of money. It couldn't be real money. The stuff I want. The stuff we could buy expensive dinners at restaurants with. Versace sunglasses, soft leather handbags and Nike labels with. Give it to me so I can 'just-do-it'. But, it is real money!
I am, on some level, disposed towards outlaws and on another, disapproving of thieves but Reid's table scattered with money exposed my capitalist, criminal tendencies. If the project is, "designed to draw attention to the economic underpinnings of political repression - and in particular political disappearances", this is not all it does. It persuasively exposes the culture of capitalism we, as individuals, are defined by.
On the wall beside the work table, a very large canvas is partly covered by an image in progress made entirely of the pieces of sliced-up, cut-up banknotes. Reid has manufactured a glossy surface so intricately layered, its texture has a sumptuous appearance not unlike fur or very finely applied oil paint. Reid believes that the canvas will probably take ten years to complete. Along the wall are letters testifying to Reid's long legal battle with police and federal bureaucracy, ending finally with lawful authorisation to cut up cash.
Aleks Danko's installation is enigmatically elegant. A Eureka flag hangs at the end of a large floor-to-ceiling recess in the wall. On each side hang clean sheets of manuscript paper designed for composing music. Cut out of the paper are perfect circles that lie either side of the corridor, as if they fell to create a path. On one side of the wall there hangs, askew, a framed photograph of John Howard and on the other, upside down, a photograph of Pauline Hanson. As a fan blows down the recess causing the sheets of paper to lift and tremble, an abrasive sound not unlike a duck being strangled is played over and over again. The word, if it is a word, sounds like wank.
In the photograph John Howard stands next to a piano both hands raised and in the stance of conductor. I imagine he is conducting as the orchestra plays Death of the Spirit of Freedom and the holes in the blank manuscript paper suggest gaps where nothingness is perhaps more intense and the insistent duck squawks 'wank'. There is a sense of ambiguity in this work heightened by the use of the Eureka flag. Appropriated by National Action the flag has lost its traditional symbolic meaning. The upside-down photograph of Pauline Hanson expands on the idea of the confused and estranged Australian icon.
While Harry J. Wedge's paintings and texts chronicle the experiences of his own life they also potently communicate issues that relate to the whole of Aboriginal Australia. With the power of the unpretentious, Wedge describes the forging of Aboriginal identity and values in conditions of extreme historical discontinuity. His images and stories clearly articulate the dilemma of indigenous people who confront issues of power constantly.
H J. Wedge recounts a childhood story of panic. Using skilful integration of image and text he describes a frightening incident where he, and other children running through the bush balancing and pushing tyres in front of them, feel an overwhelming presence of evil lurking behind the trees. While the text articulates the child's compelling sense of treachery as he flees, terrified of his unseen pursuer, the mood of mission life manifests in the image. The story translates into the experience of generations of Aboriginal children, taken from their families and placed on reserves and missions.
Andrew Petrusevics' work, in the gallery and on the internet site, focuses on contemporary models and the construction of power. Using digitally manipulated images of politicians he explores the invention and reinvention of the powerful identity. Out of all of Petrusevics' manipulated images of politicians, his representation of John Howard positively shines. Howard is depicted as a vampire. His attributes blend to create a synthesis of audacious gremlin and vicious demon with razor sharp teeth. Regal 'e' flags fly, projected onto a large wall. In this context, Petrusevics' allegiance to the enduring 'e' is charged with a sense of re-enactment and liberation.
A generous, theatrical gesture for those feeling marginalised by current political trends and events. The humour expressed in these works also has a hard edge. They expose disillusion at duplicitous documentation and the corrupt machinations of its apparatus. While this work articulates the world of grand media and political culture, it also communicates an exorcism of personal demons.
This exhibition treads a precarious path with impressive resolution, signifying a movement that deviates from the mini-narrative into a bigger arena where the politics of power become communal rather than private issues. Informed by post-modernism these artists have repositioned the debate to include global concerns, capitalist practices, and national dilemmas. The environment has altered, and economic rationalism will marginalise the innovative and experimental just as surely as big money will continue to swallow up small interests. Remember that sad, old blues song about how you don't miss your water until your well runs dry.