Laughter Stephen Bird, Ben Booth, Andrew Harper, Henri Papin, Roam & Loba, Nicole Robson Curator: Victor Medrano 14 August - 19 September 2010 CAST Gallery, Hobart
On entering the exhibition Laughter, the viewer is confronted by a purple wall to the right on which is the spot-lit, wall-mounted plate, 'Dual Platter' (2009) by the ceramicist Stephen Bird. With its pistol-toting figure of a 'Jesus-like' character in a duel with himself and having just fired the winning blow, one can’t help but break into a wry smile at the humour in its obvious paradox. Throughout curator Victor Medrano’s exhibition Laughter, the fifteenth iteration of CAST’s Curatorial Mentorship program, the viewer is often appropriately left smirking.
Bird’s wry humour is carried over to his other works, the digital animation 'What are you laughing at?' (2010) and 'Eggs, baked beans and Buddha Vase' (2010). As the vase looks on, the stop-motion animation shows two clay figures being sculpted and then placed in a kiln, where, as the temperature rises so too do the violent acts of the ceramic constructions. As part of Bird’s 'Industrial Sabotage' series, these works fuse the absurd and the comic with a strong undercurrent of global issues, as everyday utilitarian objects come to life and, in the artist’s words, ‘box their way to oblivion’.
Sandwiched between Bird’s platter and animation is Ben Booth’s 'Collective Noun' (2010), a herd of incredibly long-legged ceramic horses, the majority broken and fallen, only two remaining upright watching Booth’s second work 'Raw Footage' (2010). It shows the naked artist running away from the camera up a snow-covered hill towards the skyline, to the soundtrack of the Rolling Stone’s 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want'. At the top of the ascent, just as it seems he will run over the hill and out of frame, he very quickly turns around and runs back towards the camera to pass it on the opposite side he entered from. 'Raw Footage' is a hilarious recording of an action, showing the artist in all his humility and in combination with the fragile, cast aside ceramic horses and soundtrack, works on many levels, and invariably raises a laugh.
Audible throughout the space is Andrew Harper’s 'The Woodpecker’s Hole' (2010), a video of the artist orating a rugby song that Harper and his friends used to sing, an in-joke from an earlier time in the artist’s life. Harper’s approach to the curatorial premise was to resurrect this in-joke describing it as being the most annoying form of comedy for everyone apart from the few who actually understand or are part of it.
The slightly larger than life-sized photographic image of a living room, 'Keeping up Appearances' (2010), by Nicole Robson, is a seemingly realistic view into the everyday. Hobart-based Robson’s mise en scènes are created from objects, furniture, wallpaper and knick-knacks found by the artist in op-shops and variety stores. The act of collecting the ‘readymades’ for her scenes and then recreating the spaces in an almost Duchampian manner, leaves the viewer smiling at the perfection Robson has in reproducing the delightful incongruity of the domestic.
In contrast to Robson’s ‘normal’ view of the everyday is Henri Papin’s 'Tumble Magic' (2010), a construction involving a clothes drier, ladder and clown masks. A collaborative project by Mish Meijers and Tricky Walsh, Papin is a persona made up from various literary and filmic characters. Part voyeur, part stalker, Papin is a collector of the strange and perverted, making the absurdity of the tumble-dried clown masks both carnivalesque and downright creepy.
Roam & Loba’s surrealistic photographs from the series 'Le Double' (2009-10) play on the bizarre possibility of meeting your doppelgänger. The series of eight images depicts various scenarios in which the artists meet and address their likenesses, each evoking narratives in the dreamscapes of the unconscious.
All the works in Medrano’s exhibition display elements of the humorous and absurd, and it is this quality that makes the exhibition 'Laughter' genuinely funny with also, thankfully, lingering moments of unease as to what it is you are actually laughing at.