Fri 6 Oct 2023 to Sat 28 Oct 2023
Opening: Thursday 5 October, 6pm-8pm
Group show co-curated by James Owens
work by Alice Neave, Maddalena Zadra, Elisabeth Perrault, Francisco G Pinzón Samper, Sophie Birch, Amber Wallis, Mel Arsenault, Laurie Cole, Gommaar Gilliams, Anna Schanginger, Theresa Weber, Esmé Naylor Farrelly, Lachlan Hinwood, Molly Martin, James Owens, Peter Carrick, Holly Mills, Maria Positano, Carl Anderson, Imogen Allen, Anjali Kasturi
What does it mean to title an exhibition after a popular meme? In some way, it declares a correspondence between these seemingly disparate practices: the production of these silly internet pictures and the serious labour of art.
As all cultural phenomena express something of the period they were made into, it could be argued that the silliness of memes articulates a certain generational nihilism. That its aversion to seriousness is an expression, in fact, of a greater solemnity. If the meme could be serious it might say, ‘there is only me in the world, and I have found myself shored up on some dark island, alone and resentful.’
In fact, the paintings, sculptures, collages and cookie tins of this exhibition share an understanding that being too serious is, in some sense, in poor taste, if not a complete fallacy. Instead, they perform, they dress-up. They paint not for literal likeness, but they perform a sincerity, humorous, whimsical, nostalgic, even cute, but only to mimic what these qualities first stirred within us, the dormant moods, before they stood in as the place-holders for what was always inscrutable.
Writing in the 60s about Rauschenberg and his peers, Susan Sontag wrote the following, which in many ways could be written about this exhibition: ‘Because the new sensibility demands less “content” in art, and is more open to the pleasures of “form” and style, it is also less snobbish, less moralistic—in that it does not demand that pleasure in art necessarily be associated with edification.’ This witty sensibility which runs through these artworks, seems at times aloof, or aesthetically careful of identifying too readily with extreme states of feeling. Emotion, if it is being expressed here, is held behind mannerism.
It’s the form itself, how something is said, represented and seen, rather than what, which gives meaning and nuance to the subject matter. And behind the apparent coolness or ‘cuteness’, there is a vulnerability, at times, something close to despair; a plaintiff longing for something lost.
You will find here allusions to various pasts: ancient, mediaeval, myths, legends, fantasy worlds, and idyll pastoral scenes. A desire for a lost time or an innocence, with full knowledge of it never having existed except as light emanations spangled on a screen.
‘Felt cute, might delete later’, was first used on social media as a caption to reframe a ‘cute’ selfie. A way to mitigate the inherent vanity (the cringe element) involved in posting a picture of oneself in the throws of attractiveness. The caption therefore performs, or signals, a degree of self-reflexivity. Whether the selfie is ‘deleted later’ or not becomes of little importance. What is important is the performance of this reflexive signalling.
A meme, like a painting, is constantly rewriting itself, undermining, eating, even annihilating itself. It is never a fixed or finished product but constantly in a state of becoming.
This constant re-writing of the meme corresponds to an idea of art making that I believe is shared by the artists of this exhibition. Namely, that art is procedural, made up of many erasures and reiterations. In the end, though, nothing is lost because a colour removed, painted over, remains as a trace, readable in the paint or returning in an entirely new work. Each instance of reflection, removal, restatement reflects the tiny life of the soul. Every day we too assert and delete many selves and reinstate older ones in a kind of loop, which perpetuates, or maintains, now [maintenant], who we are.
There is a liberty in simply producing despite the ‘might delete later’ which hangs threateningly on the horizon. In the face of catastrophe there comes a politics in simply continuing, proliferating, spreading.
I encounter my image in a mirror and,
despite the many times I’ve met only
displeasure there, I find this time
something beautiful: myself beautiful.
The beautiful creature in the mirror has
come over me like a visitation. She looks
so much like a person, so much more real
than I do, more myself than me. She is a
me reiterated: a me me.
Familiar with the visitation and its
significance, I make haste to capture her
with my phone’s camera and upload the
selfie to Instagram.
She (my beautiful selfie) excites me with a
peculiar pleasure. Fulfilling, overflowing
excessively the cup of my desire: to be
seen as ‘other’ in the eyes of others. The
lack of what I possess, my own desert, is
what suffuses her in equal measure with
desire. In a word, she is full of what I
want: a want of presence. She is full of
absence and this palpable impalpability,
her bodiless body, is what we call a ghost.
She places her hand on the balustrade,
the wrist arched, an indian silver bracelet
I suckle at these thick honeydewed signs;
symptoms of a person, so real, hard and
glimmering. I want to say to her, to this
beautiful ghost –teach me how to live! I
am a dumb porcupine with rank spit, hot
rapine on my breath. I snuffle her
velveteen slippers and gob the white
stockinged feet inside: The Image
Repertoire, lays heavy over my eyes like
I imagine myself as seen by your eyes.
Therefore, I only imagine an aggregate, a
conglomerate, a glut of images. A self of
images, made up of the Other. I have
seen, and heard the clicking of your long
acrylic nails, how you hold your cigarette,
and when I bend to light my own this is
the mould I pour myself into. I hear the
ease with which you say the words ‘home’,
‘history’, ‘self’, which in my voice ring
with affectation: ‘my soul frets in the
shadow of your language’.
All I can see in the image of myself are
the inconsistencies when compared with
the beautiful ghost, which, despite my
attempts to be her, like Walter
Benjamin’s hunchback, by the nature of
its hidden machinery, its artifice, its
trickery and deceit, wins everytime.
Therefore, when the beautiful creature
leaves me, as all spectres must
dematerialise, I am returned to the
corporeal reality of my cattle-heavy flesh;
the brute substance, the object of myself
as far away from the beautiful version of
myself as I have ever felt: I feel hideous, a
failed object, a broken door handle, a
fallen christmas tree, but more disgusting:
a cum sodden sock, a bin oozing foully
into an alley.
And so I reject myself, spit myself out,
vomit it up, find myself abject. What a
visceral reaction! To Cringe! And so, in a
moment of symbolic and real suicide, I
delete the selfie I had posted earlier. I
delete myself, I delete the smallness of
myself, my reduced self.
- Noah Swann, 2023