My love isn’t good enough. It’s unwanted. I left it on the windowsill and now it’s gone off, spoiled, fly-blown, encased with scar tissue. All my photos have become diseased.
Glenn Sloggett’s exhibition Filthy - a white trash (lost) love story is about rejection. Throughout his work he taps into the painful clarity of the moment where the lover realises that the beloved just doesn’t like them that much. They have absolutely no chance. The photographs are images of diseased flowers, a waiting dog, graffiti, bright plastic flowers with bright plastic brooms, armless mannequins, cars with tarpaulins on them hitched up on blocks and grinning eager looking skeletons in second hand stores. Each image tells us about how the lover sees themselves at that moment as somehow discarded and repellent. Sloggett also captures the way the outside world responds to signs of a broken hearted self—pity with a sort of bashful cringe.
Accompanying the exhibition is a mixed tape of pain songs that range from the Johnny Cash version of Hurt to Hope there’s someone by Antony and the Johnsons. The beautiful melancholy of the music is like the story the lover tells themselves about their endurance, their stoicism and is the tender and romantic way of enjoying the suffering. In a corner of the room is a little plastic poo. This is the antithesis of the heartfelt and earnest music. The photographs themselves are emotionally somewhere in between the poo and the music. They portray the banality of an Ophelia complex or the affectation in a Nick Cave ‘angry man’ strut. These sombre melancholy expressions of the rejected self are seen as awkward and silly in bright suburban clarity and the sunny Australian ‘chin-up’ light.
This ‘lost love’ story, speaks of a blunt ache that is not received by the wider community with a great deal of compassion. Australians are not known for their great laments to lost love or rejection. There is a humour in Sloggett’s work that plays on this cultural cringe of displays of the pathetic. In Reservoir Dog the little fluffy terrier tied to the bench, is vigorously bouncing on his hind legs with his tongue out. He is waiting, and waiting for his master to release him and take him home. The photograph focuses on the steel of the bench and the cement of the pavement reinforcing a sense of the happy but impatient lap dog’s captivity. Blurred traffic rushes back and forth oblivious to the plight of the little dog—whose suffering is still kind of cute and funny.
In Diseased Roses a scraggly looking rose bush with black spotted leaves produces a couple of lovely velvety looking red roses, the flower of emblematic of desire and love. In the background we see weeds, gumtrees, the roof of brick veneer suburban houses, brown lawn nature strips and asphalt roads. The melancholy and symbolism of the diseased roses seems like a Goth in full make-up walking through a suburban street in Glen Waverley on a summer’s day. Yet the image of the neglected garden is so familiar, like the yapping dog, the element of aberration in it could go totally unrecognised by the passer-by. This is part of the feeling of ‘filthiness’. There is the story of rejection and neglect told by the state of the objects in the photos. And then there is the basic acceptance and lack of empathy from an outside world who view this sort of pain as just embarrassing—all too normal and commonplace to be given much recognition.
There is a sense in all these works of not only the pain but also a helpless and misunderstood rage. The photograph of the writing in the cement pavement “You are alone” and the hot pink “Sux” seem to capture a frustrated attempt at catharsis. This sort of public announcement and public defilement seems a tough way to release the self-pity. The photographs give us the distance and the narrative to view these expressions of despair with sympathy. However, we imagine the real life response to the angst-ridden vandalism is that it’s just a bit ugly and annoying.
In works like Amputee Op-Shop Bride and Plastic Flowers we read a certain shame in ‘trying too hard’. The glittering white wedding dress in the op shop window tells a story of a sullied fantasy. That the mannequin is missing an arm only adds to the absurdity of the rejectee dreaming of white weddings and happy-ever-afters. Similarly the trolley of bright and colourful fake flowers and plastic brooms seem like having too much make up for going down the street in hope that the cute guy is working at 7/11 today. It reminds me of line in the Dorothy Porter poetry book Monkey Mask
In love I have no style
My heart is decked out in bright pink tracksuit pants
Sloggett’s work captures the awkwardness and the obviousness of wanting someone too much to ‘play the game’ right.
In all these artworks there is tenderness and sympathy for the broken hearted. We imagine characters behind the emotions that are aroused by these images. The photographs depict a beauty in awkward and embarrassing emotions; emotions that are too often considered ok to get drunk over initially but are then best reserved for diary entries and private wallows with ice cream.