Tuesday, October 18, 2011


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

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. 

Anna Newbold

Friday, October 14, 2011

Patrick Pound's Collected Works: Telling Tales

Patrick Pound describes his artwork in the Collected Works: Telling Things exhibition as like a ‘dad-joke’. The viewer is faced with a series of collections and with each one we have to establish a pattern. There is a series of books on the floor and we have to work out their relationship to each other based on their titles. There is a series of postcards on a wall that are all from the same place and we have to work out the story. There is a series of objects on a table and we have to work out their relationship to each other. The collections of photographs make us wonder make us wonder who the photographers were. We find ourselves looking for not just what is seen, but also for what is inferred by the space around it. Like the ‘dad-joke’, Pound plays on words, puns and associations often revealing what is most obvious. 

In the collections of found photographs we search for a common link. In one series all the people have the wind blowing their clothes. In another they are all listening to music. These two collections show us how the key factor in all these photos, the punch line, is in fact invisible and only understood by what is around it. The intensity of the wind is shown by how it affects the hair and clothes of the people. The type of music playing is shown by how the people in the photos interact with their radio—dancing, lying down, working on something else. By the repetition of the blowing clothes as a metonym for wind, or the radio as a metonym for music we become aware of how we make meaning by associations. The very nature of collage makes a search for meaning in the relationships between images. The viewer looks for the cohesion that is made by the empty spaces. Pound’s work makes us aware of how we understand the world around us not necessarily through what is shown but in the space in between.

In another collection of photographs, Pound shows us People who look dead but (probably) aren’t. In this collage the invisible breath and heartbeat of the sleeping, resting people seems initially the invisible factor that we are looking for. We soon realise that it’s impossible to prove if these people are alive or asleep from the photograph. We become aware that what we really need to search for is a sense of the character of the unseen photographer in order to try and work out if these people are alive. Do these photographs reveal their ghoulish or just cheeky interests in stealing these private (or perhaps morbid) moments of the people? So it is not just the search for breath that we become aware of, but also a sense of the other half of the room—the missing space; the other side of the camera where the photographer stands and shoots.

Several works deal with the paradoxical presence and absence of the photographer. In one collection all the people photographed have cameras. These people have the potential to take photos of the photographer who we are not able to see. This gives us a sense of the missing half of this reality presented to us. The viewer becomes aware that the photograph is just a tiny square in the photographer’s full panoramic landscape. Photographs tell a subjective story of the events of a place and time and of the interests of the photographer. Yet that person who presses down the button is necessarily absent from the moment that is being recorded. They are the missing space that holds all the meaning of the image.

In the collage The Photographer’s Shadow and a series of larger photographs entitled The Photographer’s Hand we sense that the people on the other end of these cameras haven’t quite succumbed to the notion that they can’t be in the photo. In the shadow collage, dark photgraphers’ shadows creep up walls and along cut grass and white skirts, encroaching on the smiling subjects’ moments in recorded history. In the larger works it is literal thumbs and fingers that obscure the image intended on being recorded. These crimes of photography, like the smudged finger prints of a crime scene, mean the photographer will still remain unknown, but we are aware that he has touched this space.

In Building Time (the Cliff House, San Francisco) Pound displays a series of postcards that tell the story of the Cliff House restaurant and its repeated fire, destruction, rebuilding and makeover. The site seems to have an almost Hitchcockian curse in its propensity for strange coincidence. The drama of the architecture in each rebuilding, every one so quintessentially in the style of its time, also reminds us of the vertiginous settings one expects from a thriller. Pound creates a flip-book like animation of the story of the site by placing the postcards in a way that shows us the time passing and the creation and destruction of each new version of the restaurant. This space, like all spaces, is changed by what is around it but in some ways reflects the mortality of the people it encounters more than most. 

The ultimate tribute to space in this exhibition is The Space Museum. In this work Pound lays out a collection of found objects on white tables. There are records, pictures, books, video games and postcards and each deals with the idea of the pocket, the void, the gap, the place over there or the spot in between. One is two pictures of a man leaping the chasm between cliffs, another is a tape titled 5th Dimension/Individually and Collectively, a novel titled Between Man and Man, a relief map of Australia,  a University thesis titled Parking Spaces for Cars Assessing the Demand, a hand held computer game called Space Attack. Like the photographic collages, we are drawn to the variations of the conceptual elements that seem only to be defined by what is around them. It is the space between things, like the gaps between words on a page that make meaning. 

The space in the ‘dad-joke’ is like a gap between meaning and form that only becomes apparent when dad takes advantage of the sound of the word rather than its meaning. Pound takes advantage of the obvious thing in the image that hasn’t been captured visually. He also considers how what is not captured visually can create patterns when repeated again and again—so we can see space, wind, breath only by what is inferred. We can only see the photographer when he obscures the image he is photographing. Yet, Pound, in his collections of photographs and objects has embarked on capturing the uncatchable. The exhibition resonates with a Dadaistic poetry, humour and absurdity. Pound shows us that we understand what we see by what we don’t see and that empty space is the place of tension and meaning. 

Fehily Contemporary 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Emile Zola’s novel Nana (1880) is the story of a beautiful Parisian prostitute who develops a tremendous influence on the aristocratic society from which she has drawn her clients. Written and set at the end of the French Second Empire, the character Nana’s cumulative power and destruction becomes symbolic of the excess and decay of the nobility of France. She comes to represent an orgiastic loss of control that is coupled with a crippling shame and despair. Nana, born in poverty, seeks revenge for what was denied her as girl on the streets. The men who govern society, have enjoyed women like Nana and the other courtesans (such as Gaga—perhaps an inspiration for the Lady?) while duplicitously being able to live double lives. Unlike their wives and their lovers, the men can be a respected but still indulge in their secret vices without any repercussions. Nana changes this. This voluptuous strawberry blonde demands public respect and seems on a mission to reveal the “filth” she sees evident from the Emperor down. She has an enormous appetite for more—money, power, clothes, lovers but always remains dissatisfied.  With more and more decadence comes more and more repulsion.  

While she moves into an ever more powerful position in society, she is seen by some to be able to “infect” the upper classes with the filth of the slums—‘a fly the colour of sunshine that had flown from a dung heap’. It is perhaps easier for the nobility to see her as a sort of outside parasite that has come to feed on their goodness. However, rather than some sort of outside threat, she could also be read as a manifestation of the corruption in the upper classes. She becomes symptomatic of the hypocrisy, sexual repression and moral degradation for which the prostitution industry has only provided an opportunistic service. Until Nana, the duplicity of these upstanding men had only revealed itself in winks and nudges.  Nana becomes more than just an adored and desired prostitute. Like the ‘Blonde Venus’ part she performs on stage in the opening chapter, Nana becomes a goddess of Jouissance—where pleasure is taken to the limits and becomes painful.  These men suffer for their pleasure and become total slaves to it. Nana cripples them financially, she bankrupts them morally and she breaks them of their dignity and self-respect.  In a frenzy of lust and greed, the men who chase her are brought down choking on their own sweet cake.  

Nana is able to wipe her conscience clean. In her callous response to the suffering of her lovers she is able to say ‘...if they’ve kicked the bucket or lost all their money, they’ve only themselves to blame. I’d got nothing to do with it’. Nana is a selfish, vain narcissist who is in love with her superficial beauty and its magnetic power. She stands naked in front of her mirror admiring herself for hours. As the power of Nana builds we see this beauty as a mask for an internal decay. This is manifested through the piles of destruction she leaves behind. Like some reversal of an alchemist princess story; she is a pretty urchin who becomes a princess to be able to turn gold into straw.
Nothing remained intact in her hands; everything was broken or dirtied or withered between her little white fingers; a heap of nameless debris, twisted rags and muddy tatters followed her and marked her passage. 
As readers we pity the destruction of the men who are destroyed in the same way that their gifts are and we are appalled at such waste.  However, we can also see that their access to so much wealth for the sake of buying their moments of pleasure is where their waste and ruin begins.

Nana, as an agent of masculine self-destruction, embodies lack as a necessary component of pleasure. That she will never be satisfied by them is part of her allure. She will never be faithful, she will always detest them and be bored by them, she will always want more—she will smash their presents of Dresden china and throw their diamonds in the fire to see if they become coal. For all they sacrifice for her she will be irritated by their bankruptcy, imprisonment or suicides that leave annoying stains on her carpet.  Nana, in her greed, stupidity and lack of empathy, reflects back to them their own boredom and that insatiable greed to have, to own, to possess. They would like to contain her, make contracts with her, and marry her in order to control a manic desire that continues to grow with her power.  

Count Muffat, Nana’s most generous benefactor and most humiliated lover finds himself totally possessed by her in a way he once was in prayer and religious fervour. On meeting Nana in the din and sweat of backstage he becomes of aware of a sexual freedom that he didn’t know existed and equated it immediately with a path to destruction that he felt was out of his control.
He was hers utterly: he would have abjured everything, sold everything, to possess her for a single hour that very night. Youth, a lustful puberty of early manhood, was stirring within him at last, flaming up suddenly in the chaste heart of the Catholic and amid the dignified traditions of middle age.
It as though Muffat enters into this relationship aware of giving over his free will. In the course of the novel the austere religious world of the Count and his wife Sabine unravels into a reckless debauchery that ruins their family and their estate. Nana s advises Muffat that:
If you weren't brutes you would be as nice with your wives as you are with us, and if your wives weren't geese they would take as much pains to keep you as we do to get you.
Here Nana’s insight alludes to the sexual repression that keeps her in business. Muffat is a pitiful character whose naivety and cowardliness make him a man who needs to be directed through life. In the hands of his mother’s Jesuit lawyer he can find momentary fulfilment on his knees burning in pain in religious supplication and in the hands of Nana he can find fulfilment on his knees begging like a dog. These are the men in power - gripped by cycles of pleasure and shame.

The beauty, wealth and power that make the character Nana almost mythical represent the certain illusions of infallibility in a pleasure culture. Her inevitable rotting demise (that is as ugly as we can imagine) reads not so much as a punishment for the individual woman’s crimes but rather as sort of social tumour finally revealed from behind a mask.  The novel ends at the eve of the war with Prussia with mobs of men chanting “Berlin. Berlin. Berlin”—their libidinal energy will turn to a similarly self-destructive avenue.  We imagine, with their defeat on the battlefields of Prussia, the demise of the French Second Empire ended in a horror and shame that is echoed the tale of Nana.