Melbourne, 12 May – 24 September, 2011
This is an open letter urging you to resuscitate your artpals blog, which I’ve noted has drifted into a semi-permanent hibernation. I’m convinced there’s a great need (or at least, I have a great need) for your review-swapping blog. In my case, its not just that baby-land has interrupted my passion for indulgent art-themed international tours. More significantly, the coincidental closure of several of Melbourne’s most energetic artspaces means I’ve been spending extra time on the net looking beyond the Australasian clique for inspiration. The problem is that when I come across a show that stirs my attention, the web shots are seldom satisfying and I’m left wanting details, details. But fortunately (or potentially fortunately, if artpals revives!), there always seems to be someone-I-vaguely-know somewhere-I-want-to-be, as I’m constantly reminded by facebook status updates. (Despite its insidiousness, maybe there’s a useful facebook-artpals synergy?)
With all that in mind, here’s a review for you, with the fervent hope it will prompt one in return, and thereby kickstart artpals back to a state of currency.
Since we’ve been co-located recently, it was a challenge thinking of a show you wouldn’t have seen as well, but which might still have been of interest. But I think I have one: ‘Instant Gratification’, offered by Penelope Skliros (one of my art school peers before I became a (now relapsed) dropout), at her home in Ashwood, over several sporadic weekends from mid-autumn to mid-Spring this year. I’m confident you missed it, because sometime after the show, Penelope mentioned that the total visitor list comprised a carload of loyal art school buddies (who relished a roadtrip to the suburbs with a drop-in at the show and a tour of the Chadstone mall), a few bemused and underimpressed relatives and a handful of curious neighbours (some backed out quickly but most apparently said something nice and stayed long enough to sample the Arnotts Family Pack that Penelope set out each morning she opened).
The Skliros family compound sits on a corner block of High St, a few streets down from a giant 24 hr Woolworths/Liquorland complex (convenient for replenishing biscuits). Penelope’s father, Eustathios/Steve, has a passion for constructing homemade gates and fences, and an equal passion for homegrown produce, so the front yard is dominated by a well-fenced garden that was bursting with potatoes and garlic when I visited. The house is also a labour of love for Eustathios, who is gradually reconstructing the single dwelling as a duplex/triplex so more family can co-habit. He seems to take particular pleasure in cutting away parts of doors and walls to create feature windows, including the ‘lovers nook’ he cut into the kitchen wall so one can lean from the hallway to keep company while dinner is prepared.
As well as a video work involving toothbrushing that was projected in the bathroom (which I found too frothy to watch comfortably in situ), Penelope had taped several ‘Situations’ around the walls of the house – short texts recounting odd happenings from her life, often relating to her volunteer work at the RSPCA. They were intended as interactive provocations, like theatre improv scenarios, and in a narrow room (that Eustathios formed by slicing one side off the lounge) she had set up basic props (chairs, folding desk) in case any visitors could be enticed into a restaging. I obliged for one about a fortune teller: You go to a palm reader. In the reading, she suggests that you will get a job (you have been unemployed for a while) but there will be an annoying, dominant personality that will make you want to leave. You end up swapping personal stories and woes, and get along so well that the one-hour reading lasts over three hours, and she decides to help you out by offering you a job…
In the lounge, on a faux leather couch, near a Situation inspired by an Oprah episode, Penelope had propped a doll baby on cushions – almost like a premie baby, but prettier, without the misshapen head or inflamed skin or choking, red-faced scream. A sweeter, more perfect baby that Penelope bought by mail order. On the fridge, its advert, torn from Food Ideas magazine, announced Tiny Miracle Emmy, the most lifelike, 25cm long baby doll ever. Incredible value for only 3 payments of $39.99. Hold her and cuddle her, she seems almost real. Satisfaction guaranteed or return within one year. I thought of people across Australia standing in softly curtained rooms cuddling their Miracle Emmys, swollen with maternal/paternal pride and comforted in the knowledge they could send her back. Penelope translated as her mum, Constantina, described a woman, an older lady, dressed in black, who walks up and down a particular street in Ashwood pushing an empty pram, muttering happily to an imaginary baby, sometimes accompanied by a husband with sad eyes. I asked Penelope why she bought the doll baby, since the ad was disturbing enough. She said she liked the idea of an artist becoming part of this weird consumer niche: “creating and finding niches seems like a very art person thing to do.”
The title of the show, ‘Instant Gratification’ comes partly from the work (“buying a creepy baby instead of forging a meaningful relationship and making a creepy baby”) but also from the set-up being so instant and conducive to immediate feedback – not hunting for a space or waiting for a proposal to be accepted. Pouring coffee, Penelope wondered if people would just think her lazy, choosing the path of least resistance. But it seemed to me that at least an exhibiting strategy that prioritises immediacy avoids the new graduate trap of overarticulated statements that describe outdated preoccupations and leave the work as an anticlimax to the press release. And when work is inspired by suburban preoccupations, I reckon an inner-city whitewashed space with a dwindling bucket of beer-by-donation is less effective at promoting pertinent conversation than a home/neighbourhood setting, an Arnotts Family pack and a take-home gift of parsley plants.
Much love, FKX