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TAINTED LOVE


TAINTED LOVE TROY-ANTHONY BAYLIS JORDANA BRAGG KARENA KEYS ANGUS McGRATH NATHAN NHAN SUZANNE TREISTER CURATED BY DAVID BROKER


The words: Sometimes I feel I’ve got to ^^ Run away I’ve got to ^^ Get away from the pain that you drive into the heart of me… filled the gallery and as the crowd turned toward the source there was no one there. Dressed in a black Annette Görtz ensemble and torn veil, Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak, her feet dirty and bare, entered from behind the audience. Her unannounced presence and the eponymous song title reflected the elegant grunge (arte povera) that defines this exhibition. Much ‘grunge art’ has been influenced by that genre of music and this performance introduced and connected the song with the work. Doyle Wawrzyńczak’s acapella performance on opening night combined the spontaneity of the cabaret/torch song with the grit and realism of Brecht. Appearing at bi-decadal intervals, Tainted Love has been an iconic anthem for three generations of youth culture: Gloria Jones, 1964; Soft Cell, 1981; Marilyn Manson, 2001. With each new iteration the song became increasingly subversive and associated with subcultures who identified as outsiders in main stream society: firstly, the African American women of the swinging 60s, followed by the emergence of Queer bands in the 80s such as Soft Cell and Culture Club who challenged the stubborn patriarchal grip on pop music. Soft Cell’s staccato synthesiser version, of my own generation, blasted from the night clubs of the day; spaces where love and casual sex might be found. Marilyn Manson ramped up the subversive sexuality of Tainted Love with a video clip that invaded “not another high school party” with an atmosphere of perverse and uncompromising eroticism. While love is occasionally mentioned in the titles of Suzanne Treister’s Post-Surveillance Art (2014), love was never its primary concern. This downloadable body of work is, however, a dystopian trip that appropriates ‘psychedelic’ posters with a late 60s ‘summer of love’ counter-cultural aesthetic, updated for digital modernity with a hint of (justifiable) paranoia. In part a satirical response to the dubious notion of “post internet art” (which does not imply a time “after” the Internet but rather a time “during” the Internet) this series was created when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM program, revealing startling levels of intrusive surveillance on both U.S and International citizens. Prior knowledge of the NSA’s earlier Total Information Awareness (TIA) program had been a major focus of Treister’s HEXEN 2.0 (2009-11) project.


Exhibited in galleries around the world, Post-Surveillance Art has occupied surprisingly different contexts; for our purposes, however, it has disturbing implications for love in the 21st century. In an interview with Ashleigh Kane, Treister explains “I made up phrases like: ONE WORLD DATA IN FUCKING LOVE; NSA ON DRUGS; NSA SEX BOMB; THE POETICS OF SURVEILLANCE; PRIVACY SUCKS and PSYCHIC GLOBAL DATA TRANSFER to somehow describe a state where we are constantly uploading our lives and complicit with government/corporate data collection, with sharing everything including our sex lives and our dreams, where algorithms are flowing through our bodies and our appliances up to satellites in outer space and back, collecting data to be used wherever, whenever and by whoever... to perhaps describe a sublime poetics of control.” 1 Post-Surveillance Art led me to a paper by U.S. academic Ryan Engely who mounts a convincing argument that love and surveillance, under certain conditions, can be interchangeable.2 There are precedents in literature and film, such as the bizarre love triangle with Winston, Julia and Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949), and the protagonists of the Showtime series Homeland, where a bipolar CIA agent spies on a suspected terrorist and hero of the USA’S Shock and Awe campaign in Iraq, while they fall in love. Engely notes the NSA’s reasoning that surveillance is to some extent validated by ‘love’, where the state spies on the populace in order to watch over, to protect and keep safe. Further, there are examples from reality TV, for example Cheaters (2000, 15 seasons), 3 and reality itself, where the suspicious tormented lover employs the services of a Private Detective or as public spectacle, a TV crew, to surveil their errant object of desire. There is obvious discomfort with this particularly tainted notion of love, and as Engely notes, it is often the consequence of a traumatic event; in the case of state surveillance, 9/11 (2001), or its Australian equivalent, the Bali Bombings (2002). With an extraordinary shelf-life, Treister’s Post-Surveillance Art becomes more relevant with time, serving as a cautionary tale for those who might sacrifice their privacy for the instant gratification of likes, thereby increasing government/corporate control over personal/private communications. In this era of social media saturation, users are able to construct and revise images of (their) self at will, while catfishing has exposed the seductive potential for deception and delusion where the hunter creates fictional characters for whom the vulnerable might fall in love. With Instagram (and Facebook) being central to Jordana Bragg’s practice, their internet presence, @jordanabragg, creates a personal archive while also providing an ongoing critique of their practice. Over time, with varying levels of intensity, this library of images has reflected their overriding concern with the metaphysics of love and loss, a characteristically dangerous personal and universal sense of vulnerability, informed by wider research around issues of identity and gender fluidity.


SUZANNE TREISTER

Post-Surveillance Art (installation detail), 2014 22 works downloaded courtesy of the artist, A3 premium digital silk finish paper Photo by Brenton McGeachie


SUZANNE TREISTER

Post-Surveillance Art (installation documentation), 2014 22 works downloaded courtesy of the artist, A3 premium digital silk finish paper Photo by Brenton McGeachie


Bragg’s constructed character or brand is highly mediated, curated and performative, where the boundaries of artifice and authenticity are blurred to collapse fact into fiction and vice versa. This is not to say they deny who they are but rather, they are not concerned with authenticity and this leaves a space for audience engagement. Bragg’s Instagram account explores a visual language of nonbinary charisma while highlighting the vulnerabilities of presenting publicly as a possible subject of desire. Their powerful images circumvent gender stereotypes, exploring the possibilities of gestural neutrality and androgynous eroticism. “There’s not two genders,” they contend, “I can play both and I can play to both”. 4 Images appear only to be removed, thus, the idea of a personal archive is actively resisted as it is simultaneously created. Bragg elucidates: “There’s a lot of policing online, so I thought I’d just police myself. Some of it is about personal safety, and some things I put up even confront me – the nude body for instance. It’s not that I don’t believe in the content …but to leave it accessible the whole time would make me uncomfortable. I consider it an archive, but I also make it difficult.” 5 Enthusiastic Valentine (2019) is a reverie, a ‘performance of self’ that represents elements of the artist’s emotional being in a ritual of seclusion and seduction. “While falling asleep listening to the new Carly Rae Jepsen album Dedicated and Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel defining erotic intelligence on Spotify, the artist closes their eyes and sees the sentence “Venus Spins Blue For A Full Recovery” emerge against their eyelids.” 6 Filmed on the Gold Coast, lying languidly by a window in front of a shimmering heart shaped pool, riding precariously on the back of a BMW convertible and in a perplexing pose with red eye makeup, an unlit cigarette, wearing only a shadow, Bragg presents three identities each one signalling aspects of a euphoric “dream state of love, in thought, action and against

the screen”. Rich colour in each mise en scene heightens the hypersensitivity and solitude that Bragg considers to be overlooked aspects of loving. Exhibited in a black cube, Bragg’s video installation includes a spinning mirror ball and rudimentary multi-coloured rotating disco spot lights that acknowledge the title of the exhibition and thus, the night club as a site of seduction. In their disco, however, there is no pounding beat or blatant flirtation: it is a space of calm and contemplation.


JORDANA BRAGG Enthusiastic Valentine, 2019 HD video, 3’30’’ duration


JORDANA BRAGG Enthusiastic Valentine, 2019 HD video, 3’30’’ duration, mirror ball, disco lighting Photo by Brenton McGeachie


In an article written for Runway Journal, Desire and Failure: the Club, Sexuality and Queer Utopias, (2018) Angus McGrath conflates an analysis of club cultures with Grindr, looking at the coded behaviours that communicate availability and sexual preference. Speaking of the club as a site of love and desire: McGrath writes: “In a queered online context this desire is obvious in something like Grindr, where a person is able to market themselves directly in romantic, sexual, or simply, non-heterosexual contexts. Similar codes are used in the stage-like setting of clubs where we dress up to indicate who we are.” 7 The codes of dress and undress are employed online by both McGrath and Bragg, adding subtexts to texts that already manifest ambiguously. For Tainted Love McGrath awkwardly slides into the clothing of Freddy Krueger, the murderous spirit of a fictional serial killer who occupies teenagers’ dreams in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. McGrath’s particular interest is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), the only movie in the series that has a male “scream queen”. Widely considered to be an average slasher outing, this second movie in the series developed cult status based on a gay subtext that is scarcely sub. The androgynous lead Mark Patton, who plays Jesse Walsh, was blamed for creating a gay character even though he was closeted at the time of production. The obvious subtext however, is revealed through Jesse’s relationship with his best friend, high school jock Ron Grady, and in scenes such as the bedroom dance scene to disco song Touch Me by Wish featuring Fonda Rae, his sleepwalking into a leather bar where he meets sadistic coach Schneider, and the more emblematic idea that his body is possessed by another man, Freddy Krueger. The film was released at the height of the AIDs crisis when many people died painful, at first, unexplained deaths, leaving friends and family bereft and mystified. Producers and script writers have belatedly admitted that this dubious association had the potential to intensify the horror, amplifying the teenage angst that exploited a wave of homophobia. McGrath’s works focus on one infamous scene where Jesse, having failed to make out with his girlfriend, flees to the bed side of his best friend. Jesse’s struggle with his sexual identity is directly aligned with Freddy’s attempt to take over his body. “Something is trying to get inside my body,” Jesse laments. “Yeah,” replies Grady, “and she’s female and she’s waiting for you in the cabana and you want to sleep with me.” At this point the hideous Freddy emerges from inside Jesse’s body tearing him apart in a gleeful homicidal rage. Grady is brutally murdered by Freddy leaving Jesse, still intact, but devasted and guilt stricken … mirroring a global environment where love might lead to the death of one’s object of desire. For McGrath and many young gay men this is a seminal and difficult scene that reflects the perils of repressed sexuality, where ‘coming out’ has dire consequences. His video A scene in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” where Freddy Krueger rips out from inside someone (sharing a body) (2019), depicts a process of reversal where the (out) gay man occupies the skin of the villain represented by Freddy’s ragged striped sweater, punctured by the clawlike hands used to maim and murder the victims of serial rampages. The performative crawl into the metaphorical body is a heroic act of defiant determination; a slow suspense without guarantee of success. McGrath finally overpowers the challenges that posed so many questions for young gay men watching popular horror in the 80s. Intimate, poetic wall texts personalise the artist’s relation to the film and its scarcely hidden agenda:


“And his parents aren’t happy but with this new, true body I could sprint into reflective horizons in other people’s dreams. “You’re Utopia!” they will scream at me. I am Utopia! Joey was the first boy I ever loved and now I can imagine me moving into his chest through his dream – “COME AND GET HIM BITCH”.” 8

ANGUS McGRATH Tainted Love installation documentation, 2019 HD video, amplifier, plastic Freddy Krueger glove, coat hanger, gorilla tape, pencil on wall Photo by Brenton McGeachie


ANGUS McGRATH Tainted Love install documentation, 2019 HD video, pencil on wall Photo by Brenton McGeachie


TROY-ANTHONY BAYLIS

Emotional Landscape 17, 2009 Oil on canvas, 170cm x 145cm Photo by Brenton McGeachie


TROY-ANTHONY BAYLIS

Emotional Landscape 19, 2009 Oil and correction fluid on canvas, 170cm x 148cm Photo by Brenton McGeachie


The process of coming out is also central to the work of Troy-Anthony Baylis as he grapples with and reconciles identities both Queer and Aboriginal. His Emotional Landscapes 17 and 19 are two episodes in a life-long journey that followed his childhood discovery of Jawoyn heritage, and this series imagines the lands of his ancestors who have inhabited the Katherine River Gorge, Northern Territory, for more than 50,000 years. Baylis has not yet visited Jawoyn country; each painting has been produced without leaving his studio. He views each piece as a romantic performance on canvas that addresses the trauma of intergenerational dispossession and love of country as the central tenet of ancestry. Having encountered the celebrated Anmatyerre artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye painting a landscape in a Brisbane gallery during his adolescent years, Baylis came to understand that it was possible to create work representing country from afar, at any time and in any place. He cites this encounter as providing courage to ‘come out’ as an Aboriginal artist using his own imagination rather than conforming to the pre-set constructs of Aboriginality that exist outside personal reality. The paintings, and the act/performance of painting them, were cathartic events that have been, at times, painful. From a psychological perspective he says, trauma is an episode of re-experiencing an event of horror or helplessness: “This is true for people who directly experienced the traumatic event and also for those who experienced the trauma through that person’s experience (i.e., transgenerational trauma is exposure to the traumatic events experienced by previous generations through recounting that event or just by seeing the impact it has on those people).”9 Emotional Landscape 17 (2008) and Emotional Landscape 19 (2009), like letters to a lost love, consist of rows of tiny crosses; the “x” motif, used commonly at the end of letters to whom the writer wishes to show affection, represent kisses like those Baylis used on the back of envelopes long before the paintings were made. Each kiss is the mark of a romantic performance related to both emotional and physical expressions of love. In Emotional Landscape 17 they have been gouged from the two-toned blood-coloured surface of the painting, rendering its velveteen sheen scarred by a violent act that metaphorically exemplifies the devasting legacy of colonisation on First Peoples. The removed paint is repetitiously re-applied into the surface below heightening the sense of persistent oppression; where one scar is removed another emerges. Emotional Landscape 19 introduces the oblique presence of Baylis’ drag performance character Kaboobie who is rarely far from the action. Using correction fluid packaged in small containers resembling those of nail polish bottles, ‘white kisses’, obsessively and thoroughly mark the varying hues of lipstick-red oil underlay. Also known as White Out, the water-based fluid blends reluctantly with the oil paint, creating the impression of an unstable hybrid surface that extends the colonial parable with devasting effect.


The voluptuous form of the classical Grecian urn or vase marks a turning point in human civilisation, when survival and functionality shifted to beauty, art and decoration. In ancient times (c.1000 to c.400 BCE) the peoples of the Hellenic city states developed ceramic objects for use in everyday life to store and transport liquids such as wine and water. Smaller pots were used as containers for perfumes and unguents. Highly durable, many of these vessels have lasted for centuries and, as few Greek wall painting or works in wood and textiles have survived, it is the painting on pottery that has provided most information about the process whereby Greek artisans solved the problems of reproducing three-dimensional objects and figures on a flat or curved surface. The decoration of vessels left clues as to the use of the objects, for instance, some shapes were associated with rituals, others with athletics and the gymnasium. Mythology, historical events and abstract geometric patterns also adorned the vases as did images of courtship, marriage and love. If archaeologists were to excavate Nathan Nhan’s urns 2000 years hence, they would also reveal much about life and love in the early 21st century. Prior to the series exhibited in Tainted Love, Nhan produced objects for Life After Love at Tributary Projects in Fyshwick, using stoneware’s enduring material to communicate a sense of eternity. In this pervious body of work, ceramic is combined with the trope of love in popular culture; his containers are decorated with hearts, or with the word “Cher” painted in pink dribbled text and, on another, the words Life After Love, the refrain from her hit dance track Believe. An enduring icon of modern American music, film and television since the 1960s, Cher congruously began performing as one half of Sonny and Cher, a rock ‘n’ roll romance to rival Romeo and Juliet. Determinedly rudimentary, sometimes kitsch and occasionally abject, Nhan’s receptacles conceal multiple technical complexities which, in Tainted Love, achieve new levels of sophistication. Chipped bodies, gnarled cracked surfaces, broken handles are the matter of antiquity. On his white, ceramic vessel fragile love (2019), the word LOVE, resembling coarse lipstick-red graffiti running across the no-neck body, and the adornments of heart-shaped plastic rubies and ‘Fragile’ tape, denote that care should be taken handling this brittle, implausible object of love. The ubiquitous heart motif appears everywhere in Nhan’s work, painted, etched and in relief, melted onto the body of breathless (2019), a title courtesy of the Corrs (2000). Covered in hearts that reference Love Hearts, a musky candy upon which are written messages of affection, in this instance ‘Mine’ and ‘1st’, breathless emits a pungent smell of confectionery. Having produced numerous works that evoke the emotions expressed through sentimental love songs via works that ostensibly eschew sentimentality, there is one work that hangs apart from the urns. Love Fool, a plate that references the Cardigans’ song of the same name also transforms the containers of everyday functionality with texts that imbue the durable ceramics with the means to rise above their exquisite materiality and communicate impressions of love as an eternal yet elusive desire for all humanity.


NATHAN NHAN

Tainted Love installation documentation, 2019 Photo by Brenton McGeachie


NATHAN NHAN fragile love, 2019 Stoneware ceramic, glaze, tape, ink marker, spray paint, 36cm x 30cm x 25cm Photo by Brenton McGeachie


NATHAN NHAN love first place, 2019 Stoneware ceramic, glaze, 48cm x 32cm x 28cm Photo by Brenton McGeachie


When I first spoke to Karena Keys about how her work might fit into the context of Tainted Love she paused, and replied with one word, “fragility”. I have left commentary on her work until last because in many respects it is a conclusion to the exhibition, a three-dimensional abstract extravaganza that reflects and responds to all other contributions. If I had a heart, (2019) takes another song as its title, borrowed from Fever Ray an alias of Karin Dreijer of Swedish electronic music duo The Knife (and also used as the theme for the TV series Vikings, 2013 5 seasons). It is a song of burning long ships, dirge like, funereal, bleak and filled with doubt. If I had a heart I could love you If I had a voice I would sing After the night when I wake up I’ll see what tomorrow brings The two large dimly lit works that comprise If I had a heart hang precariously in the gallery against a large blank white wall. Their tenuous presence is no illusion, one being suspended with organza bows and the other cotton thread. Both pieces purposefully create a real sense of continuous concern and their condition is attentively surveilled lest they not survive each night. Materials have always been the heart of Keys’ practice and the methods she invents to release their inherent evocations generate new forms and metallic surfaces like none ever seen. Acrylic paint, Mylar and organza are scarcely recognisable, and thus the works take on an air of mystery – in other words we ask always what are these colossal monsters and from where did they emerge. The materials of If I had a heart are characterised by their muted sheen, pearl, gold and silver lame, reminiscent of evening apparel that one might don to enhance nightlife allure at parties and in clubs. Any gloss however is faded, less of the night and more of the morning after, they are the crumpled sweaty clothing strewn across the bedroom floor after Last Night’s Parties, which is incidentally the title of an earlier series of delicate sculptures created from peeled acrylic paint (2013-2015).


KARENA KEYS

If I had a heart, 2019 Acrylic paint, Mylar, organza, cotton thread, wire, dimensions variable Photo by Brenton McGeachie


JOSHUA SLEEMAN TAYLOR

f4 Agglutinate, 2019, Intaglio print on paper, 140cm x 120cm, 2018, AP/3EV

m4 Preserved, 2019, Intaglio print on paper, 140cm x 120cm, 2018, AP/3EV KARENA KEYS Tainted Love exhibition documentation, 2019 m3 2019, cotton thread, wire, dimensions variable Acrylic paint, Security, Mylar, organza, Intaglio print on paper, 140cm x 120cm, 2018, AP/3EV Photo by Brenton McGeachie


SKYE JAMIESON

An aluminium sheet, 2019, China clay on canvas, 120cm x 100cm

Plaster myexhibition left eyelid,documentation, 2019, ANGUS McGRATH Taintedon Love 2019 Purevideo, pigment on canvas, HD pencil on wall 120cm x 100cm, photo by Brenton McGeachie


Keys treads a fine line between the sublime and the abject, where it is sometimes impossible to effectively discern either. Approaching these works I see an abstract expression of the way love enters our lives and also the ways it exits. Onto the etiolated surfaces is written a familiar narrative in which periods of bliss are fractured by forces that exist outside the individual’s control; hence the inbuilt frailty of media that seamlessly translates as emotion. The smooth pearlescent surfaces, rendered in acrylic paint so thin as to be wraithlike, address ghosts of relationships past, where ecstasy spiralled into agony, represented by tears in the fabric of life. In the second piece in this work and in stark contrast to its flimsy partner, gobbets of gold Mylar, tightly ‘gift wrapped’ in a toxic membranous translucent skin of acrylic paint, and fastened with organza, hang heavily in the gallery like measures of the weight that love imposes upon the wounded. Keys contribution can be seen from everywhere in the two galleries except from inside the Cube and one is always aware of its presence and the artist’s mission to change the way we see painting in relation to space and the body. Keys’ metaphor of the visceral body has seen paint take on the properties of pelts and/or textiles, stretched and contorted in the sun; the fragility of her work, the tears, the holes, the tensions, directly link to human vulnerability - and that is the concern of every artist in Tainted Love. David Broker, August 2019

1. Suzanne Treister, Cybernetics and the post-surveillance age, Dazed and Confused, Interview with Ashleigh Kane, October 2014 https://www.suzannetreister.net/info/Interviews/Dazed_AK-interview.html 2. Engely, Ryan “Love and Surveillance: Reformulating the State Gaze in the “Age of 1984.” Can Philosophy Love? Reflections and Encounters. Edited by Cindy Zeiher and Todd McGowan. Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. pp. 207-219 3. This show dispatches a surveillance team to follow the partner suspected of cheating and to gather incriminating video evidence. After reviewing the evidence, the offended party has the option of confronting the unfaithful partner. First episode date: 21 October 2000 4. Jordana Bragg interview with Ellie-Lee Duncan, The Edited Self: An Interview with Jordana Bragg, The Pantograph Punch https://www.pantograph-punch.com/post/interview-jordana-bragg 5. Ibid. 6. Jordana Bragg, Artist’s statement 7. McGrath, Angus Desire and Failure: The Club, Sexuality and Queer Utopias, Runway Journal, #36 Dance, 2018 8. Angus McGrath, A scene in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” where Freddy Krueger rips out from inside someone (my only interest as a teenager was horror movies), 2019, text in pencil on wall, 71cm x 124cm. 9. Troy-Anthony Baylis It Started with a Kiss, Artist’s statement


White Cube to Black Mirror: Art in the Post-Internet Age In 2016, a man fell in love with and married his phone. Aaron Chervenak of Los Angeles tied the knot with his iPhone at the Little Las Vegas Chapel in Nevada. The nuptials aren’t legally binding, however they do go some way to affirm the all-consuming relationship we have with the now ubiquitous devices that infiltrate our lives. These objects invade our offices, bedrooms, pockets and even wrists; overstimulating our brains with a constant flow of information and total image saturation, occasionally timing out into a blank, black screen, reflecting back to us our own intent gaze. This is the ‘Black Mirror’, a term popularised by Netflix’s cult-favourite sci-fi anthology of the same name. The classification of science-fiction reflects how reluctant we are to confess just how close they are to home: in one episode titled Smithereens, the protagonist, driven mad by the guilt of killing his wife in a head on collision caused by his own distraction, poses as an Uber driver and holds a social media intern hostage. The intern, so intent on his newsfeed, doesn’t even realise his supposed driver has gone off course until it’s too late. In another, called Nosedive, people rate their online and in-person interactions on a five-star scale and socioeconomic status is determined by individual rating (not unlike the social credit system being trialled in realworld China). Both systems are eerily reminiscent of the addictive nature of social media platforms that cultivate a compulsion to accumulate ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. Recently, Instagram announced it would trial the removal of the ‘like’ counter in countries including Australia, Ireland and Italy to curb the pressure of popularity on the platform out of concerns for users’ mental health. The internet has changed every human experience, including love, and certainly the way we exhibit and consume art. Our own experience of the gallery space has been largely informed by the White Cube, a gallery aesthetic characterised by its square or oblong shape, white walls and light source. The aesthetic was introduced in the early twentieth century in response to the increasing abstraction of modern art. With an emphasis on colour and light, artists preferred to exhibit on white walls to minimise distraction. White walls were also thought to act as a frame, rather like the borders of a photograph. In this White Cube, works exist in the eternity of display, a limbo-like status. The white space between each work reduces the effect of the last work before the next one appears, lest the senses become distracted, cluttered. The White Cube is envisioned as an environment entirely devoid of context, one in which the odd piece of furniture, or even your own body, can seem to be an intrusion. This is reinforced by another icon of visual culture, the installation shot, usually without bodies. We imagine ourselves in the position of the photographer, the last spectator, the disembodied mind and eyes. This other worldliness of the White Cube, and the lack of physical being, is emulated in the digital landscape, which has fast become the alternate gallery space in the twenty-first century. The internet is a diverse and crowded form of public space. Internet art resides in a largely open zone – cyberspace – manifesting on devices across the world rather in museum halls and white cube galleries, where the past two centuries have suggested we observe art. Digital devices are both a channel of display and dispersion, and a production tool, whether it be a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet. In some cases, the White Cube and Black Mirror spaces are


integrated. It is not uncommon to come across a television screen in the gallery space, such as Jordana Bragg’s Enthusiastic Valentine 2019, an installation comprised of video, a mirror ball and disco lighting in a black room. Enthusiastic Valentine considers the euphoria of love and the overlooked value of hypersensitivity and seclusion. The seclusion aspect is as much a part of Bragg’s method as their concept – the artist filmed the work alone in a hotel on the Gold Coast. The artist refers to an ‘oversaturated formation of, or relationship to the world’,1 which is particularly pertinent in an era of hyperconnectivity. Another aspect of their practice exists entirely in the digital realm, on social media. Social media applications, such as Instagram, are highly suited to works that explore the ways in which we interact with the digital world. Bragg is interested in authenticity and vulnerability in our online lives and the personas we create. Bragg has curated a particular brand of themself, addressing themes of identity, multiplicity and the self as a construction. Their online presence is the digital equivalent of the artist persona as mythos. In his essay Desire and Failure: The Club, Sexuality and Queer Utopias, Angus McGrath likens the digital landscape to another kind of box, the nightclub (colloquially referred to as la boîte [the box] in the French language) and the relationship both spaces have to queer identity. Speaking of his earlier work Semiotics Club 2018, McGrath describes the ways in which queer identity is explored through the internet, also notably through social media app Grindr. The internet offers a certain freedom to explore these identities. It is relatively unpoliced, and many socially taboo behaviours are made possible. McGrath likens the club to the internet landscape – both frivolous and unfettered places, where sexuality can be explored without reservation. McGrath notes the ferns adorning the dancefloor of a particular club, the plant a common post-internet stylistic trope, acting as a stand-in for life in the digital space. The club became a digital space enacted, staged as a world that could be experienced physically. For Tainted Love, McGrath draws on his work in Semiotics Club with a combination of installation, performance and video. Writhing into an adolescent Freddy Krueger costume of ripped sweater and gloves, McGrath is referencing the not-so-gay subtext of the franchise’s second film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The film has since become a cult-classic. Like in Semiotics Club, McGrath alludes to the codes utilised to communicate sexuality and how these codes are enacted in our digital and analogue lives. Artists Maria Olson is largely credited with coining the term ‘post-internet art’. She describes her work as less art ‘on’ the internet, than art ‘since’ the internet. Her practice is the “yield”2 of compulsive surfing and downloading. Post-internet art is approximated as a term describing a state of mind characterised by the ubiquity of internet culture. Following Olson’s definition, almost all artistic production could be coined as post-internet, even works by artists such as Troy-Anthony Baylis, Nathan Nhan and Karena Keys, who don’t explicitly address the internet in their work but nonetheless exist in a networked society. Their interest in the various states of materiality is a response to the rapid technological obsolescence of things in the internet age.

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Jordana Bragg, artist statement “Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century.” Edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015.


In his series of works, lovefool, love love love, number 6, ❤❤1, breathless, fragile love and love first place, all 2019, Nhan adorns ceramic vessels with love heart motifs, text and dripping glazes, addressing an exploration of the eternal and enduring materiality of ceramics. Key’s fragile, abstract sculptural works are suspended from the ceiling, their stretched metallic surfaces reminiscent of disco and their frail materiality appear deceptively ephemeral. Baylis’ Emotional Landscape 17 2008 and Emotional Landscape 19 2009 involves the repetitive, obsessive crossing of the x motif into paint, a romantic performance to the artists ancestral country of Jawoyn (near Katherine) and a meditation on dispossession. Emotional Landscape 17 involves the removal of pigment with each cross, later added at the bottom of the canvas, and Emotional Landscape 19 requires the scrubbing of the oil-painted surface, making it abrasive enough for water-based, white correctional fluid to adhere. The appropriation of his material, particularly the combination oil- and water- based mediums, refers to Baylis’ identity as a Queer-Aboriginal artist. In using mediums that traditionally do not blend well, Baylis’ references colonisation and its effects and how Queer Aboriginality does not sit well in either camp – Aboriginal or ‘white’ Australia. The term post-internet is not without criticism. Suzanne Treister, who began working with digital media in the 1990s but returned to traditional media due to a concern for the corporatisation and government control of the internet, considers post-internet art to be “market-driven and apolitical,”3 lacking the critical awareness of earlier internet art. Treister’s Post-Surveillance Art 2014 is an ironic appropriation of the term mobilised to address the post-Snowden paradigm. If post-internet art refers to art made in a hyperconnected world, by a generation of digital-natives, then post-surveillance seems a suitable term for art that addresses surveillance programs that have existed during Treister’s lifetime. The posters are a return to digital media, using Photoshop to appropriate images of NSA and GCHQ and presenting them in a hallucinogenic, drug induced visionary landscape. Treister draws attention to how we are complicit in our own surveillance – slogans such as ‘privacy sucks’, ‘NSA sex bomb’ and ‘post-control’. Treister reacts to a state in which are complacent to our own surveillance, wedded to our devices (quite literally in the case of Aaron Chervenak), constantly uploading every detail of our lives on social media and making ourselves vulnerable to the “sublime poetics of control”.4 Tainted Love addresses the complicated relationships we have with ourselves, others, and the Internet. Anecdotally, many a friend has told me that they just can’t watch Black Mirror. It’s too dark, too twisted, and certainly doesn’t make for the mindless kind of watching we might appreciate in a scroll through a newsfeed. It makes us think a little too much about our habits and the unintended consequences of our technology obsession. In my opinion, our distaste for the dystopian futures of thrillers such as Black Mirror isn’t due simply to the heavy subject matter. The discomfort stems from a Freudian recognition of the uncanny resemblance to our own relationships to technology. Perhaps these dystopian, science fiction realities aren’t so fictitious after all. Perhaps the dystopian future is now, our technological fixation reflected back to us each time the screen goes black. Sophia Halloway, August 2019 3 4

https://www.suzannetreister.net/PostSurveillanceArt/works.html Suzanne Treister, Cybernetics and the post-surveillance age, Dazed and Confused, Interview with Ashleigh Kane, October 2014 https://www.suzannetreister.net/info/Interviews/Dazed_AK-interview.html


TAINTED LOVE TROY-ANTHONY BAYLIS JORDANA BRAGG KARENA KEYS ANGUS McGRATH NATHAN NHAN SUZANNE TREISTER CURATED BY DAVID BROKER CATALOGUE BY ALEXANDER BOYNES

FRIDAY 16 AUGUST 2019 SATURDAY 12 OCTOBER 2019 CANBERRA CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE GORMAN ARTS CENTRE, 55 AINSLIE AVENUE BRADDON, CANBERRA ACT 2612 TUESDAY - SATURDAY, 11am - 5pm

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Profile for Canberra Contemporary Art Space

Tainted Love @ CCAS (2019)  

Someone once said that, “Love is a many splendored thing”. Tainted Love brings together six artists who beg to differ. It’s not that they ar...

Tainted Love @ CCAS (2019)  

Someone once said that, “Love is a many splendored thing”. Tainted Love brings together six artists who beg to differ. It’s not that they ar...