Last week, in amongst the hustle and bustle of TGIF, I struggled against the chaos of inner city traffic to see the latest opening at Sullivan+Strumpf. As the fatigue of a week’s worth of work crept across my shoulders I started to talk myself out of going. It was raining, work had been really tough and I had a hectic weekend about to unfold. It would be so much easier to just sink into my couch, remote in hand and just forget. Thankfully my negative self-talk couldn’t get a foothold as I had an uncomfortable feeling that I might miss out on something special if I didn’t find the time, I was right.
The usually brightly lit gallery with its impressive glass entrance and its smattering of early arrivals, artists and owners was dark and somewhat intimidating. I paused briefly in the foyer and peered through gaps in elbows and limbs to view a massive still from the video. There was Narcissus who, as per usual, was staring obsessively at himself in the reflective petroleum like water. Completely ignorant of the melee unfolding behind him, totally preoccupied with his inky rendition.
Moving through to the back space was like entering some kind of hellish flesh cathedral. Beautifully lit writhing bodies screamed down at me in silence and I was instantly drawn into the unfolding diorama of tortured players crowding behind the iconic hottie. The film blasted at me, assaulting me with its visual
loudness and deafening silence. The growing gallery crowd were forced into muted reverence and it felt like every cell in my body was bursting from the inferred sound. The imagery and open mouthed players vibrated through my senses with colour and emotion, leaving my skin prickled with goosebumps. It was like standing in front of a stack of speakers, pulsating and tweaking the small hairs of my face; it was electric, it was exciting, it was scary.
My eyes hungrily roved the scene, locking briefly onto various characters, watching them unfold, scanning their faces, mouths and movements, trying to guess their next move. Frantically my eyes flitted from a torrid foreground trio, briefly up to a nipple clenching couple then down again to catch a form shrouded in silky fabric bellowing and fluttering through the throng. Their bodies bursting forth like a slow motion, time lapse human flower.
Looking on like a voyeur who pervs out of a darkened doorway I was reminded of another cinematic experience that had left me in sensory overload. It was 1993 and Salò by Pasolini (1975) had for the first time been released in Australia. Based on The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade this film had left me visibly shaken by the experience. I still remember the people leaving the cinema with all the blood drained from their face, left emotionally and physically wretched by another's fictional creation. While hardly as horrific and vile as the film, I got the distinct feeling that by the end of the night the silent confrontation of Tiatia’s work would have taken its toll on the audience. With its attrition on the senses needling our own narcissistic tendencies through the silent roar of her captured humanity Tiatia had certainly grabbed my attention by the throat.
Extracting myself from the room was a feat and I needed an emotional reprieve, sometime to regroup. Thankfully Joanna Lamb’s paintings upstairs did the trick. Echoing the darkened space below Lamb’s large paintings were mounted on blackened walls making her flat stenciled paintings feel as if they were extruding from the surface. The space and artwork also embodied the silence and stillness of a sacred space, more chapel than cathedral, but this time devoid of human form. A methodical rendition of human creations and manipulations ‘waiting’ for their owners’ arrival and consumption.
While downstairs was filled with silent screams and angsty flesh upstairs felt like a time capsule. A documentary of the mundane. The stillness emitting from these images was laden with static secret messages untold to the viewer. The spaces devoid of humans had echoes of the zombie apocalypse about them. Empty streets and architecture standing the test of time long after we become dust and our memories dissolve. Thankfully the memory of these two shows will linger with me for quite a while.