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Grappling with our existential dramas

06 Aug 2019

Grappling with our existential dramas Image

By Sean Car

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s (ACCA) current exhibition asks all of us, including its own artists, to explore some of our greatest personal challenges in new and inspiring ways.

ACCA’s artistic director and exhibition curator Max Delany guided Southbank Local News through the gallery last month to experience On Vulnerability and Doubt through the vision of its brainchild.

Featuring the work of eight artists, three of whom are international, Delany said the themes of the exhibition had initially been inspired by the artists themselves, whose works all shared something in common.

In a world defined by movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, related questions of vulnerability and doubt have been exposed and reimagined in a wide range of public and academic contexts.

While the exhibition poses many questions of individuals and of society, conveyed through a diverse range of creative expressions, Delany said that the works bore just as much weight for the artists in their own contemplations of these themes.

“Vulnerability as an arts sense is believing in yourself or not. There are some very nice links that happen through each of the works,” Max told Southbank Local News. “None of the artists are shrinking violets but they grapple with these existential dramas like we all do.”

“Doubt is one of the foundation stones of philosophy and scientific thought but also has a very poetic register. These are things that we can all identify and improvise with. It’s okay to feel uncertain and people are a lot more vulnerable in their own situations.”

In rethinking vulnerability as a productive, critical term, away from ideas of victimhood and a lack of agency, Max said the exhibition presented vulnerability as a concept helpful in destabilising categories of normality.

This is apparent in indigenous artist Archie Moore’s photographic work Under my Skin, for example, which presents the bare-chested artist in the company of others wearing t-shirts adorned with the image of his own torso.

“He’s very interested in the whole idea of empathy and seeing something from someone else’s perspective,” Max said. “His identity is both indigenous and European and then, equally, he has an even more sort of darker undertone which is about skin colour and identity, legitimacy and Aboriginality being conferred by the colour of one’s skin.”

The exhibition features some extraordinary and humourous takes on the idea of vulnerability. None more as unusual than Charlie Sofo, for example, whose work Chocks showcases a series of real-life blocks or wedges found in the street. As Max said, a humble material “put on a pedestal” and given new, monumental “gravitas”.

Linda Marrinon’s Rock with Underpants is also sure cause for a smile. The work is presented exactly how the title suggests, as a bluestone rock dressed in underwear, and expresses an anti-heroic message referent to the human torso.

Then there is the work of German artist Andrea Büttner, whose series Beggar, is “particularly foundational” to the exhibition, according to Delany. Using a “poverty of means” through woodblock printmaking, she conveys her messages of vulnerability, shame and judgement as much through the materials as she does through her subjects.

“She looks at these works on one hand as representations of beggars who are normally shunned or not given a dignified stance and she attempts to elevate them and give them a certain dignity,” Max said.

“She also sees these images of artists before their viewers. Everyone’s head is covered and that also relates to the question of shame. It’s equally like an artist putting up their work for judgement.”

The question of doubt is addressed centrally by the likes of Brent Harris’s series Borrowed plumage, a number of which present the probing fingers of Saint Thomas the Apostle – Doubting Thomas – plunging his fingers into the resurrected body of Christ.

“He [Thomas] doesn’t believe his eyes,” Max said. “So, he has to put his fingers into Christ’s wounds to tell the truth. What that suggests is that we have to rely on senses other than the purely visual.”

“So, questions of touch. When you walk through the exhibition you’ll also see that there are references to touch and to the finger and to the hand and senses other than the purely visual, including emotional affect and sensation.”

Prevalent in all of the works and presented in a range of mediums, the exhibition lends itself to deeper questions of intimacy and desire, shame, love and awkwardness and, of course, fear. It is a journey not to be missed.

On Vulnerability and Doubt is on at ACCA until September 1.

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