KEN URBAN 2015 / Contemporary Art Tasmania (CAT) Gallery, Hobart (Tasmania)
Space particularly the constructed landscapes of the bush and suburbia play an integral role in contextualising my exploration of representation, identity and contemporary Australian heterosexual masculinity. Suburbia’s physical and psychological place in the European Australian psyche, and its promise of economic success ties it directly to questions of masculinity. However like the bush suburbia exists as much in the imagination as it does in the physical world, and it is here in its manifestation as fantasy, that notions of suburbia intersect with my exploration of contemporary Australian masculinity.
In the exhibition Ken Urban these concerns are explored through the installation piece Convicts of the Apocalypse. The installation is made up of seven life sized semi-abstract figures/convicts, each one sitting astride an abstract horse. Part sex doll, part-avenging angel, these convict's encompass the spectral remains of the European Australian imagination. Like boundary riders they haunt the liminal un-reconstructed space of our collective cultural desires. In the installation Convicts of the Apocalypse this libidinal space circulates around a fraught and unstable understanding of Australia’s national identity. An identity which in relation to both heterosexual masculinity and suburbia, lays across a series of economic, historical and ideological fault lines.
In relation to Convicts of the Apocalypse the expression of both the suburban and suburbia is located within the materiality of the work itself. In effect, it is through the material form of the recycled sawhorses and the pinewood and plywood of the convict’s bodies, that the suburban space of the hardware store is evoked. However the fetishised experience of the suburban hardware mega-plex, with its gleaming metallic beams and shiny aisles of plastic wrapping, is (like the fetishised form of the sex-doll) undercut by the juxtaposition of the recycled scraps of wood used to construct the apocalyptic horses. Here between the legs of the convict’s is the material decay, the cultural detritus that awaits us all. The horses then embody the semiotic non-meaning or failure that is our cultural heritage. Understood this way, both contemporary Australian heterosexual masculinity and Australian suburbia are tethered together, expressions of a European imagination that is unwilling or unable to acknowledge the chaotic and violent displacement that marks out Australia’s convict penal history.
However while Convicts of the Apocalypse critically unpacks questions of masculinity and national identity it also works to productively reanimate these same modes of understanding. In this sense my work looks to move beyond a negative articulation of difference and instead engage with the positive potential embedded in discourses of the monstrous. In this way the convicts of the apocalypse embody the possibility for change, not only for contemporary Australian masculinity but also for the suburban environments that continue to inform and contextualise our collective imagination.