We’ve been meaning for ages to get down to MOP Projects , thinking it had taken over the old space that had been occupied by PCL Exhibitionists. We have another mental block, this one about that end of Elizabeth Street and its scary foot traffic – was that Shaun Gladwell riding his pushy down the street while talking on a mobile?).
Then there are the indelible associations with that dreadful artist who did the Olympic sculptures that stood on top of Sydney Tower who used to show at PCL. We just don’t like going there much and now that Cottier’s old place is a ghost town, it’s even worse. Well, we were wrong again. MOP is not in the PCL space, it’s in a room in a building that houses some sweat shops and it’s a vigorous two storey climb up stairs to find the gallery. Once there, however, our fears and tribulations quickly drained away with the light from the big windows and the glossy battleship grey paint on every conceivable surface. We’d gone there not knowing what we were going to see and just thought, to hell with it, surprise us!
And we were surprised. Mathieu Gallois had an installation of his work Social Body in the gallery, a TV screen, blaring music and a series of framed canvas-mounted prints of stills from the work. We were somewhat perplexed by this, as we were under the impression that the work had just been shown in the Sherman Galleries’ Art Box on Hargreave Street and we had successfully avoided it there, but it seemed that the gods of art had meant us to see it.
Using an animation style based on the line drawings found on airline safety leaflets, the work is a loose narrative where a plane load of passengers – all of whom look like the generic image of a female flight attendant – takes off and gets into trouble. Once aloft, the social order of the plane and its passengers is disrupted when one of the sweet FA’s goes into the toilets, takes off her clothes and then starts manually pleasuring herself. There is a bit of girl on girl pashing, followed by an all-in fight between the passengers. Meanwhile, in the toilet, the naked FA looks straight to camera (via a mirror) and starts intoning a long, difficult-to-remember question that is something about the nature of social space. The plane then crashes into the sea and, as it breaks apart, the FA’s keep fighting as they sink beneath the waves. The end.
The soundtrack is a loop of a Massive Attack track which accompanies an animation that, although done on the cheap, is pretty effective. There was a lot of text that popped up in various ways and although it was credited to Blair French, we couldn’t quite work out if the text was about the video we were watching or if it was about some other piece. We decided it was brave of any artist to include within their own work a complimentary critique, rather like a Hollywood film trailer that, instead of saying “This summer – a man – pushed too far…” goes “the work seeks to challenge the viewer’s sense of individuality and autonomy by both problematising and emphasising the moral underpinnings of the dynamic between the individual and the mass.”
Actually, we cribbed that quote from the room sheet but it pretty accurately sums up the tone of both the text and the spoken word stuff that appeared in the work. We were wondering how a naked girl with her fingers up her fanny is meant to “problematise” or “emphasise” the “moral underpinnings between a dynamic of the individual and the mass” except as a fairly grotesque parody that places fetish lesbianism as a spectacle for the viewer. As an ironic Post Modern point of view it’s effective, but from a Post Feminist position, it’s pretty much indefensible, especially as Social Body reiterates a privileged male gaze at the base of its critique.
Can we just apologise for that last sentence? In fact, that whole paragraph is pretty much on the nose. We hate it when we are forced into a position like that, where we have to engage with the work on its own terms rather than just wandering as a cloud through the gallery, la la la, and not bothering with absurdist notions. The problem with works that engage so heavily with ethnographic critiques on space (or whatever other theory is being expounded) is that they pretty quickly become mere adjuncts to some other, absent piece of writing that is either eluded to, or in the case of Gallois, hefted holus bolus into the work itself. The viewer, unless they are familiar with work of Henri Lefebvre (for instance) end up asking, what the freak was that all about? It feels like its saying something but isn’t really saying anything. Instead of “problematising” the space that the work is ostensibly about, it’s only “problematising” itself. And we get hot girl on girl action into the bargain!
Gallois’s work is so stern and po-faced we left the gallery kinda mad and ready for a fight. How dare he! Later we were telling some people about our reservations on the work and they said, “Actually, it sounds kind of funny” and we thought, yeah, telling someone about it does make it funny. Wonder if the artist meant it that way?