An Unsettling but Beautiful Zeitgeist

Since opening its new space in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb Windsor, MARS Gallery has been gradually honing a distinct aesthetic that has allowed a number of emerging artists a sympathetic space to present often challenging work. With four discreet spaces the differing approaches of artists can at times border on jarring, but with their October/November showing of Adam Boyd, Heath Franco and Simon Pericich a somewhat distinct sensibility was at play.

For all the sublime beauty achieved by Pericich in his T I M E T O M B series he also achieves a deep-set melancholia. He is unafraid to state its source in the sub-heading to his works which he describes as “5 unique lenticular holograms from the time I took my cousin to the beach on the anniversary of the death of her twin.” But he takes this further when he adds to his list of materials used in the work the term “sadness.” We are all used to artists having to trot out their list of materials, which Pericich duly does: “chrome plated steel, UV resistant resin, mirrored vinyl, perspex.” Such clinical language is suggestive of a dry materiality, stripped of both poetics and sensuality. But the use of “sadness” as a material is a deliberate mis-contextualisation that causes a visceral shock; the work simmers with sensuality, the words undercut that affect with a conscious jolt. The American contemporary author Ben Marcus does something almost identical in his book The Age of Wire and String in sections he dubs ‘terms’: “SADNESS The first powder to be abided upon waking. It may reside in tools or garments and can be eradicated with more of itself, in which case the face results as a placid system coursing with water, heaving.”

Excuse the pun, but Pericich is steering us into uncharted waters here. To his materials he also adds “ocean water,” an unusual material for an artwork to say the least. And not content to list “glass” it must be “shattered” glass, the actual act of shattering clearly foremost in the process.

He continues this process in a secondary work, the more foreboding FORTRESS™ which he describes as being comprised of “Stolen fencing barricade, upholstery thread, anxiety, glass & crystal beading, various paints.” Again his tactic involves including “anxiety” as a medium and the act of stealing the barricade a part of its integral make-up. Where this remains particularly powerful is in the simple fact that “sadness” and “anxiety” are indeed the two words that best summarise these startling works.

Pericich, with his pseudo-anarchic tactics, has always startled. FORTRESS™ segues nicely with his overall end-of-days oeuvre, a darkly bleak reminder that chaos is only just kept at bay. T I M E T O M B on the other hand reminds us that deep down Pericich is capable of achieving deeply poetic tonality.

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Heath Franco shares with Pericich a penchant for the anarchistic, but when it is confined to the video screen it seems certain to explode into the gallery space and beyond. Home Town & Home Town Two represent a strangely epic self-portrait evoking malevolence, fear, self loathing and a carnivalesque celebration of those usually dour zones.

Franco shares something with that other Heath, Heath Ledger’s bravura performance in The Dark Knight. Or that of Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture, or, more recently, the perverse rendering of the story of Snow White in Paul McCarthy’s White Snow. Notions of nostalgia blend with a surrealistic impulse from hell in his work. At times his videos are pure skateboard-punk street mayhem and a mixture of David Lynch and Hieronymus Bosch combined with medieval notions of the carnivalesque. But what is particularly disturbing is Franco placing a large part of his narratives in the context of his ‘home town.’ This is Neighbours on Lysergic Acid with multiple narratives, bizarre mis en scenes, psychedelic colouration and manic pacing. Where all too much video art remains slow and ponderous, as though the artist were absorbed with the intricateness of their own belly buttons, Heath Franco’s work breaks borders, lurching from the screen with unruly energy.

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In a way, Adam Boyd, using a pencil rather than a camera, achieves something not dissimilar. His gigantic drawing, Lend Me Your Ear, I’ll Give You My Tongue, does indeed burst from the gallery wall, sprawling aggressively over the floor, held in stasis by a series of accompanying clay Golems

Writing in an accompanying essay for this show, Professor Peter Otto notes that: “Figures appear within figures; pictures are found within pictures; image evokes myth; text hovers on the boundary between word and image; disparate parts cohere to form unexpected wholes; and so on. ‘A wall with cracks soon collapse’, the title of one of Boyd’s large-scale drawings (8.5 metres in length), which flows from high up on one of the gallery walls down into the exhibition space, seems an apt introduction to the exhibition as a whole, particularly if one adds that in this case collapse uncovers a mobile, multi-faceted environment that invites viewers inside its spaces.”

Whether you wish to enter those spaces is another issue altogether. There is something dark and ominous about Boyd’s elegant line-work and crudely rendered sculptures. His series of malformed hands – A bunch of fives – seem ready to crawl onto you, gangrenous cousins of The Addams Family’s Thing. There are strong hints at what may be Boyd’s influences, from Hans Bellmer to Mike Parr, but Boyd is on a trajectory of his own.

Pericich, Franco and Boyd are highly disparate artists tackling different media and varied psychological states of being. But they have in common an edginess that is impossible to belie, an unsettling but beautiful zeitgeist.

Adam Boyd | Lend Me Your Ear, I’ll Give You My Tongue
Heath Franco | Home Town & Home Town Two
Simon Pericich | T I M E T O M B
MARS Gallery
22 October – 26 November 2016

DISCLAIMER: The Editor would like to note that while the publisher of The Article is also the director of MARS Gallery, the decision to run a review of an exhibition at that gallery was made independently. The Article will maintain a steadfast independent editorial stance, unshaken by the desires of cultural partners or the publisher.

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