It was indeed a dark night, an all encompassing, velvety, stygian blackness that captured the Melbourne Gothic in its latest, potent iteration.
When Wagga Wagga Art Gallery approached Simon Pericich for a solo exhibition it unleashed his Imp of the Perverse. Pericich has always been attracted to the dark, the melancholic and the apocalyptic but, as he clearly set out to illustrate, he is far from alone. Alongside Tony Garifalakis, Talitha Kennedy, Bernhard Sachs, Jordan Wood, Christian Bishop, Linsey Gosper, Dan Price, Janenne Eaton and Adam Boyd he crafted a stunning and dramatic paean to the End Times.
As Long as the Night is Dark is an exhibition “that muses on the doomed nature of humanity with playful nihilism and prophetic vision,” Pericich and Gallery Manager Stephen Payne wrote in a statement for the show. “Attuned to the darker sides of the mind and the spirit, ten contemporary Australian artists have offered up works that sit between the anxiety of the future and the melancholy of the past. This multifarious showcase is gathered together in joyous celebration of the dark night of the soul.”
The ‘dark’ in visual art in Melbourne has a long and rich history, from Albert Tucker to Peter Booth, Stieg Persson to Louise Hearman. But Pericich’s coven is less ‘mainstream,’ than those names suggest. Aside from the inclusion of the esteemed Bernhard Sachs and the high profile of Tony Garifalakis many of the artists here have been simmering in the shadows and are only recently tentatively stepping into daylight.
Pericich was certainly aware of the potential concern of falling into the cliché of notions of the Australian ‘gothic’ but, he says, “the concerns are psychological rather than investigating Australia as such.” In this regard he believes the themes are international and universal. However he does acknowledge the geographical context. “There’s more opportunity for naval gazing here,” he says. “It’s a dark island with a morbid past. People stay indoors, long winters. The disturbing history of Oz. If you type into Google ‘Why are artists….?’ The first suggestion is ‘so depressed’.”
As Long as the Night is Dark carried the distinct aesthetic of cinema, the show was consciously designed to resemble a film set and he notes that in films; “Sex and death have always been trending.” He points out the success of Superhero and action movies when they turn dark: Daniel Craig as Bond, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Spiderman’s Symbiotic black suit, films that were; “brought to life by death. The ego has always been obsessed with its own mortality,” he says.
“There are a lot of theatrical ploys in the show – all the artists are aware that the works are metaphors, they are cues or triggers – cue the sad thing that will happen next. They are all muted metaphors not solutions for change.”
The selection of artists was personal, he says. “There’re some heroes in the mix and high fives to Wagga for allowing the funds to show artists such as Bernhard, Janene and Tony. “There’s a mix of the emerging and the established. Some of the established have communities and crowds of fans, but the emerging don’t have that professional history so the audience finds some nice surprises. These artists are not making products. The end results are a form of exorcism and cast a spell in an almost supernatural way.”
“These artists cover a broad territory, which Pericich demarcates in pathological terms, like melancholy and anxiety,” wrote Sheridan Coleman in Art Guide Australia. “What connects them is not some figurative theme, but a shared introspection. Their works are the result of lifting the veil to confront the true inner self, whether it’s profoundly beautiful or gives you a nosebleed.
As Long as the Night is Dark rather unfortunately, couldn’t be more timely and one wonders whether he helped plan Donald Trump’s ascendency just to add a little frisson to the proceedings. “The world has always been ending – it’s just that recently we’ve been paying attention to it,” he says. “The fear that informs the space the show sits in; dictatorship, the anarchic, we’ve had totalitarian but they’ve never fit together before. Information is being let loose as disinformation. We’re only seeing part of the web anyway – beneath that there’s the deep web.”
Pericich suggests that, in part, As Long as the Night is Dark is a conscious knee-jerk reaction to the conservatism of the times. “The State governments and religion have paid for endorsed cultural outcomes and in a hedonistic politically correct conservative society artists are continuing to make efforts – a collective Get Well Soon card.”
If there were a soundtrack to the show Pericich suggests it would be Witch house – the occult-themed dark electronic music genre and its accompanying visual aesthetic that emerged in the early 2010s. This would play in the background as one perused Pericich’s catalogue for the show – a grimoire more akin to a phonebook of atrocities than a traditional catalogue – which serves as an exhaustive context for the artworks. Indeed, the title of the show acts like a dark prayer – why would the night not be dark? The flash of nuclear Armageddon would be one reason. (the depressing safety of a black mirrored tautology?) The catalogue brims over with black and white imagery of war atrocities, environmental catastrophe and images of self-mutilation alongside S&M and bondage imagery – the pleasure of pain and the viewer/participant relationship which, he says, correlate with the artists.
The result, he hopes, is being “hysterical looking into bright light of nuclear holocaust and giggling – tie me up and beat me. The element we enjoy in looking at the dark side…. like looking at horror films.”
Iconic artist Benhard Sachs presents one of the centre-pieces of the exhibition, a vast assemblage constructed from the diary pages of his youth. An inspiration for many of the artists exhibiting in ‘As Long as the Night is Dark,’ Sachs explores the inscrutable process of the ownership of history, its existential thematics and their obsessional underwriting.
Internationally acclaimed for his photomedia works, Tony Garifilakis overlays enamel defacements to investigate political, social and religious systems of belief while questioning mechanisms of surveillance, compliance and control. Also widely renowned for her practice in photography, Linsey Gosper deconstructs identity and has an interest in the fields of the occult and magick. Her images can be exemplified in the striking and foreboding large pigment print ‘The Mouth of Hell’.
The paintings of the eminent Janenne Eaton question the role of visual arts in the processes of social change, social justice and empowerment. Here in ‘As Long as the Night is Dark,’ Eaton’s dark yet glittering works mingle enamel and mirrors.
In the space between construction and deconstruction, Jordan Wood’s contorted ceramic heads evoke a landscape of doomed and purgatorial souls. The unsettling warping of materials is also central to the large work of Talitha Kennedy, whose obsessive hand stitched animal skins summon uncanny sculptural spells.
Using found material, Christian Bishop’s multimedia installation gives the experience of trespassing into a traumatic memory. Working on large-scale acrylic, Adam Boyd draws from the depths of the subconscious mishandling form and language, to evoke phantasmagorical Rorschach maps of skewed time. Juxtaposing the monumental is the concise miniature suite of graphite drawings by Dan Price.
In a claustrophobic annex, Simon Pericich‘s bereft video projection is only visible when reclining on a stack of used mattresses. The guiding hand assembling these diverse artists for ‘As Long as the Night is Dark,’ Pericich’s hysterical art production is concerned with the terrifying awareness that humanity is in essence, irrationally selfish and destructive.
Accompanied by a 333-page zine-style catalogue co-corrupted by Travis John who also helped with putting the thing online at http://as-long-as-the-night-is-dark.tumblr.com/
‘As Long as the Night is Dark’
Wagga Wagga Art Gallery
February 4 – April 23, 2017
Image credits: Jacob Raupach