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Brown Council<Br> Slide Show (1995-2010)<br> 2010

Erica Molesworth reviews Love Sick at Stills Gallery.

In this recent group show at Stills Gallery in Sydney, a collection of photographic and video works by mostly female artists take an offbeat look at love and relationships in a contemporary context. Artists from around the world such as the Japanese/German duo Mai Yamashita & Naoto Kobayashi, Tatjana Plitt and Australian collaborators Brown Council present works that satirise, poke fun and offer alternatives to the sugar-overload of pop culture depictions of romance.

Yamashita and Kobayashi Candy 2005

Yamashita and Kobayashi

One of the first works you encounter in this group show exploring romance is Mai Yamashita & Naoto Kobayashi’s video performance work Candy (2005). For this performance, the artists made a giant ball of candy about the size of a human head, which they then reduced down by licking it every day for 6 months. The video work records this process, showing the artists sitting in front of a window at their kitchen table and taking turns licking the lolly between them. This daily licking ritual practiced by the artist-couple cannot help but be associated with their lives and relationship, which we imagine continuing on as the seasons shift outside their kitchen window. The slightly sexual connotations of two lovers licking away also raise questions about the conflict between ideals of sex and romance and the reality of everyday relationships. The giant red candy is reminiscent of the sickly sweet nature of a love in a commercialised Valentine’s Day world, with its cutesy gifts and red love hearts. In this work, the daily rituals that are a feature of long-term relationships serve to reduce this saccharine love ball to a manageable size. This idea of creating art through small, ritualistic interventions is a continuing theme in Yamashita and Kobayashi’s work. In Candy, and other works such as Infinity (2006), daily repetitions slowly bring the work into being through a paradoxical process of inscription through erasure. Brown Council’s work Slide Show (2010), which pays homage to Tracey Emin’s Everyone I have Ever Slept With, also deals with erasure. In this work, the old-fashioned slide projector becomes the perfect medium to explore the nostalgia that comes with looking back on past lovers. The slides depict the names of these lovers written on a blackboard, with each new name written over the erasure of the previous one. Each erasure leaves behind a dusty smear and so, by the end of the slideshow, we have not only the new names but the remnants of all those that went before. In this work, as in Candy, we have a sense of time passing, and of the way in which the past melds with the present to produce an inscription that becomes the artwork. In both works, the ongoing progress of contemporary relationships is made visible.

Tag Pitt Forever, 2010

Tag Pitt
Forever, 2010

The complete omission of this progress in popular culture depictions of romance is explored in the work of other artists appearing in this exhibition. Tatjana Plitt’s video work Forever (2010), takes the classic Hollywood ending to its logical conclusion: the happily-ever-after becomes literally ‘ever after’ as the ultimate romantic embrace fails to end. Long after the sentimental violins have become screeching and shrill, and the uplifting, swinging camera work has made you dizzy, you know that the Hollywood cliché will go on, and on (and on). This sometimes dark, sometimes light sense of humour is common to all the works in this exhibition. The mostly female artists take great pleasure in poking fun at some of the ridiculous clichés that characterise notions of romance and love in our commercially obsessed culture. The works brought together for this exhibition show how the love-heart world of corny romantic comedies, Valentine’s day trinkets, and wish-fulfilment advertising has had a complete reality bypass.

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