Sunday, April 11, 2010
Over the past few years, I've become increasingly dissatisfied with painting. Part of it is physical: nearly every day for ten years, I've stood bent over a wide timber or canvas frame and inhaled acrid, carcinogenic enamel fumes as I've strived to create flawless, glossy surfaces that betray no trace of being 'hand-made'. Part of it is dissatisfaction with the medium itself. As much as I love painting, I've come to think of it as a medium constrained by its history and in an age in which we're inundated with images, most of them moving, more and more in 3-D, at risk of becoming as anachronistic as opera or drama in verse.My work is inextricable from my everyday curiosity about the way our expectations and, ultimately, our identities are shaped by entertainment and advertising. For a time, I painted large, Pop Art-inflected, figurative enamels in series – recently, 24 paintings with the same figure in the same pose but in different colors, with different clothes and props – as a response to the insistent, serial nature of advertising (think roadside billboards or mail-order catalogues or blocs of TV commercials). But I began to realise that what I was really striving for couldn't be contained within the two-dimensionality of a painting. I wanted to touch, hear, smell, and feel what was in my imagination. I wanted it to respond to and change with interaction.People can be deeply affected by a painting, no question. I just wanted to take them further.A breakthrough came when, in response to an invitation to put together a small exhibition of new work for a commercial gallery presence in Renault New Generation Art at Art Melbourne, in 2007, I created my first 'installation'. Titled Sex Tourist (video), it was a forensic reconstruction of a hotel room, littered with evidence of everything that had taken place inside it during the course of a single stay. Memories of this stay were documented in works on paper and photographs hung on the temporary walls. Visitors could also sit on the bed, rifle through drawers and personal notes spilled on the bed and read the labels on empty bottles of prescription pills. They could pick through a make-up bag and even try on the lipstick and smell the perfume. Some lay on the bed to look at the images, others to take Polaroids of each other – squealing when they accidentally trod on 'used' condoms dropped on the floor – which they added to the pile I'd left of myself participating in various, real-life sexual acts.In short, they were able to experience fragments of what I had painted instead of just looking at it in two dimensions. It might have been hastily conceived and flawed but it was an unarguable success, as well as something of a scandal.Sex Tourist turned me onto the possibility of 'mediated spaces' – part-installation, part-theatre, part conventional exhibition – that allow direct, multi-dimensional interaction between not only the viewer and the work but the viewer and me. If there's one concept that has the capacity to re-ignite my imagination after the long, cold winter of my madness, it's this.