Year 12 Perspectives 2015 presents artworks eliciting fragmentary images of youthful impressions during the fragile process of growing up. All of the artworks were highly impressive and deserve a mention, but in order to fit my commentaries into the parameters of this review I selected only a handful.
Madeleine’s Woodcock’s Seven Days presents the Pope’s costume on a gold-plated background, shockingly juxtaposed with the head of an ape drawn on a piece of brown scrap paper. It is a flippant denigration of the Pope whose face is reconstructed according to the image of an uncultured primate. It is likely that this alludes to the shameful practices perpetuated by the religious leaders of the Catholic Church behind closed doors. The work is especially current when considered in the context of the outrageous hypocrisy of abusive priest Cardinal George Pell, whose paedophilic acts are condemned worldwide. Furthermore, the work questions our unsuspecting trust in institutional power by shrouding the identity of the religious leader behind this anonymous ape-mask.
Similar to the mistrust of the Church curated by the work’s focus upon evolutionary biology, Riley Curnow’s The Drum reveals a pervasive insecurity inherent in the elimination of social institutions that have previously structured the lives of students. In this artwork, the lone figure that occupies the urban landscape is about to embark on a journey by leaving a place marked with colourful geometrical familiarity. The open road, without road signs, suggests an uncertain future with multiple possibilities. This inconclusive statement echoes the common sentiments of students speculating about life after Year 12.
Family is often the anchor point in the formation of one’s identity during the process of growing up. Older family members who serve as role models for the artists are commonly portrayed. Sophie Minervini’s Kindred Workers pays tribute to her parents who have worked and toiled under the hot Australian sun to secure a better future for her. The bold colours in this piece represent the strong presence of her parents in her life, whose unwavering support have turned them into heroes in the eyes of the artist.
Jaimee Porter’s Someone’s Mum is a mixed media work that depicts the interior world of her grandmother living with dementia. Using a series of frames that divide the full-length portrait into fragments, it conveys the bewildering state of a person who is trying to connect seemingly disparate memories. The urgent need to connect with others is poignantly demonstrated using real-life objects perched on the edge of the frames. These artifacts, consisting of a saucer, a used teabag and a worn-out shawl, are deliberately charred and tainted with yellow stains indicating the passing of time. At the bottom of the artwork lies a pair of sandals laced with sticky brown paint that limns an antiquated world inhabited by her grandmother.
This heartrending presentation of kindred relations is echoed by the work of Luke Grey. His Remembrance, taken from an old VHS tape, recaptures a singular moment with his stepfather who had recently passed away. As they look out from a train into an amusement park in Spain, we as viewers know what will happen in the future, a superiority emphasised by the high angle shot and their turning of their backs.
The shrouded boundaries between the past and present is in direct contrast to the clear-cut, tripartite presentation of her role models in Amber Balcock’s Confidence, strength. The juxtaposed black-and-white portraits of Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day), her mother, and Ashton Irwin (from 5SOS) seems to lack the sophisticated emotional content of most other artworks. Its simplicity captures the essence of her identity without far-fetched ideological abstractions. When the three figures are put together, they form her self-portrait.
Yet the reverent renderings of role models in picture-perfect images betray a guileless idealization of the past. Zoe Bell’s Left Behind portrays an image of an old woman in inverted colours. While this demands a deeper scrutiny on the part of viewers in order to decipher the image, its alienating effect successfully conveys the jarring disconnect experienced by the elderly in the modern world. The artist claims that the work invites viewers to notice the beauty of age, which would otherwise be left unappreciated. Yet an instructional panel at the side teaches viewers how to use their iPhone camera to view the original image, reinforcing the hegemonic position of technology which contradicts its original intent. I also question the frequent use of elderly people to evoke a sense of nostalgia- for don’t they betray a deeper mourning experienced by the artists who have lost an irrecoverable part of their childhood in the process of growing up?
Take a look at Leif Shorter’s The Revolving Door which similarly exploits the frailty of old age through the character of Brooks from the movie The Shawshank Redemption. It seems to me that the preoccupation with the elderly’s inability to adapt in the face of rapid technological advancements exposes a fundamental anxiety in being left behind while others successfully transition to adulthood. One’s weariness in keeping pace with the modern world is symbolised by Exhausted by Esther D’Sylvia, a sculpture of a human face using acrylic resin. Its facial features, consisting of drooping eye bags, creased forehead and deep wrinkles, are universally recognised signs of exhaustion that transcend all ages. These marks of aging articulate a young person’s disenchantment with reality that ultimately finds its representation in the elderly, who have become convenient symbols of stability amidst the tumultuous period in the artists’ lives.
The inner struggles faced by women as they strive to preserve their sense of identity by warding off the negative effects inflicted by society are demonstrated in Sophie Park’s Zah Ors and Imogen Spiers-Wilkes’ Protection from myself. These conflicting perspectives experienced by young ingénues is replicated in Arabelle O’Rouke’s Aqua Profundis, which captures his younger brother’s experience under water. Despite the child-like enjoyment of fun, his refusal to see the dangers around him by keeping his eyes closed is a reminder for us to be aware of potential attacks by the world around us. It also encourages us to retain a pristine worldview while bearing adult responsibilities.
Without a doubt, this exhibition extensively presents the myriad of formative impressions within a young person’s mind. Deposited in the storehouse of memory, these images are gradually left behind in the process of entering adulthood, conveniently forgotten and tucked away behind a cultivated persona created to protect ourselves from a world seemingly oblivious to our unique viewpoints. This impinging snare of adult life consequently serves as a motivating force that urges these young artists to articulate their perspectives and thereby preserve their own identities that would otherwise be marred by the constant societal pressure to mature fast, and perhaps too quickly.
Words by Carin Chan
Year 12 Perspectives 2015 is a free exhibition running at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until 13 June.