The Number You Have Reached, Curated by Sarah Werkmeister & Tim Woodward
I stare at a chrome head, with a wire crown and tendrils reaching to the eyes. On a second head nearby is another crown, but this one has two large syringes on the rear along with what looks like a toy mobile phone and some circuitry. A video explains that Michael Candy’s Digital Empathy Device was mounted on the female statue representing égalité (equality) at the French Republic monument in Paris. Once connected to the mobile phone and syringes filled with fluid, it was part of a wirelessly mapping system where new citizens can live feed current information about bombings and attacks in the places they once called home. For example, when an attack occurs in Syria, the device causes the syringes to plunge the liquid through the wire, and the égalité figure seems to be weeping.
I see this as an expression of empathy for those in who are suffering around the world. There was no obvious reference to the Paris terror attacks of November 2015, but as part of a European, if not global, context it seemed linked. Without needing to check our social media or news app, the statue’s tears inform us that somewhere our brothers and sisters are hurt, and we grieve for them. The immediacy of the tears seems a comment on how the details of the attack are not necessary – all we need to know to mourn is that lives have been lost in a war.
Lingchi: Echoes of a Historical Photograph – Chen Chieh-Jen, Curated by Laetitia Wilson
Featuring monochromatic footage with minimal sound playing at half or quarter speed, the work of this Taiwanese artist is in a room of its own. There are three projected screens playing the same video, except for a few key moments where the centre frame plays close-ups. The subject is Lingchi, a traditional Chinese form of corporal punishment, sometimes referred to as ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Based on a series of photographs from 1905, Chieh-Jen has created this triptych in response to the way history was recorded by the colonial forces in Taiwan and China.
The video shows the process of Lingchi, where a young male is tied to a stand made from poles, his hands bound behind his back, and stripped of his clothes. A crowd surrounds and holds him, before forcing him to drink something. Men in more formal clothing begin to cut into the figure, in drawn-out slow motion, but we are blocked from seeing their work as our viewpoint is from behind them. The low tonal sound is almost buzzing; reminiscent of blood roaring in our ears at times of stress. The figure’s head lolls from side to side, his eyes unfocused, his mind is far away, and at that point I realise that the drink was drugged.
At times we see the photographer, a white man under the cloak of an old box camera, his eyes peering through binocular viewers. He motions for people to move so he can capture the progress. As they remove sections of the victim’s pectoral muscle, we see as if he were cut all the way through. Images of an abandoned palace, a factory, a prison – dreary and ghostly shells of human habitation. Chieh-Jen is showing us locations of significance, where chemicals were leaked or experiments performed on Chinese people. These are places of pain, but they are recorded through the eyes of a white man. I wonder if this colonial figure can make any truthful record of what happens in front of him, or of what happened in these now empty buildings.
The gruesome punishment is not what stands out to me in this video, but rather the expressions on the faces of those in the crowd. The young man is almost catatonic, and the men surrounding him watch the knives intently. There is no sympathy, but also no joy or signs of a rabid mob, so serious is this ritual.
Red Pill//Untitled (Secrets of the female mind) – Matthew Greaves, interview with Suzanne Hindmarsh//Untitled (Take back the night) – Matthew Greaves, poster
A large white poster with blue and black text hangs from the wall; a single spotlight shines on the image. As I approach, a man removes a set of wireless headphones and passes them to me. When I put them on, I hear the vitriol of the angry men who frequent the sub-reddit Red Pill, a reference to the rabbit hole we should all go down to explore the depths of anti-female sentiment in global society. The voice is female and it seems to be a radio or podcast discussion. She tells me that women cannot find success in careers or fulfilment outside the home, so I take the headphones off. Hearing it in a female voice is jarring – when women are sexist towards other women it feels like a betrayal.
The blue and black text is a similar venomous attack, with as many errors of logic as a speech by Donald Trump. I am reminded of Roosh and Return of Kings, with his loudmouthed internet tirades about how rape should be made legal on private property. Numb to the experience, I’m not shocked by this piece and instead I’m unsure what its purpose is. The general mistreatment of women in culture is worthy of discussion, but this feels like old news, a photocopy of better manifestos.
Still Life (Betamale) – John Rafman
This short video sequence from the Montreal-born artist mixes still and video images to present a window into a world; perhaps the world of the man we first see at the beginning of the work. An overweight, shirtless Caucasian with most of his head covered by pink underwear. He points two guns at himself and his eyes look out at us, his webcam.
We then see Hentai footage (pixelated like early video games) and Furries enacting strange behaviour like slowly drowning in mud or having paint poured over them. Women with wigs and anime masks dance slowly and stiffly pose. A female voice tells us that we might be looking into the womb, into a universe, into a home. Photographs appear, maybe from a crime scene, or from an episode of Hoarders, or from a VICE special on the people who clean up crime scenes at the homes of hoarders. There are computer desks assembled from laundry baskets, milk crates and mattresses cloaked in the filth of food and its packaging, and a Persian cat perches by a screen. We connect the man pointing guns at his underwear covered head with these homes, these wombs, and it seems he was viewing these images of Furries, Hentai, and masked women, while he ate these foods, patted his pet cat, lived, and maybe died, in his universe.
This man epitomises gluttony, sloth, and cartoons fetishised for his non-stop viewing. How removed is our technology driven universe from his? How different are our personalised feeds? How much is our home like that of a hoarder?
Words by Jane Hakanson
Success’ second exhibition ran 30 April–29 May in the basement of MANY6160, the Old Myer Building in Kings Square, Fremantle. The third Success programme begins Saturday 11 June and runs until 10 July with five simultaneous exhibitions across 2,800 square metres of gallery space.