‘Together Forever Tonight’ is a show of recent works by artists Hailey Atkins and Jack Mitchell. Working across a range of two and three dimensional media, Hailey and Jack explore how the dialogue between their practices works to further reveal and distort the identity of themselves and those they observe.
Together Forever Tonight
Essay by Alexander Kucharski
Hailey Atkins and Jack Mitchell share sentiment and tenor despite engaging in diverse modes of practice, individually and comparatively. Their show Together Forever Tonight at The Laundry Artspace straddles convention and innovation, form and the formless, and abandon and discretion, as though they are reconcilable dichotomies.
Conventionally, this is a show that is not performative: nor is it technologically sophisticated. The work does not garner its contemporary and innovative (or renovative)1 quality from medium. Rather, traditions of drawing, painting, and sculpture are given a contemporary rhythm in the composition of the work and its installation.
Mitchell’s paintings and drawings clearly show the transition from convention to renovation. Her portraits-cum-self-portraits feature subjects which she admits are characters, and are intended to communicate a narrative. That is, however, where conventionality ends. Her portraits do not solely embody a figure to be appreciated. Instead, her subjects reflect feelings she has about herself that she considers not to be externally manifested or perceived. She is a cowgirl and she is a budgie. This renovative recontextualization of portraiture delicately balances between explicit self-imagery and metaphorically implicit autobiography.
Further, Mitchell’s characters easily lose themselves in their background, in a manner that is paralleled by Atkins’ figuration. It is striking that the artists include distinct personal forms in their work that are immediately perceivable as supplementary to the work as a whole. Atkins displays her legs and covers her upper body in her Ambivalence Escape Suit.e, but it is the boundary created by the sections of her body and the relationship between the body and its surroundings that are the essence of the work.
Herein lies the contemporary nature of the (predominantly) 2D works in the show. Atkins and Mitchell display an awareness of the figurative nature of portraiture and both engage with and subvert its importance by placing themselves (or avatars of themselves) within work that is not purely about identity. The narratives that both artists imply include characters, but do not lose the story for personality study.
This dual role of artist-character is shared by the artists, though for distinct conceptual purposes. Atkins’ legs motif represents her ambivalence in all things; she feels that she has plenty of things to stand on but no one thing to put her whole body into. There is some awkwardness and tension in this self-fragmentation, but it is an exploration, not a decrial, of her unsureness. This is most evident in her hanging legs works, where her ambivalence is suspended loosely and naturally, in a playfully multicoloured array that brims with polymathic potential.
In contrast, Mitchell considers the identity crisis in the ambiguous construction of personal histories to be resultant of subjective social perception. This external focus manifests in her self-interested portraiture, and relates to others’ identities as well as her own.
Exemplifying the artists’ engagement with the abandon-discretion paradigm, Atkins’ larger sculptural works show tendencies to either end of the spectrum. Her besser block and wooden viewing hole has a Rube Goldberg-like specificity to its construction, but defers to the utilitarian nature of its materials. Modally this reflects her other works in the show as a structural collage of sorts. This is perhaps the most rough and ready work on display, bringing to light the artists’ shared aesthetic of tactile, busy, and materially present practice that is deeply personal and divergent from sleek and disengaged new media work.
The qualities of the space strengthen this aesthetic. This is Queensland work being displayed in a Queenslander, with Australian figures and local materials, and an overall feeling of serious deprecation mixed with droll introspection. It will probably even be quite hot and sticky, subtropical gothic laziness evident in artist output and exhibition attendee alike.
These personal and cultural narratives Atkins and Mitchell explore in their work are reflected in their curation of the show, with objects, paintings, drawings, and sculptures displayed high and low, with considered rhythm and pacing. Their exploration is hopefully to be mirrored by their audience, who must navigate the space in contemplation of their own legs to stand on, or whether their cowboy hat is literal or metaphoric.
The artists’ discretion in this context results in the spatial pivot point of Mitchell’s large red portrait with a handle structure atop it. It is as though you can take the narrative with you whichever way you go: this colourful story in a sea of muted tones. Finally, Atkins’ physical manifestation of the shroud she paints herself with in her collages stands unsurely as you exit the space. The poignant potential of the sculpture-object as a banner for happy ambivalence has only one leg to stand on, but that’s all it appears to need.
1 Renovative is my preferred term as I acquiesce to the loss of the modernist requirement of innovation in contemporary art theory: see McLean, Osborne, Smith, etc.
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