The title of the new show by Jaala Alex, Vrinda Gleeson and Chloe Waters at Laundry Artspace suggests restraint. Inhibitions temper desires, and exhibitions, even at idiosyncratic ARIs, always tame and constrain the shambolic actualities of making art. Presumably, the title is a clever confection — a trifle layered with erotic potential (exhibitionism), a cool literality (it is an exhibition after all), sexual tension (inhibitions are always on the verge of being lost), and euphonic symmetry. And, of course, there is the forward slash. The solidus is a favourite device of artists and curators in need of a destabilising bite.
Although at a great remove from Giovanni Bellini and Edgar Degas, Gleeson and Alex have rekindled the motif of the young woman at her toilet, replacing the coy subject and ubiquitous mirror with a self-conscious presentation and digital lens. Gleeson and her mates are depicted spitting, posing, squatting, pissing, pinching, chatting, bathing and lounging in bathrooms. The women fade in and out of brittle and opaque environments — photogenic and unapologetic. The swift, deft marks in graphite, gouache, and oil never allow Gleeson’s hand or the viewer’s erotic attention to linger on bodies and gestures. The artist seems to be seeking a graphic method that can arrest the ambiguities of seduction while roasting her own inclinations to polish and articulate each sensual form. It would be elementary to relate this work to art historical antecedents or contemporary squabbling about ‘the nude’. The poignant tensions in this work, however, are to be found in the fraught exchanges (pictorial and otherwise) between Gleeson and her companions.
Jaala Alex’s work Sittin’ on the Toilet overtly references its art historical pedigree while reframing the ‘at her toilet’ motif as a relational exchange between artist and viewers in the loo. She clogs up the toilet with her own body, frustrating (sexually? scatologically?) those intrepid spectators that would press themselves into the tiny water closet with her. The ‘woman at her toilet’ motif is entirely about the pleasures of looking — the model gussies herself up for the picture, expressing an intense desire to ‘get it right’ for the artist and the viewer. Alex’s relationship with her audience is far more ambivalent. She is decidedly sittin’ on the toilet and not shittin’, although she is perched there for hours. But, what does she want or expect from us? Is a public pantomime of excretion meant to instigate other debaucheries — a clarion call to shed inhibitions and rekindle the sort of bacchanalian blowout that was the hallmark of underground art events of the 70s and 80s? I suspect art audiences have all become a bit too starchy for that.
Finally, Chloe Waters has dangled impassive milk jugs (jugs-dugs) from the wall. Previously, her work has used graphic strategies of drawing and printmaking to distort and amplify her own body. This work is a departure, but the link to her theme of the fragmented body is blatant. This installation demands a great deal of its audience, providing scant context for its conspicuous symbolism. Given even a cursory consideration of works such as Sarah Lucas’ photos of a male torso with cock-and- balls milk bottle and biscuits, or Hannah Raisin’s Milking performance, it would seem that Waters’ jugs stake out anti-reductionist and anti-essentialist territories. She both exhibits her breasts and maintains a symbolic and aesthetic distance from the vexing complications of using the body to critique the body’s utility.
Exhibition/Inhibition is exactly the sort of show an upstart ARI should champion — one in which a trio of young artists tests works, exchanges ideas, and provokes a critical dialogue that is so essential for developing a seasoned practice.
Exhibition photos coming soon…
Facebook event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/154641074917250/