CURTAIN CALL: FLESH EXPRESS
2 – 19 December 2015
Curated by Daen Kelly + Bianca Tainsh
Opening Night | Thursday 3 December, 6-8pm
Diego Ramirez + Melissa Matveyeff
Through their provocative performance based practices Melissa Matveyeff and Diego Ramirez flagrantly use their bodies as expressive instruments of self-exploration, set to challenge ideas around sexuality and self-identity.
Melissa comically confronts us with the visceral and abject as she interrogates desire, inhibition and social restraints around the female body. On the other end of the spectrum Diego’s video performances are hyperbolic pantomimes, where fantasy and freak are used as a biographical survey to explore cultural and sexual identity.
Flesh Express juxtaposes Melissa and Diego’s latest practice against earlier works that established their unique and rebellious creative approaches. Through this opportunity to exhibit together they will enliven the gallery through uncanny and kitsch installations and live performance.
Flesh Express brings together Melissa Matveyeff and Diego Ramirez, two artists who use their bodies as tools, material and medium, to produce potent works that don’t shy from their personal enquiries, but rather face them head on. They are unrelenting and subversive, and shamelessly delight in their bold resolve to perform acts that we all might foster a hidden desire to act out ourselves, but never actually dare.
It could be argued that we are all living, breathing artworks. Humans are the only species in which individual members feel the need to transform their appearance in a purely outward expression of their personality. As a species we have evolved far past our intrinsic origins of primal displays of sexual prowess, strength and fertility. We now use our appearance to communicate our associations to complex genres, our wealth and social status. These appearances change as we respond to and appropriate a constant drift of cultural trends.
‘My body is my temple’ has become a colloquial expression. We are living sculptures as we alter and refine our physique, and adorn ourselves with the apparel and body decoration that best projects to others who we are, or would like to be. At the same time social programming and expectation still unavoidably direct us. And so our bodies become a constructed façade to exhibit our sexual orientation and social classification.
In art the body is a platform for communication. It can be a place of change, metamorphosis. It can be an expressive instrument, loaded with sexual stigma, expectation and vulnerability, or a podium for observing shame and disorientation. The body signifies joy, desire and sensation, making performance a natural mode for artists to employ the body as a compelling means for self- expression and in the investigation of self-identity.
When artists engage their own body as the material of their practice, they are also offering an intimacy unique from other artistic forms. There is no escaping the direct and personal nature of this approach. The artist is starkly revealed to the viewer, and often the exchange is more revealing than would be normal with even a close acquaintance, subsequently creating a deep and affecting experience.
Through their provocative performance based practices Melissa Matveyeff and Diego Ramirez flagrantly use their bodies as expressive instruments of self- exploration, set to challenge ideas around sexuality and self-identity. Their works also have an element of play and humour that lightens their heavy subject matter, and makes us unwittingly more receptive to its message. Despite the commonalities in their practices these two artists are as equally disparate in their aesthetic outcomes and approach to production
Melissa’s work is playful and spontaneous, as she sets herself a loose parameter in which to experiment and act out on intuition. The result is performative video, sculpture and installation, with qualities that are raw, emotional and often visceral. The body is ever present whether it is the artist in the throws of performance, or the viewers’ own experience of body-awareness in response to Melissa’s taunts.
Melissa lends her body to scrutiny to inspire a dialogue around gender identity, the body as a curiosity, and awkward physical hang-ups. Melissa also revels in the gratification of acting out automatically, something we enjoy as children, yet are expected to abandon as we enter adulthood.
This lends to a sense of the ridiculous but also something more primal. It is a reminder of the animal inside us all, the invisible menace held in check by the confines of appropriate social behavior. In this way Melissa breaks away from the rigid and mechanical body, towards the vessel of the soul, a material that is malleable, experiential and problematic.
And it is this experiential quality that best describes the tangible quality of Melissa’s work. She celebrates the senses, and the enjoyment that can be experienced when exploring materials through our body’s responses. Melissa utilises found objects and materials as props, and through experimentation she successfully creates texturally loaded experiences.
This is heightened by Melissa’s use of everyday paraphernalia, reminding us of the possibilities of the real world as a place of new discovery and sensation. Her application of common materials and reference to plebeian phenomena again opens dialogue around gender roles, social expectations and the absurdity of living out a banal existence.
In contrast Diego’s process is highly scripted and great lengths are taken to meticulously stage video works that transport us to alternate realities. Diego’s worlds are windows into the subconscious, where cultural crossovers are presented, creating hyperbolic scenarios that challenge our notions of narrative and aesthetic.
Loaded with personal symbolism and iconography Diego’s videos offer a surreal experience. His Mexican heritage is a strong thematic undercurrent in his self- exploratory practice, and informs his conceptual investigations and visual approach. Diego is his own stand-in as he acts out the roles of his melodramatic protagonists who are self-representative, but also obscure. The result is disarmingly revealing and intimate
Diego’s practice particularly toys with ‘the freak inside’, the uncanny, and fantastical, whether it is enacting perversion, oddity, or obsessive fandom. His work is antagonistic and absurdist, but highly appealing with its rich visuals, odd narrative, and its emphatic exploration of sexuality, gender, and pop-culture.
With immaculate scene production and camera angles, Diego’s videos are highly cinematic, though the influence of film culture offers us a false comfort. The viewers’ tendency to become submissive when encountering such a familiar media is shifted as Diego presents his provocative content, ultimately disorient- ing and shocking the viewer. And then there are the moments in Diego’s works that uncomfortably remind us of the improper desires or morbid fascinations we might harbor ourselves.
His effective use of cinematic techniques, costume and stage makeup also means that Diego is able to visually reference films, another device to arrest our attention, only to subvert and shift our expectations. At the same time Diego’s symbolism and process is highly original and though warped by oddity, it is honest in it tran- scendental self-enquiry.
Revisiting the oeuvre of these two remarkable artists has been a great pleasure, and the curators of this year’s Curtain Call and BLINDSIDE Gallery are thankful for their effort and enthusiasm in helping to present this show, and particularly for opening up a discussion around their creative journeys.
- BIANCA TAINSH