28 May - 14 June 2014
Opening Night | Saturday 31 May 3-5pm
Lisa Frankland + Melissa Matveyeff
Personal Place brings together the work of two emerging artists, Lisa Frankland and Melissa Matveyeff, to expose the anxiety and absurdity of perhaps the most familiar experience of all; ones relationship to their parents. It might seem strange that two, thirty-something-year-old women (and by extension, fully equipped to become baby-machines themselves), would return to this subject matter so many years after leaving the familiar nest. However, in a reverse of the 1970s tradition of pinning the everyday experience of motherhood to the gallery walls (literally, and including shitty nappies, in Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1973–79)), Frankland and Matveyeff turn their attention, and video cameras, to the awkwardness of their adult relationships to ‘mum and dad.’ In doing so, the artists filter the social frustrations and sexual mores they experience as women living today through the lens of laughter: a tool used to ‘break the ice’, as they say, for both the artists themselves as well as their audience, to allow deeper reflection of the more serious content that follows. (Excerpt from essay by Laura Castagnini, 2014.)
For Personal Place, Frankland presents a selection of works from the series Corvette vs Hyundai (Dad vs. Lisa) (2012-13): a collaboration with her father – a blokey, tradie type – with whom she has recently reignited a close bond. If cars tell us anything about their owner’s lifestyle, Lisa and her Dad live worlds apart as: she, a contemporary artist, drives a cheap 1998 Hyundai Excel (a typical ‘girls car’ that, funnily enough, her dad helped her to choose) while her Dad’s pride and joy is his 1979 Stingray Corvette which he rebuilt and spray-painted himself. By inviting her father to collaborate with her on a series of artworks, however, Frankland comically attempts to build a bridge between their passions while resultantly offering some common ground of craftsmanship. The first work of this series is from 2012, in which Frankland presents an amateur home video of her and her Dad’s empty cars sitting side by side in the backyard: the Corvette and the Hyundai. One car starts, revving as loud as it can, followed by the other to create an anthropomorphised (and completely unequal) battle of the motors. The comedic failure of the artist’s attempt to beat her father’s car, whose tender numberplate “My Ray” belies his doting affection, pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the sibling-like competitive jealousy towards the Corvette that Lisa finds herself bursting with. The next stage of the project, entitled Gold Car vs. White Car (Dad vs Lisa), is a video which displays crude cartoon drawings by the artist and her father of their respective cars to the soundtrack of the pair verbally making sounds of their cars revving. For Henri Bergson, an early essayist on laughter, anthropomorphism was a key factor to the comic: in fact, he argued “the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human.”[i] Gold Car vs. White Car (Dad vs Lisa), therefore, presents an absurdist depiction of inanimate objects that self-deprecatingly combines the familial loves: cars and art. Neither, in this case, come off too well: the joke is squarely on them. Bad drawing is embraced in another of Frankland’s collaborations with her father, My Dad Drew Me (2013), a singlet upon which is printed a quick (and not particularly flattering) sketch of the artist by her father beneath the proud phrase “My Dad Drew Me.” At once questioning the status of ‘good’ art, and as such the stereotype of artists as ‘technically skilled,’ My Dad Drew Me draws together many of the threads (no pun intended) that circulate Frankland’s practice: brutally honest interrogation of personal relationships, as well as related notions of feminine appearance, self-worth, and consumerism, all presented with a self-deprecating yet sparkling humour.
Similarly, Matveyeff’s practice traverses installation, small sculpture, performance, and video. She often repurposes domestic objects for strange and sexually crude purposes; in her recent show Gender type(o)s (RMIT Gallery, 2013) ‘cocks’ were fashioned from washing machine hoses and door handles, and ‘cunts’ produced from twisted carpet offcuts. Therein her work displays a feminist sculptural tradition in the likes of Sarah Lucas, or more locally, Claire Lambe. However, theatrical props are littered throughout amongst Matveyeff’s seductive arrangements; stockings, balloons and bananas jostle with fake breasts and toy eyeballs for a position in her nonsensical, Paul McCarthy-esque, stage plays. These two driving forces of Matveyeff’s work – corporeal anxiety and absurd theatricality – are brought together in her work for Personal Place.
In Family Portrait (2014), Matveyeff perches theatrical wigs, breasts and noses atop wooden trophies on a mantelpiece to produce a surreal and subverted version of the domestic home environment. The three gnarlish versions of the familial triad – mother, father, and baby – form the backdrop for Matveyeff’s performative video: Mum and Dad (2013). Cropped to a close-up view of the artist’s face, the video component sees Matveyeff mimicking a child’s call to their parents: “Mum… Mum…. Mum…Dad... Dad… Dad.” Beginning with a baby voice, Matveyeff’s impersonation grows and transforms with each repetition: cycling through childhood to adolescence and finally adulthood, swapping genders along the way. Following Simone DeBouviour’s famous claim, Matveyeff ‘becomes’ a woman – but only after she has, alarmingly realistically, ‘become’ an annoying toddler and a whiny teenage boy.[ii] Her dramatisation of gender’s construction speaks to the public staging of identity that we as humans ‘put on’ each day to perform our prescribed gendered, sexual, and social roles. By exaggerating this performance to the point of crudity, Matveyeff delights in subverting the absurdity of social conventions and taboos.
Humour theorist Simon Critchley suggests: “Humour effects a breakage in the bond connecting the human being to its unreflective, everyday existence. In humour, as in anxiety, the world is made strange and unfamiliar to the touch.”[iii] That is, humour functions in the same way as anxiety: both emotions remove the human being from their everyday, familiar, experience. In this way, when the work of Matveyeff and Frankland provokes a laugh or a shudder, Personal Place breaks the bond of human beings to their everyday existence – a life filled with cars, jealously, parents, mantlepieces, gender, and growing older. By offering moments from their personal lives, the artists invite the viewer to recognise the absurdity of social conventions as well as the restrictions they place on our individual freedom and happiness; and, perhaps, the fun that can be had in laughing them off.
Laura Castagnini, 2014.
[i] Henri Bergson, “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic” , reprinted in Jennifer Higgie (ed.), The Artist’s Joke, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007),22. Emphasis original.
[ii] That is, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” See Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H.M. Parshley, (London: Cape, 1953), 295. De Beauvoir’s insights were developed by Judith Butler in her influential theory of gender as performative; See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York : Routledge, 1990).
[iii] Simon Critchley, On Humour, (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 41.