Review: NotFair Primal mutation

Primal mutation is the theme of this year’s Not Fair exhibition curated by Melissa Amore, Ashley Crawford and Sam Leach, and it turns out to be a surprisingly expansive topic. As one might expect, some of this show resembles a carnival of death, with dripping animal heads and snarling mouths, and in general, there is a lot of black ooze. But in many works, the idea of mutation is expressed in terms of an original blueprint which has been mucked up. Several artists make use of stamps, transfers and tracings of human and animal forms. In each case, a tainted copy becomes the prototype from which successive generations are modelled. 

In David H. Thomas’ Fountainhead (2004-12), the shapes of fossilised stars and skulls are stamped across series of cards. Each time, the original form is imperfectly reproduced, but that irregularity becomes the distinctive mark of each print. Join Silica Liong’s work shows an ink pattern passing through sheets of slitted cardboard. The slits are like filters which determine which part of the pattern gets passed through to the next card, and what gets dispersed or lost.  Any “flaw” will keep repeating itself, until the end product is a facsimile of oddity.
Other works feature subjects which are barely identifiable: they appear to be nothing but mutation. Drew Bickford’s Two Six One Nine (2011) is a mass of tentacles and talons, while the creature in Mongrel (2008) looks like a mix of human, ghillie and L. Frank Baum’s cowardly lion. James Little’s graphite sketches show elaborate hairstyles organised around a missing element: the human face. Kieran Boland’s works are annotated film scripts in which the storyboarding gets out of control.  Boland’s scripts describe surreal images, but he can’t wait for them to be filmed: the typed pages are covered with scrawls, fearful faces, and a hulk-like figure of irrepressible anger. 
What kind of identity is created when the original plan gets garbled?  In the Heath Franco video Dream Home (2012), a man keeps reciting a mantra which sounds like, “Am I get a something something?”  The urgency of the question is matched only by its vagueness. At the same time, the man’s body is a confusing set of signs. He is androgynous and somewhat inarticulate; he is masked, although we can see sad eyes made up with mascara. Physically he is a bit of a brute, but he is also engaged in sophisticated performance art. The mutated bodies in this show are a mass of contradictions, as if they were objects of a failed design: one that refuses to stop breeding.

By Lesley Chow

Lesley Chow

Lesley Chow is a Melbourne arts critic and associate editor at Bright Lights. Her articles have also appeared in Artist Profile and Photofile. She has curated works and appeared on festival juries in Portugal, South Korea and Hong Kong. She is the author of catalogues for artists including Jacqui Stockdale, Alan Jones and Guy Maestri.