Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Twin Peaks Was 30 by Matthew Taggart.
  2. Breaking News: It’s Rone! by Sam Beard.
  3. Look, looking at Anna Park by Amelia Birch.
  4. The Fan by Francis Russell.
  5. Follower, Leader by Maraya Takoniatis.
  6. Wanneroo Warholamania by Sam Beard.
  7. Death Metal Summer by Sam Beard.
  8. Players, Places: Reprised, Renewed, Reviewed by Aimee Dodds.
  9. Scholtz: Two Worlds Apart by  Corderoy, Fisher, Flaherty, Wilson, Fletcher,  Jorgensen, & Glover.
  10. Partial Sightings by Sam Beard.
  11. True! Crime. by Aimee Dodds.
  12. The Human Condition by Rex Butler.
  13. Light Event by Sam Beard.
  14. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery.
  15. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden.
  16. 4Spells by Sam Beard.
  17. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen.
  18. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby.
  19. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery.
  20. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard.
  21. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds.
  22. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell.
  23. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.
  24. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard.
  25. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery.
  26. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch.
  27. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard.
  28. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan.
  29. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis.
  30. Art as Asset by Sam Beard.
  31. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds.
  32. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard.
  33. COBRA by Francis Russell.
  34. PICA Barn by Sam Beard .
  35. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds.
  36. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby.
  37. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis.
  38. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard.
  39. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous.
  40. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden.
  41. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain.
  42. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds.
  43. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  44. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard.
  45. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds.
  46. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis.
  47. Transmutations by Sam Beard.
  48. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard.
  49. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery.
  50. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen.
  51. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds.
  52. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard.
  53. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard.
  54. Random Cube by Francis Russell.
  55. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds.
  56. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst.
  57. Being Realistic by Sam Beard.



Look, looking at Anna Park

The figure of the anchorite—or anchoress—surged in popularity during the late Middle Ages in Britain. Over the course of the thirteenth century women drawn to such a reclusive life outnumbered men by an estimated three to one. The life of an anchoress was one of sensory deprivation and spiritual contemplation. She would enter a cell adjacent to the church and be sealed inside, remaining there until death. In many cases, the only outside illumination for an anchoress would come from the “squint”, a slitted window cleaved into the inner wall of the cell. The squint was angled just-so, allowing the anchoress to gaze solely upon the altar of the church. Historian Mary Wellesley characterises the squint as a “conduit of sensation”, and after so long spent in silent, dark contemplation, to peer through the squint and witness ecclesiastic ceremony - candles, art, movement, song, and perhaps most staggeringly, people - must have been overwhelming, a glut of ocular stimuli.[1] While scaling unimaginable spiritual experience from within her anchorhold, the squint could ground her in one of the basest of human desires—to look.
        Walking through Look, look. Anna Park, the latest offering from The Art Gallery of Western Australia, I thought frequently of the anchoress fitting her eye against the squint to the point of absolute visual overstimulation. Park works in charcoal and ink, and while the vibrancy of colour is drained from these pieces they still overwhelm, the viewer teetering on the edge of being consumed by such chaos. The exhibition—Park’s first outside of the USA—is a series of large scale drawings spread across two rooms. The exhibited works are pleasingly referential and self-indulgent in such an oddly soothing way that it becomes excusable. Look, look is so entrenched in broader visual culture that to look at a Park renders it impossible to not think of ten different things at once while struggling to parse the image before you.
        Park is at her strongest when she leans into the sing-song echo of her exhibition title in her repetitive imaging of faces, eyes, and mouths—frequently to the point of near-abstraction. In Dangerous the figure of a woman, her thin lips curled in a grimaced smile around a gleaming wedge of teeth, becomes progressively disembodied as Park stacks the women like menacing pin-up paper dolls until they start to run together in a smear of charcoal, blending into what resembles an ominous close-up of Alexandre Cabanel’s Fallen Angel (1847). Next is With Reason, where the viewer peers through a series of windows cut into the visual cacophony of speech bubbles, elastic faces, and a figure who looks peculiarly similar to Stanley Tucci in The Hunger Games. The top window is delightfully frustrating; the only instance I can find in the exhibition where women look directly at each other. There is no absence of eyes in this exhibition—frequently doll-like, wide and glazed above gaping Luna Park mouths—and yet With Reason is the only manifestation of a shared gaze between women, locking the viewer out. It’s maddening. In an exhibition where so many works feel split open at the seams, granting us visual access to the point of distressing, indecipherable totality, to be so excluded is utterly compelling.    
        Without a doubt, the best piece in the exhibition is Finders Keepers. Three square windows are stacked like building blocks along the left side of the work, with close-ups of pressured, instructional imagery inside each - button pushing, pumpkin carving, and a sliver of a word that looks like “Smile”. These indentations feel reminiscent of Lee Lozano’s Punch, Peek & Feel (1967-70), the depth and directives of Park’s perforations are in conversation with Lozano’s conflation of violence and sexuality, vision and skin.[2] Such ideas seem to sit at the crux of Finders Keepers. There is a breathing space offered to this canvas that many of the other works lack, the roiling of women’s flesh given room to fold in on itself, over and over. Pieces like Taste the Fruit! and Picture that are so packed with images that they bleed over the edges of their frames, women’s faces split by the edge of the canvas in uncomfortable pulls of skin to meet the gallery wall. Comparatively, the frame of Finders Keepers is black, sporadically spilling onto the picture plane to encroach on the image itself. This lingering threat of negative space is echoed by the central figure, a woman gazing into the white void of a handheld mirror. In an exhibition packed with indecipherable visual chaos, gazing into the sterile nothingness of the mirror feels like trying to look directly into the sun. Nothing about this image is easy to look at. Like a reverse Alice in Wonderland, the refracted tumult reads like some unknowable mirror world we fundamentally cannot access. Two hands grasp at the mirror, one smooth and childlike, the other gnarled, swollen and knuckled over. A third set of nail-less fingertips preen experimentally at the woman’s face. She is passive, fixed, trapped in dynamic ambivalence as she stares into the beaming void of something unknown. It’s horrifying, and an absolute triumph of surreal unease.
        In a review for Artist’s Chronicle, my fellow critic Sam Beard referenced the Mad Men-esque imagery at play in Park’s works. I am less interested in any Don Draperisms, but thinking about mid-century advertising, it struck me that one of the strengths of these pieces is how effectively Park grapples with the physicality of her works as objects. The scale of these works and depth of image could make it easy to forget that we are looking at drawings, but Park has emphasised the boxy weight of each piece in a manner reminiscent of a different kind of mid-century iconography: the craft of sign-writing. The smudge and drag of lines are a constant, intimate reminder of the artist’s hand, and call to mind towering billboards on all-American road trips sixty years past. Reinforcing the objecthood of these works—the heft of their shadows, the blocky, industrial edges—serves as an anchor to physical place for Park’s viewer, an interesting juxtaposition of their formal physicality and their phantasmagorical content.
        The exhibition is not without its flaws. I am less compelled by the banality of some of Park’s more pared-back images, like Just Imagine! where a glimpse of Betty Boop is caught through a star cut-out. Moreover, the addition of Park’s sketch notes in a glass case feels like a space-filling curio. It is a display for mild interest, a momentary gawk at the artist’s process that rings passively gauche after the enormous sublimity of pieces like Thank you or Finders Keepers. These elements are excusable, though, the major stumbling block being the main exhibition didactic. After spending long, dizzying minutes standing before Park’s drawings, having to read the phrase “bedroom whispers that mask our darkest projections” printed on the gallery wall felt like a    mawkish trivialisation of the work. Writing about art is hard—god, do I know it!—, but such a didactic not only devalues what is most powerful about Park’s art, but reduces any nuance to trite, jargony marketing-speak about stereotypical twee femme fatales.
        Fundamentally, I do believe that the works in Look, look. Anna Park are capable of pushing past such curatorial eye-rolls. The works speak to broader concerns in our current consumption of visual culture: when we have all art in the history of the world at our fingertips in one unending amnesiac scroll, then what does it mean to stop, what does it mean to look? In the centre of the larger gallery is the titular piece, Look, look, mounted on multiple mirrors. Initially I found this display tiresome, so exhausted by the selfie-inclined Instagrammable choices made by our cultural institutions which, while understanding the frequent necessity of in this particular technological moment, I nonetheless find tedious. Look, look features a woman’s enormous head, disembodied and floating against a muted grey wash, her haunting, vaguely displeased gaze angled downwards in a manner which reminded me of the anthropomorphised moon from Nintendo’s 2000 (highly underrated) Majora’s Mask. In an effort to push past my knee-jerk response to Look, look’s mirrored frame, I spent some time doing exactly what the title asked of me. While looking, I edged around the portrait, trying to ignore the reflection of my own presence peering back at me. Suddenly I became a participant in a disconcertingly transportive moment where the dripping ruin of petals in Thank you hung on the wall behind me was inverted by the mirror, subsumed into the frame of Look, look in an unending visual feedback loop. As gradually as I could manage, I shifted side to side. In the reflection, the woman’s face - at once behind and in front of me - rippled and warped, her floral accompaniments more grotesque than ever. Finally, she was pulled slowly, monstrously, somewhere beyond the mirror’s reflection that I could not follow. I thought of the anchoress with her eye pressed to the limiting, expansive crease of the squint, that keyholed conduit of sensation she could do naught but look through, look at. Just like that, I forgave the gimmick.


Look, look. Anna Park, 20 April - 08 September 2024, at The Art Gallery of Western Australia.



Footnotes:

[1] For further reading, see Mary Wellesley, “This Place Is A Pryson: Living In Her Own Grave”, London Review of Books 41, no. 10 (2019): https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n10/mary-wellesley/this-place-is-pryson

[2] Lee Lozano’s Punch, Peek & Feel (1967-70) is a perforated canvas, originally conceived to be leaned up against the wall when exhibited to emphasise the depth of shadow and absence, the erotics of violence, and the experience of looking. For further reading see Jo Applin, “Cut Out, Drop Out”, American Art 31, no. 1 (2017): 6-12. 



Image credits: Look, look. Anna Park. Installation view, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2024. Photo: Dan McCabe.