Square/ Box

Viviana Barrero, Michelle Chanique, Danny Giles, Karen Lee, Vanessa Martinez, Tamara Pavlovic, Karen Riethmuller, Luke Robinson Lisa Stratigos. 

Curated by Ailsa Weaver

2 - 5 November 2016  
Opening Night: Tuesday 1 November 2016; 5-7 PM

a paradigm / a pixel / a culture / a frame / a screen / a euphemism / a square / a box

SQUARE/BOX offers intensely personal answers to universal contemporary questions. What is the experience of the physical self in the digitised age? How porous is the membrane between sexuality and gender? How do social politics feature in a culture of cyber anarchy? Can we identify anachronisms of the future by evaluating the values of the past? 

Viviana Barrero / Michelle Chanique / Danny Giles / Karen Lee / Vanessa Martinez / Tamara Pavlovic / Karen Riethmuller / Luke Robinson / Lisa Stratigos 

Nine interdisciplinary practitioners associated with the UNSWA&D Master of Art program explore gender, sexuality and technology in SQUARE/BOX, an artist initiated project curated by Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership (MCCL) candidate Ailsa Weaver.

Assistant Curator, Kudos White Cube Internship Program: Alex Malcolm.

Square/ Box by Alexandra Malcolm

Group show SQUARE/BOX asks us, are we inside or outside the box? 

Nine interdisciplinary artists showcase artworks exploring contemporary themes of gender sexuality and technology.

When thinking of the word “square” and “box” a variety of interpretations come to mind, many of them engrained within the world of art as well as contemporary society itself. One could think of the abstract concept of “…a gender paradigm” or otherwise one could also consider the literal notion of “…a screen” or “…a frame”. We could even think of the white cube gallery space as being connected to the physical dimensions of a “square” or “box”. Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership candidate Ailsa Weaver (UNSW Art & Design) in conversation with nine creative practitioners has drawn upon these interpretations to form a conceptual framework, loosely surrounding gender, sexuality and technology in the exhibition ‘SQUARE/BOX’.  

‘SQUARE/BOX’, held at Kudos Gallery from the second to the fifth of November 2016, was initiated by the nine diverse interdisciplinary artists who previously knew each other through the UNSW Art & Design Master of Art degree. The relationships between the artists, whether personal, academic or collaborative provides this exhibition with an interwoven awareness of each other’s discipline as well as brings intriguing conversations amongst the different work on display. The further addition of Ailsa Weaver to curate the exhibition, complements the artist’s works by establishing a thematic structure that draws connections between the artists’ works as part of a unified exhibition.

The exhibition separates the artist’s works into three partially contained sections, leading the audience through a gradual progression of ideas. This organization allows both the focus upon individual works within each room as well as the extensive flow of dialogue between all the works. 

Initially the audience encounters the first section, featuring the video Product of Society, by Vanessa Martinez who interprets the exhibition title interchangeably as both a literal and symbolic idea of a square/box. This literal idea of a box is provided through the visual presentation of a video, displayed on a mounted television, creating a frame in which a female body is shown lying down appearing confined within the television’s rectangular screen. On a symbolic level the video addresses the idea of the square/box as being a restrictive gender role expressed through the hyper sexualized media imagery that corresponds with the feminist rhetoric of accompanying audio.

The images contained within the projection are symbolic of the gender roles and sexual objectification of the female body society projects onto women. - Martinez

This audio material, sourced from YouTube channel Style Like You functions as omniscient commentary circulating the front half of the gallery space and carries on the theme of female objectification also relevant to Karen Riethmuller’s surrounding digital prints. Riethmuller further questions society’s narrow standards of female beauty in her work Object (Beauty Lies Within), pigment print, which confronts the audience upon entering. This print, one of three, has also been used as the promotional image for the exhibition and featured prominently across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter creating instant recognition for visitors as well as reaffirming the identity of the show. These prints question female identity constructed through various industries including cosmetic surgery in which the ideal of beauty has become globally homogenized. Riethmuller has drawn upon research of physiognomy and developments in cosmetic surgery to digitally enhance these female images so they appear uncanny.

Within the second section a large mixed media planar installation by Danny Giles titled Past and present, captures the artist’s identity and gender through multiple life size outlines of their body. Here the audience is faced with an experimental project, a journey of transformations questioning the progressive nature of identity, place and gender. This work has an encompassing presence within the space but does not distract from other neighboring works such as the adjacent video installation, Balance, a collaboration between Michelle Chanique and Karen Lee. Both artists explore the theme of decay resulting from excessive mass consumer culture by displaying over three television monitors, a video showcasing subtle changing images of nature. This delicate imagery includes a wilting flower, moving clouds and rock formations. Here Lee’s specialty in digital media and Chanique’s expertise in photography and video are united to create a contemplative vision of their shared feelings towards identity, culture and technology.

What do you get when you put a graphic designer and photographer together? A bold and conceptual collaboration, we understand and push each other creatively and fortunately we have very similar aesthetic styles. - Chanique

Karen Lee further employs digital media and new technologies within her own individual work, Canyons, which is made up of four digital prints. Each digital print displays geometric abstract layers, which are digitally distorted in colour and depth. Lee’s process combines practices of drawing, screen-printing and photography together with digitally based methods including Photoshop Illustrator to alter natural images and expose their hidden complexity.

Adjacent to Lee’s work are three mixed media paintings by Tamara Pavlovic, which further address the concepts of technology, identity and gender. Pavlovic critiques contemporary society through figuratively exploring the socio-cultural impact of technology and its pigeonholing of female identity.

These overlapping figures map our obsession with the female form over the ages from the ‘Venus de Milo’ to the current trend of the ‘Selfie’. – Pavlovic

The largest painting, Picture, picture on my phone, presents an image of a naked female figure from a high angled view as if taken from a mobile phone. This figure is layered upon by various smaller figures using collage as well as semi-transparent oil paint, reinforcing the oversaturation of sexual imagery circulated by technology. This painting leads toward the last section and is followed by the works of Lisa Stratigos, exploring similar subject matter of technology’s impact on sexuality.

Stratigos’s graphite drawings carry on a female perspective whilst addressing issues surrounding new technologies including virtual reality and its breakdown of human contact. The A4 sized drawings hung in a row along the gallery wall are part of the series Tahi-joro (Travelling whore) each presenting a robotic female figure contorting into different poses inside boxes.

On the left side of the gallery space, audiences are confronted with the larger drawing, Jacking On, which showcases men and women visually engrossed with technology whilst engaged in sexual acts. This graphic image proposes the idea of technology creating a disturbed human existence, completely devoid of intimacy.

The two large photographs by Viviana Barerro, Hidden Foliage I and II conflict this idea of the human body being attached to technology. Barrero presents minimally adjusted images, which capture imperfect details and intriguing elements found within the natural environment and naked human form. Particularly in Foliage II, the naked female and male figures are standing in a forest partially camouflaged by the flora surrounding them, suggesting a rejection of technology for an embracement of nature.

Alternatively Michelle Chanique’s photographs, Homage to Joseph Albers, Red and Blue suggest an open approach to new technologies. The shape of a square is digitally employed within the photographs to disrupt the center of the scenic image, proposing a theme of displacement, reoccurring throughout Chanique’s work. The vibrancy of the square and its symmetrical quality plays with the image’s perspective and directly references the artist Joseph Albers, specifically his series, Homage to the Square.

The audience then encounters the video installation, Empty Room (Warm to Cool) by Luke Robison, comprised of four analogue televisions, set up on the stage in a diagonal row. This installation creates a more isolated surrounding compared to other works, as visitors are required to sit individually on a stool to view the work. Each television displays the same single bedroom, measuring the duration of a person’s absence by the varying sense of warmth and coolness.  

Overall ‘SQUARE/BOX’ offers an opportunity for these artists to explore a multitude of viewpoints, interests and approaches, unique to each individual artist. The exhibition aims to challenge, not only audiences but also the artists’ individual understandings towards issues of gender, sexuality and technology. 

This essay has been produced as part of the White Cube Program

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