Current Issue #488

Festival Review:
Howl at AGSA

Melbourne-based art collective APHIDS take over AGSA’s lofty halls to recreate controversial artworks that have ruffled feathers throughout history, in an Adelaide Biennial performance that pulls few punches.

The show begins in the somewhat prim surrounds of the Elder Wing. The audience is ushered into the fully lit space where a runway is being reverentially marked out by white-clad performers carrying buckets of silver glitter streamers. A banner held up at the far end of the strip reveals the artwork being mimicked – A Dick Captured By the FSB, Voina, Russia. In the stark light and distracted by the arrival of late audience members, it is difficult to make out the likeness.

The lights are dimmed and ushers using torches illuminate the next subject, making the theme of the show much more difficult to miss. A woman, draped in a golden cape around her upper body but naked from the waist down, struts down the runway. As she makes the return journey a trolley is wheeled in. She turns and hoists herself onto it, splaying her legs to assume the pose of the Gustave Corbet work L’Origine Du Monde, an oil painting created in 1866 but not publicly displayed until 1995 and still creating a stir in 2014 when a woman entered the Musee D’Orsay and posed in front of the painting. She was subsequently arrested.

The parade of ‘recreated’ works continues with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ wheeled in on a sack truck, a somewhat comical re-enactment of the making of We are all flesh, controversially purchased by AGSA director Nick Mitzevich in 2013, involving performers in a horse suit, then three naked performers with confetti canons and white-framed glasses mimicking Lynday Benglis’s Artforum Ad, a woman posing with an erect phallus. As an added touch, one of the performers let’s loose her load of confetti in the middle of the performance space to slightly embarrassed giggles from the audience.

The indoor part of the performance concludes with reference to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and quotes from Hitler’s speech at the opening of the House of German Art in Munich in 1937. With that, the audience is ordered to move outside ‘immediately’.

Seated on either side of the laneway alongside the Gallery with Mozart’s Requiem once again blaring from the sound system, performers parade inside an oversized remake of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain urinal, periodically sucking on drink bottles and spouting what we assume is coloured water in elegant arcs towards the audience.

A program booklet handed out as the audience enters the outdoor section of the performance helps to identify other works represented. A Holden driven down the lane is Margaret Dodd’s This Woman is Not a Car, Australia was Stolen by Armed Robbery (Jason Wing) is followed by video work Escape From Woomera and there is reference to the giant rainbow sculpture Tecza by Julita Wojcik in Poland.

The performance reaches a crescendo with Amber Doll > Tilikum by Amber Hawk Swanson with the music pumping in time with performers dressed as sex dolls or carrying inflatable whales who pulsate up and down the performance space, jabbing the toys towards the faces of the seated audience.

The show is confronting but also highly engaging, and the setting could not be more appropriate for an at times colourful dialogue about the role of art in making us think – especially about topics we find uncomfortable.

Howl was performed at AGSA on Thursday 12 March

Until 13 March


Amanda Pepe

Publishing Director/Editor
See Profile

Amanda is a journalist, editor and publisher who has dedicated much of her career to independent media in South Australia. She is currently editor and publisher of The Adelaide Review.

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