Melissa Laing is a New Zealand artist who has been the first resident artist at the Rumpus Room. Not a lot of art makes it out of New Zealand. What does an artist bring with them from such a geographically isolated country?
There was incredibly synchronicity with the topic and timing of Melissa’s show to the political climate present in Australia. Two hours before I left for the opening my Facebook feed was covered in news feeds about K. Rudd and his policy to send Asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. Media bait and feat mongering. Rudd and Abbott could toast glasses on this topic. The weeks paper in images have been fetishizing over the asylum seekers plight. It’s dirty politics.
So back to the exhibition at hand, so to my knowledge Melissa collaborated with Ashlee Laing and gathered the support of Aussie artists to create a video work shot on a shore line in Williamstown. As I walked into the Rumpus room it was dark with the single projected stark video reel of a large ocean horizon line. It was quickly revealed that there were two figures in black wrestling, a male and female. I had the cold dark gallery to myself to watch the reel. The figures were nearly to scale and the backdrop was serene. The audio was near silent besides the sounds of exertion coming from the wrestling figures.
I found myself standing in the same stance as the obstructing large male figure thigh high in the ocean. A woman repetitively attempted to pass this strong unrelenting male but is thrown, pushed and dragged back into the water. It was relentless and exhausting, she can’t get to shore. The weighty emotionality of the video was intense. It had that cinematic stance of giving the viewer the perspective view of the perpetrator – it was clever, I was uncomfortable. I thought of the term ‘guilty by omission’. I watched the video’s loop to see what would happen but there wasn’t an ending, I left her standing in the water.
As moved out of the gallery I mingled in the social outdoor areas of the gallery I was surrounded by the familiar and the warmth of a fire. I was told there was a second part to the show with an installation in the ‘vacant’ block of land next to the gallery. I gathered with two others and some feeble torches and was led into the darkness. I’d seen this empty land, over grown, uneven with dumped debris from neighbours. It has an ironic glossy sales sign advertising its future transformation into modern apartments. It was very innovative of the artist to use this space, it is currently no mans land and bought another dimension taking the audience into an unknown space. A very visceral shift from watching a screen. My senses were heightened by the cold darkness of night.
Looking into the lot, one could faintly make out the glow sticks dangling in front of signs and what looked to be a lit up tent or camp ground in the distance. We walked from glow stick sign to sign with large words stenciled on them alluding to a dialogue. It was like a ghost trail with the awkwardness of sinking in mud and tripping over what struggled to be seen. We tried to piece together the narrative on the signs but lost focus until we came close to what I’d though was a tent. There was makeshift deflated boat like form with a large light sitting at the helm. It was like a grave site. This isolated gesture in the middle of a vacant lot in the suburbs was incredibly sad and futile.
We made our way back out of the social outdoor area and huddle and chatted by a fire for a few hours. I managed to find someone to give me a lift home as I hate catching public transport alone at night. As I was driven closer to home myself, the driver and another passenger conferred notes on the exhibition. There was a quiet mention of one of them being a refugee. I was kind of struck by proximity. It was a very compelling exhibition and still today I have been asking people their thoughts on asylum seekers. I haven’t found anyone yet that agrees with what Australia is doing.
Pippa Makgill 2013
Review published by Rumpus Room by email list, 26 July 2013