The Freaks Are Out
TOPSY by Paul Mumme
“ROLL UP! Roll up!” declares the opening line of the unconventional essay/ouija board crammed into the catalogue for the latest Metro Arts show. You might think you’ve walked into a circus, especially because of the big top and roving performer. Topsy plays with notions of the carnivalesque, connoting an almost freak show-like aspect to the works of the artists involved.
The show’s curator, Chris Comer explains her fascination with the carnivalesque in relatively personal terms.
“I guess my work and my curated shows are always quite theatrical,” she says. “It lets me play, I’ve always played with lighting and aspects of performativity.”
Having previously worked as a drama teacher, the theatrical is something Comer can’t avoid. This manifested itself in her exhibition poly last year, where the traditional artist talks were replaced with a second opening. This questioning of convention is an issue that runs throughout the whole show, with many of the artists creating work outside their usual parameters.
The fever seems to have completely turned one of them; Grubbanax Aloysius Swinnasen ’s rant of an essay has the verbal grace of a ringmaster standing on a hot-plate. A complete unknown until now, the 53-year-old Maltheist’s work has a familiarity about it, with an interest in language, stereotypes and education.
It’s effortlessly crass, and effortlessly drawn, joining the many contemporary works that your average punter will point at and say ‘Hey, I could have done that!’.
The scribbled caricatures, complete with catchphrases and scrawled titles, look a lot like the joke drawings that get passed around in classrooms, although this time nobody is going to confiscate them.
You don’t have to look very hard to see the carnivalesque in Ray Cook’s images. The red noses are a dead giveaway. But also, they invert orthodox views of, among other things, good taste and homosexuality, in a similar way that a carnival inverts normality for its effect.
Eleanor Avery’s inverted boom arm connotes the more mechanical side of the carnival experience. Covered in beads and flickering lights it is garishly beautiful, devoid of purpose, and confounding logic like circus performer.
Taking a step away from his contained sculptures of late is Kim Demuth, instead providing an installation piece for the show. The work recalls the artist’s childhood memory of a burning big top on the news, but serves more as a pointer to the greater notions of the carnival. A cluster of chairs is placed under the big top, some pointing in, others pointing out, an absurd notion, but poignant nonetheless. Why would the people inside the tent want to look out? Perhaps what Demuth is suggesting is that the carnival is everywhere, not merely confined to the big top.
The exhibition, as a whole, operates outside the stuffy intelligentsia of the ‘Art World’. The catalogue essay is still out to confuse, but without the tepid artspeak that causes most readers to give up after the first paragraph. More likely, it’s another artwork, which could almost be said for the entire show. Like the carnival, it doesn’t play by the rules.
Topsy opens tonight, Wednesday Sep 5 from 6pm to 8pm at Metro Arts. Exhibition continues until Saturday Sep 22.
topsy turvy turns the world upside down as it cancels conventions, social codes and hierarchies to create a liberated, utopian space; or is it a safety valve for popular discontent and a subtle form of social control? topsy turvy features wordplay, excess, parody, inversion and the grotesque.