Words by: Freya Hall
Unsettle, currently on display at Paper Mountain, is an exhibition of new sculptural and installation works that seeks to examine the different ways in which sexual themes can be articulated through art practices.
Specifically, the works in Unsettle challenge the way audiences recognise whether a work is sexually implicit by abstaining from using any overtly sexual visual cues and motifs. The result is an exhibition that is aesthetically elusive, beautiful, and unsettling.
Unsettle showcases works by three queer artists: Liam Colgan, Kate Power, and Derek Sargent. I caught up with Liam last week to chat about Kate Bush, Foucault, flaccid sausages, and most importantly, the exhibition itself.
So Unsettle opens tonight, how’s the setup been going?
Good, we got the bulk of it done on Wednesday night. The two other artists in the show came over from Adelaide and we worked into the night – I say “into the night” but I mean like 10:30 haha.
That’s late for me!
Oh my God, yeah.
So, Kate Power and Derek Sargent are the other two artists in the exhibition, have you had an opportunity to look at their works?
Yeah, I’ve been looking at their work for the last 6 or 7 months. I know Derek through a friend who was in Hatched 2014 at PICA with me so I contacted him about 12 months ago asking if he’d be interested in doing a show with me and some other artists and he came on board, which was really great.
So this is an artist-organised exhibition?
Yep, all grassroots, 100%.
That’s awesome, how did you get Kate involved?
I know Kate through Derek. The callout I did was for mainly sculptural practices that investigated ideas of sexuality to some degree. After getting Derek I began to search through Sydney and through a few friends’ contacts, but then Derek told me about Kate’s work – they’re both friends from Adelaide.
The philosophies of Foucault served as the catalyst for this exhibition, so what elements of his study influenced your work specifically?
His ideas around power are pretty fun. He thinks of power not as a hierarchy of the low people being oppressed and the high people being in power. Rather, he argued that it fluctuates more than that. He viewed power as something that permeates all parts of life, and not just politics etc. So that’s something I find interesting.
I’ve seen on the Internet that Foucault has been described as ‘phallocentric’, do you agree with that description?
Oh right. Probably, haha. His ideas tend to focus way more on the male subject. I would say that for this exhibition I was more focused on his political stance however.
A lot of what he wrote was about recognising things that were naturalised and invisible in society and digging them up and questioning that stability and naturalness. That’s a really important undertone that comes out in all the works in Unsettle.
Before I came to interview you I did a bit of research and stumbled across your Tumblr…
Oh, OK! Which one?
Haha yes, great!
Without wanting to sound like a complete stalker, I wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the 13-minute long video of you dancing to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.
Yeah, aw thanks! The actual video goes for about 50 minutes. I had two editions of it. The video was in Hatched at PICA this year and I managed to sell both editions.
I also noticed on your Tumblr that there were lots of artworks involving raw sausages, which was really why I brought up the phallocentric nature of Foucault’s work.
Ah yeah, yeah. I’m still quite interested in raw sausages; you can get 27 for like 7 dollars, so they’re made of the worst shit. I like the quality of them: they’re limp, and broken, and not useful – kind of un-phallic in that way. They’re a lot weaker and less oppressive.
Yeah, those works did seem to be quite tongue-in-cheek and playful. I’ve read that you engaged tactics of ‘play’ and ‘making do’ in this exhibition – can you describe what that means?
‘Play’ and ‘making do’ are quite similar I guess. In a broad sense ‘play’ is just producing something without any specific intention, which was one of the methodologies I wrote about in my honours.
By playing, for example, you shift into a different space mentally, one where a new set of rules applies. For example, hide and seek; as soon as you start to play you need to be hidden, and that’s the overarching rule.
So ‘play’ was useful and interesting to me as a political device because when you’re playing you can extend beyond cultural ideas and go into different realms without feeling out of ease or uncomfortable.
‘Making do’ was formulated by a guy called Michel De Certeau. I read part of his book The Practice of Everyday Life through my honours.
Could you explain how you applied this ‘play’ methodology in one of the works in the exhibition?
One example is my video work, Straight On From Here. This work began with me investigating how I could move my bod around an exit sign. So at home I have some video footage of me just hanging out in my room trying to figure out what I can do with this thing. Throwing it ended up being the most interesting. So ‘play’ is usually the beginning point but then it also comes through later in the process with more strength.
What about ‘making do’?
The idea of ‘making do’ has to do with my photo, The Great Work Begins. To talk simply, ‘making do’ refers to using what materials you have around you, or the political usage of things in your direct environment. So instead of having a product that comes to you and using it for its intended purpose, you kind of revolt against that intention and use it for something else, and that’s politically disruptive.
For example, in The Great Work Begins, I used a box with some baking paper to make a diffuser. So in the same sense that Straight On From Here isn’t politically aggressive, there are subtle undertones of things that are challenging; it’s subverting the use of materials.
How do these methodologies relate to the topic of sexuality?
With ‘play’ it relates to ideas of sexuality in the sense that you can do something sexually subversive whilst playing, potentially. So either The Great Work Begins or Straight On From Here may be able to evoke that feeling in someone.
Neither of these works are explicitly sexual, in fact they appear to be on the other end of the ‘overtly sexual spectrum’ when compared to your sausage pieces, for example.
Yeah, that was one of the intentions of the whole exhibition: to make works that weren’t typically, overtly sexual. It was to put aside all of the motifs that so easily connect to that idea so as to find other ways of thinking visually about sexuality.
Unsettle will be on display until 26 July 2015 at Paper Mountain, Northbridge.