Art collective Aphids create contemporary performance art projects that combine media, bodies, music, site specificity and technology. They use their art forms to critique and question what is relevant in the contemporary art scene and wider culture. Their all-encompassing work, Howl seeks to re-imagine fifteen significant moments of controversy in art history and parade them for the audience. Performers Lz Dunn, Lara Thoms and Wiloh S. Weiland rightly assert that “in Australia we hold parades for football stars, community dance troupes and war veterans. In Howl we are asking: what might it look like to give artists the same public recognition?”
The performance at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) begins upstairs on the balcony, overlooking the main performance space where several women are dressed in white clothing, resembling Tennis ‘ball boys’, marking out lines of gold glitter to create a giant penis. This is the first art work to be referenced – A Dick Captured By the FSB in which art collective Voina painted a 65 metre high phallus on the bridge road surface in front of the Federal Security Service building in Russia. Two women hold a white sheet with the title in black writing and walk it ceremoniously as though holding a flag, up and down the shaft of the penis image. They highlight the piece’s significance and show genuine reverence for its artists, yet make the new work entirely their own.
Afterwards come a series of controversial moments in art history – a woman reclines nude from the waist down, spreading her legs to reveal her pubic hair a la L’Origine Du Monde by Gustave Corbet – this ‘live version’ references Deborah De Robertis who was famously escorted out of the Musee d’Orsay after performing a live version of the work. This time, our live model is able to bask in the glow of celebration and firmly entrenches her gaze onto the audience in the upper gallery. There are references to religious works (Piss Christ), political and biohazardous works (Sunflower Seeds) and feminist works (Artforum Ad) – each of the works are built upon the framework of women’s bodies being objectified, yet have a feeling of agency about them. They reimagine the power structures put in place and stare defiantly at you, all to the dramatic score of Mozart‘s Requium in D.
The audience proceeds downstairs after hearing Hitler’s manifesto on art ahead of his ‘Degenerate Art’ Exhibition, conjuring up the philosophy of censorship, and is greeted by a true mainstay of controversial art – Marcel Duchamp‘s Fountain.The performers place themselves in the urinal, providing the physical aspect of both urination and drinking water. This highlights the fine line between bodily orifices in an intelligent and visceral display. Identity politics and human rights burst into the spotlight by a Segway riding Captain Cook in a balaclava (Australia was Stolen by Armed Robbery by Jason Wing) who takes Wing’s original bust and animates it – staring menacingly at the audience and appropriating ‘thug life’ body language. This is juxtaposed by a balloon arch representing Tecza a rainbow installation in Poland that was continually a victim of arson. Both of these works have sparked controversy (and both topics are continually brought up by conservative columnist Andrew Bolt) and as such, the performer ironically lights a sparkler and proceeds to burst the balloons. Each gentle tap removing a little bit of hope from the world.
Every single piece referenced provides a visually impacting tableau of powerful art and imagery. At the intersection between static art, or non-live art and physical performance art, Aphids creates an entirely new piece that builds on the source material, taking it to new heights. Building on live performance, the sequence referencing Amber Doll > Tilikum injects a frenzied pornographic energy that was only hinted at in the original work. It speaks to the invisible hoops that women have to jump through for equality. It takes notions of women’s sexual pleasure and likens them to the novelty of captivity in say, the institution of marriage. Ending on a high, Howl literally climbs to the top of the space to prove that Paul Yore got it right – Everything Is Fucked. Of course, Howl doesn’t purport to come to that conclusion – it is a visual and physical celebration of controversy – not a shying away from it. Howl welcomes criticism with open arms and then creates a unique, intelligent, and memorable artwork around it.
Review | Laura Money
WHEN: 27 & 28 July 2018 | 7:30pm
WHERE: Perth Contemporary Institute of Contemporary Arts | Northbridge
INFO: Tickets $26 – $32 | Duration 70 mins | Adult content | 18+ | SOLD OUT