Banquet at the Biennial

A Really Good Look and HEROES, as part of the TarraWarra Biennial, TarraWarra Museum, 19 August – 6 November 2016

The 5th TarraWarra Biennial Endless Circulation, jointly curated by TarraWarra director, Victoria Lynn, and co-founder of Discipline Journal, Helen Hughes, set out to consider the structural principles of edition, circulation, dispersion and continuity. As such, the curatorial focus was on projects and practices that are predicated on modes of production and distribution that operate centrifugally, or outside the parameters of traditional art spaces. This put the curatorial focus on the biennial exhibition model and curatorship itself; particularly with the inclusion of Christopher LG Hill’s ‘artist facilitated biennial’ and epitomised by the standout debut catwalk performance, A Really Good Look, by Jessie Kiely and Monica’s Gallery (Jake Swinson and Spencer Lai).

The accompanying publication HEROES, is a collaboration between Fayen d'Evie’s publishing project 3-ply, Centre for Style and Monica’s Gallery and explores the notion of Fanfiction, self-design and personal canonisation through a series of self-directed ‘hero’ looks created within a day by local and international ‘personalities’ and artists. A feature piece written by Monica’s Gallery with Jessie Kiely, The Banquet, served as both the inspiration for, and accessory to, their collaborative performance, A Really Good Look. The disorientating curatorial pyramid scheme, inclusive of a cast of two curators at-large, two artist-curators and three artists ‘minora’, culminated in a debut catwalk performance that made an effective and wry commentary on the circulatory and destabilised hierarchy of representation within the biennial framework. Rather than authorial abdication—steeped in both cultural diplomacy and, perhaps less overtly, fear of ownership—this positioning deftly prompted an interrogation of the ‘structural principles of the edition, circulation, dispersion and continuity’ as well as suggesting methodologies for ‘shared authority’ or agency.

A Really Good Look saw the installation of a theatrical set that extended across the entrance wall of the main exhibition space that faces the front desk and bookstore. The set included several window openings and a door, all of which were sourced second hand and had no particular aesthetic relationship to one another other than their considered eclecticism. With just enough room for the actors to position themselves between the wall and the outermost part of the set, these openings were reminiscent of the familiar balcony trope employed in theatre production to allow for both height over the audience and to signify royalty or nobility. After two pertinent readings from The Banquet, the cellist commenced playing Michael Gordon’s ominous composition, Industry, and performance artist and musician Callan Bradley Hales hurriedly descended the stairs in her underwear. A gloved hand with the appearance of a Mickey Mouse plush-toy extended from the window to release her first garment, which she promptly slipped over her head before receiving her second garment from an adjacent window—a jacket with printed runway looks dangling from one shoulder in the style of a swatch-book.

The performance made decided references to traditional, interconnected and accessible modes of cultural production such as the fantasy genre, theatre, classical music composition, Disney and the sitcom, which set the stage for the Biennial and for Jessie Kiely’s fashion collection. Kiely conceives of her designs using algorithms applied to the pages of fashion stylebooks and catalogues between the years of 2012-14. There is an inherent association with the cyclical nature of style in Kiely’s work as she reduces her scope of authorship and agency to a systematic control group, to ‘industry’. Five of the looks were head-to-toe panelled satin which gave the impression of being suit-like, or even corporate, and were broken up by four cobalt blue ruched dresses with a nod to the universal ‘party dress’ or formal wear and, when coupled with white pantihose, the Disney princess tradition. These dresses were noticeably more simple and costume-like than the satin looks—one tube dress slipping to waist height on one of the models and drawing comparisons to the ritual of dress as well as the performativity of dress as costume. This was compounded when, post-performance, Kiely’s collection along with various shoes collected and installed in collaboration with Monica’s Gallery were strewn throughout the set, hinting at having been tried on and discarded in a hurry.

The manner of presentation and style of Kiely’s designs positions fashion practice firmly within the realm of the performative. However, rather than merely relegating its reception and exhibition to ‘entertainment’—a notion often attributed to the spectacularized nature of the biennial tradition—this collaboration drew attention to the performativity of the everyday. This was emphasised by the ritual of ‘dressing’ illustrated distinctly by Callan’s entrance, espoused by the premise of the HEROES publication and further accentuated in The Banquet. As such, A Really Good Look addressed the consumption of the individual and the ‘personal’ as entertainment, not simply within the art institution but more broadly in life itself as seen with the continual advancement of first-person ‘social’ media.

In Act II of The Banquet the guests are ushered into The Baron’s ‘bountiful and expansive grounds’ mirroring those of the TarraWarra Estate, which includes a vineyard, charcuterie and dining area. The human character, Laura, is then commanded to recite a HUMAN INTEREST STORY ARTEFACT, whose emphasis is on the Olympic tradition, while her fellow guests are subjected to gladiatorial combat orchestrated by the Baron. This grouping of words conflates human experience and relatability with narrative, performativity and the art object; in other words, as another consumable at the banquet (or biennial). This is perhaps the most cogent reminder that we are both the entertained and the entertainer, the consumer and the consumed, in neoliberal capitalism—a process that is cleverly accented by the self-design that fashion accommodates.

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Monica’s Gallery

A Site for Monica; A Really Good Look: A Monica’s Gallery set piece, 2016, architectural installation and performance set

Anthony Fitzpatrick

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Details from I believe in mathematics; A Really Good Look: A Jessie Kiely fashion collection, 2016, backstage at A Really Good Look.

Matthew Linde

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Fayen d'Evie reading from The Banquet as part of A Really Good Look.

Anthony Fitzpatrick

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Anita Quail plays the cello as part of A Really Good Look.

Anthony Fitzpatrick

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Callan Bradley Hales performs as part of A Really Good Look.

Alden Epp

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Backstage at A Really Good Look.

Matthew Linde

Audrey Schmidt is a writer, Co-Editor of Dissect Journal and curator of the recent affiliated exhibition Tell Me What You Have and I Will Know What You Are (2016). In 2015, Schmidt was invited to write for the Gertrude Contemporary Emerging Writers program and presented a paper at the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Image Space Body. She has spoken on panels at the Victorian College of the Arts (2016), the National Gallery of Victoria (2014) and currently works for Australia’s centre for independent dance, Dancehouse. Her continuing research focuses on contemporary art, gender, biopolitics and identity in late capitalism with a particular interest in institutional infrastructures and alternative exhibition models.

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