Greetings from Sunny Perth

There’s something about the 40+ heat of Perth in December that returns me, in a hazy and dehydrated way, to the empty calmness of childhood.

Maybe it’s the proliferation of cold treats—gelati, McFlurries, slushies, sorbet, bubble tea, crushed ice, Zooper Doopers—as people attempt to plunge their core temperature to something survivably human.

Or it’s the faint jingle of emotionally manipulative Christmas carols, ever-present in my auditory peripheries despite my best attempts of escape. Carols that leverage all the meaning and weight I’ve been taught to give them and echo across piazzas and public gardens like Orwellian brainwash. Maybe we are in a winter wonderland, I think, wiping sweat, sunscreen and (somehow) ice cream off my forehead in overheated delirium.

I think it’s probably just shorts. Everyone is in shorts, or anything that can be described as ‘short’—short dresses, short jumpsuits, even short shorts. I’m in shorts, and just as pants and belts feel like symbols of professionalism and adulthood, that negative below-knee space afforded by shorts constitutes a symbol of childhood frivolity, scraped knees, muddy socks and Velcro shoes.

Even businessmen are in shorts—you can still clock them by an artful ‘kerchief tucked into the pocket of a tan summer sports coat, their paid Xmas leave being enjoyed merrily, drunkenly. Sans stress, sans pants. 

So the allure of When Happiness Ruled—a long awaited return to Perth for artist Pip & Pop—was particularly strong on the 41° day I strolled past PICA. I have also been a long-time fan of the PICA air conditioning system and, as I entered the installation, I felt a wave of cool pass over me.

Fitting, as the exhibition itself, organic in structure yet blisteringly iridescent in palette, called to mind a bioluminescent coral reef, all the more striking for escaping the coral bleaching of global warming apparent just two metres out the door. That air-conditioning unit, I tell you.

The walls were awash with a miss-match of colours, patterns, textures, the delighted disarray of a 6-year-old being given a litre of red cordial and a sheet of Hello Kitty stickers. A pair of robot vacuums circled the perimeter of the space, with rounded mounds of dazzling, glitterized pastel on their backs, like hermit crabs that had managed to crawl into shells made from pure sherbet.

But the centrepiece, a continent of connecting technicoloured lands, each with their own flora and fauna, drew the eye, working a light magic as it lured the inner child out. Mountains shifted and spun through simple yet unseen robotics, hidden beneath a rainbow of mixed media—‘pigments’, ‘resin clay’, ‘pompoms’, ‘artificial plants’, ‘fun foam’, ‘sprinkles’, ‘miniature cakes’ and, joyously, ‘fluff’. 

As I left the exhibit, I was struck by the stark shift in temperature, humidity, scent and sound to the now ‘real world’. When Happiness Ruled was like all great mythical lands—Atlantis, Lilliput, Pala, Cockaigne—a bubble unto itself. And, perhaps as a testament to the soft spell cast by the work, even as I walked home, I found myself keeping eyes peeled for any other magic bubbles that might just have boiled themselves into being in the summer heat.

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Pip & Pop, When Happiness Ruled, 2016. Installation view Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. 

Alistair Baldwin

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Pip & Pop, When Happiness Ruled, 2016. Installation view Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Jacqueline Ball

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Pip & Pop, When Happiness Ruled, 2016. Installation view Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

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Pip & Pop, When Happiness Ruled, 2016. Installation view Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

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Pip & Pop, When Happiness Ruled, 2016. Installation view Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Alistair Baldwin is a screenwriter, comedian and arts enthusiast. Developing his arts writing practice through Next Wave Festival's Writers In Residence program, his work focuses on humour (or lack of humour) in the arts, issues around disability & accessibility, and the use of narrative in art. He completed a Bachelor of Screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2016. Follow him on Twitter @BaldwinAlistair. 

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