Attention seeker

29 Mar to 3 Jul 2022

Artists: Colleen Ahern, Rebecca Baumann, Priyageetha Dia, Eng Kai Er, Lou Hubbard, Michelle Mantsio, Melati Suryodarmo
Guest curator: Amita Kirpalani

Attention seeker explores how visual artists take inspiration from the choreography, artifice and charisma of iconic performances by musicians and actors. Through painting, sculpture and video works by seven international and Australian artists, the exhibition examines performances as planned events that can come unstuck or deviate from the rehearsal. It looks at performers caught in the act or between the lines and reveals unpredictable staging, unruly costumes, slips of the tongue or actual slips.

Throughout the exhibition, the artists are duetting with inanimate objects – a dinosaur costume, a golden curtain, an assembly of chairs, moveable tapestries, sticks of butter – and making them perform. Their work addresses the image of the idealised performer getting it ‘right’ as well as the way the performer connects with an audience through practice, repetition and authenticity. Attention seeker invites us to ask how charisma translates across stage, screen and sound. How does it carry through movement and gesture? And how, as audience members, is our attention demanded? Where does it belong?

This exhibition has been developed to complement Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition, Elvis: Direct from Graceland. Where Elvis examines a singular iconic performer, Attention seeker brings together works that unpack the risk, structure and release of a performer standing in front of a real or imagined audience.

Guest curator Amita Kirpalani has been researching contemporary performance across media for the past three years. She has recently been appointed Curator, Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria and was formerly a curator at ArtScience Museum, Singapore, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Melbourne-based artist Colleen Ahern paints portraits of popular musicians, among them Dusty Springfield, Elvis and Iggy Pop. She works swiftly in oil on board to create each portrait within the set duration of a subject’s album, which also provides the soundtrack for each work. In this way, Ahern understands her paintings as double portraits or parallel performances, where her self-portrait as the artist and the portrait of the performer are entwined.

Melbourne-based artist Lou Hubbard invites familiar, inanimate objects into a choreography that implies a performer caught mid-act. For Attention seeker, she presents an assemblage of found objects. Thirty-six dinosaur chairs occupy an interior courtyard. A sculpture assembled from a whiteboard, shoes, ear buds and other materials, is installed in a gallery. Through composition and staging, Hubbard imbues inanimate materials with life, charisma and personality.

Perth-based artist Rebecca Baumann’s site-specific installation reimagines a work first created more than a decade ago. Expanding or contracting to fit the requirements of a particular space, Untitled cascade is a gently undulating colour field of gold tinsel that alludes to a stage, scenery or threshold. In our gallery, it is also a performance, where gallery visitors are unwittingly cast as participants.

Indonesian artist Melati Suryodarmo is one of Southeast Asia’s preeminent performance artists. Exergie – butter dance is a video document of a live performance of Suryodarmo dancing on sticks of butter to the beat of a Javanese drum. In this work she uses butter to introduce slippage and failure to choreography and rehearsed movement. When Suryodarmo’s body surrenders to a fall, she picks herself up and continues dancing.

Melbourne-based artist Michelle Mantsio explores how we respond to our environment through art and design. For Attention seeker, she has translated stills from films such as Robert Altman’s Short cuts into colours and shapes which are then rendered in textiles and adhesive vinyl. Together, the elements create an abstracted portrait which we are invited to physically navigate by guiding moveable sculptures along tracks on the gallery floor.

Singaporean Tamizh artist Priyageetha Dia’s computer-generated video work, Long live the new fles$s$sh (2020), expands the possibilities for imagining brownness in a new world. Dia has created a complex avatar that performs a Eurocentric body in crisis. Using data-moshing techniques, she challenges how the body frequently ‘performs’ in art history, while visually ‘fracturing how the body is systematically read in the machine.’

Singaporean dancer and choreographer Eng Kai Er has developed a new video for this exhibition. Clouds is a document of Eng practising and training complex physical moves over and over again, at times wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume recognisable for its status as an internet meme in the mid-2010s. The costume both hinders Eng’s movement and provides her with the freedom that comes with adopting another persona.