Exhibition review: The Body is More Than This, Midsumma Festival

An interrogation into and celebration of gender diverse bodies.

Currently showing at the Immigration Museum Melbourne, the exhibition The Body is More Than This celebrates works by non-binary and gender diverse artists as part of the Midsumma Festival. It has been curated by one of the artists, Kin Francis, who joins six others – Caleb Thaiday, Elijah Money, Luce Nguyễn-Hunt, Ari Tampubolon, Indra Liusuari and Shin – to explore, across a diversity of mediums, from digital and text to installation and video, the experience of marginalisation. Themes such as skin colour, the limitations of current gender binaries, mental illness and the constraints of our colonial heritage begin to emerge.

Situated on the museum’s ground floor, the exhibition lines the basilica-shaped walkway directly opposite the entrance and spans out into the atrium beyond. 

In the atrium, works such as Cybernetic Romance, single-channel video, 2022, by Nguyễn-Hunt and Shin capture something of the overall nature of the exhibition and, perhaps more acutely, something of the inward wrestling with both gender and perhaps race as bodily forms morph through image overlay to create a sense of physical change from one state to another. 

In the same space, an emerging artist, Ari Tampubolon, draws off medieval imagery to explore the nature of bodily fears and trauma in her work 1293 – 1917_2000.22 The Last Judgement (compiled research detail), inkjet on paper, 2022, which depicts frightening horned creatures preying on unsuspecting individuals while symbols of Christian orthodoxy stand in judgement.

As an Indigenous artist, Elijah Money draws on ideas of the body and the environment to explore aspects of identity in his work Salubrious Peril, digital print on georgette, 2022. In this collage-like piece he incorporates decorated body parts that merge into or emerge from the landscape to form new ways of exploring the self or our oneness with the landscape. 

Proclamation of Rebirth by Kin Francis (text) with digital print by Alexander Brittan, 2022, is a text-based digital print on satin that presents as something of a sensual, poetic manifesto by an out and proud trans identity. An emerging poet, Francis is currently writing their debut poetry collection ‘that centres on trans hedonism, body autonomy, love, relationship dynamics and pleasure’.

Despite the support of didactic panels and text labels that accompany the works on display, the physical constraints of the spaces themselves and lack of signage inhibits a natural flow from one space to the next and may limit visitor understanding of the scope of the exhibition. And, although the metamorphosis of the present museum from Customs House built in 1855 to Immigration Museum in 1989 acts as an appropriate symbol of transformation regarding the current exhibition, the imposing nature of the building itself, along with the weight of the old basilica in which many of the works are hung, tends to overwhelm the artworks on display that ironically rail against those very constraints of colonialism. 

Perhaps a larger conversation needs to be had – a conversation that can bear this weight and broaden the conversation beyond the prevailing orthodoxy, a conversation that would include many more voices that traverse a range of life experiences and cross ideological divides to provide a weightier counterbalance to ways of seeing and understanding what the body can be.

The Body is More Than This
Curated by Kin Francis
Immigration Museum Melbourne

Free entry.

The Body is More Than This will be on display until 12 February.

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.