Review: Misfit – Collage and Queer Practice, National Art School/Mardi Gras (NSW)

The exceptionality of queer experience is on glorious display here with jagged wit.

Misfit is an energetic and beguiling showcase of visual and aural collage, curated by Scott Elliot and currently showing as part of the Mardi Gras ‘Queer Contemporary’ program at National Art School. The word collage, from the Old French ‘to glue’, means both a paste-up and a collection of diverse things, whereby each of the 11 featured artists engage differently with their chosen media to reflect the unstable orientations of queer identity. The exceptionality of queer experience, characterised by ‘not fitting’, is gloriously on display here as rebellion against form and expectation, redolent with jagged wit and sticky emotional affect.

Elliot writes that in the artists’ use of collage ‘they create ambivalent spaces of madness and magic’ and it is striking how the work instils the gallery with a kinetic vibrancy and an off-kilter, unvarnished rawness no matter its technical accomplishment. ‘Collage repulses the recessive gaze that tries to single out, isolate and corner. Its effect tends to be all over and all at once – meaning is scattered, and value is redistributed’, asserts Elliot. The aesthetic is low-fi, crafty DIY, blurring high art hierarchies and enjoying itself without pretention.

The viewer, upon entering, is greeted by Gary Carsley’s video work Yowl (For All Our Queer Ancestors), a remixed version of Allen Ginsberg’s notorious Howl, whose anarchic sexy lines break and bounce – still audible at the far end of the space. Sound is also utilised to great effect by Del Lumanata in Parade Fatigue as the listener moves between opposing speaker poles, one playing ‘popular gay anthems and Mardi Gras parade broadcasts’ and the other snippets from ‘alternative queer club culture’, while following a circle of footstep stickers on the floor. Through this intentional discomposure, the artist invites us to contemplate the capitalist co-option of LGBT culture and the fracture of the ‘party space’.

Paul Yore’s unignorable textiles, particularly the soft sculptures I Am Not You and Backflip, evoke both the carnivalesque and the grotesque. Deborah Kelly’s exploration of the hybrid and monstrous in her Greater Venus Variations series disrupts the lens of heteropatriarchy and arrests aseptic, commodified portrayals of sexuality. Both artists drag carnality and embodiment to the forefront of their practice, in company with Archie Barrie’s Bum TV, a ‘home-spun spanking video’ where the artist projects footage from the public archive onto their body, literally reframing imagery in a viscerally queer context.

Context is what this exhibition thoughtfully takes apart, putting it back together in myriad assemblages, like in the disconcerted plurality of Guanyu Xu’s Temporary Censored Home, and Tony Albert’s painful, beautiful series Atypical and OUTlandish, on Indigenous Australian erasure and the ‘violence of the colonial gaze’. An accessible and provoking exhibition, Misfit is tender, refreshing, clever, and necessary.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Misfit: Collage and Queer Practice
Curated by Scott Elliot
14 February – 14 March 2020
Rayner Hoff Project Space, National Art School, Sydney NSW
Free admission

Anna Westbrook
About the Author
Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.