Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly describes her collage series as her private, interior work. Indeed, this range of work contrasts significantly with her more recognised political, public art practise. Currently exhibiting at Sydney's Gallery Barry Keldoulis, Awfully Beastly  is a delightful, humorous exploration of the popular nexus between images of nature and feminine representation.

A few years ago, Kelly performed live to air on the ABC's Radio National a compendium of words she'd collected that are used in everyday, quotidian slang to reference women. The work, titled Beastess included such derogatory clangers as 'old chook, old biddy, mutton dressed as lamb, cow, heifer, minx, dragon, old bat, nag, horse, filly, hellcat, sow, dog, foxy, bitch, catty, social butterfly, puss, shrew and beaver'. This startling collection of descriptors, commonly used either in anger, affection, or humour served to illustrate how culturally accepted this animal/female association has become.

Developing this thematic further, the 2010 exhibition Tender Cuts and the current Awfully Beastly have combined the high accoutrement's of womens' fashion with the furry world of flora and fauna. A Dada-esque satire, this interior work of Kellys creates a refreshing dichotomy of flesh and fur, fashion and nature, juxtaposed so perfectly by the artist's craftsmanship and aesthetic. Kelly's artwork clearly demonstrates the combined influence of German Dada's  Hanna Hoch, the photo montage Dada artist John Heartfield and the American feminist-artist Martha Rosler.

Deborah Kelly - Dream of a common langauge in the disintegrating circuit (with thanks to Donna Haraway) # 7, 2011, Image courtesy of Gallery Barry Keldoulis

In Awfully Beastly we see collage images of feathers, beaks, shells, grubs and bugs  mashed with spiky stilettos, scaly leather handbags, lipstick and fur. The costumes of seduction and feminine allure merge with their primal twin; be it a bird with amazing plumage, or an elaborately coloured caterpillar. Nature, it seems, endows both animals and women with the means to heighten and yet conceal their predatory, seductive intentions. I can't help view Kelly's work and laugh; it is both uncannily true and yet somehow repulsive to be unveiled so.

Deborah Kelly, Hair Piece #6  2008, image courtesy of Gallery Barry Keldoulis

The equivalent nexus between males and animals somehow lacks the humour explored here. In our everyday parlance we describe men as studs, stags, cocks. A certain big- balled, all brawn and no brain association perhaps but nothing as funny and derogatory as the female equivalent. For who cannot squirm at the juvenile description of a women's vaginal secretion as 'snail trail'! It's just too much!

What I love about Kelly's work is the delicious fusing of delicate gorgeous collage, aesthetic and humour. The use of collage has long been a vehicle to satirise political concerns. By decontextualising a well known image and marrying it with an ironic, contrasting one, the disjuncture creates an immediately powerful message. Nowhere is this more forcibly delivered than Kelly's images of hirsute women, apparent modern day sophisticates attempting sexiness vis a vis a plethora of facial hair. For many aging women, Kelly's hirsute glamour pusses are a hilarious reminder of our own follicle- rich cosmetic chaos.

Deborah Kelly, Beastliness-Still Open Eyes (animation) image courtesy of Gallery Barry Keldoulis
Deborah Kelly, Beastliness-still  (animation), image courtesy of Gallery Barry Keldoulis
Deborah Kelly's art practise has for many years looked at broader political and social concerns. Her involvement with an art gang called, examined issues of race, history and nationhood. Tank Man Tango 2009 was a public performance staged around the world in several countries to commemorate the unidentified Chinese man who confronted the tanks at Tienanmen Square, and to the courage of the Chinese protesters there that day.  Public artwork, artist residencies, collaborative projects, participation in international Biennales are just a few examples of her prolific political artistic practise. In contrast, her last two exhibitions at Barry Keldoulis's Gallery in Sydney have allowed Kelly to explore the politics of female representation. On the one hand we see the complicity between her images of sexual attraction and nature. On the other, Kelly explores the curious contradictions between mass culture's deification of what femininity is and our own ineluctable ensnarement with the natural world. It can't be taken too seriously; women everywhere recognize the juncture and squirm. Her work is brilliantly disarming and bitingly true. I really enjoyed this exhibition and hope for more. Until Oct 8, 2011.

Deborah Kelly, Pink Bits from the Beastess Series, image courtesy of Gallery Barry Keldoulis

No comments:

Post a Comment