BY Daniel Palmer in Reviews | 07 JUN 00
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Issue 53


BY Daniel Palmer in Reviews | 07 JUN 00

Shows at 1st Floor artists and writers space often involve a smart, organised aesthetic and commercial relation to local fashion and design. In taking this thread to a logical conclusion during the Melbourne Fashion Festival, ‘Mayonnaise’ was very 1st Floor. Plugged as a collaboration between visual artists, an interior designer, architect and sound designer to explore ‘trends of inner-city living and the lifestyle concept’ – or, more cheekily, as ‘an interactive exhibition for the serious style dilettante’ – a team effort went into mixing appropriately smooth ingredients. An insistence on the ‘total environment’ created a conducive ambience with a certain consistency, if not to say homogeneity, of style.

The result was dubbed a ‘hybrid living space’, a half-serious conflation of the gallery with a sanatorium or modern design shop. In practice, this meant passive consumption as artistic spectacle. From Tessa Blazey and Scott Woodward’s scattered, modular plywood furniture (IKEA-like and stacked with neat glossy piles of take-home fashion and interior design magazines) to Sean Meilak’s acrylic wall painting of classic twentieth century furniture designs, Open Plan (2000), and DJ Chris Gill’s sampling, there was seemingly nothing to do in this consumer museum except window shop. Perhaps this was why there was a back room screening films (along an ‘interior’ theme), an accompanying writing and drawing catalogue project (Modular), even a bar serving those cute little bottles of Campari into the evening. The aim was to attract more ‘people’ to the gallery, for longer. But it raises a troubling question: when is the aestheticisation of the commodities of designer capitalism banal, and when does it become a critical, utopian anticipation? Should art imitate commercial design this well?

I don’t know. So instead of answering these questions, I’ll perch on one of the boxes to view David Rosetzky's video, Summer Blend (2000), the stand-out piece of ‘Mayonnaise’, which focussed the cool intimacy of the thing. Rosetzky, 1st Floor Director, is becoming well known for his stylised video portraits of twenty-somethings expressing their personal style and grooming routines, desires, and aspirations, in affectless monologues. In Summer Blend, again drawing on advertising, therapy, fashion, pop music and décor, and adopting the same clean production values as a fashion shoot, his twenty-minute videotape loop depicts a series of five young, underwear-clad figures applying skin lotion. Looking entirely self-conscious, these anonymous ugly-beauties become androgynous idols of consumption – like the contemporary cultural heroes of street-savvy magazines pioneered by The Face. One seamlessly melts into the other.

The video sequence opens with an empty blue background into which greasy spikes of black hair gradually come into view. The camera slowly follows creamy figures over the full length of the body, the head-to-toe application of the cream perhaps suggestive of ‘lifestyle’s’ self-absorption. The vigour and concentration with which the cream is applied to the evenly pale-toned flesh seems parodic of advertising’s visual rhetoric, this obsessive desire for perfection, and youthfulness (that one figure is a pre-pubescent girl actualizes the infantilisation of the situation). Perhaps these softened bodies represent the collapse of individualism into generic identities, constructed from the homogenous content of various tubes. Perhaps they symbolise nothing? Who knows? Rosetzky makes no claim to interpret this condition. If there’s transcendence in Summer Blend, it’s illusory (to me it was the excessive whiteness of these bodies that was so uncanny).

As nothing much happens, and there’s no real narrative, the video is experienced as purely personal and private, as a soothing present tense for the projection of our desires. Its flow is rhythmical, in the same way as Andy Warhol's film of couples endlessly kissing. I’m compelled to keep watching the TV, and an intimate bond is contrived by the intimacy of headphones emitting a very sexy, looped instrumental section of a Grace Jones' track. The repetitious melody is enveloping (the narcissism Rosalind Krauss once argued was inherent in the video medium becomes a strategy for Rosetzky to explore glamour). Meanwhile, the video’s formal resemblance to depthless advertising imagery is undercut somewhat by the unnaturally clean colours of the digital image. Slight slow motion and gentle dissolves give a fluid, yet brittle texture to this skin-deep vision of blurred private and public desires. Yet the seeming frivolity with which these figures are turned into their own ‘feminised’ images belies their seriousness. Jacinta Schreuder picks up similar themes in I wish I was… (2000), a pop series of small painted foamcore figurines of women with knowingly tragic captions such as ‘I wish I were famous’. Schreuder explores some of the tensions in what Susan Sontag has labelled ‘the arrival of women’s ambitions’. Enjoying all this floating anxiety, I left ‘Mayonnaise’ with the same kind of deathly complicity I might feel after masturbating during the day.