Preview, Review

Timing is everything. Viewed in April Fiona Hall’s solo show, Gateless Gate, reads like a meditation on the senselessness of war: the perfect antidote to the beer-soaked, jingoistic, flag-waving frenzy that often seems to accompany the more sombre rituals of ANZAC day.

Gateless Gate is a chance for Sydney-siders to see some of the artist’s work which has been exhibited recently in other states, as well as a few new pieces, hot off the press.

The exhibition features several of Hall’s heavily painted grandfather clocks from her massive sculptural installation, Wrong Way Time, which debuted at the 2015 Venice Biennale and later made its way to Canberra. But the centrepiece is an enormous sculpture titled No Man IS an ISland, 2016. This massive vitrine (part cabinet of curiosities, part gothic glass-sided coffin) was commissioned for Sappers and Shrapnel, a show on trench art at the AGSA last year.

Lest we forget, Hall reminds us that war is horrific, not heroic.

Inside the glass case of her wunderkammer, the artist presents an array of objects that seem like artefacts recovered from a particularly violent cargo cult, pumped up on both testosterone and caffeine. Using whatever materials come to hand (aluminium cans from Victoria Bitter, Coke, and Mother energy drinks, broken beer bottles, electrical wire, stuffed toys, tjanpi grass, an iPhone and a laptop) this imaginary crafty troop have MacGyver-ed together an impressive cache of weapons, as well as medals and memorials for the fallen.

Mother brand cans have been painted over to spew invective (mother f*@cker, obviously) and hot-wired into make-shift bombs. Several of these incendiary devices are also wired to 3D heads, woven from grass. Pre-amputated and empty, they have already had their brains blown out and their features are permanently caught in the rictus grin of death.

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Fiona Hall, Castles Of Lost Destinies, 2015 bronze, 25 x 28 x 18 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

Along side these weapons hang a selection of memorial crosses jerry-rigged from No. 8 bailing wire. The text scrawled across the flattened drink tins in their centres makes it clear that they memorialise the pointlessness of it all, rather than the glorious dead. In one, black Coke Zero cans have been modified to say ‘zero hero.’ It’s not subtle. But then neither is war.

The title No Man IS an ISland, is not exactly stealth either. With all those excess capital letters it reads an awful lot like ‘No Manus Island.’ In this way, Hall points out that institutionalised, government sanctioned violence wages ongoing battles on multiple fronts.

From the edges of the room death’s heads and ghostly apparitions leer from watery gouache drawings the colour of dried blood, while Hall’s Wrong Way Time grandfather clocks chime occasionally. The hangman’s noose, skeleton, and barbed wire emblazoned across their cases make it abundantly clear for whom the bell tolls.

Fiona Hall is a senior Australian artist at the top of her game. Not only does she have the strength of her convictions, she’s not afraid to hit you over the head with them.

But, as if to prove she’s not all doom and gloom, Hall has also recently unveiled Uneasy Seasons, an installation for children and teens that treads just a little more softly, while still carrying an impressive stick.

Gateless Gate
Fiona Hall
Roslyn Oxley9
12 April – 13 May

Uneasy Seasons
Fiona Hall
NGV International
13 April – 8 October

Tracey Clement