Social media has changed the way we live, and experiencing art and culture is no exception. James Lynch, curator at Deakin University Art Gallery, says that some exhibitions, particularly of the ‘blockbuster’ variety, feel as though they are being designed for the social media experience.
“Culture has been scripted so that it’s always about the experience of the self,” says Lynch. This thought has been at the back of the curator’s mind in recent times.
Echo Chambers includes the work of 16 Australian artists and simultaneously occupies three exhibition venues: Deakin University Art Gallery and Deakin University Library Gallery, both in Burwood; as well as Deakin University Downtown Gallery in Docklands.
“Each space is kind of like a ‘light house’ because they are spaces filled with ‘reflected’ light, but then I thought about just how often, especially on social media, you see people re-presenting things, almost without comment, mirroring what has happened before,” Lynch says. “So I started thinking about the idea of infinity, and then thought of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. They are these ‘echo chambers’ and that’s where the exhibition title came from.”
Lynch presents many works from Deakin’s collection (including op-art works from the late 1960s and 1970s that he says helped spark the idea for the exhibition) alongside recent commissions and loans of contemporary photography, sculpture and painting.
Mirrors feature heavily in Meng-Yu Yan’s work. The artist’s black-and-white photographic works are evocative of surrealist photography. In new moon cleanse I and new moon cleanse II, 2018, we see the artist’s face reflected in a circular handheld mirror. In the former their eyes are closed, and in the latter they are open. As a first-generation Chinese-Australian queer artist, Meng’s practice is a manifestation of reflections on identity and perspective.
Lyndal Walker’s 2015 photographic series The Artist’s Model (recently seen in Unfinished Business at ACCA) is also in Echo Chambers. In these images, we see male models posing in their underwear for Walker, whose reflection is only just visible – a subversion of the male gaze.
Chris Bond is one artist in the exhibition whose work sits beyond literal mirroring. Instead, his practice centres on the idea of the doppelganger and the fictive self. Lynch says the inclusion of Bond’s work brings the idea of the double into the exhibition. Bond’s entire practice centres around creating fictional characters or alternative identities, and in turn, creating facsimiles of books and other material ‘authored’ by these characters. One such character is the Norwegian artist Tor Rasmussen, who Bond created in 2014.
From Narcissus through to contemporary times, we humans have always been fascinated with representations of ourselves. That certainly hasn’t changed, and certainly isn’t about to. It’s just more overt now.