Review

In his solo show Fur, Gerwyn Davies makes the most of drag at its liberating best. In his use of costume to subvert gender-normative identity, Davies follows in the platform-heeled footsteps of radical Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery (1961-1994). Like Bowery, he creates his own elaborate outfits and dresses up not as male, not as female, but as something altogether other. While Davies makes no attempt to disguise his hairy legs or cover his extensive tattoos in his anonymous self-portrait photographs, the artist’s costumed figures nevertheless remain delightfully ambiguous and gender non-specific.

It’s clear in Fur that Davies has a soft spot for pop culture, especially the glitzy, brassy glamour of Hollywood movies – one sphere in which America still reigns supreme even if the rest of their civilisation is visibly crumbling.

In Roses, 2017, a faceless figure covered head to toe in a glittery silver tinsel re-enacts that famous scene from the 1999 movie American Beauty in which the middle-aged father character (played in an awful instance of true to life accuracy by now disgraced actor Kevin Spacey) fantasises about a naked schoolgirl in a bed of rose petals. It would be interesting to know if Davies crafted this image before or after the actor’s fall from grace. In the context of the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Spacey, the image makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Gerwyn Davies, Roses, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and © the artist

In Bomb, 2017, Davies stages another scene lifted from film history, this time the wild ride in the 1964 cult classic Dr Strangelove in which a crazy American cowboy rides an atom bomb like a bucking bronco. In his version, the artist is clad in curls of green paper and clings to a missile that resembles a white pointer intent on wreaking bloody havoc. This shark reference may be an attempt to place the work within an Australian context, or it may be a nod to the fact that since the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency we are all, no matter where we live, threatened by a new cold war.

Elsewhere, in Wall, 2017, Davies is obviously poking fun at the Trump administration. One of the President’s divisive election promises was to build an impenetrable wall to keep out Mexican migrants. In his image, Davies presents a figure clad in red, white and blue cheerleader pom-poms (mirroring the American flag which is also in the photo) who has easily breached this boundary, a reminder of the futility of trying to restrict the movement of desperate individuals who are out of options.

But closer inspection of the photo reveals that Davies has more to say, the flag waving in the breeze is actually behind the figure: he is leaving the US, hopefully heading somewhere better.

In Opera, 2017, Davies stands outside Utzon’s masterpiece in a paper costume that mimics the white sails of the Opera House. Also sporting black Adidas knee socks and sandals, this would-be diva clutches a thin black electrical cord. Perhaps he is wired for sound? But, embroiled as we are in the never-ending ‘war on terror’ maybe he is wired for a more sinister purpose? Here the artist hints at the anxiety and fear that now permeate many of our public spaces. In Fur, Gerwyn Davies proves yet again that dressing up isn’t just fun and games.

Gerwyn Davies: Fur, Australian Centre for Photography, Darlinghurst from 15 February to 24 March.

Tracey Clement