Mike Parr is nothing if not consistent. He is his own most common subject – his likeness has appeared in his work in one way or another for many years. To Parr, self-portraiture does not result in a single outcome, which is why his Self-Portrait Project has spanned his entire career.
In the new exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery, KINDNESS IS SO GANGSTER, a part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival program, Parr presents his likeness in a new medium: glass. In this solo show, 22 glass sculptures of Parr’s head have been haphazardly placed across the gallery floor, with what appears to be no reason nor rhyme to their arrangement. The front half of the space is mostly empty; most of the works are located towards the back of the gallery space. I later find out that Parr was blindfolded during the exhibition installation, presumably giving vague directions.
It turns out that these sculptures were also made while Parr was blindfolded. The figures began as blocks of clay in Parr’s hands, which he carved and moulded before a plaster mould was made, and then set into glass.
Despite these self-portraits being in an entirely new medium, and made into glass by another set of hands (Parr had the help of Richard Whiteley at the ANU School of Glass) these sculptures bear the essential Parr trademarks. His expressiveness, energy, and intensity are all evident in their deep crevices and protrusions. The strong marks in his prints and drawings have translated well into glass.
Since the figures were made while Parr was blindfolded, he had to rely on his other senses; touch and memory, specifically. As with previous incarnations of the Self-Portrait Project Parr continues to investigate ideas of likeness and representation, but this time he also tests the limits of memory.
All 22 heads look different to each other, and one of them, KINDNESS IS SO GANGSTER #22, seems to have lost its ‘neck’ or post. Each one shows a different angle and view of Parr’s face, emphasising his ongoing exploration of whether a true self-portrait can exist.
Parr is probably most widely known for his performance art, but his practice is wide-ranging and encompasses everything from drawing to printmaking, photography and beyond. Print-based works and mark-making are equally important in his oeuvre, and Parr has in the past stated that elements of performance are equally vital in all his work. KINDNESS IS SO GANGSTER is an attempt at bridging the gap.
For the exhibition Parr privately performed a ‘blind drawing’ in the gallery two days prior to the opening. The result – 28 repeating circles, many overlapping into Venn diagrams – is on display on one of the longer walls in the space. The lines are clean and smooth, but on the floor below the drawing is tangible evidence of Parr’s performative presence and intensity: bits of broken charcoal and dust.
The other walls in the gallery are blank except for a few small smudges of charcoal here and there.
But when I’m told that KINDNESS IS SO GANGSTER will be re-staged to include footage of both Parr’s blind drawing performance and the exhibition installation at the end of November the use of the space makes more sense. This incarnation of the exhibition will be titled ALL DAY SUCKER and will add a dynamic element to the exhibition.