In one way or another, all seven artists in the 28th edition of MCA’s annual Primavera exhibition (Mitchel Cumming, Rosina Gunjarrwanga, Lucina Lane, Aodhan Madden, Kenan Namunjdja, Zoe Marni Robertson and Coen Young) appear to be feeling the same way. Whether directly or otherwise, the works give voice to a ripening collective existentialism: a burgeoning technological apathy, our new-found struggle to communicate, and a swelling sense of dismay for the rigidity of art-world structures and how we operate within them.
As can often be the case with group shows like these, and has definitely been the case with Primavera in the past; too much can often just be too much. But the excess dotted around both rooms at MCA this year emerged as a fitting metaphor for the excess we live through, with, and for, on a day-to-day basis. Our heedless cravings for fast fashion, fast food, and an even faster news cycle were explored with a defiant buoyancy, and found a new home in this year’s Primavera, curated by Mitch Cairns.
Before you even enter the show, you’re met with Zoe Marni Robertson’s Various Protests, 2018, a sprawling nine-metre-wide banner, assembled from discarded bed sheets. Painted on the cluster of sheets is a scrawling selection of abstracted female forms and ancient iconography, as well as a series of disjointed phrases and punchlines. The randomised imagery and prose come to ask questions of form, with Robertson’s use of inks, acrylics and lime wash mistints on bed linen, as well as format, and the ways we often look to create new meaning through hyperbole, while adorning the facade of one of Australian art’s most respected contemporary institutions, hyperbolically.
Lines like “IMPERIALIST POST-INTERNET ART,” as seen in Robertson’s opening work, accurately set the tone for what was to come, or at least for the way that it was to be delivered.
Once inside, you’re greeted with a dismembered daisy, Companion Planter (host), 2019, courtesy of artist Mitchel Cumming. The stem and flower stand postured by the gallery entrance, while its base rests metres away, elsewhere. Constructed from shaped foam, PVC, hot glue, scenic paint, and an assortment of cable ties, the work offers itself as a gentle — if not, solemn — reminder of the ways that most symbols of happiness and harmony have become increasingly fractured, and even meaningless, through cheap, thoughtless construction.
While inside, themes of language, and a line of questioning into the role of art in distilling the splintered moment we find ourselves in, grows ever-more apparent. A cluster of drawings in the form of Soluble Rectangles series, 2019, by artist Aodhan Madden, as well an audio installation, Nervous & Domestic Vouls, 2019, explore phonetics and language as delivered in digestible, bite-sized parts. Drawing on comic book design and the format of instruction manuals, Madden’s works feel like yet another timely metaphor, if not only for a yearning for the manuals from which the artist’s works derive.
As you make your way through the rest of the space, several mirrored works, courtesy of artist Coen Young, impose themselves on the room in a way that is physically unavoidable. These works cast themselves on their audience in the same way that many of us impose our digital projections on each other daily. Forcibly authentic, real, meaningful, human; yet entirely fabricated. Young’s mirror paintings are comprised of mixed materials which will oxidise and fall apart if exposed to unfavourable conditions.
Like our digital projections, Young’s works appeared entirely consistent – flawless, even. And when you come to consider the artist’s use of acrylic, urethane, and silver nitrate (a material more often seen in photographic practices); their uniform first impressions become an incredible feat. It’s that ability to deceive, though, which becomes a vehicle for the work’s dual wit. The process becomes the concept; the mirror distorts as you move around it, never allowing the viewer to see the same reflection twice. It’s a trick which makes for difficult selfie-taking; a trap for those who try. Those who do are set up, becoming the subject of the work themselves and ultimately provide the artist – and maybe even the entire show – with a punchline.