John Hurrell – 7 March, 2016
I think the key to grasping this complex exhibition, and the depth of Clark's rapport for her subject matter, is to watch the filmed interviews first, listening to the ten charismatic personalities that she chats to. Then you can start identifying the individual faces in the sets of photographs from different time periods and locations. Different clubs and different types of sexuality.
For Fantastic Carmen (Part of THE BILL)
20 February - 11 March 2016
For Pink Pussycat Club (Again part of THE BILL)
20 February - 22 April 2016
These couple of shows are part of the Auckland Pride Festival celebrations, two of many events rejoicing in the thirtieth anniversary of the Homosexual Reform Bill. Because of interest in its historical content Fiona Clark’s solo Artspace show has just been extended by a week, and the Starkwhite show (like Clark’s Artspace one after the 11th), will later be augmented by the work of other artists.
For Fantastic Carmen is a presentation involving seven suites of photographic images, spread around give each selection isolation and to (incidentally) introduce the exciting new architectural modifications of Artspace. It looks very different from the old ‘square room at the top of the stairs’ that it used to be.
I think the key to grasping this complex exhibition, and the depth of Clark’s rapport for her subject matter, is to watch the filmed interviews first, listening to the ten charismatic personalities that she chats to. Then you can start identifying the individual faces in the sets of photographs from different time periods and locations. Different clubs and different types of sexuality. (The other option would be to look closely at the Go Girl catalogue.)
Now all these interviews with Carmen Rupe, Daphine Waharoa, Niccole Duval, Wayne Miss K, Tina de Malmanche, Mot, Pat Robb, Marge, Virginia, and Natasha (in pairs or/and singly) are terrifically informative, but they should have been separated and put on to several monitors with loops. That would enable visitors to zero in on people of interest, go and look at some photos from a particular period if they got restless, and then come back for more talk. As it is now, if you miss something, or don’t quite grasp a point, you have got to wait about ninety minutes before that particular conversation comes round again. The film doesn’t help the static images the way it should. The sound quality is inconsistent and its length is impractical.
Clark first acquired a public profile in the mid-seventies when her images in The Active Eye exhibition attracted surprising public anger. One Christchurch reviewer’s headline raged, “It may be art, but it’s also indecent,” while Luit Bieringa, the show’s assembler, was berated: “He should have known better.” The police response was to look at the two Clark works at Auckland City Art Gallery, but not remove them. They never turned up at the next venue. (See comments below.)
If you look at the (remade) black and white images of queens, transsexuals and female impersonators, and the taunting, defiant (I think very funny) sardonic texts added by her friend Karl in biro around the photographs, you can compare them with the more recent interviews which are much friendlier and more relaxed accounts of life within the Auckland LGBT community and club scene. They’re very different in mood.
That gallery visitors allowed themselves in the seventies to be baited (“Aren’t you furious you hung up closet queens”; “How many of you boys would like to suck these tits?”) is astounding. The use of the word ‘fuck’ pressed a lot of buttons, as did the suggestion that the readers were not ‘straight’ either. As is stated in some of the support writing, that time was the era of the burgeoning of performance and provocation.
This is a richly complicated, very emotional exhibition. There are many varied stories, ranging from Clark’s surprising and querying documentation of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sydney to friends tragically dying of aids. Many of the subjects here are no longer with us, for you will notice kawakawa leaves tucked behind the frames.
In the office there are also images of the extraordinary cross-dressing (often imprisoned) habitual embezzler, Amy Maud Bock, who successfully persuaded in 1909 a wealthy heiress to marry her, hoodwinking her into thinking she was an eligible (male) sheep farmer. The outraged media roared when the marriage quickly collapsed. There is also a copy of a recent book on her by Jenny Coleman.
In this show, what consistently comes across is Clark’s interest in friendships and emotional allegiances. These through various commonalities and loyalties sustain these LGBT communities, which until very recently were always considered marginal or alternative. They have deliberately made themselves much more visible now - with significant political impact. Those terms like “marginal” and “alternative” can’t so easily be applied, because ‘mainstream’ is now something far more porous, with its dominance highly contested through visual and vocal impact - even if the word “minority” is still mathematically accurate.
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