Bermuda Triangle: Repertoires of Contention
A+a: Art and Australia, Melbourne, 2017
Tony Garifalakis and Joaquín Segura, Repertoires of Contention, curated by Ivan Muñiz Reed, Gertrude Contemporary, September 28 – November 4, 2017
Repertoires of Contention curated by Ivan Muñiz Reed brings together the work of Tony Garifalakis and Mexican artist Joaquín Segura for an exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary. The works vary in mediums—including video, tapestry, screen-print, vinyl and found banners—and broadly deal with power structures and their popular opposition. Muñiz Reed employs the term ‘repertoire of contention’ in his catalogue essay to identify these spontaneous tactics. Such tactics are performed creatively by collective groups to advance a political agenda, and Muñiz Reed argues that the works of his selected artists operate with a similar impetus. This becomes evident with pieces such as Garifalakis’ Jane Fonda (2008), where a row of bullets is hilariously inscribed with the clichéd phrase ‘NO PAIN, NO GAIN’—a gesture that captures the actress’ banal turn from political activism to the kitschy abyss of workout videos. Segura also employs a bullet in his piece Five States (2017), in which the discarded ammunition is repurposed to mark five states of Mexico suffering rampant violence. According to the curator, resonances such as this and a pre-existent ‘dialogue’ (which stretches a decade) between the artists is the main thrust of the exhibition.
One can indeed observe uncanny apparitions in the show, such as the doubling in Garifalakis’ Non Fiction/Cosmology (2009) and Segura’s Things Left Unsaid (Not Forgotten) #1 (2011); the former being an enlarged MDF and plywood sculpture of Charles Bertliz’ book Doomsday 1999: Countdown to a New Apocalypse and the latter a ceramic cast of Douglas Keeney’s The Doomsday Scenario—both of which belong to the tin-foil-hat genre of conspiracy literature. Muñiz Reed also cites their engagement with ‘censored documents’ as a moment of semblance, as Garifalakis mimicked this act of nullification in Declassified Documents #2 (2014) by applying black enamel on magazines (leaving behind only a pair of sinister eyes); while Segura reproduced a page from a CIA file on waterboarding (a form of water torture practiced by the USA) in a large tapestry for Blackouts and Whitewashes #1 (2012). This references Ellsworth Kelly’s black and white paintings, as they both feature a similar composition.
These works appear to capture how practices of voiding, whether enabled or enacted by the state, leave behind a perplexing signage of stylised eeriness. In effect, as the obliviation of information and peoples spirals into a systematic apparatus of devouring nothingness, absence is signalled with worrisome forms—picture a Xerox search for a missing person taped to an electric pole. In Mexico, where the number of missing subjects surpasses 33,000 unresolved cases since 2007, an unnameable dark energy appears to engulf its citizens like a censored document absorbing the ink that corrupts its legibility. The non-presence of those who cease to be something in the consciousness of others (as they have disappeared yet may still be alive) is inscribed in the fabrication of their absence. That is, the imprints of the legal system that supposedly attempts to locate them, the broadcasts that disseminate their evaporation as well as the residues of collective action opposing their dissipation (ranging from protest banners to missing-posters). This vacancy of meaning—a blank account of the vanishing event—appears to form a field of emptiness that is anxiously filled with spectral signs that possess an eerie force.
Mark Fisher defines the ‘eerie’ in his book The Weird and The Eerie as an encounter with uninvited presences and unresolved absences: ‘Why is there something here when there should be nothing? Why is there nothing here when there should be something?’(1) This affect reveals forces, previously unseen, that nevertheless control mundanity. Fisher’s conceptualisation accounts for the sense of eeriness that circulates in Repertoires of Contention, as several of the works trade on presence and absence to reveal the entities that rule everyday life in Mexico and Australia.
Joaquín Segura’s Corruption and Impunity I-II (2012) are two recovered protest banners painted with white latex that command an eerie presence, as they conjure the phantom vices of Mexico’s government. With a title that cites the ghostly devices that continue to haunt the country with a postcolonial curse, the banners lie crumbled on the floor like a deflated spectre awaiting the return of its ectoplasm. This sense of lack—the absence of a protester and the inability to decipher the contents of the banner—may provoke an uneasy feeling of hopelessness. On the other hand, they also serve as documents of an uprising where the cause may not be entirely lost. The eerie encounter with these banners is also marked by their manifestation at Gertrude Contemporary: since they are rescued from a decisively different context and thus culturally dislocated (especially because the gallery now resides in Preston’s junction, near to a pub that looks like the bloated insides of a depressed dad’s beer belly morphing into interior decor). However, they speak a great deal to local protest culture and the myriad of causes that hollow ‘our’ optimism. Primarily featuring a white surface, these banners are works that appear to see the invisible forces that govern everyday life like the blank eyes of a medium staring at the beyond.
Moving on to Tony Garifalakis, Inverted Crucifixes (2014) is a series of portraits of powerful media personalities, such as Queen Elizabeth and Oprah, who have been labelled as the anti-Christ. The works comprise found images that were altered with a ‘negative’ filter in post-production and placed within white frames shaped like inverted crucifixes. Thus, one encounters an inverted cross with a picture of the Queen that looks like a photographic negative. Like Christ to the anti-Christ, this filter turns the positive of the pictures into their abhorrent Other. Since the largest portion of the image has been removed (to create the inverted cross), only the impurity of these icons remains. As Muñiz Reed explains in his catalogue essay, Garifalakis borrowed this wicked signification from ‘extreme religious’ groups who believe these icons to be bearers of great evil. The artist, therefore, is charting a popular response to figures that are widely seen yet whose true powers are often concealed. The anti-Christ, an unwelcomed guest to the Western imaginary, announces the annihilation of the familiar—a threat that is somewhat echoed in the missing fragments of these popular images (as they become harder to recognize and therefore alien). Inverted Crucifixes eerily materialises signs whose paranoid referents are found in the loathsome crypts of a semiotic Church. Rather than a physical site, this is a meaning-making structure that bleeds infernal codes such as the apocalypse.
Repertoires of Contention spans both galleries and the foyer in Gertrude Contemporary and features a great deal of work by both artists. The fact that Garifalakis and Segura have an ongoing relationship and that (Mexican born) Ivan Muñiz Reed has previously worked in several projects that brings the work of Mexican artists to Australia makes the staging of this exhibition appear like an organic affair. Like the Bermuda triangle, one gains an odd sense that there is a devilish harmony between the three agents that brought this exhibition together. If a visitor disappears for 90 years and suddenly turns up catatonic, may the void be gentle.
(1) Mark Fisher, The Weird and The Eerie, London: Repeater Books, 2016, p. 12.