Catalogue essay for Tom Ames and Lucie McIntosh, Kings ARI, Melbourne, 2016
Misreading is a looking practice that implies a mistake, an error in the process of reading. Like a faulty Netflix signal that distorts the face of an actor in unexpected ways, misreading deforms and contorts texts. Their intended meanings shift to convey alternative readings in such a way that the mind appears to have turned sharp, alien, mad or dumb. Misreading may mean slicing, fracturing, abstracting or altering the intended meanings and uses of a text. It may take different forms but is characterised by a significant alteration of the original. This practice can be found in vernacular expressions such as fan art or in the rituals performed by syncretic religions, like the bastardised Catholicism of San Juan Chamula, Mexico – where shamanism and Coca-Cola offerings take place inside the church. The town has decoded Coke in ways that appear alien to Western eyes but stand in perfect harmony with their pre-Columbian traditions.
Chamula’s appropriation may be seen as a form of cultural resistance that enables them to retain their pre-Columbian traditions in the face of Westernisation. They participate in this process by adopting the drink but disrupt the cultural order by consuming Coke in an idiosyncratic manner that stands at odds with dominant culture. This is typical of misreading strategies, in which a different way of seeing is exercised to reveal an unexpected logic, covert fact or an outsider socio-cultural reality. In the context of contemporary art, misreading can operate as a critical strategy that facilitates the re-evaluation of texts and their modes of reception by way of queering their form. A misreading tends to put into motion a series of queries regarding the production of images and their ideological underpinnings. A familiar example is Warhol’s series of portraits of Marilyn Monroe, which captures the condition of the actress as a commodity sign while drawing a parallel between the phenomenon of celebrity and religious devotion.
Thomas Ames and Lucie McIntosh can also be said to misread texts in their collaborative practice, but unlike Warhol, they shift their attention from representation to materiality by utilising sculptural devices that reactivate photographs as objects. Images are blurred and prints are crumbled and folded to exist somewhere in between a photograph and a sculpture. Surface is central to their line of enquiry, as they ponder how the content of the photograph influences our perception of the material in which the image is printed on. Incidentally, the work often evokes the aesthetics of desire so commonly found in consumer culture through its high-end finish and incorporation of perspex, gradient palettes and sublime landscapes. However, the role of these materials sits closer to New Materialism than spectacle, where the central focus lies on material processes and the work’s material existence. To this end the artists execute gestures such as placing prints halfway through the wall and the gallery floor, misusing the object to draw our attention to its material properties. Thus, they counter read the way in which images are commonly presented to us as pure representation and instead focus on their physicality, shifting the original meaning often intended by producers of mass culture.