From embellishment and exaggeration, to examinations of identity, gender and desire, Pleasure – a new exhibition at RMIT Gallery presents the work of a diverse group of 48 artists – who use the body as a personal, provocative and at times political canvas from the flamboyant 1980s to contemporary times.
Curated by Julian Goddard, Helen Rayment and Evelyn Tsitas, Pleasure challenges our ideas about the nature of pleasure, and how our bodies give, receive and rejoice in pleasure.
Many of the works in Pleasure are highly erotic or graphic in their content, depicting sexuality through an alternative lens to mainstream representations. Pleasure after all is a subjective joy, with author Jane Austen once observing “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
While people tend not to talk openly about their desires and fetishes, the exhibition’s Pleasure Plus room celebrates nuanced perspectives usually silenced in the world of online pornographic culture.
Goddard said that Pleasure foregrounds the work of artists motivated to challenge the banalities of late capitalist society by constructing interventions that lift our spirits, produce wonder and make us laugh. “Prepare to be surprised, delighted, and depending on your sensibilities, a little shocked. Pleasure seeks to embrace frivolity, contradictions and minor perversities,” said Goddard.
The Pleasure exhibition was developed in response to the enormous public interest in the transformed human form revealed in RMIT Gallery’s popular 2018 exhibition, My Monster: The Human Animal Hybrid.
“We realised audiences had a strong desire to see intriguing artwork that reflected their own fantasies and anxieties about what it means to be human,” said Tsitas. “Pleasure celebrates artwork that explores diverse sexualities and the disruption of gender and bodily boundaries.”
Highlights of Pleasure include: GunShy’s (Katherine Jamieson) film and fashion mixed media installation that is a tongue in cheek, contemporary, psychedelic, psycho-sexual journey; and Nick Chilvers’ Puff Piece II (the Enablers) – demonstrates how fashion and sportswear branding overlap with the cultures of pleasure, risk, sexuality, and Queer sub-cultural identity.
VERMIN (Lia Tabrah and Jenny Bannister) transform the grotesque into luxury couture with punk cane toad fashion; while Judith Glover’s ceramic hand-made dildos and bespoke bento boxes celebrate slow sexual ritual; and Xylouris White’s music video by the Cretan lute player George Xylouris and Australian drummer Jim White, remind us that the pleasure of dance is universal and ageless.
Gerwyn Davies’ highly contrived photographic works feature playful self-transformation and invoke the parody, artifice and excess of a Camp sensibility; and John Pastoriza-Piñol’s series of drawings document the Melbourne gay leather scene, with its strict aesthetic and social codes of conduct.
Finally, Kate Durham’s large sculptural costume for performer Moira Finucane reminding us of the pleasure in dressing up, and the momentary pleasure to be gained transforming our identity through what we wear.
“l think we should pursue pleasure more than we do, we should wear it, eat it, ride it, bathe in it, sip on it, gorge on it, experience it, even to excess: sometimes grateful that we can; we are not yet deprived, drought-driven or drowned… not yet,” says Durham’s. “Pleasure is delightful, pleasure is essential, but ephemeral. Seek it; take it; and give it when you can.”
RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 7 March 2020
For more information and complete list of artists, visit: www.rmitgallery.com for details.
Image: Gerwyn Davies, Bomb, 2017 (detail) – image courtesy of the artist