[ Pink consumer is pure anti-poetry ]

Reviewer Robert Nelson
June 16, 2004

Monash University Museum of Art, Clayton campus, Wellington Road, Clayton, until July 3

Faculty Gallery, Monash University Caulfield campus, 900 Dandenong Road, until July 8

Vision is one-third optics, one-third psychology and one-third capital. Two exhibitions at different ends of Monash University concentrate on the capital part, the socio-economic engine that conditions how we see the world.

Satellite cities and tabloid life on the Clayton campus takes its cue from the suburban centres of Melbourne's outer north.
They're built up, according to curator Charlotte Hallows, alongside "the increasing importance of visual images and simulated space in the experience of consumer culture".

This theory could probably be extended to inner-city apartments, where a capital-intensive arsenal of images promotes the properties for sale. They centre on lifestyle and fashion, beautiful stereotypes and fantasy.
Bricks and mortar don't sell by themselves, but are skilfully gilded with virtual representations.

The argument isn't entirely borne out by the artworks. Consider Family home by Howard Arkley. It shows a suburban house depicted in synthetic colour, which admittedly keys into the idea of a hyper-real fantasy. But while the picture was painted in 1993, the building stock depicted belongs to the 1960s, an epoch predating the computerised walk-throughs, the seductive fabrication of a cool bar culture and induction of media glamour, which have only arisen recently through lifestyle culture, as Hallows calls it.

Callum Morton's Farnshaven, Illinois is the work closest to the theme, as it shows a great icon of modernism, Mies van der Rohe's abstract Farnsworth House, dressed up as a convenience store.
In itself, the work is a kind of computer simulation, with its manic logo and branded colours seeming somewhat other-worldly. But the paradoxical work also proposes that either the original van der Rohe building has been sold to the large corporation who now use it as an outlet, or perhaps that the "universal" geometric language of the architecture is logically appropriated and reproduced by a globalised fast-food corporation.

Some works seem a bit coincidental to the theme, such as Kathy Temin's witty White problem of 1992, which certainly has elements of suburbia, fantasy and architecture but not at all in the direction of suave-selling virtuality.
The work is more about the embarrassment of things hanging out than the fudged glamour of things being just right for a lifetime.

Maybe it's the problem of working with material hatched in a different decade or spirit. Hallows has an argument which is more contemporary and challenging than most of the artwork it illustrates.
This is not an issue with Manit Sriwanichpoom's Pink man in paradise at Monash Caulfield campus. The idea has arisen with the artwork, yielding enviable coherence.

The photographs show majestic holy sites in Bali. But in each of them, even in the furthest reaches of the sublime Balinese landscape, a pink man with a pink shopping trolley is visiting, has already got there before you and blights the vista with his shocking chroma and deadpan, useless purpose. He is a baleful anomaly, ruining the atmosphere with his mundane shopping and puncturing the compositions with lurid magenta, like a photographic fault, a cultural aberration yielding pure anti-poetry.

This pink man is anything but a cool photographic gimmick. As essayist Claire Armstrong notes, the Thai artist is "concerned with the negative impact of globalisation and consumerism on Asian culture".
The pink man is a kind of allegory of the contemporary consumer, artificially infused with globalised advertising, good at recognising logos and media fantasies and oblivious or scornful of local traditions.

Most of our consumer goods are grotesquely overcapitalised because of global brand warfare, in which advertising budgets, rather than quality, makes the difference in sales.
So contemporary consumers are consumed with images, overwhelmed with oblique messages, none of which has much material bearing on the purchased products or services.
And this includes tourism, where the sacred is commodified and marketed in global networks with the same cliches of global prestige that apply to fashion or television.

No matter what your eyes can behold, no matter how remote and sacrosanct, the pink man will cruel your vision, spoil all local significance and wheel his uniform trolley of consumer expectations all over it, laden with illusions and loud fantasies.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/06/15/1087244900804.html