Cover image of the review
Installation view of *Temptation to Co-Exist: Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley*, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Photo: Christian Capurro.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley: Temptation to Co-exist

15 Jun 2019
Heide Museum of Modern Art 6 Apr - 14 Jul 2019

It is a somewhat disconcerting experience setting out to review an exhibition when one has the distinct feeling that whatever might be said about it has already occurred to the artists and is already, in some sense, factored into the work itself. This is precisely the feeling one has moving through this well-curated retrospective of the work of Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley—their most extensive exhibition to date, containing a generous selection from their collaborative work over the last three decades. Perhaps as a result of the hyper-referential yet opaque nature of their work, which the artists themselves describe as ‘highly condensed’, criticism—especially in the form of critical judgment about the success or failure of individual works—risks being superfluous.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley, Bricks and Buttercups, 2016. Neon tubing, electrical components, rope, firebricks, vinyl, synthetic polymer paint, 410 x 400 cm. Photograph: Christian Capurro.

Take, for instance, Bricks and Buttercups (2016), the latest in a series of neon works begun over a decade ago. In wall-mounted bricks, neon tubes and other sculptural elements, the work depicts a scene derived from George Herriman’s absurdist early 20th century comic Krazy Kat. Ignatz the mouse throws bricks at Krazy Kat, who, oblivious to the mouse’s aggression—in the comic strip, Krazy Kat is hopelessly besotted with Ignatz and mistakes his projectiles are love letters—bends down to smell a flower as the bricks sail over his/her head. Formally, the work approaches incoherence: the constituent parts are clumsily strewn across the wall (especially the flower and text, not executed in neon, that sit below the main image), sorely missing the boundaries of the comic strip or page; the disparity between the heavy, bulky bricks and the almost incorporeal neon refuses to allow the work to properly synthesise into an image. At the same time, the work does not push this formal and material incoherence to the point of making it appear truly at issue, as if it were engaged in a formal deliberation on the limits of structure, unity, coherence, and so on.

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