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Daily Archives: April 12, 2013

Mixed Messages @ Counihan Gallery

I often find sociological exhibitions in art galleries to be out of context and poor art but Phuong Ngo’s exhibition “My Dad the People Smuggler” at the Counihan Gallery is long overdue and worth a visit.

Currently in Australia the two major political parties compete to demonise ‘people smugglers’, the people who assist refugees to get to places of refuge, and to abuse those seeking refuge. The Australian government’s deliberately cruel, degrading and illegal policies on refugees (piracy is still a crime even if carried out by the Navy) have been going on for decades now.

But back in the early 1980s in Australian policy towards ‘people smugglers’ was very different. Although Australia has long had an immigration policy that expressed racist xenophobia, the results of the Vietnam War lead to a brief period when refugees were welcome in Australia. It was during this period that Phuong Ngo’s father assisted others to leave Vietnam and arrived in Australia. The evidence that such things happened is in photographs and videos, including his father’s talking about his experience in people smuggling.

Not that I expect that this exhibition will have any effect on Australia’s current policy on refugees; it is safely in an art gallery and will just contribute to the mixed messages that exist in our society.

Michelle Hamer’s exhibition of small tapestries “I send mixed messages” is in Gallery One of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The mixed messages are everywhere, as the Situationists loved to point out, the billboards, signs, stencils and tags all contradict each other. “Stop the madness,” reads a stop sign (stop me if you have seen this before). Clement Greenberg argued that kitsch was the inappropriate translation of art to the wrong media; I wouldn’t say that Hamer’s work is kitsch but I don’t know if the media is appropriate. As tapestries, the focus and much of the detail of the original photographs has been lost. I last saw Hamer’s work at Bus in 2010 but the work seems very familiar as there are a lot of artists creating needlework tapestry of urban scenes in recent years including Catherine Tipping, who will be having an exhibition of tapestries at Tinning Street Presents… later this month.

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