MARS, Melbourne, Australia, 2007
The slow malaise of consumerism stalks us quietly on the domestic front as much as it does on the international one. So it is that “Homo Economics”, a Christ like figure towering over the refuse of home life created some ten years ago has metamorphosed into an emasculated teddy bear overwhelmed, strangled and almost swallowed by the same refuse in “Up to 70% off”.
In this exhibition Giuseppe Romeo weaves between political and home fronts with alacrity. In the past he has tended to shy away from personal reflection preferring instead general themes such as those typified by “The Ambition in us all”. The present sculptures, created as they have been out of the mass of a family’s collected debris utilise materials that are both more banal (toilet ducks) and somehow more intimate (a child’s surplus teddy bear). What has happened to the individuals who have left this debris in their wake? What is happening to humanity? Bitumised, homogenised and fossilised
in white paint this is hardly the nest of a phoenix. Yet there is a disquieting beauty to these works. “Liberty” featuring a recognisable broken arm rising out of a box of Amsterdam rye maintains an elegance and dignity that belies the suggestion of a kerbside deposit. Sadly, perhaps it is such very ideals and perhaps beauty itself that are discarded along with the inorganic rubbish. If the sculptures arise out of consumer goods debris then the mirrors juxtaposed with them are both billboards – inviting the shopper in, cajoling, and – in combination with their subtext challenging. These sooted up shop windows are slickly, commercially presented, sharp edged and slogan laced. Yet this is no fashion black.
In most of these either image or title provides the darker side to a –relatively- innocuous reflection of life, politics or commerce. Thus, a double inkblot outline of the United States carries the title of “Ameri- can Psycho” – as always though the interpretation
of a Rorschach lies with the beholder. The black
credit “Lifestyle facilitator” could be exactly that, “Holy Water” could be a peaceful seascape and the rotated Golden Arches may represent nothing more than a hamburger patty. Commercial product presentation asks no more but acceptance of the surface. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. The references contained in these works are loaded, multifaceted and funny in a deadly way. Most people know that the steam seen rising from a hamburger in a fast food advertisement is likely to have been generated by a cigarette – not
by condensation – yet respond with Pavlovian salivation…
So, when Giuseppe Romeo cheekily invites us to look into the hole at the centre of “Mirror, Mirror” it is probably worth checking what type –and whose- hole we are looking into. Our acceptance of things as portrayed on the surface carries a price no less than the carcinogens in a cigarette. We are as much part of the picture –and the problem- as the ostensible subject. While the slogans and newspaper headlines entertain, it is we who fail to recognise their implica- tions signing a death warrant on reflection. Giuseppe Romeo makes that complicity explicit.
The black on these mirrors is soot, a waste product, key component of the smog which hangs over our cities, carbon backbone to life that appears to be choking the planet to death. The capuchin monks used human remains to create beautiful abstract decorations, part of the artistic tradition of memento mori. This work, unsettling, sparse and yet evocative forms part of this tradition. For the cultural tourist gallery goer, there is however none of the comfort enabled by distance, time or foreign culture and religion. These works are contemporary and secular. Who dares hang a capuchin relic –portentous and beautiful- on a living room wall?
What hangs on yours?