hardy + strong


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Swinburne School of Design graduates Charmaine Hardy and Simon Strong present their first solo inter-state exhibition of individual and collaborative works. Drawing from their previous shows, "Domestic Gods" (2000), "Of Two Minds", "I Wanna Be A Star" (both 2001), and "Clone" (2002), the artists have prepared two new images, and included a number of transitional pieces.

Hardy & Strong use their work to respond to issues pertinent in the media, popular culture, and in the way we experience the world. Ironic, facetious, and sometimes confronting, these images can be appreciated both for their surface of playful exuberance, and for the sagacious social critique. "Disturbia" explores some of the conflicts, disappointments, and inequalities lurking beneath the veneer of everyday life. Hardy & Strong seek to expose the disparity in the experiences between city and suburban dwellers. They focus on the hypocrisy underlying the performance of social rituals, alienation in work, home, and family environments, and the frustration felt by individuals by the demands of contemporary living.

Hardy's "First Home Buyer" shows the triumphant interlude in the corporate woman's dream of home ownership. Fittingly she is toasting the insubstantial, an empty plot. In order to achieve her goal, city working life must be divided from her future suburban home life by distance and culture. The man, and implied children, who are to share this world are also part of the 'construction'. Her knight in shining armour may sit proudly on a steam-roller, but better he not interfere, she is the driving force in this utopian venture. In "House Warming" the violent tendencies and strain produced by the maintenance of expected social behaviour are unleashed. In fulfilling their duties as proud hosts, the house-mates adopted a display of celebratory cheerfulness and buoyant good humour. Now that their guests have left the 'dream house' dishevelled and damaged, the recriminations signal that the party is definitely over.

Hardy's "Trolley Won't Go Home" reveals the sinister overtones of the supermarket convenience turned urban stalker. Displaced from their primary function, errant trolleys can be found singularly or in groups lurking on median strips, congregating outside homes, and acting suspiciously in public places. Like clattering, rattling gangs of the disaffected they frustrate and antagonise residents, threaten other vehicles, and evade apprehension. Similarly, "Break & Enter" taps into the unease and lingering suspicion residents feel about apartment blocks in their neighbourhood. The image perpetuates the stereotype believed most widely, showing the less-than salubrious people and activities these housing fortresses are believed to attract.

Strong's "Exit" suggests an antidote of sorts to the relentless march of consumer culture. Building and high-rise compression is off-set by the strategic encroachment of nature. The conceit of 'returning' to the spiritual within the urban environment is articulated by the New Age-y accoutrements of healing crystals, drifting leaves, and manicured grass. The heroine has abandoned the confining shackles of car and clothes for a pit-stop oasis of faux tranquillity. In contrast, the glamazon in the boot cannot be stirred from her city atrophy of pressure and responsibility. The preponderance of wellness clinics, spas, and relaxation centres offer quick-fix serenity and plug-in rejuvenation for the harassed modern woman. Hardy's "Car City" was a response to "girl power" notions of prettified, socially condoned, female aggression. The masculinised kilometres taken up by car dealers, acting as the gate-keepers to the suburbs, clash with the urban girl's notions of just-sexy-enough emancipation. With her Tae-bo mindset, she seeks to subdue the metal and wheels environment which characterises the aspirations of the male.

With its paraphernalia of iconographic symbolism, "Trinity" is one of Hardy & Strong's most complicated thematic statements. The work reflects entrenched social, cultural and religious attitudes to women’s appetites: intellectual, sexual, and gastronomic. Traditionally these desires have been rigorously controlled and policed by male dominated social structures and conventions. Women have been compelled to adopt an attitude of self-repression, denial, and restraint in terms of basic expression. Flouting these restrictions has brought condemnation, family conflict, and community ostracism. Here a woman is offered succour, and the opportunity for satisfaction; this ‘indulgence’ comes at the expense of the male at the table. In defiance of received wisdom, and provoking signs of protest, her gratification goes unpunished. This decision to embrace fulfilment becomes a validation of choice and self-determination. Such boldness has a transformative power both on her and the spectators, the sanctified feminine.

An idea by the author as to how Hardy & Strong might 'tackle' the totally disproportionate media and fan obsession with sport is realised in "Delivering The Ball". The unwarranted attention and uncritical approval accorded to sport and its players reflects a privileged position, occupied at the expense of academic, artistic, or social achievements. There is also inherent sexism and disparity in such coverage; the sporting prowess of women is often curtailed and marginalised as being less important. Sporting 'personalities' can expect their every injury, public utterance, indiscretion, and appearance to be exhaustively reported. Breathless, homoerotic commentary from network Talking Blazers, and fawning front-page coverage in national newspapers for (male dominated) sporting exploits, might lead you to believe something of world importance had occurred. The mindless hyperbole inevitably accompanying these activities (hero, tragedy, agony, disaster, calamity) makes the reportage of genuine news stories seem minor or irrelevant in comparison. What would it take for the Armchair Army to reserve their rapt attention for an event of profound or lasting significance ?

The artists take aim at the addictive and ever-multiplying "Reality TV" genre. The bargain-basement soap opera tribalism of these shows, with their camera-hogging, hysterical contestants under consensual surveillance, renders them no more 'real' than caricature. Pre-dating the September 11 and Bali terrorist attacks, the images ponder what sort of 'reality-check' would expose these contrived and conceited representations of 'life'. Armed with a drill, the urban guerrilla wannabe rampages through the gardeners of "Backyard Blitz" in her quest for attention. Increasingly frenzied, she has gate-crashed another show, and murdered her fellow contestants in the spa. Prize-cheque assured, she tries to escape the confining 'reality' world, but finds the phone has no socket. This "Survivor" is caught in an endless loop of sequels waiting to be voted off !

In its literal sense, Strong's "Reclamation" shows the 'riches' to be found by participating in efforts to minimise waste and limit landfill. More abstractly, it alludes to the 'rewards' public philanthropy can bestow. It has long been de rigueur for anyone with aspirations to public life to espouse a Cause, however perfunctorily. We are constantly reminded of the boundless good intentions of society and industry figures, the media elite, celebrities, and 'personalities' by their participation in charity events, fundraisers, and public service announcements. Great fanfare is reserved for those who presumably have more time, money, and the public profile allowing them to be seen Doing The Right Thing. Here, the designer-clad socialite has let her commitment to recycling escalate into a crusade. In her competitive zeal, she has transformed her mansion from a venue for tennis parties and society soirées to one inundated with responsibly disposing of conspicuous consumption. The ostentatious performance of this ritual is probably more valuable to her than any beneficial result it might have for the environment. Altruism and social responsibility has become a pageant, one as competitive as acquiring this season's must-have fashion accessory. The public approbation it bestows on the individual far outweighs any damage to the décor !

Inga Walton, (January, 2003)

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