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.
"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 womens 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
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
Walton, (January, 2003)