It came as a surprise that, in a new burb devoted mostly to stockmarket rumours, West Byron’s Pennywise Estate, an art gallery should rise from devastated paddocks. Called ironically Conspicuous Consumption, a challenge to MONA it is not, despite the array of terracotta scrotums at its entrance, but it does provide a purpose-built venue for local artists to strut their stuff.
The current show, Most Easterly Pointy Bit, is fairly heavy on politics, sometimes bluntly, other times sublimely, depending on the artist.
The most graphic work, and perhaps shocking to some, is Jeff Perspex’s sculpture Ordure Towers, a commentary on the local Greens’ relaxation of Byron Bay’s height limit held in place for decades by the dedication of activists.
It consists of fibreglass spiralling dog turds stacked upon each other. Into each turd little windows have been fitted and you can see the inhabitants of these shit apartments arranged at various domestic activities. While it conveys its message easily the architecture at play is a good deal better than many of the Bay’s existing atrocities.
The traffic problem, mostly caused by tourism, doesn’t escape attention. The video artist Deffo presents an animation of tourists crashing into each other on the ill-fated Ewingsdale Road until a tide of blood finds its way along Shirley Street and into the town centre. It is superbly executed in the manner of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
Louise Haze captures some of the delicious light of Vermeer in her oil painting Your Tax Dollar At Work. It depicts koalas as our MPs in the lower house of state parliament, arguing vigorously across the floor despite their horrific injuries wrapped in blood-stained bandages. The bill they are debating is titled Let’s Kill All The Road Builders. Hardly subtle, but it makes the point on behalf of our few remaining fauna.
The so-called New Age movement also comes in for a skewering. Dandy Nematode, in a vast painting called Whale Song Healing Modality In Blue, features a cast of anorexic supermodels in flowing aquamarine dresses dancing around a log fire on Belongil Beach while a volunteer firefighter looks on forlornly. If it weren’t for the firey, it could almost be an advertisement for half a dozen establishments in Jonson Street or tucked into retreats among maca plantations in the hinterland.
Apropos the hinterland, artist Ferry Mersey invites the viewer to participate. Her cunningly constructed Ground Control sets out a series of one-tenth-scale humans buried up to their necks in the earth, a ‘spiritual’ practice currently popular in Main Arm Upper Upper. The viewer can hit the rubber heads with a mallet to their heart’s content and yet they keep springing up from their holes, unconquerable. Ms Mersey told me the concept came from the game Whack-A-Mole and she felt it had a certain cosmic inevitability about it.
Not all of the exhibition involves satire. Geraldine Redline’s painting The Painter’s Triumph obviously references Jorge Luis Borges’ brilliant short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, in which said Menard, a fictional 20th-century French writer, copies out Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Borges reviews it on its own merits. Ms Redline in turn copies precisely the work of 19th-century American painter William Sidney Mount.
While the show is uneven in quality, it is an impressive debut for some young Byron artists, and it is good to see women well represented. It augurs well for future projects at Conspicuous Consumption as long as its developers see no need for a nursing home there instead.