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Whatever Works | Hannah Broom

Kitsch Me If You Can

Words by Hannah Broom for Whatever Works by Germaine Woodward.

Germaine Woodward is well known for her collaborative works with fellow Brisbane Artist, Linda Murray. Together, they produced performance and video pieces that explore an unruly female grotesque found splattered throughout feminist and psychoanalytical texts. Woodward succinctly describes their work as ‘women behaving badly’. Woodward’s solo exhibition ‘Whatever Works’ is intriguing therefore, for it’s immediate reference to Kitsch folk art. An installation space is transformed into a welcoming olive green sitting room. An ornate antique sofa, coffee table and low level lighting invite us to sit and contemplate the works therein. I am momentarily reminded of the irony of the popularity of ‘minimalist’ IKEA furniture in a consumerist culture that craves both individuality and continual, ongoing embellishment: More, more, more. As a whole, the space is reminiscent of an era of handicrafts and ‘Stepford Wives’ or rather, ‘women behaving perfectly’. On closer inspection, it is clear that this is in fact, far from the case. There is a delicious friction at play.

The artist juxtaposes the traditionalism of folk art with digital photography in a troubled collaboration with photographer James Robertson. Robertson captured the large-scale digital images of the artist in nude, iconic poses, initially intended as a series exploring desire and fantasy. Woodward challenges these potential readings of sexual objectification through humorous, irreverent titling (‘Knob Jockey’) and by placing the work in the controlled context of her own space, her grotto.

In an image entitled ‘Chuck’n a Carla’, Woodward references a famous nude photograph of Carla Bruni, wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Famed for her defiance in the fact of pressure to conform to the stereotype of a ‘respectable’ first lady, Bruni clearly defines her own identity as a successful model and musician, distinct from her relationship with her husband. By reenacting this famous shot with her own imperfect, ‘sagging’ body, Woodward questions traditional cultural readings of beauty and their relationship to realistic, ‘imperfect’ flesh. Defiant, she too reasserts her own identity beyond that of sexual object or co-collaborator.

Long-term collaborative relationships between artists are common, but like lovers, these relationships are often intense; forged in a creative fire. They have the innate potential to burn the house down and leave it bare. Some artists are left, wandering empty halls while they struggle in search of new artistic identities. Woodward however, seizes these transitional difficulties and funnels them straight into her own burgeoning creative process. The result is a keen sense of playfulness. Nothing is fixed or permanent.

There remains a sense of performance throughout the show, highlighted by the use of the sofa as a backdrop in some of the photographs. There is a faintly surrealist tone to the installation; I am personally reminded of the Mae West Lips Sofa by Salvador Dali. Time seems suspended. We are left with an uneasy sense of what Drew Leder terms ‘the absent body’; in this case, a ghost of the artist’s physical presence remains within the space, as though they had just left the room and may return at any moment.

Woodward’s work speaks of the personal made public. The artist as Object and Subject, Self and Other. Through humorous titles and an exploration of the realm of Kitsch, Woodward succeeds in presenting work that is refreshingly honest. The obvious friction between artist and intention allows these meanings to remain fluid, changeable. This is critical for the future growth and development of Germaine Woodward’s strong and defiant individual artistic practice.