“Mum said my birth was a mistake
At 2 weeks I caught pneumonia and was given the last rights
At 7 Dad fucked his secretary and destroyed our family
We survived in silence on welfare
Like a sad song on the radio…
Life is a series of small tragedies and secret shames
… Oh, I forgot to mention the loneliness”
IT’S NOT YOUR USUAL ARTIST’S BIO, but then Glenn Sloggett is not your usual artist. Nor, lest you misconstrue the above, does he feel himself a victim. Simply a survivor.
Glenn Sloggett is drawn to the dysfunctional, the dispossessed and, in particular, to the last glimmering of dogged hope amid the ashes of the most dismal situations. The eagerness of the leashed dog; the fey optimism of the can man; the proud boast on the side of the pink hearse (an image that has become iconic for the artist). He frames and celebrates the things we would rather turn from. There is no nostalgia here, just the forward plod of life without expectations. Here beauty lies not in the roses (which are diseased) or the wedding dress (which is cast off) or the Pavlova (which is NQR [not quite right]), but in the tenacity of those who keep going when their world is crumbling around them. Making do.
IN MANY WAYS it is easier to say what his photographs are not, rather than nail exactly what they are. Certainly they are not the spectacle of the abject snapped by some middle-class tourist. Glenn Sloggett refuses to sign up for anything but the most menial work. He paid his way through university by cleaning sex-club video cubicles between clients. Since then he has held a series of dead-end (his description) jobs in factories that print junk mail fliers, mould cheap plastic display stands or process bottom-of-the-range food products. It is only by living the lifestyle he photographs that can he stay true to those he most admires. For him success is not heroic, but simply surviving is.
Wandering the streets after work, he searches out the next subject for his camera. He will plan meticulously and take only one shot so as not to waste precious film. Each image is like a small epiphany.
If ever you have the opportunity to hear Glenn Sloggett give a talk, take it with both hands. His mix of warmth and devastating sardonic humour is delivered with the panache of a stand-up comedian. His message is disturbing – usefully so – but not bitter. If you are really lucky he will have a raffle at the end – tickets are free and the prizes are from among his most treasured finds: a discarded teddy bear; a DVD of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, a snapshot of a middle-aged man’s penis with a phone number on the back (found tucked down the side of a seat at the back of a suburban bus)…
When Glenn sent me the bio that begins this profile, he added “I’d like it to be entertaining”.
That’s Glenn Sloggett for you. ’Nuff said.
THE WORK OF GLENN SLOGGETT will be on show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, from 30 January 2013 in an exhibition put together by Natasha Bullock entitled “We used to talk about love”.