Victoriana. Pleasure Garden
On Saturday 29 August, it was my great pleasure to open an exhibition by the talented Melbourne duo Gerard O’Connor and Marc Wasiak. To introduce their work here are some shots of the installation and event, along with the text of my opening speech…
In 1861 Albert, the Prince Consort, died. Queen Victoria went into mourning and for the next forty years, black was the new black. Grief became fashionable and, in time, attained an almost fetishistic status. Meanwhile, the economy grew; Lord Kelvin decreed that science was on the brink of answering all the major questions of the universe; the sun shone on the Empire with no sign of setting; and people of taste embraced the arts with renewed zeal.
The Pleasure Garden was its own work of art.
A century earlier, Horace Walpole had declared that
“Poetry, Painting and Gardening will forever by men of Taste be deemed the Three New Graces, who dress and adorn Nature”
But, of course, the essence of gardening is sex and violence, as limbs are hacked, unwanted guests uprooted and favourites pampered… all to ensure that only the showiest of sexual organs may blossom in all their wanton pulchritude. The garden was not a tribute to Nature, but proof of man’s dominion over it. The Victorian garden party brought furniture and all the trappings of bourgeois domesticity into the verdant space and claimed it for its own.
As the Victorian age reached its final crescendo, the Nineties arrived with the realisation that naughty pleasures are so much more fun that innocent ones. After all, simple pleasure has its limits. Sweetness alone quickly satiates the palate, but, when set in contrast to bitter, sour and salt, it can be happily overindulged. The late Victorian era offered just such a condiment: the bitter of rigid social discipline; the sour of public censure; and the salt of salacious precedent familiar to those with a Classical education. Just as the cold rationalism of capitalist industry spawned, in reaction, the torrid anarchy of Romanticism, so the surface of fashionably severe Victorian society laid a veneer of respectability over the wild wood of the libertine. Propriety masked perversity; decorum licensed decadence; and scrupulous public etiquette clothed scurrilous private philandering…
And so to Melbourne…
It has been my great fortune to present the work of Gerard O’Connor and Marc Wasiak both in Australia and in China. And, while in China, to witness the impressive way in which they bring their grand tableaux into being. When it comes to understanding the light and dark of pleasure – the exquisite balance of bittersweet – Gerard and Marc assemble their works with all the finesse of a Michelin chef.
In portraying scenes from different eras, they do more than recreate the past as pastiche, they force it to confront the present day. Their costuming, always so intricate and precise, speaks nonetheless of a contemporary eye for fashion. Their scenes contain multiple narratives, distilling their ideas in a heady invention that trips the light fantastic between carny and critique, wit and wantonness, chaos and control.
Working with an extensive team of production and post-production technicians, they bring the cinematic skills and sensibilities of the twenty-first century to parade past pleasures that dared not speak their name to a present in which the thrill of excess is more talked about than indulged.
Sydney, August 2015
Post-production on art works by Matthew Ryan at Visual Thing, Melbourne.
For more information on O’Connor and Wasiak in China, go here…