A scan might have found the cancer now killing Daniel van Roo. Instead his doctor gave him 50 STI tests, which van Roo believes was because he is gay.If I hadn’t taken action and if I hadn’t seen a doctor then, you know, then where I am is just where I am. But because I did do those things, I am probably going to be upset about it when I am laying in the hospital bed at the end.
In the delineated zones of David Capra’s exhibition-cum-installation Sheer Fantasy, the visitor is led to contemplate intersections of time and space.By Lisa Radford.
David Capra’s ‘Sheer Fantasy’
Some things begin as fake.
A phone rings in the first few minutes of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 film Birdman and someone, in a whisper louder than a yell, addresses the packed Nova cinema I am in, asking that whoever owns the phone urgently turn it off. Later, Iñárritu uses diegetic sounds again when the drummer of the film’s soundtrack appears on screen. We’re not taken out of the film by theses breaks; instead we are embedded further. These devices create the conditions where the real exists simultaneously with fantasy, as does past, present and future. In Carlo Rovelli’s latest love story, The Order of Time, he explains how things evolve not in time, but in their own time, and how times evolve in relation to each other. The transparency in this thought allows us to think between things, in transgressions and errors, of events bumping into each other unexpectedly, out of sync and perhaps previously unrelated. Like in a film, in a dream.
Here, we meet Danielle.
Danielle from Paris, who happens upon me, or I upon her, in the packed cafe at Campbelltown Arts Centre on Mother’s Day. Travelling alone, we find ourselves sharing a table. She says her hair was once like mine – long, dark, but grey at 40. Her white hair is cropped. Her slight build belongs to what might be measured as 70. She shows me an image on her phone – a lover of 15 years, and 30 years her junior. He works for television news in Paris – we can watch it on SBS on Saturday. In the picture, he stands beside May ’68 leader Dany le Rouge.
We’ve both just seen Sheer Fantasy, an exhibition-cum-artwork envisaged by the artist David Capra. She’s house-sitting the home of her penfriend of 50 years and travelled from Mosman; I’ve travelled from Melbourne. The trains stopped at Glenfield and we all transferred to a meandering bus to Campbelltown in Greater Western Sydney.
Events bumping into each other across a standard cafe-sized table for two.
The exhibition we have both circled for the past few hours is the result of a six-year conversation between Capra and museum director Michael D’Agostino. Sheer Fantasy is a foray into what is possible beyond the limitations of institutional demands. The swirling typography that appears and disappears within the show is indicative of the portal we will enter and extract ourselves from. Its referent is Saul Bass’s opening titles for Hitchcock’s Vertigo – a pan to the eye then zooms to reveal a swirling mind’s-eye graphic emerging from a pupil, presumably Kim Novak’s, or Capra’s mind. This experience is not logical; it is immersive and intercessory.
To enter the exhibition we need to navigate the span of a painted facade simultaneously reminiscent of theatre flats and the metaphysical spaces of Giorgio di Chirico. The wall is an architectural intervention by artist/architects 1000BCE – yet we are in no common era. Rather than dominating the gallery – as in other exhibitions, where architectural interventions often inadvertently suffocate the art – here the functional but decorative dividers operate as the physical entrances to a dream work, demarcating zones of resemblance and rupture. The palettes of the flats shift as we move through the space, their illusionary graphic arches and alcoves alluding to Roman villa interiors or Doric architraves in Ancient Greece.
Upon entering, the facade collapses – structure and sandbags reveal a veneer. Before us, the gallery opens up to spaces more cerebral than certain. The printed floor plan to which I refer in the pink spiral-bound room-sheet assists in my reading of architectural space. To my right, a video at dog-height, embedded in a wall. The inset is lined with carpet, denoting the domestic. I smile at the futile fun of American artist William Wegman correcting his dog, the weimaraner Man Ray, on its spelling of “b-e-e-c-h” not “beach”. Conceptual art meets canine coaching, but in this context it is more a gesture in animism shifting anthropocentrism – perhaps like Capra himself with his own dog, a dachshund named Teena, the subject of and participant in a number of his works.
Briefly, I am caught in the headlights of a distant Austin K2 truck, behind which is a painted panorama – Monument Valley – echoing for me John Ford’s Stagecoach and the ever-debated backdrops of Hitchcock’s Marnie. It’s a cinematic scope, real and fantastical, one West inside another. Seduced into a room of unknown pleasures, Pat Larter’s patterned and sparkled part-painting part-collages shimmer against a dark wall. Larter’s works act as a backdrop to a room-sized collection of paranormal paraphernalia. Housed on a Greco-Roman table plinth lined with green carpet there are aliens of all forms – toys, erasers, ET, bumper stickers screaming ALIENS POSSESS MY CHILDREN, headlines in copies of the Campbelltown Macarthur Chronicle offering spectral clichés. Aliens act as a mirror for that which we fear or idealise as unknown. Here they help to make sense of our press-to-pop culture and science-to-science fiction alongside Larter’s glittering overlay of desire.
I walk towards the light now and hit a wall just like Jim Carrey’s Truman. With no escape, I am caught by a soliloquy of Mark Shorter performing as Renny Kodgers, musing on the existential penetrative nature of the road in his installation Hello Stranger. Externalised, this is diegetic sound as overheard internal monologue. The pink fur-lined interior of this truck-cabin-without-a-body houses pickled eggs and a plant. A seagull complements a figurine of Jesus beside the hanging soft-porn portrait of Kodger dangling from the rear-view mirror. This warm interior is yet another brain, the studio of the driver – who is both Shorter and Kodger – collecting beguiling narratives and knick-knacks on set. Its awkwardness is heightened by Kodgers’ appearance, inviting riders to sit with him, pant-less, as he draws out their fears and secrets of the road. A map in the pocket behind where his head would rest reminds us we are driving from one dream, possibly his, to another, possibly ours, in solitude and solidarity.
Cinematic montage alters our experience of linear time. In Capra’s exhibition this is achieved by physical space – the rhythms and gaps, congestions and clearings, between works and in the works. In the screenplay that is this room, Shorter’s cabin is the macro to the micro of the 10 or so psycho-architectural models made by Javier Lara-Gomez. Assembled with remnants such as bread ties, plastic spoons, souvenir trays, catalogues and books, the first panel to catch my eye is recognisable as a still from Hal Ashby’s Being There. Lara-Gomez, it turns out, was imprisoned for cocaine possession in what is perhaps still one of Australia’s biggest hauls. He made these models in Long Bay prison, before moving to Goulburn. Scaled-down models of hotels, mansions, chapels and temples of promise, these are architectures of unfulfilled desire beside dreams of an open yet unseen road.
In the next room, more haunting than humorous, Polly Borland’s lenticular print Bunny and Louie depicts on one side the actress–model Gwendoline Christie and on the other a muted boy-bunny. The semblance of two images is neither one nor the other, and each side of the work is somehow both either and or. Opposite, Michael Parekowhai’s Coral stands proud as irreverent child-monster larger than life cast in polished steel – the liquid of some memory made solid. Around and through more theatre flats, I approach a surreal rendering of Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House remodelled in shells by Aunty Esme Timbery, a Bidjigal elder who comes from a family of shell workers from La Perouse. It is hard not to associate Aunt Esme’s reimagining as both propositional and play – the shape of the shells echoing the form of sails, the tourist attraction remade via generations of shell work and sold as means of survival – an imagined other way.
It is about now that I realise I am enveloped in a familiar sound – haunting strings, timed slowly as if drawing out an unformed question. The piece is only short, perhaps a minute or two, but it feels like eternity as it repeats always, already, and new again. It’s “Carlotta’s Portrait” – Herrmann’s score for the scene in Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart finds Kim Novak transfixed by a portrait of the Spanish beauty. In the film it is a doubling, and a doubling that is repeated. Sitting on an orange bench, awkwardly placed so that I almost face a painting and almost face a doorway, every structure is revealed.
I sit here listening to the repeat of the score by the local L’Estro Armonico String Orchestra, whose repetition acts in some ways as both glitch and deja vu. The longer you sit, the more you hear. Another sound, albeit faint, emerges from the next room. Looking up, a strange illustrated frieze depicts Fred Flintstone’s body with Michael Jackson’s head. It continues as a haunting montage of figures, merging history and gender, fit for the ceiling architraves of a mediaeval church or a child’s room, and yet belonging to neither.
Walking into the next room, unthinking, I see in the distance Big Bird in a video within a wall. The puppet is singing “Bein’ Green” in a church, perhaps Gothic, at a funeral I learn to be Jim Henson’s. Immediately I am confronted by a sense of loss – childhood imaginary meets absurdity in death. Watching the short loop four or five times, each time as if new, I hear “Carlotta’s Portrait” slowly seep into my ear. Walking out of the room, the walls I passed on the way in are exposed once again as a theatrical device. This is the fifth wall, not fourth.
In the next, the last room, Archie Moore’s wall painting shows a drawing he once made. Super Powerless Man is a mash-up hero who just can’t, not because he is incapable but because he is the embodiment of something as yet unrealised, the embodiment of that feeling in a dream of not being able to run when in danger. Walking through heavy theatre curtains, the theatre flats transformed, I find three quilt-cum-appliqué wall hangings by Raquel Caballero. These works are like offerings in a tomb, carefully and cleverly depicting trawled images from books and the internet. In one of them, titled Mother of Pearl / Hell, Donald Trump is emerging from a TV or microwave. Calling out to Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son or Daumier’s Gargantua, Trump is vomiting camouflage, surrounded by Bono, Mick Jagger, O. J. Simpson, Rolf Harris, Charles Manson and Robin Williams. In Heaven the artist is depicted as a green deity, surrounded by the spirits of Prince, David Bowie, Joan Rivers, Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Harry Dean Stanton, Jerry Lewis, Alan Vega and Lou Reed. Between them, Fran Lebowitz is “door bitch to purgatory”, a green aura emanating from her and from the sign next to her. The artist reminds me it is a reference to the sign outside the door that opens to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, which in the film reads “Bell out of order please knock”. Here, in capitals, it reads: “Escalator out of order get lost.”
Later, Danielle has sent me a text message invitation to “Priscilla, reine du désert”. “Carlotta’s Portrait” is playing on repeat via Spotify. Capra’s exhibition is not a network of ideas, but an immersion. Truth content in transitions, a bundle of subjectivity. Sheer Fantasy is a gift of subjectivity that need not necessarily be understood, but instead, in its continuous crossings between genres and between the old categories of high and low, of art and non-art, it presents to us the potential for chaos in multiplicity.
Venues throughout Melbourne, June 1–10
INSTALLATION Rirkrit Tiravanija
NGV International, Melbourne, June 1 – October 1
VISUAL ART Japonisme: Japan and the Birth of Modern Art
NGV International, Melbourne, until October 18
Red Stitch Theatre, May 29 – July 1
THEATRE De Stroyed
Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, until May 27
MUSIC The Spirit of Churaki
Home of the Arts, Gold Coast, May 26
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 26, 2018 as "Wall suite".
A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.