Review: Beyond Reason, QUT Art Museum

Have a shot of caffeine before you head to QUT's new exhibition, Beyond Reason, as it is a high voltage, overloaded experience that will set your brain alight.
Review: Beyond Reason, QUT Art Museum

Installation view Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; front Louise Paramor and rear Tom Polo; photo Artshub

It would be an understatement to describe this as a dense or congested exhibition. While it includes just 26 artists, each is represented through several artworks, many of which contain multiple elements or are hung salon-style using up every inch of gallery real estate.

The outcome is that collectively this exhibition leaves you with a retinal burn of intense colour, of gyrating energy bouncing between works, and a kind of up-to-the-gills saturation as room upon room is overwhelming to the viewer. It is the epitome of horror vacui – a fear of empty spaces.

On reading the catalogue essay, however, one gets a greater sense that this is the aesthetic Curator Kevin Wilson has aimed to achieve. Every point in the essay is described through exhaustive lists covering all options, all genres and all emotions.  

He describes his exhibition as a ‘rambling, picaresque’ show that ‘sets out to survey the work of 26 artists’. Wilson clearly ascribes to the theory of more is better, and why not?

Installation view Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; front The Ryan Sisters and rear Jacqui Stockdale; photo Artshub

Wilson adds: ‘What attracted me to these artists was the raw engagement of imagery, the dark undercurrents of story telling, the strong colour, and gestural painting, exaggeration, the play with masks and costume, that haptic mark making, the colourful exploration of popular culture, the use of animals, turning things upside down, the sharp satire, and much more.’

Ok, so everything is on the table – needless to add that this show might have benefited from a little editing. For example, did we need so many works by Minka Gillian which dotted their way up a corridor and away from the gallery spaces?

And while the work of Aleks Danko is fabulously rigorous conceptually, and presented with great polish and elegance, did it really fit with the retinal jar of this exhibition? Both seemed to occupy their own spaces.

Installation view Aleks Danko, Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

Those observations aside, moving through this exhibition as a viewer you are forced to submit to it – to just let yourself get pulled into its intense energy – and when you do, it’s a great ride. My rigid curatorial frame started to fall away to a beat that offered a bit more fun, the pulse pumped and the brain churning.  

Beyond Reason carries the subtitle ‘exploring the logic of the imagination’ and takes its launching point as the theoretical position underlying 19th century Romantic poetry and 20th century novels – that is a kind of alternate logic which is offered as order is dissolved through creativity.

A sense of the fairy-tale, and dark and absurd side of storytelling have a strong current across this exhibition, especially as the natural world and the human form interact, morph and play.

This is particularly strong in the works presented by Simone Eisler, Zoe Porter, Michael Vale and Hannah Gartside.

Eisler’s installation is one of the first visitors encounter, placed in the transitional ramp walk-way between galleries, complete with a wallpaper by Daniel Sala and a soundscape. It is almost as though one is permitted to dwell in another world momentarily – setting the tone to leave rational thought elsewhere.

Installation view Simone Eisler in Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

It is a rather successful transformation of this difficult space. Allure (2018) was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale All Finds of Fur, and plays off the use of natural disguises (real and imagined) to escape trauma.

It is followed in the next gallery by a stand out body of work in the exhibition by Zoe Porter. An organic hang of a wall of intimate abstracted drawings from her In the Studio (series 1 and 2) 2016-18, sits opposite a suite of images from performance based works with their project props – both bodies of work dwell between the imaginary and the real, order and organic, animal and human, surreal yet familiar.

Installation view Zoe Porter in Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

The conversation between animal and human is a recurrent thread, and more literal in some works such Rosie Deacon’s video installations, Hannah Gartside’s sexy “bunny” sculptures made from vintage gloves, and Michael Vale’s paintings push “story book” illustrations into steroid proportions – his tableaux laced with satire.  

Installation view Hannah Gartside in Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

Vale's works sit in the same space as a group of works that Wilson’s has gathered together to dive into how the body carries narrative. The viewer encounters works such as Jacqui Stockdale’s culturally-questioning staged photographs, Laith McGregor’s biro and pencil drawings of his sub-conscious self, and Sally Bourke’s studio portraits.

Not dissimilar in style were Porter’s portraits, Bourke describes her pictures: ‘I paint people from the inside out.’ She totally embraces the everyday exercise of intuitive mark making, these 16 framed paintings capturing the energy that comes from improvisation and the spontaneous gesture.

As a suite of works they lock the viewer in their gaze and colour field.

Installation view Sally Bourke in Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

Elsewhere in the gallery Amber Boardman, DC Style Flez, and Tom Polo also explore the body as narrative with loose, gestural and introspective paintings and objects.

Boardman takes a look at the 21st portrait through her Ista-alter ego “Jade”, which is then fleshed out in bold gestural paintings across multiple canvases. I first saw Boardman’s work at Sydney Contemporary this year, and curated into this context by Wilson is a strong fit.

There are then sculptures such as those made by Troy Emery and the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists that are even more literal and have a playful quality in their narratives with the natural word and animals; they sit well with Karen Napaljarri Barnes’ colour naïve-style paintings of birds.

These works are placed within view of Louise Paramor’s miniature sculptures of eclectic objects, and both Angela Brennan and Karen Black sliding between ceramics and paintings.

Installation view Karen Black Beyond Reason (2018) QUT Art Museum; photo Artshub

Yet another thread running through Beyond Reason is the performative use of the body in narrative: Jacqui Stockdale; Laith McGregor; Heath Franco and Rosie Deacon’s self-performed videos; to Sally Bourke, DC Style Fylez and The Ryan Sisters.

In many ways there is too much going on in this show. Another view is that it is very much a reflection of 21st life where we are over-saturated with imagery, ideas and issues. From that perspective, Beyond Reason is a collision of cultural and popular identity as it is emerging from the studio of artists – both emerging and established – today.

But be warned, you should have a shot of caffeine before you see this show, you are going to need it.

3 stars ★★★ 

Beyond Reason: exploring the logic of the imagination
Curator: Kevin Wilson
Artists: Karen Napaljarri Barnes, Karen Black, Amber Boardman, Sally Bourke, Angela Brennan, Matthew Clarke, Aleks Danko, Beth Ebatarinja, DC Style Fylez, Rosie Deacon, Simon Eisler, Troy Emery, Heath Franco, Hannah Gartside, Minka Gillian, Kyoko Imazu, Trudy Inkamala, Laith McGregor, Amanda Marburg, Sharon Muir, Benita Multa, Louise Paramor, Tom Polo, Zoe Porter, Dulcie Sharpe, David Spooner, Jacqui Stockdale, The Ryan Sisters, Michael Vale and Yarrenyty Arltere Artists.

17 November 2018 - 3 February 2019
QUT Art Museum, Brisbane

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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