Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to avoid a shit sequel

and other observations with the wonderful Rhett D'Costa

Words by Jason Waterhouse



JW - I have been asked by customers about your invite;  'whats with the image of the dude in the suit with the sparkly cane?'  So I ask of you Rhett, what is going on with the dude in the suit with the sparkly cane?

RD - The 'dude' in the fabulous suit is me. I had a suit made using three ubiquitous English fabrics. The suit represents me as the quintessential English gentleman. This  is a photographic work which draws formally on Casper David Friedrich’s Painting, The Wanderer Above the Mists. in this work, a nineteenth century gentleman stands precariously on a rocky precipice, in a classic Ruckenfigur composition, walking stick in hand, looking out into an uncertain, metaphysical fog, perhaps asking us to reflect on the disillusionment of a materialistic society.

Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer Above the Mists

Borrowing the pose from this painting, the protagonist in Elsewhere stands on assured footings – a man-made rock wall, shimmering stick in hand, one foot on a model globe looking out into a sharply focused landscape. The wanderer becomes the Conqueror, staking his claim over the land.
I suppose in this work,  I am playing with identity, power and privilege and continued impacts of Colonialism.

Rhett D'Costa,detail from the performance at "Trade and Eat! My son"
JW - "Shimmering Spaces: Exhibition 2"  is part of a series of three exhibition's.  The first instalment was at the Castlemaine State festival, titled "Eat! my Son".  This exhibition was a deeply autobiographical, performative work which involved your Mum.  Exploring personal identity, the exhibition incorporated a large element of audience participation which proved very popular, with 100's participating in the main performance.   "Shimmering Spaces: Exhibition 2" at Stockroom is the well anticipated sequel.  The exhibition is a series of photographs, video and a kinetic work that explore the notion of cultural identity.  It is unusual to do a series of three linked exhibitions in a close time frame.  How do you maintain the links between each exhibition;  do the viewers need to see each show in turn to get the full picture?  And most importantly, are you concerned that, as cinematic history suggests, part 2 is the best (think Mad Max 2, Terminator 2, Alien 2) and part 3 is well... Part 3.  How are you going to avoid exhibition 3 being shit like Mad Max 3, Beyond Thunderdome?

RD -  When I decided on three exhibitions i really wanted to test all the projects to date. I have been working on all of these projects simultaneously for a couple of years and each of them were/are at different stages of completion and resolution. The three shows are not meant to be sequential. There are ideas and forms which cross over between the works. If the public gets to see all three shows great!! I hope their experience is richer for their effort. I am not sure how the individual projects will stand up in shows 2 and 3. As I have said I am really 'testing' this. I have been so immersed in the research with each project, that resolution was almost at the back of my mind.  I suppose that is the 'risk' I am taking with shows 2 and 3. How will each of the works sit next to each other in space. I'm excited and nervous about seeing what it will look like. When i did the catalogue for the three shows i deliberately refer to almost all the images in it as 'PHD photo archive'. They are not meant to be at resolution.


Trade and Eat! My Son was a little easier I guess coz it was really one work in two parts. I enjoyed Eat! My Son very much. We served about 200 meals. It was great. I really didn't know how it was going to go down. But on a very personal level it was great sharing that with everyone who came and especially my mum. She was and still is on such a high about it. I guess that was what I wanted, to shift the deeply political undertone in Trade to a find a buoyancy and optimism in Eat!My Son.
I am really looking forward to installing the show at the Stockroom. That's  what I like about these shows; that each of you have almost given me permission to test my ideas. I hope I don't let you guys down. With each of the projects, when I install them that will be the first time I get to actually see the idea made manifest. That is exciting and of course it makes me a little nervous as there is really no plan B.

Your cinematic references are sharp. I hope part 3 doesn't go astray. I don't think it will simply because I am not following a sequential narrative. And lets face it, the producers were really chasing the money in the references you make to Mad Max, Alien, etc. It became a franchise and it lost all integrity. I hope that is not the case with the show I do at Monash. I think I have left space in the work to keep taking risks. That's important right?

JW - Too true, chasing the dollar can be the death nell for true artistic creativity.  Having worked with you for a while, I have been enjoying watching the "unleashing of Rhett D'Costa".  You have a long exhibition history as a represented artist, where (I assume) you needed to think about the commercial outcomes of your work.  You have come to Stockroom as an unrepresented (unshackled) artist, and we give you free reign to follow any path.  Your last show at Stockroom,  'Here with you"  was very different to what people expected to see.  It was a very camp installation, with a rainbow myriad of silks, golden walls, a gym horse with a motorised turntable mounted with a really crap mass produced statue dipped in gold.  The lush environment you created felt like the stage was set for some sort of crazy happening or stage production. The viewer became part of the act, but where was the main player?



Rhett D'Costa  - Here with you - Stockroom, 2011

 It feels to me like you set the stage, and now for Shimmering Spaces, on Saturday April 24 at 4.30, Rhett - the gay, Indian/Aussie, arty guy with a sparkly cane steps forth from the bush as the main act.  What I am getting at is, the work of Rhett pre 2006 feels to be coming from quite a different place than the personal explorations of Rhett 2013.  Is this the case, or do you see strong links between these two places?

RD - I have always had a good relationship with the galleries who have represented me. They gave me the freedom the do what I needed to do. But you are right, at the back of your mind you know they are a commercial space and selling work is a priority for them. I didn’t really think about it that much as to whether or not the work sold. But was happy for all parties when it did. Who doesn’t want to make money for what they do? As a wise old friend I respect highly once said to me, ‘the money you get when you sell a work is the best money.’ I noted this and I think there is some truth to it.

When the last gallery I was with closed shop I didn’t look for another gallery to represent me but was pleased to have hooked up with the Stockroom team. It is a great feeling to have the trust and support from Stockroom to give stuff a go.

But I should get to the real question you are posing. I was trained as a painter. I made two dimensional work because that was my formal training. I still think like a painter. Except now I suppose I just think beyond the material of paint itself. Materiality is very important to me; using materials as signifiers for content. There are a lot of references to painting in the works I am making presently. I still am deeply interested in painting, in the broadest sense. I haven’t abandoned anything.

Regarding your observations relating to the last show, Here with You, I can see all the references you point out. It was very theatrical and probably bordering on disco/ camp. Of course none of this was intentional. At one point, I couldn’t even see what was going on during the install. It sort of got out of hand. And then …there it was - showtime! Now that I have stepped back I can see it all quite objectively. I seem to remember at the time trying to work stuff out and it was just running its own course!! Like a train I couldn’t stop! I just went with it. I think I would do that show very differently if I did it again. For example, I liked the way the paint for the gold wall dripped and pooled onto the floor following the cracks of the brickwork. I should have pulled everything else out and just left it at that. A dripping gold wall. That would have done. How beautiful.

 I think the most recent research into national cultural identity in the context of my ethnicity is certainly driving the work and the ideas. I think my work as always comes from a very personal space. I guess I am now prioritizing what the content might be, by focusing on my Anglo-Indianness. I think my interest in painting and abstraction is still there. But I am thinking about narrative and representation as well now. How we are represented? Who is representing us and how this is framed? What troupes and strategies are employed and who is authorizing this voice?


 It was never a conscious decision to employ my body as a performative act or through photography. But that is exactly what has happened. There I am slap bang centre stage to use your reference. I am drawing on personal narratives through my experiences of being in the world. Being and coming from different places. I think the ‘feel’ for this show will be very different to the last show at Stockroom. By the way, I don’t think anyone has actually referred to me as ‘the gay, Indian/Aussie, arty guy with a sparkly cane stepping forth from the bush’. But how ‘magically real’ this description is! I couldn’t invent or imagine this, but it is as it is. I think for the upcoming show, one might pick up on these references, but I think the content goes further. I hope it does anyway.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens. I think I physically appear in two of the works, but am nowhere to be seen in the other two. I will be interested to see what this counterpoint will reveal for the viewer; this dialogue across the works.  I don’t really want to pre-empt this.  As I have said earlier, I am just testing this stuff out.


Rhett D'Costa's exhibition -  "Shimmering Spaces: Exhibition 2 : project 2 Rumour - project 3 Bespoke - project 4 A.E.I.O.U. - project 4 Reading from Both Sides" opens at Stockroom on Saturday 13th April at 4.30.   It runs untill 5 may 2013.