‘Paul Mumme and Markela Panegyres: Guys and Dolls’
Archive Space, Sydney, February 11-28
By Jonathan McBurnie
Eyeline 83, 2015
Throw a rock in the air and you’ll probably hit a video artist.
While the digital age has armed the general populace with the tools to make music, film, photography, and yes, art, with an ease previously unattainable without expensive technology, it has not necessarily been a wholly inspiring progression. Accessibility is a wonderfully inclusive and democratic (utopian, even) aspect of contemporary society, especially in terms of human rights. However, when applied to art, we are left with mixed results. Yes, we want our next generation to feel welcome and stimulated in the gallery or exhibition context, but this excitement at the idea of 500,000 patrons can easily turn into pandering to the masses.
While video art is by no means new, predating digital technologies by quite some time, its’ more recent expansion with, say, the iPhone, has attracted unprecedented numbers of would-be artists. The art school dictum ‘do something weird, film it, and loop it on a screen’ has unwittingly parodies itself at every graduate exhibition. The camera is now inevitably associated with the smartphone, and by extension Instagram, and of course, the infamous selfie, the shorthand language of the allegedly vacuous, self-obsessed and even psychopathic culture of ‘Gen Y’. Or is it ‘Gen Z’ now? And do we actually care?
It is in this murky context that, on occasion, a rare lightning strike (rather than a rock) hits a video artist with such excellence, sincerity and clarity that their work truly surprises, shaking such a cynical worldview easily. In this case, the exhibition is a collaboration between Markela Panegyres and Paul Mumme, two postgraduate students of Sydney College of the arts.
The remarkable thing here is just how well the visual tics and styles of the two works together. Panegyres’ bleached, lo-fi videos capture the artist in various guises and situations, often repeating an obsessive, sometimes disturbing motion. It is unnerving, intense work, but offset with Mumme’s high-key, slapstick buffoonery, it becomes even more bizarre, and even comedic. Panegyres’ alter egos are transformed from an eery, obsessive menace to a more accessible, but still tragic, figure. The mime is a point of reference for the artist, and perhaps I don’t need to point out the tidy irony of the similarities between mime and mummery, and working with an artist by the name of Mumme.
Mumme’s work also includes the use of alter-ego, the dry, seemingly idiotic Dr. Nobody, a masked simpleton who intones and deadpans his way through explanations of the most banal aspects of modern living. Dr. Nobody’s meanderings through topics of bin liners, recycling and pornography are particularly hilarious, simultaneously enlightening, revealing and depressing. Also present in Mumme’s work is a cartoonish version of himself, a suit-wearing cipher that has appeared intermittently in the artist’s work for several years. Where this version of Mumme used to be used for a series of visual one-liners, engaging in pointless and self-defeating pursuits (umbrella’s in the pool, eternally pushing at an immovable rock, etc), he is now the victim of a series of vulgar slapstick gags (‘Ow! My nuts!’, etc), all in front of zingy, high-key colour backgrounds.
All of these characters seem to occupy very different worlds, but they are deftly collided in the installation of the exhibition. Featuring screens and projections of different formats and sizes, the exhibition is very much one cohesive whole, rather than the self-contained works and series of two different artists. Balanced with not-quite antiquated furniture, and even photographs of the characters on a mantelpiece, one gets the uneasy feeling of intruding on the madhouse of one very strange family of mimes, artists, freaks and weirdos. This is a little too expansive for Instagram, and the better for it.