Stadium, the ten-year retrospective of collaborative duo Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, looks back on a body of work that investigates connections between nationalism, aesthetics and performance. While Gill and Mata Dupont primarily focus on Australian nationalism, their work has its genesis in the global cultural shifts – in particular the increasingly ring-wing politics – that occurred in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Gill and Mata Dupont’s intensely ironic work has interrogated dominant icons of Australian identity, probing the characterization of Australian identity as masculine, native-born and white. In presenting serialized and ritualized celebrations of Australia’s ‘golden age’, the artists’ aesthetic of glamor and pageantry points to the constructed and mythologized nature of national identity. They reveal that official Australian identity has been formed by its exclusions, a point which they emphasize by drawing aesthetic parallels between Australia and the propaganda of totalitarian and fascist regimes.
Their Heart of Gold Projects (2004-2008) restage images and themes derived from 20th century propaganda, passed through a filter of Hollywood musicals, glamor photography, competitive calisthenics and kitsch Australiana. At its most fundamental level, this body of work asserts that aesthetics and ideology are inextricably entwined. The series also responds to the widespread marginalization of women in heroic histories of nation. The story of Australia that’s celebrated is conspicuously masculine, populated by heroic types conquering an inhospitable landscape. Gill and Mata Dupont’s work recasts women in the role of these heroes; however, the cross-dressing, pirouetting, high camp antics of their heroines are far removed from the realities of the frontier and the battleground, pointing to the dangers of citing the past to garner support for the politics of the present.
Drawing on Mata Dupont’s family heritage, recent work has reflected on Argentina’s ‘dirty wars’ of the 1970s and 80s. Their 2010 video work Gymnasium took inspiration from the work of Leni Riefenstahl to depict an acerbic celebration of Australian sportsmanship and nation, while their new site-specific performance Ever Higher sees a lone aerialist commanding a troupe of cheerleaders with eerily familiar phrases such as “Teamwork will set you free,” and “Blood and Honor! We are gonna…win!”
Gill and Mata Dupont’s practice over the past ten years has satirized and disarmed nationalism, but there continues to be a degree of discomfort in their work. Their devoted irony is central to the ambivalence of the work, which, for some, reads as sincere. However, the artists’ resistance to offering a clear moral stance in their work is actually key to its success as parody—because, for all its deceptive innocence, the work is indeed seductive, like all successful propaganda.