False Sense of Security – The Lockup (2021)

The psychological need to maintain a secure sense of agency in the world means when that stability is threatened, we can react in irrational and counter-productive ways. We reach for control, which in itself can be soothing, or lash out in blame and denial…

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Curatorial Statement

A sense of security, to live without need or fear, is a privilege not equally afforded to all. A logic of meritocracy allows us to feel separate to those less fortunate; making them other avoids an uncomfortable feeling that those circumstances could ever be our own.

The psychological need to maintain a secure sense of agency in the world means when that stability is threatened, we can react in irrational and counter-productive ways. We reach for control, which in itself can be soothing, or lash out in blame and denial – climate denial, conspiracy theories and racism, are just a few of the responses consistently witnessed.

Aside from recent catastrophes like the bushfires and Covid, the average Australian lives in a world of order. Our response to these has highlighted how we reap the benefits of life in a wealthy Capitalist democracy. However, the social and political structures giving some of us a sense of security cause harm to others, or push our environment beyond a point of sustainability.

Questionable acts pass under the guise of being ‘for the greater good’. Our inherent desire for security can be short sighted and easily manipulated, potentially leaving our moral integrity at stake.

The artworks in ‘False Sense of Security’ reflect some of this folly, destabilising ideas and structures that underpin our sense of security, revealing their potential for an unacknowledged dark side.

Efforts to make Australia more comfortingly reminiscent of Britain led to the release of the first sparrows in Ararat – ‘Towneys’. Fernando do Campo’s frieze, ‘The Towneys Watched Back’, quotes a newspaper article recording the excitement around this event. ‘The Kookaburra Self Relocation Project (WHO’SLAUGHINGJACKASS) #1 and #2’ banners, draw on another historical moment in our complicated national identity. Federation meant animals like the Kookaburra (‘Laughing Jackass’) became symbols of a new national pride and it was introduced to Western Australia and Tasmania. Do Campo’s abstraction of language reflects the fragility of meaning in relation to history and the non-human world.

Heath Franco’s videos ‘HomeTown’ and ‘HomeTown 2’, shot around his childhood home in rural NSW, express the potentially grotesque nature of nationalism and a small town as a place of mental entrapment, where change and ‘otherness’ become threats to the security offered by an ingrained cultural identity. The uncanny conflict between the nostalgia of home and darkly menacing forces results in a landscape populated by disturbing caricatures, somewhere between a western and an episode of Monkey Magic.

‘Dammed’ by Halinka Orszulok, paintings of an old dam and two suburban homes, reflects the mental disconnection experienced between the resources we use and the way they are acquired. The foreboding dam wall hints that our habitual ways of interacting with the environment need rethinking. There is also a psychological undercurrent suggesting that uncomfortable things held back in the depths of our subconscious can only have negative repercussions.

Fittingly installed in a cell are ‘Heads’, Doug Heslop’s portraits of pedophile priests from the Hunter Valley, created from images found in newspapers reporting on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It’s difficult to comprehend the magnitude of damage represented here. Heslop describes the process of abstracting the images as an attempt to interpret what their character might really be, beneath their outward presentation.

Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillderberg’s ‘Doomed’ montage of disaster movies is a tidal wave of pop-culture destruction. These awe-inspiring forces, rendering human beings helpless, remind us that despite all our ingenuity, there are things beyond our control. This chaotic disruption of the everyday is compelling in a mysterious way. Something in human nature is drawn to the excitement of disaster, just enough to make us feel more alive. This montage temporarily shakes us out of our first-world complacency, and echoes the way we experience many real life disasters, mediated through a screen.

Adapted to the space of The Lock Up, Giselle Stanborough’s ‘Cinopticon’ is a dive down the rabbit-hole of social media, delving into the wilderness areas of the internet and the connection many of us have to our phones. As with many technological developments, there is the potential for great good and great harm. Ever present is the shadow of surveillance and hidden control, by corporate and government entities, and a complicity in one’s identity being transformed into capital.

In a work newly commissioned by The Lock-Up, Los Angeles-based Indigenous Australian artist Shevaun Wright, reflects on the Black Lives Matter movement and relates this to the ongoing issue of Black Deaths in Custody. Embroidered on an institutional blanket is text from three sources: a coronial inquest into the death in custody of local Aboriginal woman Rebecca Maher, Sarah Amad’s ‘The Phenomenology of Whiteness’ and an advertisement for the blanket. ‘Tear resistant’, ‘Noose proof’ – rarely has an object, usually associated with comfort, been more chilling.

Together, these works act as a reminder to be wary of the promise of security and mindful of its unacknowledged cost.