‘New World Order’, curated by Ella Barclay and Toni Bailey, contends with the accumulation and concealment of power: from mass surveillance to currency, abuses in the Catholic Church to technological obsolescence. With works by Australian and international artists including Hany Armanious, Simon Denny, Beau Emmett, Eva and Franco Mattes, Soda_Jerk, Jess Johnson, Alexis Mailles and Yujun Ye, Ryan Presley, Zoe M. Robertson, Suzanne Treister and Pope Alice Xorporation, the exhibition explores some of the most compelling and disturbing conspiracy theories of the last century. Further, the show posits alternate histories that dismantle the official narrative, allowing for new narratives to emerge, speaking truth to power.
Works by British artist Suzanne Treister offer a taxonomic introduction to this shadowy world. Hexen 2.0 (2009-11) is a series of tarot cards reimagined with events and characters associated with the development of cybernetics, defined in 1948 by mathematician and philosopher Norbert Weiner as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” Treister uses the symbolism corresponding with each tarot card to map the connections between government surveillance programs, the history of the internet and counter-cultural movements of the 20th century. Weiner is represented as The Chariot, interpreted as strength of will and control, while Unabomber Ted Kaczynzki is shown as The Hermit, who is often read as loneliness and withdrawal. Treister’s detailed images encourage a close reading of recent history as a way to divine a complex future.
The practice of Brisbane-based artist Ryan Presley also provides an important counter-narrative. In the series ‘Blood Money’, Presley replaces the faces of white Australians who appear on our bank notes with those of Aboriginal leaders and heroes of resistance, including Pemulwuy, Dundalli, Vincent Lingiari and Oodgeroo Noonuccal. These works challenge the power structures that oppress Indigenous histories and dismantle the symbols of nationhood and value contained within our currency system. They compel a critical reading of the stories we tell about ourselves as a country, materialised in each of our daily transactions.
Eva and Franco Mattes, who have been practising collaboratively as 0100101110101101.ORG for the past 15 years, also investigate how systems of control are constructed. Their project Dark Content (2015) includes interviews with content moderators in the Philippines on their work ensuring offensive material is scrubbed from social media feeds. These workers are part of a global labour force that uphold community and corporate standards, performing the endless task of cleaning up the internet. The videos are displayed within installations built from generic office cubicle furniture, alluding to the banal surrounds of both these workers and those who seek to undermine them.
‘New World Order’ encourages a reading of history and a prediction of the future that is both sceptical and speculative: interrogating the existence of hidden systems just below the surface. Those hidden systems, real or imagined, provide a reflection of our fears, desires and obsessions, a compelling counter-narrative to the official story. To see them, we need only look closer.
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre
Until 12 February, 2017
Ryan Presley, Blood Money – 10 Dollar Note – Vincent Lingiari Commemorative, (2011) 2014, reissue, polymer adhesive, 13.6 x 6.5cm
Documented by Carl Warner. Courtesy the artist and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney
Suzanne Treister, HEXEN 2.O Tarot – Utopia, 2009–11, deck of 78 cards 9.5 x 15cm Copyright the artist
Image courtesy the artist and Annely Juda Fine Art, London and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney
Eva and Franco Mattes, Dark Content, 2015, screenshot from video
Courtesy Carroll/Fletcher Gallery, London and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney