Big Cheese

The description to 'Big Cheese' poses the question – why is there always cheese at exhibitions? Whilst a reference to cheese is enough to hook any art gallery goer, the concept has proven to be an endlessly transformative and metaphorical source of influence.

What started from prosaic origins over a discussion of an amazing cheese spread, co-curators Alex Gawronski and Justene Williams present a group exhibition that responds to the allure of cheese. “Cheese is quite a miraculous substance, it has been around for a very long time, and has associations with wine and art”, says Gawronski.

Just as the title sets a salivating tone, it also draws many tongue-in-cheek references: 1. someone knowledgeable and/or of importance and high standing in an area or field, 2. the delicious food itself, and 3. a wry/ironical reference to the corny theme or art in the exhibition. It was this that attracted the curators, Gawronski  says, “there are so many tales and euphemisms to the word cheese and we were interested in that as well – toe cheese, big cheese, hard cheese, tough cheddar.”

The process of making cheese from its base substance to a sensual delicacy is magically transformative. ‘Big Cheese’ also considers the other side of the story, as Gawronski outlines “that sense of the potential abjection that cheese presents as well, there are so many strains of mould in cheese – how did that come about that humans decided to eat this?”

Cheese borders upon the grotesque and surreal, with the curators referencing the irony of a work central to the Surrealist movement – Dali’s Persistence of Memory (1931). Watches transform into camembert, insinuating time, like cheese, is unstable, crumbling or blooming.

Seven artists have been selected based on their tendency towards the eccentric, including: Stephen Birch, Alex Gawronski, Sean Kerr, Petra Maitz, Daniel McKewen, Jelena Telecki and Justene Williams. Working across a broad range of media – paintings, sculpture, performance and video – the presence of humour in their practices is what connects them. A key example is Sean Kerr’s, as Gawrosnki describes, “a big papiermâché nose that has electronics inside it so that it can sniff the gallery air.”

The artists range in their responses that elicit reactions bordering desire and disgust. Stephen Birch presents a resin moon with a face, playing upon the popular legend that the moon is made of cheese. Whilst Jelena Telecki’s series of paintings look at the potential perverse and pungent connotations of cheese, focusing upon a kind of Serbian cheese that is from the region she grew up in.

‘Big Cheese’ – just like the product – presents a delicious and engaging theme. As a paradigm cheese is a metamorphic substance, mirroring the experiences of global time and space as molten and fluid. By stretching the potential of cheese both literally and metaphorically, each artist asks us to revaluate the rationality and irrationality of our own standards and what we consider is natural or acceptable.

Contemporary Art Tasmania
10 June to 17 July, 2016