‘In each image you can perceive a longer timeframe than the moment that is photographed,’ Pezaloom said about his works, ‘the image projects multiple narratives of what was, what could have happened, the circumstances of a life, of loss, of lives past.’
As a local to Morwell in regional Victoria, it is fitting that the area’s Latrobe Regional Gallery should be the venue to exhibit ‘Small town fetish’ the artist’s first major survey exhibition showing 30 photographic works. The exhibition’s title emerged through a collaborative text-based process, ‘it so aptly describes what drives a great proportion of my practice,’ Pezaloom said. Namely, ‘human experience, storytelling and time compression’.
Traces of these three core elements show up in all the works of ‘Small town fetish’, yet the connective tissue that binds the show – like human bodily and spatial experience itself – is more elusive. His 2015 Dopa-kinesia series (an amalgamation of ‘dopamine’ and ‘hypokinesia’), for example, saw the artist enlist the assistance of Kim Anderson (with Rhian Hinkley) to be photographed engulfed by petroleum jelly in the Yallourn Power Station administration building. Petroleum jelly was selected because it contained the right consistency to convey Pezaloom’s own experience with Parkinson’s disease ‘as like moving through porridge’.
‘The whole of my Parkinson’s condition is about the system of control that takes place between my body and my brain,’ Pezaloom explained, ‘and I live in the Latrobe Valley which has been the nerve system of the state, in that it provides electricity and natural resources to be consumed by Melbourne and greater Victoria. It’s a profound metaphorical connection really, the breakdown of the Valley and the breakdown of my health have happened simultaneously, those systems of control are changing together weirdly.’
Pezaloom said that art can show aspects ‘some would prefer to hide or ignore’, providing an ‘opportunity to expose those systems of control which are otherwise hidden.’
Many of the works in the exhibition are photographs of homes in the Morwell area. Pezaloom describes these works as composed with a ‘photojournalism element’ similar to that used in reporting disasters. By this he means that it is ‘the emotive nature of the image’ that tells the story and ‘fills in the blanks in an empathetic way’, ‘like the way a ghost story produces a familiar feeling of loss in the knowledge that it has to do with something that is really over but still lingers.’ There is a certain romantic nostalgia at work in these images and the stories they tell. But a sadness too, and, in my viewing, an uneasy forensic-yet-still-aesthetic documentation quality that comes from the absence (/loss) of colour. Loss, for me, is the taut thread that ties together the works of ‘Small town fetish’.
Pezaloom encourages viewer perspectives. ‘I am not so concerned to tell my own story exclusively’, he said, because ‘there is something we all know and experience in these works.’ He illustrated this for me using the example of detritus that collects in the corners of rooms. The Corners collect us series (2013) is a reminder that ‘everybody has those corners’, and an invitation to any who chooses to engage with these works to ‘investigate your own home’, for ‘you will find them’ there too.
Profoundly, this survey presents works grappling with the difficulties of bodily decline and stands them alongside the decay of domestic life. On the parallels I could not help but draw between an artist photographing the losses of time in one context, then embodying this in another, Pezaloom addressed my comparison by pointing out that, collectively, the exhibition is ‘more about how we become used to conditions over time.’
Take the conditions of (apparently) derelict spaces. ‘When you look closely’, Pezaloom suggested, you will see that there is life in those spaces too. ‘Some of the works document spaces where people live, are still living,’ Pezaloom said, and ‘what appears abandoned at first glance is not necessarily so.’ Despite the deeply personal nature of some of the works in this exhibition, something shared about the body and space creeps into each image, as does the understanding that, in the artist’s words ‘not everyone lives at the same level. We live within our means.’
Dr Joseph Brennan is an art critic, magazine editor (National Safety) and media scholar based in Far North Queensland.
Latrobe Regional Gallery
Until 3 May 2020