Under Civilisation

Two decades after curating their opening exhibition, Kevin Wilson has returned to Gympie Regional Gallery with ‘Under Civilisation’, a diverse survey of works exploring society’s underbelly. Non-conformists, extremisms and cultural taboos are interrogated by eight multidisciplinary artists, whose practices investigate personal and public lives lived on the edge.

Simon Davidson, Regal, 2015, fibre-based colour image mounted to alupanel, 80 x 140cm Courtesy the artist and Gympie Regional Gallery, Queensland

What makes this the right time to stage a show like this?
I could say that the world is fucked, so why not? We do tend to skirt around these kinds of subjects and issues in various ways. But it’s actually more about the right time to show it at the gallery – the works are straight down the line, direct and literal. There’s no conceptual smokescreen. I’m hoping this kind of show attracts a different audience.

So is it about the shock value of the subcultures and themes depicted, or is there something more esoteric at play?
My gut feeling is that the subcultures represented will not shock. I think society is beyond shock. Like with all art, it’s about how that art represents something. If you aren’t into car burnouts and went to a car meet, you’d probably hate it. But an image from that meet of a car floating in an ethereal smoke cloud is something very different. There is a distance created by turning it into art.

Your essay talks about the line between art that documents outsiders, and art that exploits outsiders. How hard is that distinction to recognise when looking at artists to include in exhibitions such as this, and what stops the works in this exhibition from being voyeuristic?
This is a question that has raged for ages. When you know the artists it helps – you know their method and their aesthetic. Kim Guthrie does not take beautiful photos; no fancy angles, nothing. They are straight encounters where the subject is equal to him. Simon Davidson looks for the beautiful moments within communities of people he knows intimately, and it’s the same with Mick Richards, who’s spent roughly 20 years documenting all elements of the boxing world. Then again, when images such as Mick’s works featuring ring card girls are viewed out of context it’s easy to see them as exploitative towards women. You can’t stop voyeurism. There will always be people who will look at imagery voyeuristically. Nevertheless, Mick’s images do have an uneasy edge to them!

Kim Guthrie, The Boys, 2014, Gicleé print on Hahnemuhle, Photo rag Bartya and glossy fine art paper, 23.5 x 16cm. Courtesy the artist and Gympie Regional Gallery, Queensland

There is a performative, externally focused aspect to the works by male artists in the exhibition as opposed to the works by female artists, which seem to reflect on more personal taboos.

I think most men find it hard to focus on anything internal. Male culture has a self confidence that is very superficial at times. My initial idea for this show was to explore a range of things that l’m not personally interested in, such as boxing and cars, or things middleclass guys like me aren’t openly into. The first artists I selected all happened to be male, but I didn’t want it to just be a bloke’s show. The question was whether I found women artists whose work covered similar themes, or whether I sought out another vision – either from an internal perspective or one that recognised relationships between people and personal experiences. Again, l think women are more likely to confront the personal, but I was worried that division might evoke some kind of stereotypes. Then again, if ‘Under Civilisation’ provokes those questions and discussions, I see that as a good thing.

This exhibition is hinged on the photographic street portraits of Cooroy artist Kim Guthrie. What is it about his work that makes it so quintessentially about the area?
I started with Kim because his photos depict the ordinariness of Gympie, which is a mix of suburbia and country. His titles add yet another dry commentary.

What role do regional galleries play in the broader culture of regional towns such as Gympie? How important are they for fostering social inclusion among groups that might fall outside of what you refer to as ‘fashionable civilised society’ in your essay?
Most regional populations are very down-to-earth and don’t have too many pretensions. Participation in public programs is high, and they’re involved heavily in the gallery. Social inclusion only happens if you make an effort, generally through thoughtful public programming in conjunction with exhibitions. Exhibitions alone won’t achieve that.

Carrie McCarthy is a Brisbane-based writer and curator.

Gympie Regional Gallery
Until 21 April, 2018