With beer in hand I stand in the crowd watching the battle between artist and curator, man and woman, in the large-scale video installation. The Wrestle is a performance piece by artist Frances Barrett; it is an act of endurance, an act of violence and intimacy, where artist and curator engage physically, and the winner doubles their fee.  Barrett’s gamble is double-or-nothing, but I wonder what else the curator risks losing?  

Located in the Back Gallery of Fontanelle, a large-scale projection, filling the entirety of one wall, a scene resembles that of a sporting arena. Artist and curator Frances Barrett, and 48Hr Incident curator Toby Chapman, wrestle.  The spectators in the video, and the gallery crowd opposite, form a circle around the two combatants, much like a schoolyard brawl. The two initially seem evenly matched, and what ensues is a dogged determination to become victor.  The outcome is all too predictable and my heart sinks a little. The repetitive loop sees them locked in an eternal struggle for parity; a relentless cycle of loss despite all of Barrett’s efforts.  

I think about the ideas being raised throughout the exhibition, and I wonder if people view Barrett’s work as an act of shameless self-promotion, a pointless spectacle?  Will her assertiveness bring discomfort and scrutiny?  I think for some it will, I mean she never really had a chance at winning after all.  I see it as an act of resistance against a well-established inequality of the sexes.  The endless loop of Barrett losing, mimicks our (women’s)  Sisyphean fate, endlessly striving for impartiality and respect.    

Where Barrett uses a measured approach, Hissy Fit’s live performance, installation and video work, Heaven, is loud and confrontational.  Hissy Fit is a collaboration between Sydney based artists Jade Muratore, Emily O’Connor and Nat Randall.  The main space of Fontanelle is bathed in blue neon light and a thudding electronic set starts.  The three artists front the gathered crowd head on and there is this expectation, or anticipation, of movement, though nothing happens.  Their defiance of expectations is instant and impressive.  A stance that is aggressive but restrained, Hissy Fit’s work engages with the notion of the hysterical woman.  A medical condition historically reserved for women who, because of their biology, were supposedly more prone to hysteric paroxysm.  Essentially it was an androcentric diagnosis for women whose behaviour deviated from what was considered appropriate (1).

The three artists are dressed in matching white hooded tracksuits, with a black motive on the back and repeated in a large decal on the wall.  It’s a silhouette of three girls, reminiscent of the Mudflap Girl and the Charlie’s Angels’ emblems of the 1970’s, although here it is more biohazard than seductive.  

For the better part of the next hour, Hissy Fit embark on a performative rave dance, that can only be described as a feat of endurance and strength.  Towards the end of the set they repeatedly, and in time to the music, take mouthfuls of water and spit it at the wall.  This act of spitting, of voiding bodily fluids, draws attention to a shared ethos with the punk movement.  A public fuck you to a gendered hierarchy, perhaps.  

Curator and writer Maura Reilly reminds us ‘If we cannot help others to see the structural problems, we can’t begin to fix them’ (2) which is what these artists, and the exhibition as a whole, are proactive in doing.  The work of both Barrett and Hissy Fit opens a conversation about gender inequality, and the statistical position of women, not only within the arts, but also in a wider social and cultural context. 

1.  Maines, Rachel P, The Technology of Orgasm ‘Hysteria’, the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 1999.
2. Reilly, Maura, Taking the Measures of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes in ArtNews Special Issue: Women in the Art World, June 2015.

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