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exhibition review: the red queen

The Depraved Pursuit of a Possum (detail), Tessa Farmer, 2013 Photograph: MONA

The Depraved Pursuit of a Possum (detail), Tessa Farmer, 2013 Photograph: MONA

The Red Queen is the latest blockbuster at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart. It is a curated exhibit that fills the underground sprawl of David Walsh’s lair with darkness, intrigue, and a sense of bitterness that moves in waves throughout the many interlacing rooms.

The assembled works often seem to have little in common beyond their painful searching and creating of humanity. As the show borrows for its title the reference of Lewis Carroll’s aggressive, and ever disappointed Queen from Alice in Wonderland, we are given a character toward which we can assign some meaning.

The Mona website tells us: ‘the Queen is driven, by abstract forces, to run in order to keep pace with the world around her. However fast she goes, she never seems ‘to pass anything’, and ‘the trees and the other things around’ her don’t change their place at all.’

The loose narrative thematic at times strains under the weight of so many counterpoints within the works, this does not reflect badly on individual pieces themselves, but brings to light the ambitions of the curatorial team. Even if the show doesn’t always gel, it is a rare treat to visit an exhibition of this scale.  You feel your way around holes and cracks in the system to be presented with an overall experience that doesn’t feel precisely mined and crafted so expertly as to leave you only with the feeling- ‘well that was nice.’ That said, this does not mean it is fit to let the curators off lightly. The exhibit overall was very disjointed in parts, and on these occasions the works were swamped by the overbearing architecture. Artefacts were jammed into crevices in the walls, feeling more like awkward displays in between the flourishing art works.

Where the exhibit really shines are the instances where artists are given an entire room to create- when we can become so immersed in the works ourselves that we forget for a moment that we are suspended in Walsh’s version of ‘down the rabbit hole’ and actually feel the sublime nature of art practise. The futility of it all becomes a little magical- even when enveloped by one room your eyes quickly gaze, searching for the next one- never in the present, always running to catch up just like the rabbit with the pocket watch. Such is the nature of art spectacle these days.

The Red Queen is at the end of the day, an exhibition for people who want to be moved, confused, revolted and overjoyed. There are many moments of wonder, where I found myself thinking ‘who cares why this was made, someone made it and that is amazing.’ And that, I am guessing, was exactly the curatorial intent after all.

The Red Queen is showing until 21 April 2014. Price: $20/Adult, $15/Concession.

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