28 June 2023
*CONTENT WARNING* This piece contains an image of human bones.
Wu Tsang’s ANTHEM at St Paul’s Cathedral was a stunning video work that totally gripped your attention. A huge silk screen with vibrant video projection that hung from the full height of the ceiling. All the lights turned off with deep vocal sounds playing that vibrated through the room. Your body merged with the church as the sound was conducted through brick and bone.
It was an oasis. A peaceful haven. A place running at a different speed. A steady changing show of images of the sky – the heavens. Glorious scenes of golden sunlight through the clouds. Video of folk icon Beverly Glenn-Copeland singing in the tradition of oral storytelling. Wavelengths that bound people together. The chaos of Friday night Flinders Street was a distant thought. We rested in stillness. All of us, sitting in the pews gazing upwards, mesmerised or meditating in the Church. Was God present?
Leaving ANTHEM through the back door, we descended to chaos. Back outside in the cold of the street, we turned down the stairs and into the carpark of the cathedral to NIGHT TRADE. Neon flashing lights through the darkness. Loud dissonant music with unsettling and explicit lyrics. Pungent and indulgent food for trade. The smell of oysters and wine thick in the air. It was busy.
Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights instantly came to mind. We had left the paradise of the left panel and entered the center panel. Chaotic and dark and immoral and indulgent.
I just wanted to go back to ANTHEM, but it had closed for the night.
(Why had the soothing ANTHEM closed at 10pm but the chaotic NIGHT TRADE continues late? It’s like the children were sent to bed so the adults could play.)
Moving on to the GHETTO BIENNALE. We followed the current of the crowd into the laneway and up a tight staircase.
One look at this place, told me it was evil. This was the third panel.
Although I continued for the sake of art, I was unable to stay long in this room. An art exhibit inspired by Haitian Voodoo tradition, it made use of human bones reconstructed as bodies. Sand in patterns on the floor with candles. A subversive shrine to Mary the mother of Jesus in the back corner decorated with blister packs of various pills. A Bible and baby doll (referencing the baby Jesus) propped up in a decaying skeleton.
Where art used to be about the True, Good, and Beautiful, we have twisted it to be about the Dark, the Broken, the Irredeemable.
Human remains and references to death and dark magic. It delights in suspicious thinking and fearful spirituality.
What does this interest people in Melbourne? How does this interest them beyond spiritual tourism? How does this serve them beyond minority cultural consumption?
It perpetuated racial “Othering” and framed tribal minorities as suspicious, magical and dark, practicing traditions that create fear and thrive on suffering.
This type of dark spirituality ought not to be played with.
What a tragedy that this content is breaking into mainstream art.
What a shame for art’s sake.
What a shame for God’s sake.
Rosie Stanton is an emerging artist practicing in Melbourne. She graduated class of 2021 Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Arts) from the University of Melbourne. Rosie is a volunteer staff member at St Jude’s Parkville.
RISING Melbourne took place from 7 to 18 June with different art performances and installations throughout Melbourne. Ms Stanton visited three exhibitions without plan, and shared these reflections.
Ms Stanton’s work is available at rosiestanton.com.au