Art / “Have a Go,” Luke Cornish at AmBush Gallery, Kambri, ANU, until Sunday, September 29. Reviewed by JOHNNY MILNER.
TWO separate bodies of work comprise the new solo exhibition “Have a Go” by prominent Canberra-born street artist Luke Cornish (also known as E.L.K.).
The exhibition is currently showing at the AmBush Gallery, located at the new ANU Kambri cultural precinct.
On entering the space, one encounters work themed around Cornish’s recent controversial “(Not) Welcome To Bondi” mural at the Bondi seawall – depicting Australian Border Force officers positioned below a sarcastic “welcome” message.
The mural – commissioned by the Waverley City Council – struck a nerve in the Bondi and broader community, with campaigns demanding its removal and the subsequent defacement of the wall.
Like all great street art, this mural provokes a public response by subverting and interjecting with the urban topography, using symbols through which cultural imagery can connect with political message. “Have a Go” features several large-scale aerosol-on-canvas stencil works that respond to this intervention at Australia’s most touristic locale.
Depictions of heavily armed border protection officers feature in the four-canvas works comprising the “Untitled” series, lining the gallery’s back wall. Another piece, “Anonymia”, presents an arrangement of several prints of a Guy Fawkes mask – the stylised mask now a symbol for Anonymous, a notorious hacker and conspiracy group. As with some other works in the exhibit, this piece uses repetition and pattern techniques to create an illusory effect.
One of the most controversial works on display is “Same Puppet Different Hand”, which shows Prime Minister Scott Morrison performing what appears to be a “Heil Hitler” salute! The image links Australia’s asylum seeker policy to 20th-century fascism. The work suggests a single obedience to the conservative party line, irrespective of who holds the prime ministership. Morrison’s mantra about Australians having a fair go – invoked in the exhibition’s title – resonates across this work and other pieces on display.
While the original Bondi mural encapsulates the protest origins of political street art, the exhibition’s canvas prints reinforce a sense of the medium moving into a different phase – a phase where the ephemeral can become the collectable.
A very different body of work featuring in the exhibition is “By the Sea”. It responds to Cornish’s real-life experiences on his recent trips to war-torn Syria – trips taken at the height of the conflict and leading to his arrest by the Free Syrian Army. The work is more documentary in nature; presenting snapshots of what Cornish describes as the “new normal of everyday life for the Syrian people”. A photo essay, consisting of 19 pictures, documents the almost apocalyptic city of Aleppo. This sequence includes pictures of children, animals, civilians and rubble.
Particularly striking are the aerosol stencils on aluminium that use photographic sublimation printing techniques. The layering of vibrant colour in these works – whether it’s the highlighting of a military tank or a cheerful bright blue sky – achieve a photorealistic and textured quality. But the colours also ironically contradict the dire – and seemingly relentless – situation that many Syrian people find themselves in.
Luke Cornish – also an Archibald Prize finalist – traverses many issues in this exhibition, and a connecting theme that will promote reflection among many viewers is the impact of corporate and political greed. Here and in other ways, Cornish uses artistic practice as a tool to express his views and to make sense of the world around him.