Review: A Night at Verge

Words by Matilda Alex-Sanders

Tuesday night’s USU Creative Awards Ceremony was buzzing from the start – the usually hushed atmosphere of the Verge Gallery was transformed into a hive of activity. Catering staff glided around, free booze flowed and a large table filled with tempting nibbles impressed itself on the curious who came. Playful yet unobtrusive music wafted out. This year’s Hermes catalogue – its 112th edition – is a sleek artefact with a grey and neon yellow cover. As usual, the contents of the journal have been shown with restraint and elegance.

Seen collectively, it could be said that the artworks on display were mostly in the minimalist vein, with inferred rather than explicit meanings. With the exhibition being interdisciplinary, photographic and inter-media works were on prominent display. A recurring theme were works involving cultural identity and the relation between one’s environment and the body. Elise Gibson-Long’s mobile and installation was the gallery’s geographic focal point (inevitably, it got stumbled on). Antony Youssef’s electronic based work Air for Air – which utilized a Theremin like instrument with resulting sound waves seen on a screen – was greatly enjoyed by participants and onlookers. Tanushri Saha’s work half different, partially familiar was a mixture of assemblage and collage. Beneath her works on the wall was a modest, makeshift shrine replete with a light, offerings and a Bengali phrase book. Well-known artist Gillian Kayrooz showed two works: one sound-based and the other one an energetic, colourful video piece about the “frustrations and hurdles that aren’t dissimilar to that of a marathon.” At the head of a gallery was Alexandra Jonscher’s handsome abstract painting called Diddle Daddle; the colours giggled out in the muted Verge interior.

In the foreword of Hermes, the editors entice the prospective reader with pieces suggestive of “post-apocalyptic lands, gender dynamics, [and] the nature of technology and surveillance.” Regarding the latter is an icy and meticulous poem, Turing Complete Me by Whitney Van Den Flux. All the current debates about the intrusiveness of machines and the transhumanism of the future seemed to ring out: “A freeform father free from biology / And predetermined functionality”

Edward Furst’s A Very Canine Breakfast is an unsettling piece about a bloodhound father and his sons going about their day. Stone elephant statues produce hot porridge and honey, and the men/dogs are waited on by flamingos – think Bojack Horseman meets John Barth.

One of the longer prose pieces, Joe, ‘E’, and Me, written by Angus MacGregor, is irritating in its arrogance, although maybe that was partly the point. It centres on a nameless ferry commuter and his impressions of his fellow passengers. He sits with Joe, who is “sad in a bone deep way” and who quotes Keats ad verbum. ‘Me’ does not like the uncouth deckhand and his loud blathering. He speculates on the private life of a haughtily attractive woman (she’s E. Pennergast, Lawyer.) Behind her professional success lies some kind of tension: “She’s thinking about enlisting a private eye to help her track down whoever stole the myth of her own life.” There’s an insistence on forthright description: (things slap, hammer, shudder). In fact, most of the prose pieces included are very much thick with it. Most of the material is of a dark nature. I wonder why student anthologies inspire so much solemnity?

All in all, this year’s exhibition is aesthetically absorbing; Hermes largely ambiguous. There is no doubt that whoever ventures over to Verge or who picks up a catalogue at Manning House will see something in the works that no one else will.

Image: Gillian Kayrooz, Y3LLOW SUN BAY RUN, 2018, single channel HD video, colour, sound, 16:9, 8:11 mins (still image).

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