‘The Western World, it is argued, is largely nihilistic today in the sense that it no longer believes in grand truth narratives. When that happens, people will believe, at least temporarily, any story you spin at them. In the absence of grand truth narratives, society as it was once understood ceases to exist. Instead of the universal Church or the march of History, instead of society, we have a fun-fair array of booths hawking crystals and tales of intergalactic visitors; we have celebrity astrologers, wonder drugs, tantric Buddhism, predictions or mysterious epidemics, football frenzy and a vague fear of what Wheen calls ‘secretive, impersonal forces’ ruling our lives. We have been atomised. Suspended alone in a state of unrelieved apprehension bordering on panic, we cast about frenetically for some story line to write ourselves into. Instead of citizens, we have been turned into individual consumers; instead of tradition, we have had fashion foisted on us; instead of history, we are force fed docudramas about the mystery of the Sphinx. Desperate for company and direction, we’ll form a herd behind anyone – Princess Di, JK Rowling, the Pope, Barack Obama, Lacan, anyone. Just tell us a story. It may be humbug, it may be bullshit; it doesn’t matter: we don’t know the difference anymore. Just tell us a story. Any story. Please.’
Robert Dessaix ‘On Humbug’ (MUP 2009)
Six months ago I was in a caravan in North West Tasmania enjoying a rather hilarious discussion on both art and sexuality, when my host suddenly made the following announcement: ‘Artists are cunts. I don’t understand the bastards. I’ve seen men out here dying in those seas so you pricks can have your fucking crays and your flash openings in Hobart with all the yuppie snobs. It’s not right and you know why? It’s bullshit! They’re all up themselves – fucking artist cunts.’
A week later I entered the local pub with a photograph of Sally Rees wearing a t-shirt which stated in written text across her chest,‘I’M A CUNT’ and pinned it on the carefully guarded noticeboard. I watched as the picture was received and sat in an interesting moment where this work, recently commissioned for an exhibition in Sydney, found its way to a rather unsuspecting audience. Rees in all her glory looked over the pubs regulars evoking laughter and conversation whilst they in turn applauded her sense of humour, not so far away from the North West town of Burnie where she was raised.
Sally Rees’ work speaks to us of our human selves. Her practice has the unique capacity to involve self-examination, whilst avoiding any stigma of narcissism. Rees dives head first into emotions and experience that are confrontational and often unpleasant. Her work therefore reaches into what it means to be a human being as she boldly explores realms within the human psyche that most of us spend time avoiding as best we can.
Rees’ personal approach to art making invites her audience to engage in a manner that does not, in turn, punish with vacuous performance or over-intellectualised enquiry. She deliberates and expresses, providing an experience of awareness that carefully side-steps the unfortunate trend of alienating audiences through elitist delivery. Her work for this latest exhibition offers us a personal insight into the contradictions and dualities that contribute to the inner-conflicts which human beings can often experience. Her offerings are subtle, considered, elegant and measured and possess a timbre of gentle innocence that is consequentially, anything but naïve.
We’re at a place in human history where we clearly need to understand why and who we are. As a result of this need to genuinely understand and to break through the artificial walls that can indeed overwhelm us, some of the more poignant expressions we are seeing are those which delve into matters regarding the human condition – specifically through a deliberately personal enquiry. At a time where people are searching so desperately for personal meaning (so much so that we’re witnessing the abandonment of individual narratives and the borrowing of others in the hope of greater notoriety and recognition), the most rewarding experiences are those that have an underlying essence of honesty and therefore, authenticity. It is through artists such as Rees that we gain access to such truths, for we are able to experience the sheer purity of her contribution, which comes to us through this process of sharing, and of sharing very deeply.
Rees is one of the few artists I have known who has the ability and conviction to self-reflect in a direct and unadulterated manner. Her work has an element of generosity, which furthermore, births a particular kind of integrity, seldom seen in contemporary art practice today. She is blatant and brazen in that she is willing to vent, to purge and to absolve through catharsis and exposure, through a courageous practice of personally expressing her individual truths, and this she does by simply – telling her own story.
Monique Germon – July 2009