A Man Walks in to a Bar – Noosa Regional Gallery
Noosa Regional Gallery Gallery Director Michael Brennan shares his insight and experiences of the latest exhibitions to grace the space.
I caught up with a friend for a drink after work last week. We were sitting in the corner of the room, nursing a Japanese Larger, when I noticed two women over by the bar shooting sideways glances our way between exchanged words and giggles. No sooner had I clocked their attention than they picked up their drinks and made a beeline for our table.
“How’s your evening going boys? Out for a big one?” The taller of the two ventured.
My mate was midway through telling me about an exhibition he’d seen in Brisbane earlier in the week and I was keen to get back to it.
“Just a quick beer on the way home,” I offered with a deferential smile.
“That doesn’t sound like much fun. You should come and have a drink with us. I’ll buy you a drink,” eyes meeting mine more pointedly now. My first gesture obviously didn’t hit its mark. I thanked them anyway but tendered a little more clearly that we were going to pass this time around.
“We were only trying to be nice. People don’t know how to have a good time anymore. Up to you I guess,” the quip sucking the air out of the room as the pair turned and walked away, glances turning to glares as they reclaimed their seats at the bar.
Of course this never happened. To begin with, I have two young kids so I don’t have a social life. And while the chiselled symmetry of my features and Hasselhoffian physique probably makes me attractively inapproachable to many, it’s rare, in any case, that men get put in this position by women. Unfortunately the converse can’t be said to be true.
Michelle Hamer’s exhibition, Are You Having a Good Night?, rounds out the summer exhibition program at Noosa Regional Gallery. Hamer’s meticulously rendered streetscapes, hand-stitched with a quasi-impressionist execution, propose LED traffic signs of the type you might find alerting passersby to a hazard, flickering with comments and phrases that women encounter regularly.
Half the population isn’t exposed to this narrative (unless they’re the ones delivering it), yet its incessant presence in spaces that should be communal and safe for everyone covertly shapes the lived experience of far too many women. The prevalence of this often aggressive, threatening and patronising language is highlighted as a background condition in Hamer’s directional signage. As she notes, “this behaviour is often justified as innocent and harmless yet is engrained in the way we navigate spaces.”
Much like the perceived passivity of the language Hamer brings to our attention, the traditionally feminine craft of hand-stitching with yarn disarms us from the confronting truths in Hamer’s work. They are beautiful, even if the sentiment they capture is ugly. And no doubt some will protest that not all men are like that – but unfortunately those who are, don’t declare it on their t-shirt (unless, of course, they’re wearing a Bintang Singlet).
Before Hamer’s show opens in January, Miriam Innes gives us a different way to experience public spaces in her exhibition, New York Rambling. Her panoramic installation wraps the viewer in a charcoal rendering of New York City, placing them inside the work as opposed to looking upon it from a distance. Perspective shifts and vantage points change as the streetscape covers every linear meter of wall space around the Gallery. The encounter is a physical one, with a sense that you need to negotiate the objects Innes has drawn to make your way through the work. While devoid of people, the skilled depiction of this city captures its contested space and the energy that courses through its laneways, rooftops, sidewalks and bars.