To Sit with Darkness with René Danika
Michael Brennan explores the world of the Runner-Up in The Bentleys 40 Under 40 Art Exhibition.
You need to think about your audience when you write these kinds of things. I wonder if anyone reading this even knows The Lovecats by The Cure, let alone Lullaby?
I reckon it takes some considerable commitment to engage with the gothic in Queensland. And I’m not going for some easy laughs about melting mascara here. I mean, I’m from Melbourne originally, where a long black coat, leather boots and a pale face are just an extension of the weather and the architecture it envelopes. But in this climate, the embrace of a darker aesthetic brings your attention to the ideas it draws out as opposed to a predilection for a wardrobe that seems to simply extend qualities of the city.
René Danika dances with these ideas, creating objects and installations that are disconcertingly beautiful and grotesque all at once, exploiting this friction to tease out extremes of both the political and moral persuasions.
In this way, perhaps her work is more akin to a Sisters of Mercy meets Children of the Corn vibe (Stephen King, not the remakes or sequels) where religion and politics trip into a cultic space, as opposed to the wistful love songs of The Cure.
Danika, who was awarded the runner-up prize earlier this year in The Bentley’s 40 Under 40 Exhibition at the Butter Factory Arts Centre, works with a range of materials that evoke a visceral response to symbols and motifs often used to tell us how we should live.
Ornate frames and faux fur are brought together with crosses, reclaimed taxidermy, bullets, hair, bones and teeth. These are smeared with bitumen and sprayed with black enamel – the toxicity of the mediums impregnating the ornate or revered objects beneath.
Her surfaces blister and peel, variously recalling scorched earth or charred skin, their interchangeability suggesting a oneness with nature that supersedes false distinctions imposed by church and state.
That got dark quickly.
But that’s kind of inevitable when such big ideas are being explored. It’s something more than a morose wardrobe and some artfully applied makeup.
So, while Robert Smith and the rest of the band cram themselves into their own colonial-era closet before tumbling off a cliff, the fear and faith and heads on doors that they sing about with a kind of pop melancholy are more assertively grasped and offered as symbols to push back against in Danika’s immersive installations.
She asks us to sit with the darkness – to accept it and use it to shape ourselves rather than be subsumed by the ocean of authority and morality imposed upon us.