New Psychedelia , UQ Art Gallery, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 7 May—3 July 2011
The exhibition notes accompanying UQ Art Gallery’s recent exhibition New Psychedelia assured viewers that a ‘New Psychedelia’ has “undoubtedly emerged” under the influence of rave culture, virtual reality, and the cyberpunk literary movement—all pertinent reference points. Whether any are necessarily ‘new’ is debatable.
This first grouping of artworks contained some of the exhibition’s most impressive works, as well as some of its most frustrating. TV Moore’s Self-Portrait on Acid (2009) depicts the external effects of a psychedelic drug experience, but doesn’t offer much else. Across the room was a work that, by its placement, almost seems to send Moore’s up: Chris Bennie’s film Mothership (2005) depicts the author dancing alone to rave music in his living room, wryly exposing the usual banality of psychedelic experiences when perceived from the outside. A neighbouring work by Roy McIvor is introduced by an outright rejection of inspiration by drugs. UQ Art History lecturer Sally Butler states that “McIvor’s fix comes from his culture and his spiritual beliefs”.
It is when the question of drugs is put aside that the works really make an impact. Hong Kong born artist John Young’s twin canvases Buddha’s Ray II and III (both 2009), are bold, colourful abstractions, gloriously existing on their own terms. Tim Maguire’s lightbox work Redleaf II (2010) offers a similarly sensory experience, drawing the viewer in with fluid blue and green duratrans, which seem to shift and swell against the backlight. Colour is also superbly used in Gemma Smith’s Boulder #7(2010), an oversized jewel of Plexiglas, the facets of which change colour as one walks around it.
Conversely, coherency is lost when other themes are introduced. Another room of works aims to display the connection between psychedelia and the rejection of consumer culture, but the works shown skew heavily to the latter and often ignore the former. The link drawn to cyberpunk allows for some brilliant works to be shown, including three Darren Wardle canvases, showing abstract compositions of urban elements, and Matt Dabrowski and the Many Hands of Glamour’s Vortex Books , where manually cut vortexes inject an atmosphere of discovery into mundane Brisbane street directories. However, these works seemed out of place.
New Psychedelia offered an intriguing proposition. Like UQ’s 2008Neo Goth exhibition, it had a reach that went beyond visual art, evoking popular film, music, fashion, and social movements, as well as the drug culture that the term nominally refers to. Curator Sebastian Moody decided to indulge all these manifestations of the theme, and there was a wide variety of works represented. However, this meant that like the Neo Goth exhibition, variety came at the expense of a truly coherent theme—instead the exhibition fell back on a vague aesthetic to which various motives and effects were ascribed.
Liam J O’Brien is a writer and Arts graduate from the University of Queensland. He is beginning an Honours thesis on American poet and art critic Frank O'Hara in 2011.