Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

MASQUES, Richard Gurney & Tim Hilton Sedition Barber, 16th June 2010

by Bridie Connell

18 Aug 2010

I first encountered the art of Richard Gurney and Tim Hilton in 2006 at Artspace as part of an exhibition titled It's a New Day, as two thirds of notorious art and performance trio the Wild Boys. The culmination of a three-month residency involving discussion and collaboration with the local art community, my memories of the exhibition and the opening night reception are an intoxicated blur of Hollywood-style red carpet entrances, afro-haired hula hoopers, dragged up queens in animal print, colourful projections, illuminated swings, and a passed-out performance artist. In a word - it was wild.

Flash-forward - the Wild Boys are no more and the spotlight is re-focused on the solo practices of the former members. United by an interest in the cliches and excesses of gay culture, gender and the art making process, Gurney and Hilton continue to 'dress up', regularly staging photo and video shoots and documenting nights out. It is from this world that Masques emerges.

A pseudo-sophisticated nod to the French word for 'mask',Masques is a selection of performance, video and sculptural works by Gurney and Hilton. Shown within the kitsch and cluttered confines of Sedititon, a traditional men's barber-come-exhibition space in the heart of Darlinghurst, Masques examines through the use of physical, emotional and metaphoric 'masks' - most explicitly the use of drag - complex relationships between appearance and performance; reality and identity; stillness and action.

Hilton's striking, photographic self-portrait La Donna and Momo, documents an outing to an over-hyped Madonna-look-a-like competition. Channeling the 'Like a Virgin' era with a lacey white dress, bridal veil, red lips, tousled hair and heavy brows, La Donna (Hilton) took out first prize from a grand total of two entrants. In short, the party was a flop, but the accompanying photo shoot was a hit, along with Hilton's opening night performance. Equal parts sass and self- depreciating humour, Hilton's hip swerving, lip-syncing number, detailing La Donna's preparation for such a night out, left no doubt as to why she's the queen with the crown.

Equally camp is Gurney's video Buy or Die. Borrowing the DIY aesthetic of 1980s community television, Buy or Die is an attempt to recreate a found photograph as a static video image. Presented in the shop-front window, the work features three heavily made-up, wide-eyed 'kewpie dolls,' amid a fake wall of floral wallpaper, flower cut-outs and 1960s beauty shots, delightfully blinking, twitching, smirking and pouting at passers-by.

Contrastingly minimal, and deserving of an encore in a less cluttered space, is Gurney's video Masques, featuring two anonymous figures, casting androgynous black (Hilton) and red (Gurney) silhouettes against back-lit white walls over the course of an hour. Strikingly beautiful, the silhouettes in turn inform Gurney's exquisitely painted cloth sculptures, Mephisto Doesn't Have to be Forever. More dynamic and asymmetric than previous works, they present a curious cast of seductively mysterious characters, ripe for contemplation whilst being groomed in the barber's chair.

Bridie Connell is a Sydney born and based artist and writer. She has exhibited in numerous local exhibitions and is a regular contributor to The Brag.