It was impossible to walk past the giant Tetris blocks falling from the sky or the edible installation from Rena Littleson's debut exhibition, 10 Day Bender. Children were lining up at the Brunswick Street Gallery in Fitzroy to play the retro Nintendo Game Boy left out for that very purpose. The scene evoked a sense of the fantastic, as though each reveller could step into the game, a make-believe world of construction and destruction, of lollies, dolls and outdated handheld devices. Yet despite the jovial mood and nostalgia for the 90s, there was a serious undertone to the ten photorealistic portraits lining the walls. They depicted young men and women in various states of inebriation: twisted, distorted and animalistic.
Littleson's work explores an adult's use of drugs and alcohol in order to experience the euphoria or "sugar high" of being a child. The images are ironic in that they depict young adults overdosing on things which are taken out of context: Bundaberg Ginger Beer, a Barbie doll, Snakes Alive, and M&Ms, all symbolic of childhood, all well known brands.
These popular icons of Australian childhood are shown using extreme perspectives. The bird's-eye-view in I Love Playing With Dolls serves to heighten the disturbing nature of the image of a young woman with a blood soaked mouth, having just ripped the head off a Barbie doll. The high angle perspective of M&M Overdose, a self-portrait where Littleson is on her back in her underwear, hand outstretched to reveal M&Ms as though they were ecstasy pills, is equally unsettling. The result is a disorientating and disheartening portrayal of Australian youth emulating an ugly side of adult behaviour.
I asked Rena what inspired her: "I guess I was inspired by a period in my life when... I saw a lot of alcohol and drug abuse. I thought, 'Wow, this is how people have fun!' I just want to show how destructive people can be without realising it. It's a cultural thing in countries like Australia."
With reference to well-known brands, her work is reminiscent of Warhol and the pop art movement. It implies that materialism is a destructive force and that the power of the brand is able to influence young people and potentially corrupt them. It is essentially a body of work grappling with the decay of civilization as a result of consumerism: a body of work that is nostalgic for the past and critical of the present.
To see more of Littleson's work visit http://www.renalittleson.com/
Susie Mander is a Sydney based writer passionate about unearthing new art talent. Her hope is to inspire discourse around issues of gender, philosophy and immigration, to name a few. She is currently writing her first YA novel. To read more of her work visit: http://susiemander.wordpress.com/