Welcome to the 14th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! April's culture selector is Roslyn Helper: director of Underbelly Arts Festival, artist (solo and as part of Zin), and former artistic director of Electrofringe. Every Wednesday of April, Roslyn will be telling us what she loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to her.
Every once in a while, Darlinghurst’s National Art School extends its hours for a night of art after dark: NAS Nights. Last Thursday was one of those rare opportunities to see the school in a different light, with the Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize on show, a market for NAS students to sell their art at, and a program of performances curated by artist collective Barbara Cleveland featuring Get to Work, Eugene Choi, Knitted Abyss and Giselle Stanborough.
I got there for Giselle Stanborough – The Artist as a Real Housewife with Special Guest Athena X.
Athena X Levendi is a larger-than-life painter-cum-reality TV star. During her stint on the first season of The Real Housewives of Sydney, she established a reputation for her bold fashion statements and whacky one-liners. The self-professed ‘spiritual goddess’ is a force to be reckoned with, and all was on show this evening, as she revealed how she had felt during the series (totally out of place, disliked by her fellow housewives, and shunned for her originality, but also that she would do it again in a heartbeat), discussed her paintings (she stressed she has been an artist for the better part of twenty years) and expressed an emphatic “I don’t care what people think of me” attitude to life.
Perched up on stage in a flowing bright pink gown opposite the corporately-dressed Stanborough, this artist-interviews-artist, or perhaps fake Real Housewife interviews real Real Housewife situation, threw my art-critical radars totally out of whack.
On the surface, Giselle asked a series of typically intelligent questions, matched by a series of seemingly genuine if not rather out-there responses typical of the Real Housewife persona Australian audiences have come to know.
But the context of this interview – presented amidst a night of performance art – threw a different frame around what could otherwise have been passed off as a genuine interaction. It forced the audience to ask, is this a sincere conversation? Is Giselle, in her faux-corporate get-up and overly-serious questions ‘taking-the-piss’ or does she genuinely value Athena X’s artistic practice? And is Athena in on it? Even, is she above it? Is she completely aware of her potentially perceived position as a kooky artist sell-out and owning it? Or is she a sitting duck, playing into a conceptual mind-fuck that exposes the way her identity has been colonised both by mainstream media and by the artworld in front of a highly critical art crowd? And if she’s serving as fodder for cynical art students and peers to muse over, isn’t that highly unethical?
With both artists playing the ultimate personification of their desired public personalities, they created a simulacrum – a convincing replication of themselves and simultaneous representation of familiar, generic media personalities through which it was impossible to detect the difference between reality and artifice; genuine connection and satire.
The third and important player in this performance conversation was the audience. Murmurs, giggles, claps and flashes of doubt indicated no-one could decide whether they should be laughing, critiquing or agreeing. A rare feat in an age of extreme media literacy and political correctness. The one question directed to Athena X by an audience member to close the discussion was the most genuine question an audience member could ask: “When did you decide you wanted to become and artist?”
Athena X Levendi replied that it was never a conscious decision. She has always had an immense desire to share her creativity with the world. As she says on her website, “Life is truly fulfilling when we follow our true self and passions as we then become aligned with our true purpose and live a meaningful life.”
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