Catalogue Essay: Shift 2

James Barth / Getting ready for an endless summer (Real_Girl) / 2016 / Digitally projected 3D model

Words by Miranda Hine

What is a shift? It can be momentary, momentous. We can feel displaced, and we can displace what’s around us. Whenever we defy expectations – cultural, sexual, gender-based – we experience these shifts. They can also happen at inconsequential moments. There’s that feeling when you interact with someone and everything else disappears for an instant; when that ends, where are we left? And what happens when an object’s context changes its original function? Perhaps its new meaning will be different for everyone, as we shift our own associations onto it.

The artists in Shift 2 are acutely aware of these sorts of psychological shifts, and their works negotiate them, sometimes boldly and sometimes tentatively. James Barth, Hailey Atkins, Parallel Park and Earnest & Son all work with broad and diverse interpretations of displacement. Gender, sexuality, and the material object form prominent foundations for Shift 2. James negotiates representations of transwomen’s bodies, while Parallel Park explores female sexuality and its interactions. Hailey’s sculptures navigate through a fragmented identity, and Earnest & Son investigates the object as a way of displacing meaning. Throughout the works, physical displacement is a common metaphor for psychological displacement.

Founded in painted self-portraiture, James Barth’s practice has developed to involve digitally constructed imagery with particular reference to the cyborg. Barth uses their own body to explore expectations of feminine and transgender representations, particularly in relation to artificiality. James’ work for Shift 2 is a projected digital self-portrait, with an interactive element where the audience can take control of the image. James is exposing themself to the audience’s scrutiny, echoing the prevailing treatment of transwomen’s bodies in the media and broader society.

James’ almost obsessive focus on capturing their own body suggests a determination to assert their place, to insure against displacement. James says, ‘I make these images of myself so I can recontextualise contemporary culture to suit my needs’.

While James presents a solid, established sense of self, Hailey’s work is a tentative negotiation of her own place within social and cultural arenas. She feels that elements of her identity are scattered, displaced, unable to come together to confidently present an identity to the world. Finding it difficult to position herself within social ‘spaces’, such as feminist discourse, Hailey says ‘I agree with one thing and then I don’t agree with another and then I feel like I can’t really say anything’. This trepidation makes it difficult for her to confidently occupy a social, cultural or psychological space. Hailey’s ‘wonky and weird’ sculptures are endearing, and vulnerable to the touch, but they are also quietly defiant. They employ a visual humour to suggest that vulnerability, uncertainty and failure are okay.

Parallel Park, the creative duo of Holly Bates and Tayla Haggarty, presents a performance-based practice grounded in satirical humour and focused on the nuances of lesbian sexuality. They are interested in recreating the physical sense of displacement that accompanies the psychological space of female interaction. For example, if you see an attractive woman walking down the street, Haggarty says, ‘you become completely engulfed in this beautiful woman in a matter of seconds, and then she’s gone, and you immediately feel a sense of displacement because that instant connection is lost.’ For Shift 2, Parallel Park will be debuting its own fragrance, Pussy Presence. Mimicking the world of high-end perfumes with its overly sexualised advertisements and enthusiastic reps poised to shower consumers with samples, the work will challenge the nature of this typically female on female interaction, as well as positioning lesbian sexuality as a one-smell-fits-all brand.

The performative aspect of this work leaves many questions to be explored. How will this interaction be affected with the addition of other genders? Is the almost-sacred space of the female interaction ‘spoilt’ by the presence of men, for example? Is the intimate perfume-tester ritual exposed as ridiculous with the addition of spectators, and out of its intended setting?

Earnest & Son, Jordan Azcune and Liam Marsden, are the second creative duo in Shift 2. Their work investigates the displacement of materials and object histories. In their animated installations, Earnest & Son displace the original meaning of an object by adding different functions or associations. For example, a man’s shirt is attached to a fan that fills the shirt with air and resembles a torso. In their work, there are traces of the human body but its absence is noticeable, and the materials are left to speak for themselves. Marsden sees the objects as a means of transferring his own anxieties and emotions – displacing them from his mind into a physical thing. Azcune is more interested in creating new and unexpected associations for the objects, where each viewer has a different interpretation from the next, and its original function is transformed.

Earnest & Son also play with traditional expectations of masculinity. Their DIY projects often incorporate power tools and other typically ‘manly’ items, subverting the constructions by rendering them ridiculous, impotent, through their impracticality.

In their diverse interpretations, the artists in Shift 2 engage with both personal and shared experiences of displacement. Though gender, sexuality, and the material object are recurring themes in the exhibition, there are countless more examples of shifts in each work. Nothing is static and nothing is entirely certain. The shifting is continuous.