DETAIL : Jimmy BAKER 'Katatjita' 2006 synthetic polymer paint on canvas, Courtesy of Marshall Arts Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery, � Jimmy Baker
Destiny DEACON | Snow Storm

DEACON, Destiny
Australia 1957
Snow Storm
Colour Blinded 2005
golliwog dolls, polystyrene and perspex cube
39.4 (h) x 40.0 (w) x 40.0 (d) cm
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
© Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser

On entering Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's installation Colour blinded 2005, the eyes of the viewer are literally assaulted by the acidic yellow hue that bathes the exhibition space in a sickly, perception-altering glow. Calling to mind the heightened visibility and slightly surreal ambience of the roadside construction areas that employ this type of industrial lighting (experienced as bright, confronting blips as one speeds by on a freeway), or art world parallels in the work of Dan Flavin or Bruce Nauman, this created environment is at once unsettling and strangely revealing. For the intensity of the light in Colour blinded transforms the gallery into a space of surveillance, one in which it seems that our movements and actions are monitored and assessed, and in which the act of looking – and being looked at – is central. Similarly, as the space fills with the accusatory tone of the dialogue that emanates from the DVD Good golly miss dolly – 'What are you looking at?', 'What are you doing here?' – we also realise, as audience, that we have been cast in the role of both interloper and conspirator.

Since the beginning of her career Deacon's photographs have been peopled by a ragtag assortment of dollies and gollies that obediently perform for her camera, bringing in turn pathos, tragedy, violence and, importantly, humour to their roles within her improvised and deliberately low-tech images. In Good golly miss dolly, Deacon's niece Sofii, who is at once animated, disaffected and bored, unpacks a collection of golliwogs from a cardboard cylinder, laying them out for inspection before her on the floor. As the jolting camera surveys the golliwogs' faces, panning in and out on their wide, constantly surprised expressions, it creates a disorienting sense of disconnect, which is further reinforced by another sequence in which two dolls hurtle down a slide, their little bodies making a dreadful 'thwacking' sound as they fall to the ground. Just what is going on here?

As photographs such as Baby boomer 2005 and objects like Snow storm 2005 attest, Deacon's work ambiguously plays out the complex history and present realities of Australia's race relations; a reality (as the high-keyed context of Colour blinded makes patently clear) in which we, as either individual or nation, are totally implicated. In Snow storm, Deacon and Fraser have stuffed a display case with golliwogs and filled it to capacity with white beanbag balls. While this work can be interpreted, at the outset, as a light-hearted swipe at museological practice, these innocent toys are trapped and suffocated by the polystyrene balls that are supposed to protect them. This very public display of knitted folk – the case exhibited on a plinth like a classical sculpture – reinforces the conflicting feelings of vulnerability and resilience that pervade the work. As Geraldine Barlow has noted, the emphasis on looking and display in Colour blinded reflects the unrealistic and highly public expectations that are placed upon contemporary Indigenous artists, particularly the assumption that they will automatically (and willingly) act as cultural ambassadors:

Indigenous artists are at the coalface in the much contested national struggle for healing and understanding, as a vanguard they carry the hopes and aspirations of their own people, and the nation as a whole. We look to indigenous artists for national self-knowledge and the opportunity to make amends for past oversights. We also look to indigenous artists to display what it is that makes us uniquely Australian on an international stage.[1]

Deacon's practice steadfastly refuses to take on this position and responsibility but she nevertheless continues to confront her audience with works that initially disguise their hard-hitting and at times confounding content in a cloak of 'blak' humour. However, while photographs such as Pacified and Back up engage the artist's characteristic team of kitschy Aboriginalia in scenarios that point to Australia's complacency, ignorance and denial of its Indigenous population, the narrative that
unfolds across the suite of photographs of the artist's brother John Harding and his bedraggled doll companion is far more open-ended. For when seen against the various other components of the Colour blinded installation, the poignant and somehow tender relationship of this unlikely couple, together contemplating a horizon filled with Melbourne's skyline, seems to suggest (or perhaps hope for?) a space of different possibilities.

Kelly Gellatly


[1] Geraldine Barlow, 'Destiny Deacon', in NEW05, exhibition catalogue, Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2005, p. 44.