Ken Villa : M D West


Ken Villa Players and Pushers, Pushers and Players
Brenda May Gallery, Sydney
for The Gay Games
Oct-Nov 2002

“Whose God?’ K. Villa asks, ‘Is it you? Is it the American flag? Is it terror as commodity?’

This exhibition demands that we as viewers look at the cut of our ideological straitjackets, the suite of assumptions and beliefs we often carry unquestioningly, as though they were ‘truths’ to live by. He demands that we reflect on how we assist, and perhaps not resist the production of meaning in an age where fear is manufactured in lieu of hope.

American born Australian artist Ken Villa’s new media installation, Players and Pushers, Pushers and Players, is a meditation on an American mass media production of meaning and terror in our lives post September 11th. As the curator Brenda May says of Villa’s work, ‘Fear and ignorance have always been extremely successful tools of manipulation, particularly when the agenda is hidden and the purpose unclear, Ken creates a stage of meanings, one where the consumer is both a player and a pusher’.

Some of Villa’s ideas are better actualised than others. The installation Evil, a series of moulded television screen literally spelling the word across a gallery wall, is for me the least realised aspect of this show. However the work 182 Whatevers is stunning. An American flag composed of 182 individually moulded red white and blue ‘whatevers’. This piece is hung above what appears to be a relic of wars past, a large industrial vice, inset along the cleave with the text Worshippers Slash Evildoers. As one bends to decipher the moulded meaning within the vice, it appears to those who are watching that you are in fact bowing to the American flag hung above this work. And this is the essence of Villa’s work, it is as though he is saying, ‘You’re involved, I’m involved and it’s difficult to determine the difference between slogans and truth’.

Villa also addresses issues of sexuality, masculinity, power and intimacy in the four-screen video installation Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Here a military theme is used to explore the nature of representation and desire, it has the feel of a deserted sex club, suggesting that gender and sexuality, is in part nothing more than eroticised ritual, a performance of meaning.

The overall strength of the exhibition lies with Villa’s use of text, from hastily written and disposable statements such as ‘national rifle association’, to the Eat Lies piece through to ‘we’re gunna round umm up one by one ann we’re gunna bring umm ta justice’ that runs like a skirting of unrelenting teeth along three of the gallery’s walls.

In a time when dissent as a democratic right is being challenged, Villa offers us a mirror whereby we are gently guided to ask questions about the reality of propaganda, fear, security and power in our lives.

M D West