Taking place in a recently redesigned space in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, We Used to Talk About Love is a small but fascinating exhibition curated by Natasha Bullock. It features 11 contemporary Australian artists covering a theme that is so central to our lives yet surprisingly under-represented in the visual arts.
Love is interpreted pretty broadly here, with unexpected curatorial choices. Glenn Sloggett's photos of unlovely suburbia include the ominous words "U R Alone" carved into a concrete footpath and a wrecked car on someone's front lawn. Paul Knight's photographs also tap into something subtly unsettling, depicting a series of couples and lovers in bed together. Each image is comprised of two separate halves ripped and roughly folded together, suggesting each of the pair's overlapping but ultimately competing views of the same intimate moment.
A completely different sensibility is seen in Darren Sylvester’s prints, which have the glossy, polished look of high-end fashion mags but capture moments of vulnerability and awkward contemplation. In Your First Love Is Your Last Love a private schoolboy sits in an austere-looking house surveying a love letter, accompanied only by the incongruous remains of a half-eaten subway meal.
Also featured is Angela Mesiti's remarkable video Rapture (Silent Anthem). A past winner of the Blake prize, it is a series of slow-motion close-ups of teenagers at a music festival. Like much of this exhibition, it focuses the viewer on something vital but rarely examined. Music festivals wouldn't exist without passionate fans, but seeing the open-mouthed awe of devotees — completely enraptured in what they are watching — offers a compelling new visual perspective, even for the most hardened festival veteran.
Even better is Grant Stevens' video, where words of break-ups and romantic unhappiness appear on a background of a starry night set to sentimental soundtrack music. The text is revealed slowly at first, eventually speeding up and becoming an incoherent mess of polite yet painful kiss-offs. It's a hypnotic, strangely moving piece that works as a kind of reversal of the famous opening line of Anna Karenina, suggesting that every happy couple may be happy in their own unique way, but the sting and the fumbling, cliched language of a break-up is depressingly universal.
Photo: Paul Knight Untitled 2012 Image courtesy © the artist.