Shock is the stock in trade for Melbourne performance art duo The Huxleys
Shock is the stock in trade for THE HUXLEYS, the Melbourne-based performance art duo who subvert gender assumptions with divinely decorative absurdity.
In the tradition of the grand poseur who thumbs a nose at conventional conduct and dress, The Huxleys package themselves as pure spectacle. They are transgressively absurd, terrifyingly amusing and have sprung creatively from the romantic coupling of Garrett and Will Huxley
— two provocateurs par excellence who braid their respective practices of filmmaking, photography, costume design and performance art into a hyperbolic, pop-literate world where no normal exists.
As the couple tell it, they met in Melbourne more than a decade ago, after fleeing their “fish-out-ofwater” worlds in wider Australia. They bonded over a love of the seditionary likes of Baltimore filmmaker John Waters (‘The Sultan of Sleaze’), glam rockers T Rex, pop chameleon David Bowie and art performance icon Leigh Bowery. Feeding off these fabulists, the pair collaborated on video and photo tableaux until friends suggested their shtick be staged, and so emerged The Huxleys, an epithet casually co-opted from Will’s family name — and yes, Aldous Huxley was a distant relative. Referring to the Brit-born author, who presciently sketched our present reality in 1931’s Brave New
World, Will regards himself as the anomalous link in a long line of thinkers. But as those exposed to The Huxleys’ trippy turns know, he crafts hallucinatory vision with a fearless curiosity equal to that of his legendary LSD-dropping relative. Indeed, when The Huxleys frock up as golden frogs, they unwittingly give form to the Aldous Huxley remark that “we are multiple amphibians living in many different — even in some senses incommensurable — universes at the same time”.
To watch their identity-concealing cabaret, smothering the binary of gender in sequinned kitsch, is to experience the conflicting impulse to both laugh and look for the nearest door. This ambivalence, forged by millions of years of evolutionary programming, roots in a fear that cannot place face or sex-defining feature within a range of rational reference.
This is not to suggest that The Huxleys don’t explore the anatomy of sex with a decoratively gorgeous explicitness. Born To Be Alive — a performance piece for the 2017 Sydney Contemporary art fair — featured the gold-sequinned pair popping from the pink canal of a giant inflatable vulva. The work was conceived on the back of Donald Trump’s inauguration. “We were so angry when Trump got in,” says Will, elucidating on the 45th US president’s history of degrading women. “We wondered how do you tackle the issue of misogyny and make it fun? Why not make a giant inflatable vagina?”
The ‘why nots?’ resounded in chorus from other festival organisers, who, inviting The Huxleys to rebirth under different arts banners, requested the removal of high-vis genitalia from their publicity. ››
‹‹ “My response to that rubbish is that half the population has a vagina,” says Will. “It’s where we all came from. Why the hell would they be against it? We all have reproductive bits.”
On cue, all eyes lift to a fruity pair of faux-fur balls bursting from a rack of costumes crammed into their Collingwood studio. These gold-trimmed goolies suggest the mutant progeny of Liberace and a freakishly large peach. “We make ridiculous things of reality,” says Garrett. “If it makes us laugh, then we know we’re onto something,” What brings on their belly laugh can elicit bad behaviour from others. “Are you a guy or a girl?” asks Garrett, mimicking the “mostly drunk men” who ask with an aggressive physicality. “Why do they need to know the sex of a peach?”
Will recalls a recent performance at Dark Mofo — Tasmania’s devilish celebration of the winter solstice. “Some old Scottish geezer grabbed me top and bottom and said, ‘Let’s see exactly what you are.’ He was so desperate to feel if I was a man or a woman. I thought that was totally off, but luckily, I’m quite open-minded.”
“Well, you were dressed as a lightning bolt, weren’t you?” asks Garrett. “Shock is your stock.” That shock first dressed for Dark Mofo in 2015
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing” WILL HUXLEY
as the glitter-encrusted glam rockers SOS (Style Over Substance), a fictitious band who flummoxed viewing audiences with an over-the-top set augmented by singers, dancers, fake groupies, confetti canons, pyrotechnics and absolutely no sound.
Since that gig, The Huxleys have been issued invitations to sing at other events. “It’s not that we can’t sing; we don’t sing!” says Garrett, puzzled by such overture. “So rather than suffer the explanation, we got singing lessons and now it’s part of our act — tough songs like Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’, which hardly anyone can sing, so if we fail… ” This subversion of their original subversion will soon express in the first SOS album — a piece of vinyl with exquisite cover art and the studio sounds that might issue from making an album but without the music.
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,” says Will, pulling from the Oscar Wilde quote that gave name to their glam band. “A bit like storytelling without the story.”
Melbourne performance artists The Huxleys in their Double Fantasy costumes, 2015. ››
The duo in their 2016 Toadal Eclipse costumes.
FROM TOP Where HaveAll the Flowers Gone costumes, 2016. Souvenir plate from 2016 Castlemaine State Festival show, Pizazz on a Plate. Fantastic Voyage costumes, 2017. A few pairs among The Huxleys’ several dozen sequinned boots.