CHRIS­TIAN THOMPSON

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Sean Lowry

Weav­ing frag­mented his­to­ries into styl­ized atem­po­ral sur­faces, the work of Aus­tralian artist Chris­tian Thompson gen­tly con­jures ghostly ori­gins and se­duc­tively deep­ens viewer sub­jec­tiv­ity. Us­ing cos­tumes and makeup to per­form chic yet obliquely lay­ered al­le­gories, Thompson reac­quaints mul­ti­ple pasts with the in­fi­nite shal­lows of a glob­ally net­worked yet mul­ti­speed present. Although the artist is also known for video and per­for­mance work, this text fo­cuses on Thompson’s pho­to­graphic “por­trai­ture.” Draw­ing in both ma­te­rial and style from dis­parate generic ref­er­ence points (fash­ion, film, mu­sic, and archival pho­tog­ra­phy), at first glance Thompson ap­pears to be sim­ply re­it­er­at­ing the way in which quo­ta­tion un­der­pins the lower-fre­quency evo­ca­tions of mem­ory that epit­o­mize com­mer­cial fash­ion im­agery. Upon closer in­spec­tion, how­ever, we see stylis­tic in­con­gruities re­pur­posed to form im­plicit cri­tiques of the way in which some mem­o­ries and nar­ra­tives are priv­i­leged over oth­ers. This was par­tic­u­larly ap­par­ent in the sub­tle off­set­ting of black- and-white im­agery with color in his evoca­tive se­ries “We Bury Our Own” (2012). Here we see Aus­tralian na­tive flow­ers and in­dige­nous dot mo­tifs mor­ph­ing with am­bigu­ously gen­dered fas­ci­na­tors, head­scarves, and a toy colo­nial- era ship. Avoid­ing the text­book strate­gies of mimicry used by an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion, Thompson in­stead em­ploys mul­ti­ple lay­ers of dis­cur­sive quo­ta­tion to cre­ate play­ful mul­ti­plic­i­ties of de­nun­ci­a­tion, cel­e­bra­tion, and am­biva­lence.

Thompson came of age as an artist when it was al­ready a given that rep­re­sen­ta­tion pre­cedes, con­structs, and fol­lows re­al­ity. Sig­nif­i­cantly, once it had be­come pos­si­ble to im­pli­cate copies with­out spe­cific orig­i­nals, it also be­came pos­si­ble to per­form the way in which iden­tity is both me­di­ated through and in­de­pen­dent of pre­ced­ing iden­ti­ties. Although Thompson’s work ex­em­pli­fies art pro­duced in an asyn­chro­nous present in which spa­tially frag­mented ori­gins usurp speci­ficity for am­bigu­ous fa­mil­iar­i­ties, the un­speak­ably tragic and sud­den su­per­im­po­si­tion of An­glo-Saxon cul­ture over the many in­dige­nous na­tions that com­prise the old­est con­tin­u­ous cul­tures on earth, re­mains an iden­ti­fi­able fea­ture. It is within this con­text that Thompson per­forms the un­re­solved through ma­te­ri­als and al­le­gories in un­canny jux­ta­po­si­tion. The mys­te­ri­ous union of a hoodie, dot mo­tifs, a camp pal­ette, and a veil of neck­laces dis­guis­ing the face, as seen in his “King Billy” se­ries (2010), serves as good ex­am­ple of an oth­er­wise po­ten­tially con­flict­ing al­le­gor­i­cal crosspol­li­na­tion. Once again, a key sig­na­ture in Thompson’s staged im­ages is the play of ma­te­rial—or­ganic or sym­bolic ref­er­ences to in­dige­nous and non­indige­nous his­to­ries par­tially off­set by styl­ized pop­cul­tural sur­faces to par­tially be­lie the la­tent dark­ness be­neath.

Thompson ap­pears phys­i­cally but never lit­er­ally in his “por­traits.” Un­like the more ex­plicit ap­pro­pria­tive ten­den­cies of the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury, he is driven to cre­ate oth­er­worldly and dis­parate ab­strac­tions of the self that em­pha­size af­fect and sto­ry­telling over text­book irony. The tri­umph of Thompson’s work is that he em­bod­ies as­pects of shared yet in­di­vid­u­ally cir­cum­scribed ori­gins. Rather than os­si­fy­ing his mixed in­dige­nous and An­glo-Aus­tralian ori­gins, his works re­flect the in­evitable dis­per­sion of mean­ings. In this way, Thompson both cel­e­brates and cri­tiques pro­cesses of ob­fus­ca­tion, and thereby re­veals and rec­on­ciles new and spec­u­la­tive modal­i­ties of be­ing.

Work­ing in a mo­ment in which the ghosts of half-re­mem­bered his­to­ries are end­lessly remixed and up­dated into pro­vi­sion­ally new ex­pe­ri­ences, Thompson brings this cir­cu­lar con­di­tion upon it­self. In an era in which the In­ter­net brings us mul­ti­ple times and places si­mul­ta­ne­ously, he presents us with a para­dox­i­cally au­then­tic sense of our own trans- sub­jec­tiv­ity. Per­haps Thompson’s high-res­o­lu­tion ghosts sim­ply demon­strate that trauma and beauty are both un­com­fort­able and po­ten­tially restora­tive bed­fel­lows. — Sean Lowry is a Syd­ney-based artist, mu­si­cian, and writer and the founder/di­rec­tor of Pro­ject Any­where: Art At The Out­er­most Lim­its Of Lo­ca­tion- Speci­ficity.

above: UN­TI­TLED # 3, from the “King Billy” se­ries, 2010, C-type print, 39 3 × 39 3

8 8 inches.

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