Shock is the stock in trade for Mel­bourne per­for­mance art duo The Hux­leys

VOGUE Living Australia - - CONTENTS - By An­nemarie Kiely Pho­tographed by Sharyn Cairns

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.

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