Boys Are Back

Hardware, maths and arm wrestling. That’s what real men are made of. Benjamin Forster, Robbie Karmel and TJ Phillipson are a group of local artists questioning and exploring what it is to be men in their exhibition Musk at M16 Artspace.

All three are well known about town for their tongue in cheek cultural appropriations and witty subversions of the art world. For Musk, the lads have collaborated on many of the works on show and are refusing to credit individual artworks with their maker. This over-arching anonymity means that the artists are released from the confines of self-representation, able instead to present bigger picture ideas and a common view. Despite this, the contributions of each artist are easily recognisible to fans of Forster, Karmel and Phillipson, who have been storming the local art scene for the past eighteen months.

No stereotype is spared and pop-culture references are peppered throughout. Fans of TV’s first family The Simpsons will instantly recognise Spice Rack – After Homer, a perfect replica of Homer Simpson’s attempt to prove that he is manly enough to build things for Marge.

This persistent cliche of the Man As Builder is expressed in the plentiful references to hardware that appear in the show. The unmistakable influence of Ben Forster is evident as he nerds out in typical form with a selection of artworks that utilise custom computer programming. The Men I Look Up To series is portraits of Forster’s heroes, their likenesses mapped out by binary code in a patterned nuts and bolts motif.

Robbie Karmel (face obscured) appears in a row of gargantuan photographs on the adjoining wall. Resplendent in glittering tights and a peacock feather headdress he makes an eye-popping homage to ostentatious male beauty in the natural world. Nearby, a collection of rubber pool toys are intermittently inflated to attention by screaming leaf-blowers – those iconic suburban male playthings – before again withering out of shape in a suggestive though pathetic display.

The flexing and posturing continues with Arm Wrestle, a platform built for the very purpose including a camera to record and play back bouts for subsequent spectator’s viewing pleasure. This hotbed of competition becomes the central focus of the exhibition and represents a competitive streak that some would say is inherent to maleness.

An unmistakable self-deprecating humour occurs throughout the show. This larrikin approach particularly anchors the works in the realm of Australian male identity and creates a non-threatening environment into which more serious agendas are able to emerge.

Although Musk doesn’t attempt to make any hard hitting constructive commentary on the state of modern masculinity, it is a collection of highly entertaining works that antagonise further consideration of male identity.  It does only scratch the surface however, and maybe, in this case, bigger would be better.

Musk continues at M16 Artspace until the 2nd of May

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