Hannah Salmon & Sam Ovens – Deformed Secretions – Thursday 2 August – Saturday 1 September

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Please join us at the opening of an exhibition of new works by Hannah Salmon and Sam Ovens.

 

Hannah Salmon is a Wellington-based artist, illustrator, musician and DIY publisher, whose art practice takes the form of an ongoing political art project entitled Daily Secretion.

Daily Secretion is a product of an ongoing interest in creative activism and the ways accessible works of art can provoke dialogue around the prospect of social change. Daily Secretion seeks to undermine the hegemony of neoliberalism, critiquing the systems of oppression associated with the logic of neoliberalism; media and political demagoguery, capitalism, racial inequality, patriarchy and religious persecution. Furthermore, Daily Secretion interrogates the fragile heteronormative white male archetype that has emerged from decades of neoliberal rejection of the notions of collectivity, collaboration, care, and consent, and the rise of a system based on competition, domination and extraction.

In referencing New Zealand-based media and political figures, Daily Secretion endeavours to link global neoliberal trends to the current sociopolitical trajectory of Aotearoa New Zealand; restrictions on immigration, increased surveillance, encroachments on civil freedoms, oppressive public policy and the exacerbation of existing anxieties that serve to encourage prejudice and marginalisation.

Artworks depict the dystopian media and political landscapes of contemporary society, as well as speculative dystopian landscapes of the future; cancer-ridden physical environments devoid of life. But there is also evidence of reclamation of both social and intellectual spaces and of physical space. By exposing the fragility of the dominant elite, Daily Secretion seeks to provide hope for the rest of us – by highlighting not just the illegitimacy but also the weaknesses and pressure points of corporate hegemony, we can see where to focus our resistance. Through this critique, Daily Secretion speaks to an alternative vision of the future, of a world where we have left conspicuous consumption and corporatist patriarchy behind.

 

Sam Ovens is a Dunedin, New Zealand based artist, musician and screen-printer. An avid collector of recorded media, Ovens adopts the moniker ‘Deformed’ on certain occasions, eg. DJ-ing, performing.

Ovens has long been a fixture of Dunedin’s vibrant punk scene (Conniption and Scum Hammer among many others), and ‘Deformed’ references one of his earliest bands, Dioxin, itself a reference to the brutal effects of chemical warfare substances such as Dioxin and Agent Orange, which had horrific consequences on children of war, causing strange, life-threatening anatomical and cosmetic deformities. Additionally, the name is also referencing the Ovens’ discovery of his slightly deformed rib cage – triggered by a milder form of scoliosis – in his early teens and some other undisclosed anatomical abnormalities further solidified the name as an evocative and fitting choice. Ovens’ has performed in numerous hardcore punk and metal related bands, and currently performs with effects and vocals in long-running Dunedin experimental noise-rock/post-punk group Wolfskull.

Over the past decade, Ovens’ mixed-media arts practice has focused on the expression of anger and resentment, and warrants comparison to British anarcho-punk group, Crass. Ovens’ rejects most ‘traditional’ values and this shows in his work, which is unambiguous about contemporary Western society’s poverty of love, compassion, understanding and willingness to explore other means of living.

At first glance, Ovens’ output may seem cynical, even pessimistic, however his concerns lie far from shock or offence as ends in themselves. Ovens’ has an attachment to what he creates which is real and rooted in emotion, with images and their underlying statements delivered with both heart and mind. To the extent that the works employ challenging imagery, they reflect a world wherein things aren’t working well. However, the focus here isn’t only on doom and gloom. There is also humour, humility and hope within the framework of these vibrant and violent post-punk canvases, lensed also through Ovens’ personal political outlook, sexuality, and past traumas, and through visual constructs and devices borrowed underground music culture (in particular the visual structure of 12” vinyl record jackets).

Ever since encountering his Mother’s record collection as a high school student, the design of the 12″ album cover has been a formative visual and structural touchstone for Ovens. Album covers and music from groups Gang of Four, XTC, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and local groups The Bats and The Chills among many others, combined with a love of skateboarding subculture and its vibrant logos and visually-focused branding, have all had a profound impact on Ovens’ aesthetic approach to art and design, especially throughout his teenage life. Ovens transforms these mixed-media elements into artworks intended sometimes as brutal statements, at others open-ended questions concerning the complexities of being.

A topic which has informed much of Ovens’overtly political artworks is that of Nazi German symbology, and more recently the rise of the ‘alt-right’. Ofter, the symbols utilised in some of Ovens’ artworks transcend continents, religions and predate Nazi Germany. The fact that Nazis re-appropriated imagery and symbols from Indian, Chinese and Siberian cultures among many others, claiming them as purely ‘German’, is a concept Ovens toys with. In doing so, he presents a question of Nazi hypocrisy – “if they were as pure and superior as they claimed to be, were was the need to appropriate the symbology of other cultures?” Ovens is unapologetic in his fury, regurgitating ‘Nazi’ imagery – which alt-right bodies have taken to adopting in turn – into images reflecting his worldview and disregard for authority. ‘Swastikas’ are juxtaposed with rainbows, racist skinhead crosses are inverted, confederate stars adorn a a neon pink flag. In his re-appropriation, Ovens rejects traditional and patriarchal values typically associated with fascist and alt-right ideologies, attempting to free these symbols from the negative connotations which haunt them by transforming them into emblems of humour and hope.

Can swastikas ever again be viewed as genuinely beautiful in light of their Nazi connotation. Is it possible to cast our gaze back to a time before their being tarnished by the tragedies of the World Wars? Why give more power to fascist, alt-right whims by fearing their stolen symbols? In presenting viewers with such imagery, the artist asks the viewer to take another look, and to embrace these sometimes difficult questions.

 

Opens – Thursday 2 August, 5.30pm (w. refreshments from Liberty Breweries)
Hours – Tuesday – Saturday, 12.00pm – 4.00pm.
Closes – Saturday 1 September 4.00pm