The Romantic Grind

It was Valentine’s Day yesterday, and given the anti- in my soul, it would have passed me by completely if it weren’t for the ABC Radio Nation Love Poetry feature during which luminaries such as Michael Kirby, Marcia Langton and Father Bob Maguire recorded their favourite love poem.

Many of those included were unsentimental and unexpected, with Maguire’s nomination of Mohammed Ali’s “me – we” as an expression of universal love and the possibility of community connection, making the point that quality love poems are not sugar coated. The inclusion of poetry, historical and contemporary, showed the changing nature of love across the centuries.

A shift in the contemporary approach to love and the associated social mores also speaks to Jay Younger’s exhibition, shown last year at Logan Art Gallery. Her Logan Hypno Grind set out to explore the contemporary understanding of love and marriage with interviews from both the local Logan demographic and her Queensland College of Art colleagues and friends. These were juxtaposed with romantic depictions from old movies, seductive in their fantastic elements, overhyped musical tracks and rose tinted light.[i]

Younger’s installations often incorporate unusual elements – regular props are concrete mixers and sugar. This time the mixers are coated in and mix sugar, are suspended from the ceiling and vibrate, with an uncomfortably loud grind dominating the darkened space.

Screens inside the mixers’ open, vulnerable mouths played Younger’s interviews over a sea of moving sugar. One screened stories from individuals who had either proposed marriage or been proposed to. The other related stories from those who had had neither of these experiences. The solidity and functionality of concrete contrasted with the intrinsically fragile nature of relationships and marriage.

The old movies played on a loop on the back wall. Younger put together a composite video of dated classics like Gone With the Wind, From Here to Eternity and Moonlight Bay, and within them vignettes of high drama selected for the climactic clinch and kiss and marriage proposal moments, powerfully evoking the smoke and mirrors intrinsic to old-style romance.  The formality and choreographed drama of these historical depictions of relationships provided a marked contrast to the casual informality of the contemporary discussion being screened in the mixers.

The flux of sugar under the image of the faces was mesmerizing, as was the subject matter from Younger’s interviews. Romance is hard-wired into humanity yet the unsentimental dispassion which many of the ‘never proposed to or proposed’ individuals evoked conveyed a harrowing sense of the alienation possible in modern society. Others clearly wanted to believe. The intense interest shown, in broader society, in the fairytale marriage of William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge provided a subtext.

Also expressed in the contemporary material was a strong resistance to ceremony, an interest in having a relationship without traditional strictures, and their divergent hopes and realities, with ‘idealised’ romance in the old movies seen variously with horror and envy. An economy of approach to life expressed the big wedding as gross overconsumption.

Watching people speak about intimate matters transformed the viewer into voyeur, a sense heightened by the darkened room, pink lighting and the strong shadows from the light outside the door. The positioning of the mixers meant the viewer’s back was to the entry – the noise meant it was impossible to hear others enter the room, adding to the illicit nature of listening in to these private matters.

From climactic violins to the grating of the mixer, Younger challenged the traditions and contemporary realities of relationships within this installation as a gritty manifestation of modern love. Tightly expressed and pithy in its construction, it treated the stories offered with care, injecting reality into fantasy with an effective capture of the slippery nature of the real amidst the prosaic nature of reality.“>

Jay Younger: Logan Hypno Grind, Logan Art Gallery,

10 August to 17 September 2011.

[i]These movies include classics such as Female, Gone with the Wind, Oklahoma, Lady Eve, A Star is Born (original), Goodbye Mr Chips, Moonlight Bay, Woman of the Year and From Here to Eternity.