Text and Interview: Monica Uszerowicz
Images Courtesy of the Artist
No matter how tongue-in-cheek, Clare Longley’s work feels tactilely visceral—like you can touch it or hold it or get the sense it’s miming your own insides. Putty-flecked lithographs, hands photographed mid-clasp, flesh-colored paint on a fleshy belly, curtains decorated with images of soft seashells and obscuring nothing: Longley examines the sensuous, complex, and sometimes strange parts of being a tender human in a world that can feel equally titillating and unwelcoming.
The Melbourne-based interdisciplinary artist and curator’s solo show, Thanks for Having Me, is now on view at BLINDSIDE, an artist-run initiative and project space in Melbourne. While Longley intended to showcase something broad, something about humanity, it developed into a series of deeply personal pieces. For Longley, the show was a good study in moving through a particular idea until discovering how multifaceted it is. Though the show’s original description stated that Thanks for Having Me “draws from recognized visual artifices and stimulators known to arouse a sense of pleasure…[and] explores how universal bedrocks of attractiveness influence the way we design and are drawn to images and spaces that delight and give pleasure,” Longley states that, during installation, “I realized I had made a show about falling in love in the summer.”
This isn’t so much disappointing as it is an exciting testament to how the artistic process inevitably leads to a shift in dynamic and perspective. As Longley explains:
I set out with these big ideas that were super exciting to me, which are described in the original press release, but somehow I couldn’t quite get there in the end. I want, to be honest about it sometimes not being able to get ‘there’ with making art, because everyone experiences it, and when it’s something that is so intricately connected to your heart and soul, this can be really taxing. It was still really helpful to have this conceptual starting point for making the work but I think it has now revealed itself to be something slightly different.
The work is soft-colored, dappled with sunsets, and seems more reflective of Longley’s own inner emotional landscape than a commentary on universal ideology:
Recently I have been obsessed with sunsets, sunsets as a primary experience, on the horizon or over the water, but also the commercial reproduction of sunsets in the form of stock images, posters, cheap art used to decorate hotels and lobbies. I think everyone finds sunsets beautiful. Sunsets make you feel all kinds of feelings: sexy, sleepy, natural, peaceful. I think there is such thing as universal beauty, like that of a sunset over the water; I am curious about how we manipulate natural beauty in an unnatural context. That said, I don’t think this exhibition ended up riding that wave completely. I don’t see it as a failure, though, just something different than what was planned, influenced by the personal and the now.
Consider the ubiquity of falling in love, watching a sunset spread across the sky, its pink tones like the color of whatever rosy warmth you’re feeling—it’s simultaneously profoundly subjective and wholly universal. Perhaps in turning inward and making her most intimate work yet—not about the body, but about her body—she’s reflecting us back at ourselves, too.
I am curious about how we manipulate natural beauty in an unnatural context.
Thanks for Having Me is on view through June 17 at BLINDSIDE, Room 14, Level 7, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000, Australia.