Sarah Baker, Craig Fisher, Dawn Mellor
James Unsworth, Roy Voss, Scottee
Curated by Gavin Ramsey
11 July - 1 August 2015
Private View 10 July, 6 - 9pm.
camp 2 Informal
1. effeminate or homosexual
2. consciously artificial, vulgar, or affected
In her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp[i] Susan Sontag states “to talk about camp is therefore to betray it” and this act of heresy can only be defended if “it will be for the edification it provides, or the dignity of the conflict it resolves.” “Betrayal” seeks to explore Sontag’s reflections on Camp and facilitate such a discussion.
A diverse and often hard to pigeonhole sensibility, Sontag gives references ranging from the theatre to the decorative arts in order to define her interpretation of Camp. Often overlooked due to snobbery and esotericism Sontag argues that despite its frivolous and ostentatious nature Camp art and the artist’s intent should be considered seriously. “Betrayal” continues this argument by exhibiting six artists whose work can all be discussed under the banner of Camp.
Sarah Baker’s passion for independent, power dressing women that could have been lifted right out of a Jackie Collins novel can be seen to work in direct relation to Sontag’s suggestion of the androgyny that is often at play within Camp. “What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine…” Baker’s work for “Betrayal” proposes the canonisation of Collins, an indisputable cult Camp icon of our time, and takes the form of an interview between the artist and the novelist and a series of intimate photographic portraits of Collins.
Craig Fisher’s sculptural works are testament to a recurring and overarching element of Camp, that of artifice and exaggeration. “Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural.” Becoming Corinthians of Camp within the context of “Betrayal”, Fisher presents a static situation of chaos in the form of a series of fake explosions, oversized tools and an escape hole that could be on loan from the ACME Corporation.
Dawn Mellor turns the spotlight Sontag has cast onto ‘Camp’ back onto herself by producing a series of portraits of the writer for the exhibition. Mellor’s paintings of celebrities play into Camp’s glorification of character. By utilising imagery culled from the mass media of these celebrities, interjected with her own moments of Camp hysteria, Mellor highlights how often figures in the public eye can achieve such Herostratic status that they become inseparable from their public personas.
Performance Artist Scottee deals with cause and effect for his contribution to “Betrayal”. Deftly rebuking Sontag’s arguments, Scottee has appointed himself the role of defender of the Camp and will be exploring alternative outcomes to key events in recent Camp history; in particular focussing on the birth of Judy Garland.
James Unsworth’s prints are evocative of the 18th Century gothic origins of Camp. Utilising velvet fabric and luminous metallic printing processes, they are also an apt illustration of how to succeed in Camp according to Sontag “the hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”
Roy Voss challenges the curatorial rigor of ‘Betrayal’ by exchanging his piece ‘Camp’ with ‘Galloping Horses’ from the Chinese restaurant next door to the gallery. For the duration of the exhibition, Voss’ piece will be exhibited in the restaurant and the restaurant’s picture will be hung in the gallery. Through the displacement of one work from its high art context and the other from its decorative context it is hoped that the viewer will consider the works more carefully as they camp out in their new homes.
Originally published 25 years ago it is pertinent to note the relevance of Sontag’s references for a contemporary audience. Sontag also argues “Camp taste is by its nature [...] possible only in affluent societies, capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence”, considering this in light of the current economic climate, “Betrayal” is both appropriate and timely.
[i] Sontag, S. (2001), ‘Notes on Camp’,Vintage Books, London.