Drawing and Printmaking, Victorian College of the Arts
By Louise Frith
Picture Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill, fearing that its weight could make it fall back down and crush him. Hidden away in the back room of the Printmaking and Drawing Department in the 2023 Graduate Exhibition at the Victorian College of the Art are two artworks by Olivia Dupé. In a similar manner to Sisyphus, Dupé battles with the everyday challenge of life. On first impression this might be a critique of the success-driven expectations of university. However, the artworks expand beyond art school into the continuation of pressures within day-to-day life. Within the turmoil of her art, darkness exists, but small rays of hope shine through.
Suppressed emotions or undigested trauma …”
These are the first few words screen-printed on Dupé’s artwork One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy (2023). Three cream manila folders swing open off the wall like books on a shelf waiting to be read, but the files are missing. Each holds a screen-print that stains the cover. Three puzzles I must look closer at to decipher. A grim length of text, a collapsing ceiling, and a destroyed sidewalk. In the open interior of the folder there is nothing but blank emptiness. On the opposite wall is yet another manila folder, depicting a power outlet falling out of a wall. This artwork presents a dramatic contrast. On one side damage and destruction in the face of pressure. On the other an overwhelming emptiness. The combined effect of this artwork rings with anxiety, confusion, and loss of control.
On the floor nearby Dupé has arranged a mishmash of objects that comprise her second, more optimistic artwork. Full Potential (2023), spans the length of the gallery. It includes objects such as a scribbled planner on a whiteboard, motivational notebooks, a yoga mat, and a pin board with three paint swatches titled “potential” pinned on the left side. With this artwork Sisyphus is finally able to peer over the crest of the hill. Whereas the first artwork was shrouded in darkness, this work presents a glimmer of light and positivity. “I am of strong heart and steel body. I am vigorous, energetic, and full of vitality.” This quote sweeps across the pin board, presenting a different face to the artist experienced in One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy. In Dupé’s artist statement, the artist refers to “trying and failing” and “a loss of control and the desire to regain it.”
But is this genuine positivity? Or just an ironic interpretation of resignation to suffering, represented through naive coping strategies? By exhibiting the two artworks together, Dupé has created a small window into the range of emotions, struggles, and coping strategies connected with challenges of life.
When first coming across these works, they are easy to overlook. However, once seen, I was compelled to look closer. And that’s when I realised it. It is the subtlety of Dupé’s artworks that makes them so thought-provoking. Dupé shows her own boulder that she’s pushing up the hill, and in doing so the different facets of her own personality. On one side she feels engulfed in the Sisyphean struggles of life. Yet on the other there is an openness to the possibility of lightening the load. A journey that resonates with each and every one of us.
Louise Frith is an emerging curator and writer based in Melbourne.