Honours, Victorian College of the Arts
By Michael Gentle
There is something gag-worthy about a gloryhole situated within refurbished police stables. The space that houses the VCA Honours studios was purpose-built in 1912 for the Victorian Police’s Mounted Branch. In 2019, it was converted into the ‘The Stables’, Melbourne’s premier hot-girl homestead. Old-timey decay manifests itself throughout, in the guise of rusting horse tie rings positioned in each bay, unsuspecting relics of the past that–after encountering Zane Edwards and Andrea Illés’ work–I can’t unsee as gloryholes. Freud would call it uncanny, Shklovsky would say estrangement, I however want to dig a little deeper.
Edwards’ installation infests the bathroom spaces, a queering of the architecture that estranges our normative conceptions of private/public dichotomies. As You Stand There (2023), a looped video portrait depicting Edwards moving between states of nakedness and dress, features a distinct cut out–a glory hole. A pair of white Calvin Kleins are the final interface between exposure and modesty. The same pair inconspicuously hang behind one of the stall doors–a very gay and amusingly grim rendition of a #mycalvins campaign. Edwards’ blank expression sits at odds with the complete (98%?) nude, a notable absence of the erotic you might expect when faced with full frontal. Rather, these subtle spatial interventions ask us to question heteronormative histories of place.
Down the hall, Andrea Illés has taken a little more care with their glory hole: slumped on the floor are knee pads for a comfortable visit, and a soundscape for atmosphere (how considerate!). Glory (2023) joins a suite of installations that construct liminal spaces which rest between queer utopia and dystopia. After nestling into the knee pads, I peered into the hole and was met with … a video? The montage reveals crumbling, fractured classical bodies in contrast with ‘cam-girls’. The PowerPoint-esque morphing between each figure traces the historiography of erotic desire towards femme bodies. By invading the space, our presence brings to light the confusing state of gloryholes more generally: anonymous fantasias or public reckonings. Performativity is integral here: the audiences’ bodies are called to action, forced to contort to queered scale and proportion.
Illés’ installations Dressing Room/The 16st of March (2023) occupy the two bays next door. In the first bay, vanity lights frame a camcorder, live-streaming the subject before it (us). The most striking element in the room, however, is the photographed sex-doll, which in each of the spaces makes aloof eye contact with the audience (much like Zane Edwards). In Dressing Room (2023), the sex-doll portrait has been zombified, lying flat on what appears to be a discarded mattress; throughout, the erotic has become the object of artifice and deterioration.
In the final bay, The 16st of March (2023), the anonymous sex-doll has been spliced with a skull, half anatomical, half plastic. The two images have been configured in an ‘X’ that, as you revolve around, reveals successively the doll, the skull, and then the hybrid skeletal-doll. Over the course of the two spaces, the motif has turned into protagonist. I’m beginning to wonder if they have a name. The sexuality inherent in the doll is doubly mediated through its artifice and photographic format; our relationship with the person/character/hole/synthetic lover is muddied once more. Gorgeous eye makeup, though.
After straining my neck to examine a few too many gloryholes, I’m left with an odd tingling, a light dizziness and a quaint feeling of exhaustion. It was the gas leak that had swept over the VCA precinct, engulfing The Stables and thus catalysing my swift departure.
Michael Gentle is a writer and curator based in Naarm.