Adam Geczy’s latest exhibition, S/M Wonderland, straddles the pert and manicured lap of the fine arts, eroticism and sexual subculture. On display at the Australian Centre for Photography until May 18, the exhibition features a motley display of characters… goth babydolls, tattooed dom- femmes, sadist dwarfs, prettyboy subs and a host of carnivalesques parade through Geczy’s own very colourful descent into madness. Jonathan McBurnie, wearing a white pleather gimp-mask, interviews the artist.
Jonathan McBurnie (JM): This exhibition obviously references Alice in Wonderland. What led you to this text? Is it a story you have a personal connection with, or is it more the license it allows through its many interpretations that attracted you? How closely did you stick to this source material?
Adam Geczy (AG):To be honest the idea just appeared in my head after Kon Gouriotis, the former director of the ACP, commissioned the project from me. I had done a lot of thinking about the issue of children, and had also been a commentator during the Bill Henson debacle. As a father, and seeing my children evolve, I became more intrigued to see their various inner lives come to the surface. I wanted to address the now obscenely taboo issue of children¹s sexuality without resorting to what, to my mind, is the rather glib strategy of taking their clothes off which is guaranteed to shock any place any time. As we all know, the Alice story is laced with sublimated and veiled sexuality anyway. I wanted to design sequences in which the audience’s ‘dirty little secrets’ would also be elicited.
JM: Many of these works to me seemed to be very Helmut Newton-esque, both in their dark sexiness and their formal power. What kind of an influence has Newton had upon you?
AG: A pretty huge one. He is probably too ‘big’ for me to have tackled at a less mature age. Newton revolutionised fashion photography, and although he never called himself an artist, also revolutionised art and fashion itself. I am drawn to the way his work undermines convention, the way beauty is often inflected by the grotesque, and the way in which he confronts desire head on. His works are very absorbing and his eroticism is very edgy, but it is paradoxically very real yet unattainable. It is this cat and mouse of the unattainability of the desired object that I find compelling in his work.
JM: I often find that there is a level of impenetrability in his work also. Newton seems to let you in on his little jokes, his kinks, his desires, but there is always an invisible barrier too. He never gives away too much of himself. Did you find a balance for yourself between revealing and distancing within the S/M Wonderland works?
AG: That’s a really good question. I did know that a lot of the styling and menace would speak for itself to be honest. I was in the shoot as you know and it is important that I am wearing masks. You’ll notice the mask changes in the second half. The ‘othering’ of this mannered thetaricalisation is what, I hope, conveys things with more purpose that if it had been done too earnestly.
JM: This was a big production involving many people. Obviously there are great advantages to this, which culminate in the extravagance and scope of the final art works, but were there any difficulties in navigating the project? And how tightly would you say your control over the whole affair was?
AG:It was a massive undertaking but vastly rewarding. In many ways it is better than how imagined it would be. I am enormously grateful to the performers, and the designers, especially David Cranson for their creative input. The cinematographer, Rodrigo Vidal Dawson was also excellent. Making films is always a group enterprise and to think to have too much control is to run a steady course to losing it!
JM: But you didn’t lose it? Did you ever come close?
AG: I yelled at my son, Marcel, at one stage, but he’s cool with that; he knew we had to get a job done and that I’m a perfectionist. As for the rest, when things go awry and they can’t be changed you need to let it be and improvise in the best direction.
JM: You appear in the film and photographs yourself, so you have worked with some of the actors very closely, and for very long periods of time. Obviously you relied on a certain generosity of energy from your cast, which included one of your sons. How would you describe working so closely, almost collaboratively, with your actors?
AG: I’d be careful of using the word collaboratively. Yes I am very close to these people, many of whom are my students and others some of my closest friends. But I did run the show. That is not to say that they did not have to make decisions and improvise on their own. They did so magnificently. But I think also it was the familiarity with these people that allowed them to understand my headspace. They know that my sensibility can go in multiple directions, and that I like things that shake the tree a bit. I only worked with one son, the eldest. He was magnificent: such focus and such poise. I look forward to working with the younger soon. I’ll find an excuse.
JM: Which brings me to my last question: what is next for Adam Geczy?
AG: I want to do a series on the Renaissance Humours: Sanguine, Melancholy, Phlegm and Bile. I want to start with two: Sanguine and Bile. It will be vaudevillian and weird again, but the look will be more Harlequin. I guess the wall painting in the installation of the show anticipated that. There will also be a sort of Don Quixote—Sancho Paza to it. I will be the former and Markela, who played Alice, will be in drag and this time straight faced and I think maybe in a red suit. They’ll be sumptuousness, poetry, menace and magic.