Peter Maloney, Is this the way to Round-the-World? 1998

Two weeks after Mardi Gras climaxed some festival exhibitions linger, but it is the Australian Centre for Photography’s offering that provides more than just a recovery drug for the throbbing post-party hangover. Peter Maloney and art2go venture into the gay male psyche with exhibitions that are diametrically opposed in tone and mood but maintain a surface level of queer celebration that, when uncovered, is beset with loss and decay.

The world is flat for Peter Maloney. Is this the way to Round-the-World? is an exhibition that flattens all traces of personal history into a series of photomontages. It is the intensely layered exchange between the series of 26 paired images and their superimposed texts that makes them jump out of their frames with a vivid spatiality.

A sense of narrative sets these works in motion, however fractured and diseased it may be. Reading is required, but to read these images is to blow them out of all proportion. Dorian Corey, legendary diva from Paris is Burning, describes reading as a process of violation: once “you’ve found a flaw and exaggerated it, then you’ve got a good read going”. The same can be said of Maloney’s images. To read them is to twist and amplify their power and sting – unease and disease.

Maloney’s work is unsafe and that is what makes it so appealing. Originating from private archives and porn, his images are tainted with themes of history and religion, desire and loss. In toy a portrait of a boy clutching his soft toy is accompanied by the image of a teen hungrily clutching his hard toy, ready to ejaculate.

Ladies come in dreams introduces drag. The queen is dead on a tiled floor; a piece of prose stamped on the image like an epitaph spelling out the context for her death by drag. This melodramatic “homocide” is powerful and maintains a black humour, without being overtly celebratory (as would be expected for a Mardi Gras exhibition). It is worth noting that this wonderfully ascetic exhibition is chaperoned by Bruce James’ catalogue essay which in itself reads like piece of art.

James Barrett and Robin Forster are the duo behind art2go, and their exhibition Vertigo is a superficial homage to disco beefcake. A series of pornstar portraits, a grid of origami shapes and a mini disco slide show redefine the notion of vertigo. Or at least attempt to. 

Art2go appropriate gay male narratives straight out of the 70s. Behind a thick black curtain, a disco awaits. A mirror ball revolves from the ceiling with slides of refracted boyflesh approximating a cruisy kaleidoscope. In the main installation, familiar pornstars pout and preen. and are censored by a thin veil of wax applied on the photographic surface. Then the viewer plays scratch ‘n’ sniff with the work and the erotic promise of the censored image is diminished when a series of faces are revealed instead of hard flesh. (Warhol’s 1963 film Blow Job did a similar job in its focus on the facial expressions of the receiver, not giver of pleasure.)

Presenting in a festival promoting a 20 year (r)evolution of sexual identity, art2go slip into anachronistic excess. While Maloney unveils the narrative of a private paradise lost and regained, art2go remix the 70s aesthetic with no clear sense of transgression or subversion. Reminded of the faulty mirror ball crushing unsuspecting revellers at a dance party in recent times – this offers more shock or vertigo than what art2go offers.

Re-edited, December 2021

Review of Peter Maloney's Is this the way to Round-the-World? and art2go's Vertigo at Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 20 February - 21 March 1998.

Published by Sydney Star Observer, 19 March in 1998.