Michael Shaowanasai, Iron Pussy, 1999

Persuasion brings together Thai artist Michael Shaowanasai and Vietnamese born, Singapore based Toby Huynh. As you enter Shaowanasai’s installation you are immediately greeted by a freestanding painting of a headless Muscle Mary. A cut-out provides enough space for your to pop you head through, while you await your head shot. The tone is carnivalesque and allows you to be someone else for a moment, however caricatured. 

Central to Shaowanasai’s installation is a go-go strip-stage, equipped with a soundtrack of handy hints on how to throw off inhibition, and assume the guise of a what Shaowanasai calls a “good exotic person”. Instead of encouraging a striptease of exhibitionism, Shaowanasai promotes self­ motivational narratives, Oprah-style. Along the gallery walls are fantasy-­fuelled phrases that describe fast love, accented with occasional anxiety.

Part of the success of Shaowanasai’s installation is its interactivity, and the way he occupies the space like a bouncer on Prozac or a carnival attendant whose biggest prize is love. Had Shaowanasai not been an essential part of viewing this piece, as he was on the opening night, I wonder whether the installation would have been so interesting.

Toby Huynh occupies the other space at 4A. Balancing Shaowanasai’s quirky glamour fits is the languid seriousness of Huynh’s photo installation Persuasion. Eighteen black and white digital prints are suspended from the ceiling in triptych formations. A narrative in three acts, Huynh’s images visualise traditional hetero wedding rituals, sandwiched by reconstituted porn and portraits of the artist with her partner.

Mounted on large sheets of transparent perspex, the images suggest competing states of ritual and desire. It becomes increasingly difficult to separate the dissimilar narratives as Buddhist ritual bleeds into the queer moment. The bubbled surface gives the prints a textured depth that annuls archival consideration.

Paired with the lively spectacle of Shaowanasai’s work, Huynh’s installation seems earnest in comparison. Huynh’s work lingers long in the imagination, while Shaowanasai’s go-go installation is an amphetamine rush, designed to fade in time with the chemicals.

Judging by the title of the show, one would think that the work is about the processes of being convinced about something, or perhaps even the dated idea that someone’s sexuality is their ‘persuasion’. Both installations certainly convince the viewer to assume polar states of consciousness, smartly curated by Melissa Chiu to signal a diversity of queer expression.

Re-edited, December 2021

Toby Huynh, Persuasion, 2000

Review of Persuasion at Gallery 4A, Sydney, 16 February – 11 March 2000.

Published by Sydney Star Observer, 24 February in 2000.