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Scarlatta Midsumma Exhibition and Events 2017

The Scarlatta Exhibition was held at the St Heliers Galery Abbotsford Convent Melbourne from January 18th to January 29th 2017 as part of Melbourne's Midsumma festival for the GLBTIQ community.
For more information about the venue and show go to https://www.facebook.com/scarlatta2017/
Ecce Homo, Scarlatta by Eureka  Collection Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Venice 2016
Scarlet, the colour of the heart, interrogates notions of both shaming and religious authority.  Back from his 2016 summer Venice residency, Eureka poses the unclothed male figure within Tridentine visual dialectics, exploring tensions between the carnal and the unearthly, veiling and unveiling, exclusion and acceptance and  male and female identities 



Exhibition Development

SCARLATTA – in Venetian dialect an object or woman of great beauty

This exhibition  celebrates our desires, carnal spiritual and artistic that persist despite every effort to suppress them.  Conceived during an artist’s residency at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice  Scarlatta juxtaposes images suppressing freedom with those celebrating it.


These images were taken from the porches of Venetian churches 



I wrote this in my journal after seeing so many of these signs across Venice 

Red rouge rogue beauty coursing with blood sexed up with desires you suppress.
You shame the young the under-clothed the sexually active the heterosexual the backpacker the curious the communicative those wearing shorts or short dresses
Brand us with your shame and we will transform it in our crucible of suffering into something rare and beautiful, we will turn our pain into pleasure



These attempts to restrict the clothing and behaviour of church visitors are in contrast to the images actually inside the churches which involve paintings and statues of near naked saviours prophets and saints often acting out extremely violent scenarios 





During my residency at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Venezia in July this year staff suggested I see the exhibition as contrast between two opposing forces - the desire to cover up, shame regulate bind or exclude and the desire to reveal celebrate and even achieve ecstasy.
In response to this suggestion  and as a part of an ongoing series concerning the body and architecture I developed some new images that photo-montage scarlet plans of a Venetian church onto the unclothed  male image. The church plans both constrain the body and add a strange layer of beauty to it  






Work accepted for the permanent collection Scuola Internazionale di Grafica Venice 
One of these works was subsequently accepted into the permanent collection of the Scuola.

Projection test Venice 
 I also wanted to develop  a performance piece for opening  night with projector and live nude model ( also trialled during the residency )
Trial Projector shoot in Venice 



















On my return from Venice I completed the works between July and December 2016 shooting in my studio at the Abbotsford Convent
my assistant Kris helping with costuming for a shoot
test run using images from Convent site 




 I developed  the concepts behind the work further in conjunction with my curator Domi Cordoba , my artist assistant Kris Tremellen , Light artist ILan El and in collaboration with  models and actors 

At my residency at the Agora program in Berlin in 2014 there was a strong emphasis on developing the conceptual framework of a work using a wide variety of techniques 
Methods I used to develop the conceptual framework further included word association and Word Play such as 

Word Association
Scaraltta  
Maria Scarlatta
Mary Magdalen
Scarlatta Major
Scarlatta Minor
La Scala opera house Maria Calaias
The Scarlet letter A,
Scar 
Blaming bad girls/bad boys
Maria Magdalana
A Portrait in Blame a Portrait in Shame
A Portrait with a Plan
A portrayal of fighting back

and Word Play







P

L
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A
S
U
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B
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S   

C
A
R
L
A
T
T
A





H

O


A
N


B





A

R


M



U





M

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E



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E
C
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A
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Y




The results will include 12 -24 new images in C type photograph , a performance piece and some installation work possibly using the signs and angel themes 

I am also seeking funds to use the exhibition space for several outreach activities including a seminar with Carer's Victoria and a Queer and Alternative Life Drawing Session 


Since coming back from Venice I have come across the poetry of Patricia Sykes who lived in the Convent as a child. Her book The Abbotsford Mysteries published by Spinifex press  
There are many poems that deserve an image but two in particular have really inspired me 

here are some extracts 

Mothers , you hold up how a cat moves, its grace, its sinuous elegance but have you questioned the nature of 
homage? Have you imagined (or is the system too storial, too set) a convent of priests, boy orphans, wayward men on their knees to a female God and hierarchy of priestesses ? ...
  and 

..the river as red aorta ...


and the beginning of my response to these most beautiful poems made even more poignant by the discovery my grand aunt was given asylum here 


After reading Patricia's work I have decided to also reference the Convent itself in the works 


Scarlatta Exhibition and Events at Midsumma

In the end we managed to run five events during the Midsumma exhibition period 


Opening Night and Performance 















Queer Carers and Creativity Event 



Queer and Alternative Life Drawing 



Finissage and Artist's talk 


Rev Dr Michael Kelly Queer Theologian 

Domi Cordoba Exhibition Curator 


Eureka describing his work 




Liturgical Performance Celebrating Queer Spirituality



Exhibition statement prepared by Curator Domi Cordoba

SCARLATTA – The colour of the heart
Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon)

Back from his 2016 summer Venice residence, Eureka poses the unclothed male figure within Tridentine visual dialectic, whilst exploring modern anxieties on the tension between carnal and spiritual, veiling and unveiling, and exclusion and acceptance, in a hypersexualised and Epicurean world. In it, Skepticism about an afterlife has made individuals to abandon themselves to pursue happiness by way of earthly pleasures. It is in this context whereto Eureka’s homoerotic imagery subscribed and, in return, gains lyricism, mysticism and moral significance. The artist recuperates the male body’s spirituality and delightfulness. Traditionally associated as a containment of the soul in its purest Counter-Reformatory spirit, the body is, in its strictest Neo-Platonic sense, to retain its capacity for pleasure. It does however depart away from worldly vanity that is nowadays inexorably predicated by humans’ relentless search for immediate gratification and trivialisation of sexuality.

By contrast, Eureka, through his queer lenses, problematizes the intersection between shaming and celebrating flesh – its desire and rejection may well awake viewers’ urge to either veil or unveil it, to either touch or reject it; to either savour or expel it. In this vein, the artist exorcises the most debased aspects of male nude’s imagery, and proposes a cult of the duality body and soul of the male figure by underpinning his creations with Tridentine notion of the opposites. This is to say between gold and shadow, flame and darkness, blood and night. As Mexican thinker and poet Octavio Paz indicated it is not necessarily a struggle between the life and death; yet life and other life; the world here and the world beyond. The soul is tempted by the body, while the latter is expectant to consume the soul passionately. It is not unsurprising scarlet colour symbolises love and charity, which are two readings often imbued by the reductive nature of fire. Fire has the ability to consume the body and turn it into ashes, hence the importance of martyrdom imagery and autos-de-fé or burning of heretics. In short, the propinquity of scarlet, as an analogy of fire, is to be understood for its purifying agency and thus liberation of the soul from its sufferings. Fire is to be symbolically perceived as transmutation, through prayer, of sexual passion into ‘adamantine indifference’ just as ‘the transfiguration of flesh into spiritual light through fire’ – as was ubiquitous in Counter-Reformatory visual arts and culture of Spain and Italy.[1] This transmutation – or reduction of natural elements to their essence – is eloquently depicted in the rays of lights in the works, Ectasy of the Neophyte, Lamentation of Job or even in The Annunciation of the Abbotsford. These luminous shafts are to be interpreted as the phallus that will transform into a diamond in a similar way in which the tree (the human body) turns into the cross.

In short, this transfiguration epitomises how agony and ecstasy intermingle, thus underscoring what mystics’ literature (St John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul) and Counter-Reformatory visual arts (and Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa come to mind) left us with the predicament that the spirit vanquishes the body, but the body seizes upon the opportunity to glorify itself in the very process of dying.[2] As Paz notes ‘its disaster is its monument’. At its core, the ambivalence between shame and celebration underpins Eureka’s homoerotic imagery as is observed in the representations of male nudes whose martyrdoms do not extinguish pleasure, they elevate it. This is evocatively rendered in ‘Vigil for Lost Innocence’ where the foreshortened figure of a martyr (the artist’s alter ego) is in an ecstatic state under an asphyxiating crimson where an interplay of light and shadow heightens the pathos of such a contested struggle between the body and soul. In this light, art and life, in their inception, share the same origins (matter and energy coming together as time and space become one; for it to take place, it will require an attraction, a passion that only the heart contains and is responsible to unleash it) but with dissimilar ends, as arts is informed by art historical linearity of representation, expression and form. In the current debate of art de-definition, the notion of emotion is paramount. It is thus not far-fetched to observe in Eureka’s visual chant to the flight of the soul from his receptacle, the body, as a metaphor of liberation of the queer arts in his creation as mystically depicted in Annunciation at the Abbotsford Convent. Here the foreshortened figure (the artist alter-ego again), personifying the Holy Spirit, hovers on this occasion over the Abbotsford Convent, and equally embraces the liberation of male nude from the shackles of bigotry, the gazes of dogmatism, and the tastes for aesthetic puritanism.  



Domi Córdoba Exhibition Curator Scarlatta 2017





[1] Octavio Paz, Conjunctions and Disjunctions, Wildwood House, London, 1969, 26-27.
[2] I thank the artist by bringing to my attention St John of the Cross’s poem Noche mas oscura (‘Dark night of the soul’).



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