Memento Mori, Mate.
Photographic Series /2018
Memento Mori, Mate is a series that plays on notions of mortality, identity, place and humour. Taking on visual and symbolic queues from the Dutch Vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th century, the work reimagines this genre in an Australiana context. It further examines the human tendency of projecting narratives, sentiment and symbolism upon objects.
Consisting of three parts, the images are designed to work both individually and as a triptych, a form often found in early Christian art, further pointing to the religious undertones found throughout Vanitas paintings.
A chiko roll sits atop a book entitled ‘Ars Moriendi’ (the art of dying), the title given to a body of Christian literature dating back to the early fifteenth century. Texts that provided guidance on how to die well, offering advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death. A fallen VB tinnie replaces the tipped fine glassware often found in traditional vanitas paintings, whilst a lit Winnie blue expels the smoke akin to that of an extinguished candle. An empty goon bag hides amongst an abundance of native flora, a postcard dating back to 1905 illustrating a tranquil scene of Botany Bay sits purposefully beneath a copy of Paradise Lost.
The transience of life, the futility of earthly goods and the certainty of death, are all underlying themes found within vanitas paintings, themes which Memento Mori, Mate endeavours to replicate. The work plays on humour, in particular the tradition of self deprecating humour through utilising both traditional and contemporary pop culture Australiana. Though the work contains an abundance of religious symbolism, it does not aim to endorse religion but rather explore it’s relevance and continuing prevalence in contemporary society.
The table number ‘4’ sits idly beside a plate of sizzling Mongolian lamb. The number four being an unlucky omen in Chinese superstition, literally a symbol of death. A broken fortune cookie reveals the message ‘Remember that you must die’, a direct translation of the latin text ‘Memento Mori’. Next to it lies another discarded fortune, ‘nothing was ever so unlike itself’, taken from a 1654 Dutch portrait painting by Govert Flink.
Memento Mori, Mate (Still Life with Chinese Banquet for four) continues to explore notions of mortality whilst also exploring the history of Chinese/Australian culture, navigating the artist’s personal heritage. The Chinese Restaurant has been a notable part of Australian culture over the last half century. During the 1970’s and 1980’s it became a fixture as a place to celebrate a special occasion. More often than not a banquet would consist of sweet and sour pork, special fried rice and mongolian lamb, finished with a fried ice cream. Within contemporary Australian food culture, these westernised Chinese dishes are no longer regarded as fine dining, yet their importance lies in their existence as symbols of cultural exchange at a time when Australia was a very different place.
‘The Poyin’, named after the artist’s mother was a Chinese Restaurant run by her family in the late 70’s and 80’s in suburban Sydney. It was the opportunity that allowed them to escape poverty in China and Hong Kong and immigrate to Australia, enabling a journey to belonging. The old menu and business card featuring handwritten text by her late grandfather can be found amongst the mountain of dishes.
These westernised Chinese meals that sit in abundance and grandeur act as a humorous reflection of the artist’s own mixed race identity.
The contents from the first two works lie scattered amongst an overfill of trash, acting as a culmination of the three works.A broken VB bottle lies haphazardly atop a water logged yellow pages open to the funeral directors section. An empty Chicken Mcnugget box pokes out of the bin, a play on the term ‘Bin Chicken’ one of the names given to Ibises in contemporary Australian pop culture. A resilient but often misunderstood native species, the ibis migrated to the coast after it’s habitat in the interior wetlands diminished in the 1970s. In turn it is now often found in the inner city, scavenging in bins and landfill for food. A nod towards it’s history can be found in the ibis skull nestled amongst the carnage.
Memento Mori, Mate (Still Life with Ibis) plays heavily on humour whilst acting as a social comment on contemporary Australian society. Certain elements such as a discarded Daily Telegraph, a crumpled Westconnex flyer act as small pointers towards what could be considered a lack of innovation and progressive change.