by Natalie Furnas
Inside the centrally located windowed room of the Adelaide City Council Art Pod there is an inverted protest. Megan Cope’s Resistance is a sculptural installation relying on the symbolic forms of the protest poster. The signs reframe normative slogans of idiosyncratically Australian identity politics taken from television and political media, and hang upside down in the 24/7 fishbowl. In black and white this protest is re-contextualised to represent the discordance of opinions surrounding identity, eschewing the power of a single voice.
The visual language employed in Resistance is purposefully political and tied to the history of protest, therefore anticipating action, yet there remains an overwhelming sense of failure to act. The looseness of the signs suggest the agency of the conventional protest idiom, which is typified by a single perspective, or a clear concept of what is being opposed. But Cope has inverted this quality, instead positioning the signs to reveal an internal chaos and lack of cohesion from within; the combination of perspectives creating a confused resistance.
In 2013 as part of Sovereignty at ACCA, Resistance was displayed in a pile, like remnants of an abandoned protest. Here, at Art Pod, this iteration appears to be referencing the values and possible failures of protests by flipping the symbolic action of protest on its head. Through these alterations within its display, what is being resisted?
Cope provocatively re-distributes the hierarchy of language, suspended in space and time. Slogans represent both insult and the internalised response of the subject of that insult with signs that read “Entitlement Scheme” but infer “Elimination”. Ultimately this redistribution confounds the viewer’s perspective entangling somewhat clear statements with divided opinion.
Does this disconnection intentionally suggest that the slogans are not grounded in reality, but are merely empty rhetoric used to divide? Or, is the installation a performative gesture where the juxtaposition between discriminator and discriminated compels audiences to question who is resisting and who is being resisted? Both options seem valid, but whose voices are louder? Who has the power here? Overall an unclear conversation is occurring between the signs. If Cope’s intention is to follow the tradition of addressing the social injustice of negative identity labels, a method used by Gordon Bennett and Vernon Ah Kee, the installation is lacking in clear communication, and is perhaps only intending to be provocative for the sake of it.
The installation is dealing with a difficult subject, where it would be ineffective and derivative to scream ‘Abo, Boong, Coon’, as her forbearers were able to when Australians needed a screaming wake-up call to the culturally ingrained rhetoric of discrimination. However, in today’s politically correct climate, a loud protest is not as effective, perhaps, as a continued and sustained recognition of the insidious forms employed in identity politics. Importantly, to the post-colonial sensibility, Cope has also added the popular discrimination against refugees coming to Australia, such as “Stop the Boats”, which is of course still ironic in the context of Australian history.
There are many possible interpretations in the potential meanings aroused by the use of form and media, therefore the installation is compelling as an addition to contemporary post-colonial interrogation in Australian art, and it is relevant to consider the subtleties that Cope is attempting to convey in Resistance.