Words: Sebastian Henry-Jones
EJ Son continued presenting highly imaginative and playful work across artist-run and institutional spaces all over the country in 2022; in Sydney, Perth, Newcastle, Adelaide and Melbourne (twice). Their multidisciplinary practice collapses preconceived ideas of – among other things – gender, sexuality, Asian-Australian artistic practice, conventional careerism, as well as rigid ideas around who art is for and who can make it. Son was responsible for perhaps the biggest moment in the emerging Sydney arts scene this year, for their solo presentation 댄싱머신: Dancing machine at Firstdraft – a comedically humongous, stuffed teddy bear attached to a motor causing it to sway from side to side. With an in-built surveillance camera inside the teddy bear’s left eye, the work troubled regular visitations and proceedings at Firstdraft, tempering its high entertainment value with a sinister reminder of our context of surveillance capital today.
There is an exuberance to Son’s making, giving one the sense that the gallery space is just one place to show projects that the artist can’t stop themselves from pursuing.
They have a regular and private practice of rearranging the art, furniture and appliances in their home much like a gallery, and when speaking with Son, they give the impression of not minding whether most of the things they make are shared with an artistic public or not. Certainly, a material engagement with being in the world forms the length and breadth of the artist’s practice, rather than the narrow scope of meaning-making afforded to those working conventionally in the arts. With its inclusion of a camera pointed at audience members, 댄싱머신: Dancing machine seamlessly undermined the frailties, limitations and historic power-dynamics formulated within the conservative format for engaging with art known as the white cube. For an artist who has spent the last few years avoiding making work that plays into the spectacle of the facile identity politics expected of them, it makes perfect sense – and plays out as an artistic strategy – to redirect attention to the architectures, histories and publics who perpetuate those assumptions. The infectious energy generated by Son’s creations prompts those beholding them to care less about the rigid structures and professionalism of the arts, and more about the sensuous feelings of joy and wonder that art and creativity can induce.
Featured image: Artist Ej Son. Photo: Anna Kucera.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 103, January-March 2023.