What Next?: Spence Messih

Spence Messih’s practice uses sculpture, installation, photography and text to explore the potential of forms and materials to communicate trans(gender) experience.

Words: Kate Britton

Photography: Fiona Susanto

WHY PAY ATTENTION?

Spence Messih is an artist firmly on curatorial and institutional radars. They were a 2017 finalist in the NSW Visual Art Emerging Fellowship, and in the last two years have been included in notable exhibitions such as the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s Unfinished Business: Perspectives on Art and Feminism (2017), Artspace Sydney’s Superposition of three types (2017), and Wayfind at Melbourne’s West Space, as part of Next Wave 2018. A return to exhibition practice after more than a year’s hiatus, Messih’s 2017 solo THE LOOK BACK at Alaska Projects in Sydney was a sign of things to come – thoughtful, restrained, and critically well-received.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

Messih’s practice uses sculpture, installation, photography and text to explore the potential of forms and materials to communicate trans(gender) experience.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Drawing on the languages of abstraction and minimalism, Messih investigates the physical, systemic and psychological structures that try – and often fail – to support us. Recent work has seen utilitarian materials such as steel in dialogue with sand, tile mosaic, glass, and text, creating work that is at once inviting and impenetrable.

THE ARTIST SAYS…

“The new series [to be exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Primavera 2018] challenges the notion that representation is synonymous with visibility. It disputes the implication that this visibility should be experienced as an inherently productive force for those being represented. Through language, form and material the series explores how cis-heteronormative power structures feel on a bodily level and how they fundamentally intend to keep certain bodies on the outside […] The works demand silent direction and coercion, secretly orienting bodies. The hard steel structures interrogate care and safety and suggest power structures that make soft lives hard to live.”

SEE IT AT…

Upcoming projects include The moan echoes, a collaboration with Archie Barry alongside Power & Imagination at the National Gallery of Australia; group show In a world of wounds at Artbank; a solo at Bus Projects, Melbourne, and split-solo at Auto Italia in London; and Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Work for these projects has evolved out of a recent research trip to numerous queer archives in North America, taking both conceptual and material inspiration from histories of trans masculine people such as Lou Sullivan and Reed Erickson.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 86 OCT – DEC, 2018.

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