Sex: An Exercise in Boredom

Kushana Bush Kushana Bush

Kushana Bush

“All Things To All Men” exhibition at Hocken Collection
25 February - 14 April

There is a curious gathering occurring in the middle of nowhere. A dark-skinned man in a party hat seems to be the center of attention. Busy figures swarm around him, carrying out various tasks. An unknown person with their back to the viewer examines the man’s chest, while a beady-eyed woman in a rose-printed shirt and what appears to be large blue underwear looks on. A young boy with dark shadows circling his eyes is underfoot. Many of these figures are sporting bright yellow gloves, the kind used for washing the dishes.

It’s all very odd. Everything is normal, and yet it isn’t. It’s a feeling that encapsulates Kushana Bush’s “All Things to All Men” exhibition in a nutshell: a dazzling visual display of gouache and pencil on paper, capturing peculiar mixtures of people and things through delicately etched patterns and prints and a powerfully muted colour palette. Bush presents a world in which a permeating sense of uncanny civility seems to hover just slightly out of reach, a world at once alluring and unsettling.

The variety of multiracial figures depicted in her paintings, alongside their bizarre and inexplicable acts, overwhelmingly challenges the idea of any cultural, social or ideological norm. The tasks being carried out, ones we might consider to be quite normal – meeting with friends, eating supper, sex – are described through Bush’s art in such a way that causes us to question their very essence. A woman with naked young children clinging to her dress glares out at the viewer, both angry and anguished. Couples in the throes of intercourse appear indifferent, depressed, amused, and even preoccupied. All is doubt and confusion; faces betray emotions seemingly contrary to whatever actions hands or bodies are performing. Limbs are awkward and akimbo, rendering familiar acts strange and almost repulsive. There is no sense of “normal”, cultural or otherwise. Even the idea of a dominant geographical center is roundly dismissed, as each artwork features figures mired only in abstract space, devoid of any setting or landmark that defines them.

Juxtaposition is a key element in expressing this collapse of ideologies. Wandering from painting to painting, the viewer is constantly greeted by delicate, intriguing arrangements of items and people that appear (at least on first glance) oddly grouped. In one artwork, a beautiful and delicately-hewn antique vase lies alongside a crushed and empty juice carton with its straw askew. In another, an assortment of wild-eyed figures cling desperately onto … lobsters, of all things. Explanations, logical or illogical, are not offered. The names of the paintings, among them “Fighting Boys” and “Embracing Couple With Banana” appear mysterious and opaque, revealing very little. The viewer is continually rebuffed in any attempt to draw some kind of reason or conclusion. All that remains is contrast and irony; unusual mixtures of objects and characters that seem to say one thing with their normal everyday actions, while their secretive peripheral glances seek to express a different, perhaps darker intent.

Bush’s artwork is beautiful, of course. Her work is astonishing in its attention to detail, in the skillful rendering of folds in fabrics and strands in hair. But it’s the underlying strangeness of this exhibition that makes it truly memorable. Lean a little closer and see if you can figure out exactly what it is those beady eyes are really trying to tell you.
This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2012.
Posted 4:53pm Sunday 4th March 2012 by Beaurey Chan.