Australian artist David Art Wales exhibits a new series of works in ‘Going Viral’ at Duckrabbit gallery in Sydney’s inner-city Redfern until 30 June. The exhibition is presented as the first 24/7 contact-free art show inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw only ten guests at a time invited into the gallery to sip on champagne, meet the artist and view the artworks, all while wearing a foam pool noodle to ensure the 1.5 metre social distancing rules were observed. A seemingly sensible evocation, albeit an amusing one, in these bizarre times of viral invasion.
And as Wales is also known as the creator of the 1980’s satirical cult figure Guru Adrian, who the artist describes as “The Guru You Have When You’re Not Having A Guru”, mingling at an exhibition opening with a noodle wrapped around one’s middle is no unexpected frivolity from this artist whose alter-ego Guru Adrian’s motto is “Having Fun is Half the Fun.”
‘Going Viral’ showcases a collection of prints on recycled felt that characterise the infectious ‘Covid-19 molecule’ in new imaginations drawing illusory visions of outer space, robots, meteorites and magnificent wild flora. The rich colour and detail of the works exudes a certain beauty and humour, but Wales’ portrayal of the flame-orange protagonist reminds us of a world treading lightly on calamitous new ground.
Audiences are invited to see the unique series of pop-style works in ‘Going Viral’ by standing on X’s marked on the ground appropriately stationed at 1.5 metres apart in front of the large display window at the entrance to Duckrabbit, which is located at 138 Little Eveleigh Street, Redfern.
Here’s some insight from Wales about his experience during lockdown and the creation of his works for ‘Going Viral’.
What were you doing before the Coronavirus lockdown?
Before lockdown I was working on ‘How I Felt’, the felt print series I showed at Duckrabbit last year. It seems weird to keep working on a series after the show’s over but why stop if you’re still having fun with the idea. All my work ends up on davidartwales.com anyway. When lockdown began I started playing with the Covid molecule and suddenly I couldn’t stop.
Were you motivated to work on a new art project as soon as stay at home restrictions were in place or was it more of a reaction to the experience of isolation once you began to feel it’s impact?
‘Going Viral’ began when I saw the first image of the Covid-19 molecule. I assumed it was photographed through an electron microscope but then I learned it was actually created by medical illustrators to help the public put a face to the virus. I found it fascinating that they’d turned Covid-19 into pop culture, like a fictional character or a corporate logo. Instead of being a tiny colourless micro-organism – there is no light inside the body so there is no colour – it became something we could recognize and hold in our hand conceptually. That was my entry point.
What challenges did you face while you were creating work during this time?
About a month into Lockdown I’d finished 30 or so prints and I started wondering how to show the work when all the galleries were closed. Then I remembered that Duckrabbit in Redfern has a six-foot-square window facing the street where they hang a single work from whatever show is on. Problem solved! For ‘Going Viral’ I was working at a tiny pocket scale so I was able to comfortably fit 60 of the 80 framed pieces in the window. I plan to keep working on the series until I have at least 100 prints available on my website. I print on a recycled felt that I order from Thailand and I just invested in a big batch so I have the freedom to keep printing.
How has Covid-19 impacted on you as an artist?
I was in Berlin when the Wall came down and New York for 9/11. I saw both up close and personal. But those were local events with global impact where the Pandemic is for most of us the first truly global catastrophe, like the World Wars were for previous generations. Living through history feels strange in part because we normalize the new so quickly. If Martians invaded earth it’d take us a week to get from “WTF” to “Fair enough”. Within two weeks you’d have Martian memes and plush toys and Mars-themed cocktails on bar menus. But losing a friend to Covid also added sadness to the weird new normal for me, and I tend to work through stress and loss by making stuff. Using art as therapy.
Can you please tell me about the artworks you have made for ‘Going Viral’?
Making this show was like Close Encounters, but instead of Richard Dreyfus madly sculpting mashed potatoes into Devil’s Tower, it was me obsessively collaging the Covid molecule into old-school pop culture: retro-futurism, botanical engravings, robots attacking cities. The strangest thing is how at home Covid looks as a planet or seed pod or robot head. And it has a retro look, when in fact it’s our future. People say the prints are beautiful but, to me, these aspects also make them quietly unsettling.
What is Guru Adrian up to these days, will he be re-appearing anytime soon?
I love that people still enjoy Guru Adrian 30+ years later. He’s another idea I can’t let go of. I occasionally add things to guruadrian.com and I plan to offer Guru merch on my website. You don’t get many good ideas in life so when you do get one, I reckon it’s okay to chew on it for a while.
Prints from ‘Going Viral’ will be available for purchase on the David Art Wales website over the coming weeks.