Submitted Review

Dexter Rosengrave ‘Slow down’

  • Michael Bugelli Gallery • Hobart

  • 11 June—01 July 2021

  • Andrew Harper • Published 13 June 2021

‘…as pornography has become a near-infinite deluge of ones and zeroes.’

The internet came and drowned us in pornography. What was once illicit and clandestine became so ubiquitous people now wear t-shirts emblazoned with the logo of popular pornographic video watching sites. The idea of buying pornography became somewhat bizarre – but still, the peddlers of filthy magazines exist. You can still buy the magazines, their secret catalogues of filth held cryogenically in virgin plastic that exists only to be torn off and discarded by prurient fingers.

As part of the investigations surrounding the creation of the work in Slow Down, Dexter Rosengrave sauntered into The Adult Basement, a purveyor of actual physical pornography that still exists in Hobart. Magazines were purchased, under the guise of ‘art materials’ – and then, still in their protective plastic swaddles, exposed to the blazing light of a scanner. Manipulated and used, the magazines themselves can be seen as fetish objects. Rosengrave seems engaged with their very existence as actual objects – and why not? This is a powerful memory for the artist: as a child, they rode about Perth on a bicycle, stealing the mail from letter boxes in an attempt to alleviate boredom. Eventually the artist found and saw hardcore pornography.

It’s a strange image: the sheer quaint nostalgia of actual snail mail mixed with an encounter with graphic adult material. It’s also oddly familiar: up until a specific historical moment, many found pornography accidentally – Rosengrave’s story is both shocking and common.

Now you can use a search engine and it’s all key words. You don’t have to make do with what you stumble over. One may get forensically specific.

The exhibition Slow Down features the titles of all the pornography Rosengrave has engaged with over a year. The titles creep and float, distorted with a peculiar precision around the exhibition venue in The Old Mercury Building. The words are ridiculous, comedic and deeply disturbing; separated from their video origin they spark feverish imagery, but also contain their own blunt eroticism. The sheer volume of phrases, all at varying heights, makes for an absorbing and confronting work – and it challenges the viewer to consider their own engagements with pornography.

Off the main exhibition room, there’s series of manipulated images – from the aforementioned porn magazines – and an absorbing, disconcerting video work, consisting again of text. Rosengrave stops short of using actual pornographic images – the art here more gnaws away at one’s own experience, which will exist on some level whether we like it or not, because in this era, in our culture, it’s probably harder not to see pornography. Barriers might exist but in truth they exist as legal shielding for the modern smut peddler – no longer is there a back room guarded by a vigilant shop keeper who asks for identification. There’s no layer of plastic. There’s just heaving pixels.

Rosengrave’s complex work is personally revealing in a bold manner, but it’s also an examination of something that lies at the dark heart of late capitalist culture: the marketing and fragmentation of pleasure, and how seeking personal gratification has become desperately urgent and functional, despite the ease of actual access. There are broad nods to increasingly problematic aspects of contemporary pornography – Rosengrave includes video titles that unquestionably disturbing – but there’s also a certain personal nostalgia, and an investigation into viewing the textual aspects of pornography as something more than disposable. This strategy brings the erotic potential full circle to the earliest eras of mass-produced pornography and the printing press. I’m not suggesting that Rosengrave is re-writing Fanny Hill, and nor is the artist naïve about the problematic aspects of readily available adult content coupled with an arms race of transgression as trends in content become more and more confronting. Rosengrave knows where it started for them; Slow Down wonders what has been lost as pornography has become a near-infinite deluge of ones and zeroes.

Slow Down is viewable by appointment with Michael Bugelli Gallery.