QUT Art Museum • Brisbane
27 March—06 June 2021
Hamish Sawyer • Published 31 March, 2021
‘It is a timely project that will hopefully spark important conversations wherever it is shown.’
Michelle Hamer’s exhibition of embroidered text works, made last year, has gained newfound resonance in the wake of revelations about sexual assault, harassment and the mistreatment of women in Australia’s federal parliament. Are you having a good night? explores how language both informs and reinforces such behaviours, dovetailing nicely with the ensuing national conversation around gendered violence and discrimination.
I visited the exhibition just days after a Gold Coast mother was brutally murdered by her former partner. The circumstances of her death and the fact that her ex-partner was the subject of an apprehended violence order have rightfully elicited widespread condemnation. While domestic violence is not specifically addressed in Hamer’s works, they eloquently speak to the broader social conditions which gives rise to it.
It is a tight presentation, comprising just four sets of modestly scaled embroideries and a related series of works on paper. The exhibition’s title is taken from one of the textile works, a triptych of near-identical tropical scenes. Each image features a different text presented on digital signage; one of the signs reads ‘There is no threat’, referencing a false missile scare at an American air force base in Hawaii in 2018. Presented alongside the other texts here however, (‘I’m just being friendly’ and ‘You chicks are all the same’) Hamer’s intent to draw attention to the way in which men use language to trivialise and minimise their actions towards women, is clear.
This triptych is displayed on wallpaper, an enlarged segment of the background image, emphasising the materiality of Hamer’s preferred medium and the labor expended on each hand-stitched pixel. The artist’s use of embroidery, traditionally perceived as one of the female or domestic ‘crafts’ (as opposed to ‘fine’ art) to call out male bad behavior and abuse feels especially pointed. This is amplified by the incongruous representation of digital screen imagery through the decidedly analogue medium of textiles.
In Australia, these mobile signs have become ubiquitous features of road works, which are staffed almost entirely by male crews. There are no figures in Hamer’s images, but you can easily imagine similar sentiments (‘Smile luv’) being shared by workmen on any construction site. It’s an effective compositional device, however it starts to feel a bit labored by the second and third iteration on display here. For me, the grid of smaller embroidered panels, featuring found text fragments from the urban landscape was more impactful and a welcome variation of style.
As the current debate around gender inequality gathers momentum, Hamer’s work only increases in potency and relevance. It is a timely project that will hopefully spark important conversations wherever it is shown. The artist is also to be commended for the exhibition’s compact scale and easily transportable format, allowing it to be toured to a range of spaces across the country. Previously exhibited at Fremantle Arts Centre and Noosa Regional Gallery, Are you having a good night? will travel to The Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny, Tasmania in July following its presentation at Logan Art Gallery.