By Emilia Querin
Nestled in the backstreets of Sydney’s inner west lays a mysterious collection of porcelain figurines and glazed china. Tall pallid walls encase the delicate bunch like the glass panels of my dining room cupboard, protecting the prized and fragile vessels from stumbling hands. I am your standard clumsy type and the mere idea of an intimate enclosure gives me butterflies. Yet today I allow my curious instincts to take over and I am tiptoeing my way through the smallish space. Disjointed statuettes stare at me with brilliantly eerie eyes, huddled among an eclectic collection of saucers and plaques. Similar clusters decorate the colourless walls and the space suddenly jumps to life! This reminds me of the first time I explored a thrift shop – so excited I don’t know where to begin. Working systematically and closely studying the gleaming lot, I begin to notice distinct peculiarities. Now what’s this? I almost don’t believe what I see and am driven to look again and again. Checking myself, I chuckle as it occurs to me I am being welcomed by a mischievous army of sexed-up ceramics and mighty fine china.
Michael Keighery is a Sydney-based ceramic artist who explores notions of humour, irony and popular culture through his whimsically kitsch body of work. Newtown’s quaint Wilson Street Gallery is the ideal place to house Keighery’s most recent compilation: The China Syndrome. The quirky exhibition reveals a delightful yet confrontational collection of ceramic statuettes and dishware. At first glance the clusters of homely knick-knacks seem comfortable and familiar yet, under a critical eye, their soft-core porno imagery becomes apparent. Keighery’s signature approach becomes entertainingly addictive and leaves me unpicking each artwork, looking for more.
Aside from shock and entertainment value, The China Syndrome alludes to issues surrounding the industrialisation and accessibility of contemporary art. Keighery fuses the familiar face of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit with a suited torso; a duck’s beak with the body of an ancient Chinese scholar, and a bulging baby doll’s head with a lady’s flamboyant dress. Keighery’s method involves producing moulds from found objects, then casting the ceramic miniatures. The accompanying bawdy tea set is similarly fashioned from mounted photographs and pre-loved crockery.
Like Neurotica, his previous showing at Wilson Street, this exhibition is designed to stir its spectators. Keighery teases his audience, challenging the aesthetic values invested in objects of the everyday. From materialism to sexuality, these ceramic mutations bring together some of life’s big issues sparking a discourse and debate.
This raunchy compilation of old and new ceramics is a pert and witty display of Keighery’s artistic talents. If you’re a collector of kitsch or simply love art, The China Syndrome is worth a squiz.
Michael Keighery: The China Syndrome, Wilson Street Gallery, Newtown, 16 July – 7 August 2011.