By Luke Letourneau
Luke Roberts is a Nazi. He is also a cowboy, an Indian, a woman, a man and, among other things, an extra-terrestrial spiritual leader in the exhibition AlphaStation/Alphaville. Here lie the many sides of Roberts on display in a collection of photographic performance pieces at the Australian Centre for Photography.
As a performance artist, Roberts has played dress-up for much of his career. His adoption of different personae permits him to explore the constructs and rituals of humanity, investigating how these dictate and limit our understanding of our own identity.
A major character of Roberts’s practice is Pope Alice. This is a construct that appears to be a cross between the Medieval Pope Joan and Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Simply put, it is Roberts dressed up like an alien, dressed up like a Pope. Roberts portrays a character that exists in the world of Catholicism while simultaneously drawing attention to the ostentatious nature of its practices and rituals.
In AlphaStation/Alphaville Roberts remains effervescent in his enthusiasm for adopting characters and employing familiar imagery to engage the audience. This is starkly obvious when first entering the exhibition; you are confronted with Roberts as Hitler, Roberts as Warhol pretending to be Hitler, Roberts as a Nazi solder and Roberts as a peaceful being in prayer.
From there the exhibition is divided into four rooms. Each room explores and addresses themes relating to colonial Australia and identity while continuing Alice’s narrative. The room titled Hidden by Sunlight functions as a retrospective-style room, where the audience can get to know or reacquaint themselves with Alice.
This show is a collection of contrasts and contradictions. Roberts is at one point both the enemy and the victim, the male and the female, the cowboy and the Indian. However, Roberts is rarely concealed behind makeup or Photoshop. He never attempts to hide behind a character. He simply throws on a cheap wig and some flimsy costume. At every moment Roberts is so obviously staring back at you in the guise of many different people; you are forced to confront your own multiplicity.
The star of this show is Children of Alpha 1, 2009, an image impossible not to become absorbed by. It is an image of Alice glaring at the audience from a bare rural landscape. The photograph is positioned so that its horizon line appears roughly a metre off the gallery’s floor. This has the interesting effect of pushing the sky out of the frame and onto the naked gallery wall. Given the history of Alice as a recurring fixture of Roberts practice (observed in the Retrospective Room) and all that Alice and AlphaStation/Alphaville have come to represent, you can’t help but join with Roberts in recognising the immensity of who we are.
With AlphaStation/Alphaville Roberts refuses to answer for who he is but this is because he can’t. No one can. We are never only one identity. We are the masculine, the feminine, the victim, and the enemy.
Luke Roberts: AlphaStation/Alphaville, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 17 June – 23 July 2011.