Club Ate: Projecting Future Folklores on Australia's National Gallery
13 March 2020
Over 11 nights between 28 February and 9 March 2020, Club Ate—a collective formed by artists Justin Shoulder and Bhenji Ra—transformed the National Gallery of Australia's austere brutalist architecture with projections of their latest animated video projection, In Muva we trust (2020).
Club Ate, In Muva we trust (2020). Four-channel 4K moving image, colour, no sound. 6 min. Exhibition view: In Muva we trust, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (28 February–9 March 2020). Production: The Electric Canvas. Director & VFX: Tristan Jalleh. Purchased 2019. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.
The National Gallery of Australia is situated in Canberra's parliamentary triangle, which houses several institutions that embody the height of Western liberalism and logic, such as the High Court of Australia and the National Library of Australia. Speculative queer world-making at its finest, In Muva we trust unfolds mythic and ancestral landscapes and bodies that envision a polychrome universe of possibility and potentiality. It opens with an emphatic declaration in Tagalog text, 'Ikaw ay nasa lupaing ninuno ng mga katutobo'—an acknowledgement of country that translates to 'You are on ancestral land'—that covered the entire façade of the gallery.
Speculative queer world-making at its finest, In Muva we trust unfolds mythic and ancestral landscapes and bodies that envision a polychrome universe of possibility and potentiality.
Projections of In Muva we trust were only activated after sunset as part of Canberra's Enlighten Festival (28 February–15 March 2020), evoking the different realities that are generated at night-time inside the space of a club: a politicised sphere that continues to exist as a significant non-normative space for the queer community. In one particular long shot we see Shoulder dancing with fireworks in the sky behind him. Crackling blue electricity bolts and shimmering blue flames surround him—an optic overload of celebration and spectacle that reflects Club Ate's refusal to be marginalised. As Shoulder dances, wings sprout from his back in seraphic bliss, their forms made of mechanical motorcycle parts and pans. These 'pans' may be tabo, a traditional hygiene bucket used for washing and bathing in the Philippines. Indeed, later on in the video, text emerges asking 'Mother Supreme' and ancient spirits to 'Cleanse us with your tabo.'
In Muva we trust embodies what Club Ate describes as 'future folklore' that oscillates between the otherworldly and the corporeal; the metaphysical and the tangible. In one scene, individuals recline on mossy rocks surrounded by verdant trees and gushing waterfalls that rise upwards—a manipulation of the very logic and laws of physics in this new existence. The bodies in this lush paradise communicate with one another non-verbally through gestures of the hands and arms, reminiscent of the motions used in the queer dance form of vogueing, acknowledging the codified signifiers that hold a multiplicity of meanings for queer communities. Upon closer inspection, air conditioning vents in the background come into view, plastic wrapping ominously flapping in the mise-en-scène—elements that threaten this utopic vision of paradise, while acknowledging an inescapable reality that even fantasy cannot gloss over. This ambiguity persists in other parts of the work; in one section we are taken to the aquamarine ocean floor, which accumulates with rubbish such as a giant statue of the Jollibee mascot as a symbol of mindless capitalist consumerism. The entire frame then bursts into flames—an extant reality, considering the climate crisis of the recent bushfires that devastated Australia's east coast.
Considering these elements, whilst In Muva we trust may ostensibly depict a queer utopia, it could be argued that what is in fact constructed is a queer heterotopia, per Foucault's definition of heterotopia as both mythic and real rather than the fundamentally unreal space of utopia itself. As theorist Angela Jones suggests, queer utopia is based on a logic of teleology—but by synchronising both past mythologies alongside futurisms, Club Ate collapses temporalities altogether, thus creating the potential for an emancipatory queer future. This opening of possibilities is symbolised by the use of language in the work; the text Nilalang appears in shining font above Ra and Shoulder. It has a double meaning: 'to create' but also 'creature', referencing what already exists and what is left to be created. —[O]
Main article full image credit: Club Ate, In Muva we trust (2020). Four-channel 4K moving image, colour, no sound. 6 min. Exhibition view: In Muva we trust, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (28 February–9 March 2020). Production: The Electric Canvas. Director & VFX: Tristan Jalleh. Costume design: Matthew Stegh. Makeup: Kiki Targé. Producer: Christina Ra. Production assistants: Emmett Aldred & Xeno Genesis. Director of photography: Ryan Alexander Lloyd. Camera assistant: Bryn Whitie. Photogrammetry assistant: Andre Piquet. Purchased 2019. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.