Genevieve Staines — Synthetic Pomp Precinct

Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane

May 30  – June 23 2012

The digital photographs constituting Genevieve Staines’ Brisbane Synthetic Pomp Precinct are begging in quiet desperation for your validation as global destinations. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that these must-see hopefuls fall short of making ‘the list’.  In each print, it is obvious they haven’t quite perfected the juxtaposition of luxury consumer items utilised in gritty urban venues as successfully as the Milans, Berlins and Londons they aspire to be. Instead, the pristine, production-line commodities sit in awkward suspension over their dilapidated backdrops in an almost pathetic attempt at chic. Welcome to Brisbane – it’s ‘not quite’ anywhere else in the world but it’s definitely aspiring to be. Staines’ light-hearted images mimic the well-worn, but unsupported, sentiment rattled off at cultural venues (such as this one!) about Brisbane being a complete cultural backwater – a purgatory for white, middle class youth.

But simply disregarding these photos as ironic jabs at our home town would be to underestimate their complexity. These are sumptuous, appealing images. Staines’ saturation of colour and her ability to frame and construct her chosen environments result in an impressively aesthetic finished product, imbued with confounding beauty and painful irony. We want to look at these places even if we certainly don’t wish to visit them. So how are these prints positioning us to think about Brisbane as a city attempting to gentrify itself into the paradox of a ‘unique global’ destination? With seamless fluidity, Staines’ digital prints connect everything that is wrong and absurd with gentrification to our deepest-held consumer impulses.

If neo-liberal globalisation renders international cities homogeneous zones that are essentially indifferent from each other, then surely Brisbane’s identity crisis is shared by locations the world over.  But with a burgeoning population coupled with sheer desperation to compete with the rest of the Australian east coast, you cannot find a better example of gentrification’s paradox.  I’m thinking particularly of the Campbell Newman’s signature project as Lord Mayor – the not quite Federation Square that is  King George Square.  When walking through the mixture of concrete, inset three-tone lights and plasma TV screens I cannot help but think that oxygen bars in back alleys and DJ booths in dirt trenches cannot be such a distant future … and that future will be named the Brisbane Synthetic Pomp Precinct.