Before I even walked up to the window my stomach was churned. In front of us library-goers was a cacophony of internal made external. Whether the work is autobiographical to the artist or not is unclear, but what is clearly a personal story—a story of trauma and heartbreak—spews across the wall and floor of Window Gallery, in this work by Gabbie De Baron. It would be too easy to describe the plethora of scrawls and screen captures as obsession and hysteria, but my visceral reaction came from this painfully familiar territory. The all-consuming, all-distracting space of heartbreak.
This work is a mess—both in form and subject. It’s visually metaphoric for the internal sphere. “I hate u, I wish u kissed my ass!” painted in violet nail polish on the floor, “twat” embroidered onto pillow slip, a spilled tin of wooden beads that have fallen into the titleage words “petty”, “vile”, and “ugly”. Printed phone notes expose a deeply private stream of experience, alongside a intentionally and more slowly made poster made of red paper cutouts, reading: “I hate my own mind, she tells me I’m ♥unloveable♥.” A hot pink handbag, bejewelled with “crazy” sits next to an empty bottle of Grapetiser, suggesting both youth and naivete. The work is screaming of the in-between space of youth and adulthood, and I’m here for it. I’m here for this hot mess, I hear it, I feel it.
Amongst the literal and conceptual mess, there is an extended handwritten scroll running down the centre of the wall. It grounds the installation and acts as a focal point to grab onto, amidst the bombardment. It speaks of body sovereignty, of invasive and disruptive contraceptive methods that women endure, of a woman’s lived experience in relation and in contradiction to her partners’. The pain of it all. Highly responsive to contemporaneous political events regarding women’s rights to bodily autonomy, this work is poignantly timed, but eternally relevant. “Fuck this! I’m done being railed and then being expected to take the pill next morning.… They cum and they go…. I will never let a man say anything about my body because he will never know strength, the way I do.”
This defiance, catharsis, and self possession, is inspiring. This scroll of personal-political text holds its space, but so much of the rest is often in juxtaposition to this. The rest reveals an utter loss of self, a person entirely dispossessed of their body, lost in the knocks and blows and fog of heartbreak. I’m eternally in awe of artists who manifest what we non-artists so often experience but are unable to articulate, unable to make sense of. This work immediately brought me into conversation with an older self I haven’t known for a long time—but revealed how close to the surface such experiences will always be.
Gabbie De Baron’s Give Her A Break! She’s Petty & Vile & Ugly… is on display in the Window Gallery at the University of Auckland Library until 10 August. Gabbie De Baron is a Postgraduate student at Elam. Her work is informed by literature, fashion, and text-based media. Mikayla Journée is a PhD Candidate in Art History, researching Social Practice Art and Placemaking in Aotearoa.