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Man must rise above the Earth - to the top of the atmosphere and beyond - for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.
- Socrates

To take flight from convention requires the courage to command a visualisation that moves the self into a new dimension. Mai Long's exhibition, Godog & the Ascension of Dag Girl does just that, adopting a position at the intersection of cultural, religious and social mores that signals an understanding of Socrates' words. Ascension, here, is a metaphor for liberation.

In a new move Long uses the gallery site as the foundation for her narrative. Acutely aware of its multiple readings as a former Christian mission in colonial Sydney, her papier mache characters surge through the space in a flighty procession. It is a crescendo reminiscent of Renaissance religious painting where architecture was used as an expression of social power and mythology. But this motley procession of Aqua Mutt and Dag Girl is far from a flight of grace. Long's "stumbling ascendance" is a journey of discovery that tantalises with technicolour intensity. It is not a static or singular world. The eye is pulled across surreal dogs and malformed girls to arrive at Godog, a steroid-proportioned dog-on-wheels positioned before a cross painted with the graphic clarity of Keith Haring.

How does one enter Long's world? Perhaps the exhibition's title offers a clue with its oblique reference to Samuel Beckett's 1948 play "Waiting for Godot", the story of two men waiting for another, perhaps God, who never arrives. It is a hint to Long's wry questioning of the absence of meaning within contemporary society and our compulsion to construct value systems aimed at "enlightening us". It is not the arrival of the mysterious Godot that was the revelation, rather the wait itself. Similarly, Long's interest in an acceptance of non-understanding is central to this exhibition. She uses random text from local newspapers in various languages as a kind of social camouflage, where no one voice dominates.

Its surface babel has the poetic metaphor ascribed to religion, the hero-cult and nationalist rhetoric. Take as an example the ancient Javanese site Borobudur. Scenes carved on the structure describing everyday life enter a spiritual dimension. The skin of Long's dogs performs the same transcendental role lifting her absurd architectonic forms to a metaphysical plane. Site the portrait of Filipino nationalist hero Jose Rizal that is graphically fused with Ho Chi Minh, the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine Truganini and 'Superman' on pendants worn by her Aqua Mutts in the genre of leis adorning deities. They equally reference the scapular of Catholicism, contemporary ID cards and Filipino amulets.

Collectively they offer an introduction to Long's method for constructing her own world of meaning that is beyond geographic definition. Dag Girl is central to this world. Painted with multiple faces, surrealistically her colonnade of noses develops a gladiatorial quality topped with hair of water and crowned by the 'Hail Mary' prayer. The words spiral, fashioned like the protective snake vertebrae headdress worn by Ifugao women in the Philippine mountain province. This fetish object moves beyond any cultural context. The Aqua Mutts, similarly, have another worldly sci-fi quality. Lost in a vacant stare they describe a contemporary gaze, what Long explains as our inability to "see clearly" today. Completing the exhibition is a superb suite of drawings that, stripped of colour and kitsch, describe the cohesiveness of this body of work.

Walking away from this exhibition one feels they have exited a magical, nonsensical world reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland". There is a semblance of reality: fragments of text understood, comic-strip narrative and overriding humour. Long leaves us questioning our own constructed world and invites us to rise above the known, to ascend as Socrates suggests.
- Gina Fairley
Click here to download Mai Long's catalogue (2.3MB).

Feast for the Senses: Tuesday 16 September 'Questioning the Gods: Judging the Blake'

Feast for the Senses: Tuesday 23 September 'State & Self-Censorship: Who's Voice?'

For further information, please email ng@ngart.com.au

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