Hot Irish Art - By Mic Moroney, Art Critic, 2001
SODOM & GOMORRAH
Alessandro Bavari - The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin


The ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, two of five Biblical cities on the Siddim plain destroyed by a huge conflagration around 1900 B.C, are now believed to have been located, south-east of the Dead Sea. The ruins were turned to ash; covered with balls of pure, pressed, powdered sulphur; and covered by three feet of debris. Geologists have speculated that an earthquake may have exploded petroleum-based bitumen deposits out of the earth through a nearby fault line, which then ignited. Meanwhile, Lot's wife, supposedly turned into a pillar of salt, may relate to the outlandish salt floes which crystallise by the Dead Sea. It's as good a collection of theories as you can get.

However, contrary to Christianised homophobia, out of 39 mentions of Sodom in the Old Testament, none relates explicitly to homosexuality, or indeed debauch on any major scale. Rather, God asserts in Ezekiel 16:49-50 that Sodom "and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me. Therefore I did away with them".

However, Italian artist Alessandro Bavari, follows the Marquis de Sade and many others into an imaginary decadent past with a series of fetishistic images which hint at all manner of polysexual perversity. They're quite luscious, crepuscular, monochrome pictures with a stylish, fantastical pop sensibilty, and a visual vocabulary which owes a great deal to Hieronymous Bosch (c.1450-1516), and Surrealists such as Ernst.

The depth and allure of the imagery is very evolved, almost reminiscent of the assiduous fantasticality of Ridley Scott's movie, Legend. It conjures up a parallel universe of mythological glamour, revisited as though from the dawn of photography. The images are quite painterly, worked up from pictures of made or found objects like bones, plants and fossils, or posing models. Bavari then etches over the photographic prints, which are then scanned into image-manipulation programmes such as PhotoShop and SoftImage.

The prints mounted in the Guinness Store are big digital prints, printed on semi-matt photographic paper which is developed in traditional chemical baths, so that you get this smooth unpixellated texture. Paul Murnaghan, the new artistic director of the Guinness Storehouse, has hung the 12 images inside the glass-panelled atrium, dangling high in the 5th floor gallery - not an entirely ideal way of displaying them in the busy space, but a spectacular one, nonetheless. Murnaghan reckons that walking around the 12 images in a circle is "somewhere between voyeurism and doing the Stations of the Cross".

The Gate
Like the luscious bottom-end of the Venus de Milo having a sit-down, this sawn-off figure rests amidst classical drapery and stalactites of irrepressible ivy, while in the mists of the screen in front of her, a pair of headless, robust nudes luxuriantly wade, hand in hand, up to their bottoms in water. Scaling the topiarised bonsai tree which rises fantastically from her midriff, a whole little crew of Boschian midgets - naked as Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden - scale to the top of the swooping shrubbery, as though to commune with the heavens. Even more of them huddle under our Venus' seat, looking upwards - what, protesting at her modestly crossed legs? Perhaps another piece among our 12 stations, The Hall of Coprophilia, may suggest other possibilities...

City of Sodom
The topiarised landscape of trees shorn like poodles, or into the shapes of lyres, only vaguely resolves in the eye, like some futuristic city dreamt up in the distant past. It almost evades you the more you look into it - the little nesting mounds from which the naked Boschian Sodomites emerge and peek out from their little molehills; the masses of the city seen as underworld creatures who occasionally scale the trees after forbidden fruit. The generalised forest scene recedes into what looks like a giant, ghostly echinoderm on the left, while the architectural gyres and helixes of a city have a idealised science-fiction hue, with some strange little flying pods, resembling sea-shells, hovering in the twilit sky.

City of Gomorrah
Here they are again, our little Boschian figurines, naked as the day they were born, and peeking out from their mortal, pathetic holes in the ground. They're little anonymous figures, often seen in groups, one or two pointing upwards, or holding their fists aloft in some bid for divine attention. Again a fantastic garden of weird topiary dominates their landscape, dotted with similarly fantastical architectures to Sodom's, borrowed from botanical tendrils and floral wonders. Again, nesting in a conglomeration of foliage from a number of trees, there are little nests of people, aching upwards toward a heaven beyond their grasp. Indeed, it's a Heaven that will soon shower their skin with brimstone...

Three Voyeurs
This rather daft, playful photograph of the Gomorrah cityscape features a trio of fine figures of young urban manhood, gawping down into the mysterious underworld of the naked little imps of the Gomorrans, in a stance somewhere between doing press-ups and gearing up to sprint 100 metres. What mysterious rituals could be Bavari's "voyeurs" be watching? What orgies of Little People? What squeaky little mobs of naked midgets might be shouting back up at them...?

Lot's Progeny - a Girl on Pillory
The title is probably a rather awkward translation of Lot's daughter. If you remember in the Biblical account, Lot was the only decent, God-fearing man in Sodom, and his daughter being of similar bent, seems to appear here as a kind of mutant, punk angel; wearing the fashion-fetishistical, penitential, pitted metal cube, perhaps to atone for the sins of her debauched compatriots. But of course, it's a sexy image in its own right, the cuddlesome butt squatting on her chubby ankles, the tasteful distressing of the photographic surface sinking into a kind of late-mediaeval blur. And how sweet she is, with her two little-angel-wings, and the ornamental songbirds which emerge cheeping from her head...

Bera, King of Sodom
This bizarre re-imagining of the Biblical Sodomite king rather hops around one's retina, with his repeating, multiple arms between his militant twin sceptres, and an elongated chestful of breasts more populated than a sow's in farrow. It's like the arms of Siva, crossed with that great grape-bunch of breasts from the famous statue of the Roman goddess, Diana (formerly the Greek deity, Artemis) from the Temple of Ephesus, now in the Museum in Naples. But for all his apparent fecundity, Bera is a bristling pallisade of menacing spears under his mediaeval helmet and chain mail; coolly exploding upwards from his barred throne, metamorphosing into hermaphroditic, erogenous power.

Portrait of Two Lovers in Gomorrah
This family photo mischievously suggests the amorous pursuits of the Gomorrans. An odd dominatrix towers over her charge, as they pose among a haze of classical ruins. She, with her six fingers on each hand, looks like a big lady, while her mask resembles a bit of DIY SM fashion, like a rubber glove pulled over her head; its fingers transforming into the stinging, beaded fronds of a sea anemone. She bears a tattoo of a (male-eating?) spider on her chest, whilst two little lizards are pinioned by tourniquets on her biceps. Homer Gomorrah, meanwhile, stares almost mournfully, comically out of the eyeholes of his hood, like a KKK man photographed at home with his trousers down; or like those hooded Native American ritual masks, with their unnerving similarity to mediaeval Inquisitional torture methods. Mind you, in the interests of taste, the male genitalia have been scratched out of the picture, as these outlandish creatures ghoul out at you from a peculiarly domestic pose.

Portrait of a Girl Who Looks at Herself in a Mirror
Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this grotesquely quaint peek into the self-conscious world of a Gomorran girl and her self-image. It's an over-the-shoulder view of her, fanning her little arms which have mutated into leaves, or gauzy insect-wings. Her eyes and lips are accentuatedly coloured and vividly distorted as she dreams into herself, admiring her frog-necklace as it sets off her milky-white neck and rounded breasts, beaded with impossible little nipples. The voyeurism factor is ramped up, as a similarly distorted boy-face stares from the background at this tender moment of self-exposure; while yet another naked figure in a mediaeval battle-mask seems to move in with a pair of fire-tongs. A strange imagining this, from somewhere on the cusp of sexual exploration, as another little face appears behind her in another mirror, suggesting an infinite regression of reflected images.

The Hall of Coprophilia
There is the air of a haunted ballroom here in this composite image of ruined villas and derelict factory buildings, in which a series of giant anatomical models of the male torso are frozen in balletic poses throughout this imaginary space. Each is poised atop what seems like a conicular wooden frame - stylised dresses in which are trapped, it seems, little gangs of our naked Little People of Sodom and Gomorrah, as though inside some sacrifical wicker man, destined to be fed to the flame. Bavari had his own ideas of what's going on, if you return to the title of the work...

A Woman Observing an Initiation Rite
This is a difficult image to read, with its view of a window - whether from inside or out, it is difficult to discern. The central character is a young woman, her forearms sheathed in ornamental finery, her face like a Polynesian mask of stylised horror as she gazes in at - what? We are given little clue, other than the gaggle of sacred swans and flamingos to the right, and the decapitated, stuffed dog to the left - who could hardly be the author of the turd below the window? A thin bread knife lies on the ground beside it, while to add to this irresolvable drama, the shadow of a male figure approaches her - whether in menace or concern, it is impossible to say...

Nymphomaniacs in the Depths of Gomorrah
It should not at all spoil the fun of this picture to know that the centrepiece is three queens snapped at a gay pride event, here altered to suggest a trio of heavy-set, leopard-skin bunny-girls, flirting away in great campery. The party sure looks like fun, a froth of sensuality and desire emanating not only from the foreground, but also the face-masked form behind them, and the cast of characters in the background: Hermes-headed naked men, others with outlandish faces like bloated tropical fish, one billowing around like some alien Chinese dragon. A disgruntled or envious-looking baboon head, meanwhile, stares from a porthole window, as though peeking in on someone else's party...

Birsa, King of Gomorrah, Sees his Destiny
Birsa, here scantily robed as a fairy tale king, with a belly big enough to suggest pregnancy, tiptoes gently onto the stage where his destiny has appeared to him in a great flare of ribbons which seem almost to scribble in the air, and little fizzing planets. This three-armed goddess hovers over a typically, Gomorran black hole in the ground. More impossible topiary springs up from other little holes, as the monarch sensually circles this vision of upbeat apocalypse.

© HotIrishArt / Mic Moroney 2001


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