The role of progress is central to the concept of civilisation but its essence as a movement toward a goal has, at least in the context of postmodernity, come to be understood as a fallacy. This exhibition examines the work of five artists who present the trajectory of humanity not as a refinement but as an endless return to a base nature.
Across painting, sculpture and video, the human animal is presented as resourceful and sophisticated but fundamentally incapable of bettering itself. The problem with society’s pre-occupation with advancement – social, intellectual, technological – is encapsulated in Freud’s essay, Civilisation and its Discontents, in which he characterises civilization as ‘a tool we’ve created to protect ourselves from unhappiness, and yet, because it denies our most primitive instincts, it is the largest source of our unhappiness.’
In How to tell the future from the past, this irony is presented using time as a prism through which to view humanity’s achievements. In the title work, Eve Sussman presents history as an eddying vehicle on a cycle, while in Justin Mortimer and Yang Jiechang’s paintings, the contemporary and the ancient are compressed in disturbing ways. Patricia Piccinini and Joana Vasconcelos’ sculptures absent the human form but in their use of man-made materials and unnatural forms, they suggest the unwieldy relationship between what we are and what we want.