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Monkey lovin’: IN-SIGHT by Lisa Roet@Annexe Gallery

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Behind Australian ape-lover Lisa Roet’s recent In-Sight exhibition (Annexe Gallery, 4-22 March 2009) are worthy sentiments: generally, that the environment is in bad shape; more specifically, that our simian kin are almost all endangered because of human activity. If you see Roet’s ten orangutan portraits – each sketching a different individual ape that she worked with in the 15 years of her enthusiasm – and are then persuaded to donate to the WWF, that’s cool. Perhaps the works have served their purpose.

As art, Roet’s monkeys didn’t grab me. Those ten portraits – in black and brown paint, each on four pieces of paper arranged in quadrants – are mugshots of unique faces, young or old, cheek-padded or not. They are all very benign – and if I am permitted to anthropomorphise, all kindly. In short: all homogenous, noble beasts. “Apes are people too!” the portraits hoot, but they fail to demonstrate any real difference or personality.

In-Sight consisted of drawings and sculpture. One of the latter, a series of four primate heads in target sights (when I saw the show, labels were absent) progressed through two great apes, a chimp, and ended with homo sapiens. It was an easy and pedantic conclusion, without any complexity to the argument. Planet of the Apes treated interchangeability between us and our anthropoid brothers with more finesse.

BANG!… brother.


The other work, of gorilla mugs in cutesy cross-bones, was better. It combined the iconic memento mori of a death’s-head with neon-signage: the cross-bones are light with blinking fairy lights. The juxtaposition hinted at the awareness that conservation issues have become fashionable commodities as much as they are Serious Stuff.

Death! Monkeys! Disco! There’s something very Liberace about these sculptures:


Something felt lacking from Roet’s insights. Returning to the orangutan portraits, I tried to pinpoint what. Perhaps it was the fact that they were sketches: more proofs of concept than finished works. I considered the possibility that, if the portraits had been more detailed – if they had captured every wrinkle – they would then have been able to fully communicate both the humanity and alien-ness of our close relatives.

For me, the contradiction signifies what apes are to humankind. They share much of our genetic heritage – and they are simultaneously far removed, different kind of beings altogether. Primates fall into our uncanny valley. They are ourselves, but through a funhouse-mirror darkly. The amalgam should not be glossed over.

Roet’s oversized sketches of orangutan paws are the best pieces in In-Sight, for this reason. Because of their scale, they manage to capture many of the whorls and crevices of these strange, nearly human but inhuman hands. Their beauty is hard-earned, and therefore real.


In-sight by Lisa Roet was on at Annexe Gallery from 4 – 22 March 2009.

To learn more about Lisa Roet, visit her website: www.lisaroet.com



Beautifully installed, these works looked great. The best part was the LED lights that make up the eyes. They are boring into your soul.



You see? Boring in to your soul.



The show included a projected video of primates in captivity, installed together with the other light works. This room was much stronger than the one which contained works on paper. Also, what is it about the devolved state of human beings that causes them to ape apes whenever they are near even a representation of them?



The writer’s ‘Luuuukkkee, I am your father’ moment.



ARTERI’s favorite photo of the show: singer-songwriter Jerome Kugan rehearsing against the backdrop of his ancestors.


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