9. Bay of Sick Mikala Dwyer

Screenprint on trilobal polyester Courtesy the Artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn

A smooth, horizontal banner of intersecting circles, spliced apart and opened out into a cascading geometric pattern. The hub of circular forms at the centre of Mikala Dwyer’s Bay of Sick resemble the triform discs of the biohazard logo: signage devised to weaponise abstract shapes into a universal symbol of peril. The harsh black and yellow colour scheme of the original warning sign is refracted, softened into muted greyscale and acid tones: lemon yellow, golden faun. A kaleidoscopic pattern expanding sideways, its broken down forms feel less ominous, freed from the perils of its original meaning into something altogether less rational.

As pointed out in a recent essay by Wayne Tunnicliffe, Dwyer has used circular forms in her art practice since the 1990s, exploring their division between inside and outside space, between belonging and not belonging. From this cluster of circles, two dimensional and strewn across a wall, we are immediately excluded: but their outwards expansion implies they may soon leap out and envelop us all. Their radial forms seem like an incantation, a summoning of energy which has the power to control or contain us. In occult practices, “casting a circle” is the first step in many rituals, the demarcation of a space in which the invoked energy can be contained, intensified. What energy is being summoned here, in this powerful vortex?

The glossy sheen of the work’s surface speaks of corporate signage, the smooth banners of the conference hall. And yet there is nothing corporate about this haphazard arrangement of forms: they signpost chaos rather than clarity, an uncurling of disorder. As with the biohazard logo, Dwyer’s employment of advertising banners might be read as a hijacking of standardised systems of signage, a rupture in the well-oiled mechanics of B2B aesthetics. This rupture might give rise to something otherworldly, irrational, mystical: a small portal to alternative possibilities, to other modes of being. It’s slickness is also somehow feminine, even glamorous, a fetishised veil that entrances and beguiles us.

“Bay of Sick” invokes the Bay of Pigs, that botched military operation in Cuba at the height of Cold War tensions. A failed coup against the Castro-led government, covertly funded by the US, the Bay of Pigs succeeded only in escalating animosity between the US and Cuba, paving the way for the Cuban Missile Crisis. The result of both was American humiliation, a failure of a major world power against a comparatively tiny island led by guerilla revolutionaries. The mighty arm, the muscular flex of the huge military-industrial state might not always prevail, it taught us: it can be outfoxed by fringe movements, radical cells that implode a powerful giant from the margins. But what of a Bay of Sick? An image is conjured in which the sick seize power, break out from quarantine, from the “sickbay” they’ve been banished to. In this sense, that cascading outwards could be a biohazardous leaking, a spilling out of infectious diseases, or a call to arms for the sick and indigent.

Text by Rosa Abbott

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