Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Thursday 13 May 2010.

Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts image Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts image Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts image Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts image Lori Kirk's disturbing tourist artefacts image

Lori Kirk: Handcraft Homogeneity

Craft Victoria until June 12

Australian artist Lori Kirk has an exhibition currently showing at Craft Victoria which draws on the somewhat facile, undermined, tourist crafts common to much of the developed world.

The style of her single-room installation in particular was inspired by local handicrafts she encountered whilst on a 1-month residency in Kazakhstan.

The installation sees a row of hand-made koalas riding on the back of a skeletal creature which could be some kind of voodoo mashup of horse and dragon, wearing an interpretation of a Kyrgyzstan Horse blanket.

What seems at first like an innocent collection of sewn, felt, teddy bears is revealed, upon closer inspection, to be somewhat more akin to Mexican Day of the Dead iconography, with hanging bones and raw flesh exposed on the horse’s legs and feet.

With death and decay present, on second reflection the beady eyes of the fluffy koalas suddenly turn cold and their folkloric patterns empty of any communal warmth or caring multi-culturalism. Rather than celebrating traditional culture, the sculpture appears to have stepped out of a nightmarish fairytale like Little Red Riding Hood, to warn us about a danger we must avoid.

And indeed this is the experience which Kirk brought to the work, for during her residency in Kazakhstan there occurred the horrific mass murders known as the Seven Deaths, where seven women were killed every night for seven nights in the town of Bishkek. Most of the victims were shift workers, waiting alone at bus stops late in the evening, trying to return home to their families. The murderer, when found, was discovered to have been a mental patient who had escaped from a mental institution.

The shock and fear Kirk experienced informed her decision to end what should have been a two month residency, one month early. Her encounters reflect experiences which are common to many first world tourists who seek the foreign excitements of developing (or undeveloping), destinations, but instead discover poverty, desperation, deceit, scams and are also, on a daily basis, victims of murder themselves.

While it may seem easy to blame tourists for their naivety in this regard, the homeland governments of international travelers must also assume some responsibility for failing to inform their citizens of the risks they may face when traveling. For example the Australian Government was aware of the organ-stealing murders which frequently occur to tourists in Russia, for several years before they published a warning on their Smart Traveler website.

Governments are not alone in their accountability. The questionable quality of journalism in cost-cutting mainstream news media can also be blamed. Upon returning home Kirk could not find any information in local news services about the murders which had occurred during her visit.

Photos: Lily Feng