In a black gallery is a structure consisting of a series of metal frames on which various images and even electronic tablets are mounted.
The images are bolted to the metal frames at different heights and depths in the room, and they're scattered between the tablets with their changing displays.
One image is a coloured anatomical diagram of a human heart on a pale background.
Another is a photograph of Michelangelo's 'David' - a towering marble sculpture of a lean, naked man holding a slingshot against his shoulder.
Another is a photograph or photorealistic drawing of a robotic limb in the style of a human arm, its joints created from metal plates and its fingers dangling. The arm is a shiny dark grey against a beige background.
The largest image, set higher than the others on the metal frame at the rear, is a magazine-style photograph of a female model wearing a gold-tasselled mini dress and tall black heels. She has dark, heavy make-up, pouting lips and short black hair, shaven at the sides of her head.
The four tablets mounted at different heights and depths throughout the structure are screening sequences of images relating to human bodies: smiling family photographs, action figures, classical sculptures, advertising posters, photo shoots of models and more.
Seen as a whole, the structure with its moving and non-moving images at varying heights and depths appears like a kind of three-dimensional timeline of perspectives on the human body.
Fade to black.
Ash, a young man with long, fuzzy ginger hair and a beard, walks down to a secluded cove in early-morning light. He's wearing a black t-shirt and cargo shorts. He walks barefoot along the sand. Then he's sitting in a studio.
ASH: I want to be identified as an Aboriginal artist, because I think that we have so much to kind of say on numerous fields and topics. I produce work about the internet and I think there's a space and it's important that there's an Indigenous voice talking about the internet...
In bright sunshine, Ash wades along a stream between mangrove trees. A startled monitor lizard scuttles up the trunk of a paperbark tree.
..and I think we have unique perspectives on all these kind of different topics and it's not just our place to talk about the environment or to talk about cultural identity, because we have so many other things to offer, you know in a broader art sense.
Ash with some other young men fishing in an inlet, arranging their nets along a row of wooden stakes driven into the sand of the shallows. They collect leaping fish from the nets and store them with ice in their small motorboat.
My home is Minjerribah Island, which is a part of Quandamooka country. What's drawn me back over the years is my connection to family. Learning about our place, our connection to the island.
Overlaying footage of Michelangelo's sculpture of David in a gallery is text that reads, 'In 1501 Michelangelo created a vision of human perfection. In 2019 Ash Perry was given a commission to do the same. He had no knowledge of the commission's origin.'
Sitting on a rock platform in the cove, Ash gazes out to sea.
I was in Nepal when I first got the email saying that I had been selected to be part of the commission.
Ash and a crowd of other young artists at a briefing. A bearded man in a jacket is addressing them while referring to a screen at the front of the room displaying information about the brief.
The brief that I received was to create a vision of human physical perfection. It so took me out of my comfort zone.
Ash strolling through a city and sitting at an outdoor cafe table, flipping through magazines.
I was walking through a shopping centre in Kathmandu and looking at these stock images that were being used to promote products within shops and I thought it was really interesting how photographs of white people that had been pulled from the internet, who were promoting particular products that were quite generic and not really specific to the products which were being sold in the shops.
Ash types the words 'perfect body' into a search engine on his laptop, which comes up with rows and rows of photographs of female underwear models.
And I was kind of interested in algorithm bias, in terms of search engines and how these ideas around human physical perfection are sort of fed to us through the media. That physical perfection is within these ideas of whiteness.
In a workshop, Ash measures an upright metal rod against a spirit level.
For the work, I roughly designed what I wanted it to sort of look like in terms of having these three-dimensional planes that would hold images.
He marks a point on the rod, then rounds off its sharp edge using a power tool. In slow motion, glowing sparks spray up from the metal.
But a lot of it's been like as I've been making the structures, redesigning it as I see it.
Ash sitting back at his laptop, still searching images of bodies and faces from the web, from different eras and cultures.
Quite early on, I realised that I sort of wanted to try to create like an anthology of images around human perfection through exploring the internet and finding different ideas of perfection in different hubs of communities on the internet.
Ash walks into the National Gallery of Victoria.
I've been looking at a number of historical artworks as well and looking at how ideas around beauty and human perfection have changed over time.
In a library, he takes a reference book entitled 'In Vogue' from a shelf. He leafs through that and several others while sitting in the library's reading room.
So I see this work really is forming, as almost like an anthology of what these ideas around physical perfection could be.
In the workshop, he folds down a protective visor before doing some welding work on a metal rod.
For the structure, I've kind of been seeking out a couple of iPads, to sort of fix into the structure, display content that I have been discovering through these searches.
He assembles the structure by attaching various rods on metal bases to each other in a kind of frame.
I sort of like the idea that there would be kinda a couple of screens that would maybe play off a few different ideas against one another. How they sort of exist and coexist on the internet but maybe you don't have a direct dialogue and how that can kind of maybe tease out in a video work.
He attaches a plate of cloudy glass to one of the rods with screws. The plate bears an image of a robotic arm comprised of metal plates and bolts.
How I produced the work was essentially searching the initial brief and then went down one rabbit hole and ended up seeming like a cyborg kind of space, was kind of like post-human, robotics kind of area.
He assembles the metal bases for the structure in a gallery space, then adds in the rods with more plates affixed to them. One plate bears a photograph of a fashion model, another an anatomical diagram of a human heart.
I can readdress this work in the future and maybe contribute to it more as kind of different ideas emerge, or as I find new content. On the structure, add new screens, or add new pieces of glass that hold particular images.
He affixes tablets to some of the rods in the structure, activating them so that clusters of body images scroll across their screens.
I really see it as like maybe a sculpture that could kind of still be contributed to and actually it becomes like a building archive.
On the completed structure, the glass plates remain static while the images on the screens scattered throughout scroll through seemingly endlessly.
Text overlays the artwork that reads '30 emerging artists responded to the themes of the world's most iconic commissions.'
'First commissions. Online gallery now open.'
Anthology of human physical perfection
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“Human physical perfection is whatever you want it be, not what you are told it is.”
Ash Perry began his interrogation into the brief by asking the internet a question: what is human physical perfection? His search results led him down a path that has culminated in a work that exposes how search-engine algorithms reinforce and shape ideals of physical perfection. Inspired by his recent travels in Nepal, the Aboriginal Australian artist observed how commercial brands, specifically beauty brands, communicate to different cultures and ethnicities using images that perpetuate a singular beauty based on dominant ideals. This led the artist to consider the broader impact algorithm-led image searches for beauty and human perfection has on broader society.
Anthology of human physical perfection began with an initial Google search for ‘Human’, ‘Physical’ and ‘Perfection’. Through the process of repeating these searches and engaging with the content, new search parameters were returned, further opening up ideas around human perfection. The representation of these images relative to one another teases out the society’s complex relationship with human physical perfection, with a focus on the internet’s contribution in pushing out a homogenised notion of what it is to be perfect. Ultimately however, through his work Ash finds that human physical perfection can be whatever you want it be, not what you are told it is.
The audio-visual sculpture comprises digital screens that project thousands of images, encouraging the viewer to reflect on the extent to which perceptions of physical perfection are increasingly narrowing in the age of the algorithm.
Ashley Perry asserts fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review under s 41 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) in the reproduction of comparative illustrations in this Artwork. The use of these images is to help clarify concepts, enhance viewers’ overall understanding of the subject matter and provide a critical analysis. The use of Copyrighted Materials and Works of Art by Ashley Perry (“The Artist”), has been confined to that necessary to illustrate the scholarly and critical position of this Artwork and no more. The Artist adheres to these standards and has made every reasonable attempt to ensure the accuracy of credit for each image. The Artist welcomes any uncredited creators to come forward so that he may acknowledge them and correct any errors or omissions. The Artist would like to offer that any creator, or person featured in the work can have their image removed in future iterations by contacting the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) Sculpture and Spatial Practice 2016
Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) Honours 2017
Master of Fine Arts (Visual Art), current student