Simryn Gill: Weaving emotion out of words

Simryn Gill’s oft-dizzying works of art call attention to a subject that’s a perpetual source of debate the world over.

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The subject of migrants and immigration, especially in Australia, never loses its spotlight. For one reason or another, it’s one of the most talked about issues in the country. One one hand you’ve got politicians and citizens who express their discontent at the economical imbalance that’s created as a result of a high number of migrants every year, and on the other, those who are outsiders but now call the country their home.

Simryn Gill’s Carbon Copy, 1998, currently displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Arts as part of the ongoing Sydney Biennale, brings into focus the people at the other end of the migrant issue: the migrants themselves.

Carbon Copy comprises 53 parts, including 26 typed texts and their carbon copies. The text, typewritten, features words and statements by Australian politician Pauline Hanson and Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad regarding immigration and refugees. Some of them include ‘It’s not nice to say bad things about others but we have to do it’, ‘foreign miscreants and parasites’ and ‘Before raising the gun to shoot someone make sure the person is really the intended target’.

The words are repeated over and over again and deliberately typed overlapping each other to create a feeling of chaos and urgency. From a distance, the words together seem abstract, inconspicuous. The repetitive pattern appears to create a woven fabric-like texture to indicate that the hateful and accusatory phrases have become a part of daily lives. The closer you go, however, the more they seem to ‘scream’.

Not to trivialize Gill’s work, but her works also bring to mind all the scenes from the popular American sitcom Simpsons where Bart is punished by being asked to repeatedly write the same words over and over again on the blackboard. The genre might be humour, but everyone knows the underlying comment.

The similarity lies in the fact that both express thought-provoking issues in society (consider the episode Bart writes ‘Being right sucks’ that aired right after Trump was elected President, a message from its creators who correctly predicted the presidency 17 years earlier). At any rate, Gill’s artwork is sure to leave you a little agitated, a little troubled for it is the agitation and the trouble inside the mind of a migrant that her work reflects.