Bec Jones chats with Jake Preval

31 October 2012

In the Old Testament is the story of Noah and his ark. Two by two, each animal was placed on the ark saving them from a flood that would decimate the land. But VCA student and multi-disciplined artist Jake Preval is asking, “What of the animals who didn’t make it aboard?” His exhibition Costumes for the Ark tells another story. “I think art should challenge, inspire and question,” says Jake. He achieves all three.

Jake’s large wall-mounted photographs are unnerving and direct, each presenting a queer couple in geometric masks standing simply in front of a stark background. They await your decision. “Will you take them aboard or leave them to drown?” Jake’s ideas, thoughts and questions at first translated into workbook sketches and outlines, until pure frustration led him to pose these questions publicly. “Exasperated by the gutlessness of Australian politics, I finally sat down and began making,” he explains.

Jake’s interest in art-making is owed to a creative family, but he will never forget the first time he saw a series of paintings by New Zealander Max Gimblett. “I remember being moved by the raw energy these paintings had,” Jake recalls. “I was in awe of how something as simple as a single stroke of ink could affect you so physically.” One day Jake hopes he’ll have enough money to own one of Gimblett’s works. “That’s the dream, anyway,” he jokes.

For now Jake is taking this inspiration to his own collection. A combination of sculpture and photography, Costumes is raw and honest in its own way. “There is a really interesting play between the purposefully clumsy geometry of the masks, and the soft lines of the body that interests me,” says Jake. Although he admits, “I didn’t really think about the work in sculptural terms until recently.”

Initially the masks were just props for the photographs, but Jake soon realised that they had a distinct presence. For this reason, each mask is displayed alongside the photograph in which it appears. Using acrylic paint, cardboard, hot glue and found objects, the masks transform the photographs from simple portraits to colourful and intriguing images. Their bold and sharp lines deliberately stand out against soft bodies. It is a striking composition.

At the VCA, Jake is completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture and Spatial Practice. The genesis for his exhibition began long before he went there, but it’s changing the way he thinks about the project and the questions he asks himself. Yet it’s what Jake poses to his audience that is especially provoking.

Using the Noah story as a “springboard”, Costumes talks about “who, how and why we value people in society,” Jake explains. “In particular, how we value the relationships of people who do not identify as heterosexual.” Jake hopes that his artwork will challenge viewers’ thinking and perhaps even unsettle some. “The work is supposed to be funny, unnerving and direct,” he says.

Costumes for the Ark is due to open in October as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and initially it would be housed in Melbourne University’s own George Paton Gallery. The gallery, however, has been temporarily closed, leaving Costumes without a home. “Actually, the exhibition becoming homeless has changed the presentation ideas for the work quite considerably,” he says. “I’m still int he process of re-planning my attack, [but] I think it might be a blessing in disguise.” This artist isn’t giving too much away. “You will have to see for yourself how it turns out.”


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