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Art, Reviews //

Review: ‘Finding Mikey’ at Peach Black Gallery

Over the weekend, Joi Murugavell’s stunning new solo exhibition lit up a hidden corner of Chippendale.

Joi Murugavell in her studio, 2022.

Concepts of the sublime and the uncanny may seem like outlandish ideas with little substance or draw on our everyday life. Though, if you look at life under a microscope and search for amusement amid everyday experiences, what you’ll find is the zeitgeist of your life — the small peculiarities, the banal yet whimsical discoveries within your environment. 

It was Mike Featherstone, a theorist of the conceptual ‘everyday,’ who delineated it as the “repetitive taken-for-granted… the mundane ordinary world…the sphere of reproduction and maintenance.” Furthermore, Richard Goldstein described the banality of everyday life as “an enigmatic surface, a willed simplicity that generates contemplation of emptiness.” 

Featherstone’s mundane sphere of maintenance and Goldstein’s surface of contemplative emptiness were radically turned on their head this weekend at Peach Black Gallery in Chippendale. Sydney-based artist Joi Murugavell presented her solo-exhibition Finding Mikey as a lovingly farcical world in which the banality of life is transformed into pure vibrancy.  

The works on display ranged from mattress-sized mixed-media canvases to installation works consisting of chairs and skateboards wearing converse shoes. Peppered throughout each were indexical traces of life, of Murugavell’s everyday — but as viewers, you are also given the chance to find traces of your own everyday within the artworks. 

The title Finding Mikey is in reference to Murugavell’s friend Mikey who digitally scans and documents her joyfull, large-scale works. Over time, Murugavell began to leave coded messages within her artworks meant for Mikey to find — the result is a collection of 16 works that each demand a watchful eye and close examination. 

Commonplace, everyday phrases like “I just want things to go back to normal,” “I’m happy with vindaloo takeaway,” and “If that’s all there is, let’s keep dancing” are penciled in around larger visual structures. Easily missed, if not engaged with closely, amongst the sketchbook-like imagery. Which words are left for Mikey to find? Only he knows that, but we’re invited to get in on the inside jokes and painted secrets. 

The works Studio Notes (the great defogger) (2021) and The Carnival of The Animals (Finding Mikey) (2021) were perhaps two of my personal favorite works on display, featuring fluffy pom-pom noses (needing regular ‘fluffing up’ according to Mikey) and endearing stick-figures, the work is a feast for the eyes. Operating almost like an artistic treasure-hunt, each work is embedded with hidden meanings, figures and symbols — spending time in the flesh and visually dissecting each one felt like an easter-egg hunt, each person finding their own meanings or ‘eggs’ within the art.

A final standout work was Eat, Ink and Die (2022); a smaller canvas painted yellow with a vibrant blue muppet (Grover) posed on it, above written text which said “Just another homosapien looking for meaning.” In my eyes, Eat, Ink and Die embodies the throughline of the exhibition; that is, transforming the macabre, existential dread of life into something magical by contorting it into vivacious representations which find joy in the everyday. 

The exhibition’s opening night was only topped off by Murugavell handing out a series of hand painted ‘Mikey masks’ for attendees to wear. Each one unique and signed, they only drew the crowd closer into Murugavell’s world — bringing us all one step closer to Finding Mikey.