Critics’ Picks

View of “Unchained Malady,” 2021.

View of “Unchained Malady,” 2021.


Matthew Griffin

Fine Arts, Sydney
23 Hampden Street
February 24–April 1, 2021

Matthew Griffin wants a job that pays enough for him to get his teeth fixed. In fact, he’s made multiple video works about his proposal for arts funding in Australia to be scrapped in order to provide all artists over thirty-five with free dental care. He’s joking, obviously, but the joke is hardly the point in Griffin’s work (precisely because it’s often the only point). The forty-four-year-old Sydney-based artist would likely scoff at the suggestion that he’s made a career out of performing deliberately flat, stupid, artist-insider jokes. But amid the spirit of creative precarity that has reached epic proportions during the pandemic, Griffin has garnered a singular reputation for what we in Australia call “taking the piss”—a sardonic undercutting of self-seriousness and spin. In Unchained Malady, 2021, 133 short videos primed for Instagram attention spans play one after the other on a huge lonely monitor in the middle of the gallery. Some are about his teeth—a turtle superimposed with the word “me” painstakingly tries to catch a goldfish representing “a job that pays enough that I can get my teeth fixed”—some are about the Australian government’s response to the virus, but most are about the zany, scary, fucked-up media circus that accompanied Covid life in the time of President @realdonaldtrump (yes, even Down Under).

Aesthetically, Griffin gives Fox News reports and US government press conferences the John Stezaker treatment, splicing their live gaffes and prevarications with amateur YouTube videos—of people playing the bongos, receiving massages, doing card tricks or, inexplicably, burning square pieces of cheese on a candle. A folk semionaut with an eye for memes so dopey they become surreal, Griffin has made a work that, particularly after watching for an hour or so, feels more like an exercise in attending to one’s internet addictions than a Vic Berger–like stab at political parody. There are genuine post-internet anxieties in this exhibition—about fake news, fake creatives, too many devices, too much commentary, the dark arts of value extraction online—but, here, for now at least, we can also take comfort in watching a cowboy monkey riding a dog.