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San Remo, Victoria, Australia born 1974

  • USA 2002, England 2003-2006, USA from 2006

Rooftop shoot out with chimpanzee 1999 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, cardboard, wood, plastic model figures and portable record player

Dimensions: 53.0 h x 33.0 w x 30.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Peter Fay 2001
Accession No: NGA 2001.160
Image rights: © Ricky Swallow

Ricky Swallow draws upon a personal archive of experience swamped by American popular culture. His sources, from the original Star Wars to Planet of the Apes, are excavated from teenage memories or from video and late-night commercial television re-runs. His talents as a model maker are undeniable, whilst the stigma usually associated with this primarily adolescent hobby is deflected by the highly cerebral nature of his work, as well as the incisive critique of contemporary culture in his ‘memories made plastic’.

Roof top shoot out with chimpanzee was one of 20 works in the artist’s installation Even the odd orbit 1998–99 in the 1999 Melbourne International Biennial. The shoot out is staged on a ten-storey, but half-metre tall, office block, the blank grey cardboard facade a replica of the building that housed the Biennial. An obsolete 1960s record turntable not only provides the mechanical but also the whimsical visual foundations of the work. Once activated, this low-tech kinetic contraption is reminiscent of an old-fashioned music box, the chimpanzee spinning like a prima ballerina on one foot, keeping a captive audience at bay.

The toy-like associations and diminutive scale of the architecture and cast of characters initially mitigates the sinister themes explored by the artist. The chimpanzee, the once celebrated subject of genetic experimentation, has now become a fugitive with a gun and nowhere to run. The viewer’s own probing curiosity becomes a metaphor for the ever-watchful eye of Big Brother. In Roof top shoot out with chimpanzee,Swallow has extrapolated from Hollywood cinema a model for a brave new world.

Steven Tonkin

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002