Lara Thoms is an artists who researches, investigates and explores. Her main area of research tends to be focussed on people. Her work is serious, but deep down it is very funny. Satirical and smart funny. But she is not making fun of the people. Operating on multiple layers and levels of smart funny. Thoms’ work introduces you to aspects of society, and people, who you may never encounter, or even dream of encountering. Joy Hurub, 87 year old Sydney resident who broadcasts television form her garage, is one of these amazing people. And so are the 150 people Thoms’ interviewed as part of her Experts Project.
The Experts Project was a two year participatory performance work project where Thoms spoke with 150 unofficial experts and general members of the public, to learn about and understand their specific expertise, culminating with Thoms posing as the expert and having her photo taken by the original expert, to signify the exchange of information. This work explores ideas of pedagogy, skill and learning, voyeurism and also traditions of craft and the passing on and sharing of knowledge. Lessons include how to host a medieval dinner party; slice frozen fish; and even how to enter and exit combat zones. As previously mentioned, Thoms is a smart funny artist. But when she presents her expert lessons, she does so with the utmost respect for the person. There is a faint level of parody, but above all her lessons show that event the everyday jobs require expertise.
Practice: Students could engage in a number of art making activities to emulate Thoms practice. They could research a topic, or an expertise, and give a presentation to the class on that topic.
Students could pair off, and one student identifies an expertise of theirs, such as stamp collecting, video games, dancing etc, that they teach and pass on to the the other student. The student who learnt the expertise then presents their knowledge to the class.
Photography exercise of portraiture.
The final photographs of Thoms dressed as the expert, to me, are reminiscent of Cindy Sherman’s conceptual portraits. The introduction of Sherman’s work could contrast nicely with the Thoms, in relation to the study of people, and their representation. Sherman works with series, often portraying Caucasian women and dressing up in elaborate costumes to portray the characters.
Cultural: You could compare the culture represented in both Thoms and Sherman’s work. Even though there is an element of parody and jest that can be interpreted from the works, both artists are dealing with true themes, respecting their subjects. You can explore the film noir aspect of both works, and discuss what it is that each artist is attempting to gain through dressing up as someone else.
Structural: Lara Thom’s work is a great way to explore different mediums, and the ephemeral aspects of performance. What is the artwork? When Thoms talks to the expert? When she give the presentation? Or the photograph at the end, the recording of the work? You are discussing a work you have not or cannot view in entirety as it occurred in the past? How does this change the understanding of the work?
- MCA flyer: http://www.mca.com.au/events/experts-project/
- Real Rime Arts Article, 05 May 2012. http://www.realtimearts.net/studio-artist/the-experts-project
- Cindy Sherman at GoMA: https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/cindy-sherman
- Cindy Sherman at MoMA: