Review: Larissa MacFarlane’s Grandstanding not Handstanding

Review for Larissa MacFarlane’s exhibition and residency Grandstanding not Handstanding by Liz Wright.

Larissa MacFarlane has carved, etched, printed, pasted, posed and in her 18th year as an artist – mid-career she introduced her spectacular solo show ‘Grandstanding not Handstanding’ at Footscray Community Arts Centre with another of her fine creative talents – her words. Raw, eloquent and honest.

Larissa’s story and explanation of her time over the years developing her work and the rationale and reasoning behind it has a sublime resonance that kept the room riveted as she gave her artists speech. I have included some excepts throughout this review.

Larissa talked about Shame and Pride. It is a constant that is thought, discussed and argued about in the disability world. It is present in the world we inhabit and the way we move around in this space as people with disability. Larissa, an accomplished award winning artist talked about her walk from shame to pride and the confusion that comes along with these feeling and judgement.

‘….I felt shame at the fact that I couldn’t always follow a conversation like I used to, or find the right words to explain myself.
I feel shame that sometimes I am so emotionally over reactive to everything.
I felt shame that I didn’t have a job.
I feel shame that I can’t engage socially like I did before.
And sometimes I feel ashamed of my Brain Injury.

And I was ashamed of the shame. And I couldn’t work out where it came from.
And these messages of shame came from everywhere.

 My shame is because I have internalised society’s attitudes towards People With Disability and Mental Illness.
You see, our society doesn’t value People with Disability.’ 

– Larissa speaking at the opening of Grandstanding not Handstanding

So for now with this in mind let’s talk about the work here and how an acquired brain injury (ABI) gives the artist her artistic talent.

Very focused and detailed works with precision and elegance make it hard to keep your eyes focused on the intricate lines and density in some of the works. This is seen in the beautiful work and my most favourite work in the entire show The paths of our future are made not found (2015), linocut on marbled paper. The absolute complex, intertwining and endless lines are compelling.

The clean, clear, softness and duplicity of image of A pair of magnets (2016/17) from the TMS trial, linocut on found polygraph chart recorder paper displays another tier to Larissa’s control and fluidity of line. This exhibition offers many different views of the artist’s ability to move through different styles and medium.

Let’s get to the Handstands. If you have been anywhere in Footscray or indeed the Arts Centre in the CBD and many other spots you will be familiar with the many life size paste ups of Larissa doing her ‘daily’ handstands. She has done a minimum of one a day for over 13 years as a means to manage pain, stress and contribute to her well being.

Theses places are marked for past and future great handstands (The Universities) (2017) woodcut, paper and collage. This is a beautiful and complex piece which shows Larissa doing a handstand against a wall with heart monitoring patterns, some letters and mapping. It is fabulous.

‘…..And so I made a promise to myself for my eighteenth anniversary last year that I would ‘come out’ and be proud.

…But I want to create a space so that we can mark our anniversaries without this shame. I am not trying to negate the losses and heartaches and struggles that accompany Brain Injury and other disabilities. But I want us to be proud of our achievements.

So I have been practicing disability pride this past year. It is one way of challenging that shame, that can be so crippling at times, this shame that is not ours, but belongs to a wider society that is yet to recognise our value.’ 

– Larissa speaking at the opening of Grandstanding not Handstanding

The pile of take away badges with pieces of her works and also an excerpt from the famous Laura Hershey poem were a bit of fun with a message. I got two of them and have worn them since. Here is what one of them says.

‘….Remember, you weren’t the one
Who made you ashamed,
But you are the one
Who can make you proud.
Just practice,
Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
Keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud by practicing.’

–  You Get Proud by Practicing by Laura Hershey

This is a solo show that is full of pride. This exhibition covers time, emotions, honesty and also most importantly the artwork is varied, detailed, skilful and outstanding.

Liz Wright is a broadcaster and producer at 3CR – Are You Looking At Me?, MetroAccess officer, lover of ideas, laughing and art.

Photography credit: Snehargho Ghosh

1 – Larissa MacFarlane speaking at the opening of Grandstanding not Handstanding.
2 – Larissa MacFarlane’s artwork in the Gabriel Gallery. 

©2020 Footscray Community Arts Centre