‘Invasion’ is Cook’s most ambitious project to date — a full year in production, with a cast and crew to rival a small film, and a subliminal text that speaks to a narrative shape distinct from the usual storyline. What is notable about an initial encounter with this series of eight images is their chorus of detail and ironic look back, with tongue firmly in cheek, to B-grade movies of the past.
The aesthetic of the 1960s is beautifully captured, down to the muted London light, grainy skies, heightened drama, tweed suits and mini-skirts. In each image, the many (human) protagonists encounter a group of invading aliens but our focus remains with the larger, overwhelming and dominant threat; people do not command the scene. Attention is shared over each element of photographic compositions that appear painterly in their layering and visual rhythms. Unreality is an intrinsic part of Cook’s concept.
In ‘Invasion’ multiple versions of the subject populate generic London city locations: a subway, a telephone box, the Thames riverside, Somerset House and city streets. Cook’s images challenge our ingrained belief systems, yet do not offer judgement. ‘I was never taught Aboriginal history at school, only about the European settlement of Australia.’
In the sestercentennial anniversary year of the commencement of the voyage on HMS Endeavour by the artist’s namesake, Lieutenant James Cook RN, Michael Cook’s ‘Invasion’ turns the Indigenous gaze to create white people as the ‘other’ — to allow the insights possible from slipping into another culture’s shoes. Given current global unrest, this narrative has broad relevance. Its aesthetic layering and double-edged resonances, along with the pleasure of its humour, have created a story with disarming charm and compelling visual power.
Michael Cook is considered to be one of Australia’s most exciting contemporary artists. In 2016 a sellout solo exhibition of his work was exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong.
His work was recently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Colony: Frontier Wars and at the Musee d’ethnographie de Geneve, Switzerland; National Gallery of Singapore; AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, The Netherlands; and Taba Naba at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Exhibitions in 2015 included Personal Structures – Crossing Borders at Palazzo Mora during the 56th Venice Biennale; Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilization at The British Museum, London. His photographic series Majority Rule was the stand out success of the 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire, 2014. Cook’s photographs were exhibited in the 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, 2013.