Born 1986, Redcliffe, Queensland. Lives and works Brisbane and Wahgi Valley, Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea
Eric Bridgeman is a multidisciplinary artist. The dominant focus of his work involves the discussion of social and cultural issues, often using the theatre of sport as a springboard for his ideas. Recent visits to his homeland have allowed Bridgeman to explore the realm of ‘tribal warfare’ in the PNG Highlands, which mimics the drama, colour and trickery seen in its national sport, Rugby League. His people, the Yuri Alaiku clan of the Gumine district in Simbu Province, have crafted shields (Kuman) with bold, optically stunning motifs for countless generations and these traditions have shaped his current practice.
Photograph: Mick Richards
by John von Sturmer
Shields might seem a simple affair and possibly are. We may be apt to think of them as protective, less as assertive. And when they have a fictional aspect, as these shields do, what is the fictional account that is being made manifest? Every fiction involves its own truths. Whether the fiction masks the truths or reveals them, as it were, under wraps, is a matter for conjecture. With objects that have a precise geographical origin they take on the aspect of a flying carpet that can transfer us hither and yon. Such objects unleash a set of possibilities but also make plain the determinations in play. They are historically inscribed but at the same time sketch out or point towards futures that can scarcely be imagined. Might we think of the enemy within and the enemy without? The fiction is a speculation, a statement of what might be and is. It can look to the past, too: to the ficto-actual world of the Ancestors. The enemy can be warded off through a sort of creative homeopathy: a more-or-less small dose artfully applied.
Who in this Age of Now is the enemy? Where does it reside? How does it proceed? In its demands for order what is being ‘urged’ and for whom? What shall we say about the issue of innocence?
Art and the painted surface and seduction. We may remain indifferent and there may be art that actively seeks disengagement. The indifference of art may be likened to the indifference of nature. Art and nature are worlds that are both immediately accessible and terminally impenetrable. Can we say that art is apt to fuck you over and doesn’t give a damn?
The shields matter, though equally we can see them disposed of by the roadside. How then, if ever, do they acquire the patina of use, renewal, abandonment? My own leaning tends towards the cast-off. The shields of others may be trophies, but one’s own, what of them? Do they get invested somehow with a secret power or aura?
The football guernsey is closer to the skin than the shield. But then the football guernsey is less about protection than identification. The shield announces belonging and ownership; it is a guernsey of sorts but hovers before the body. It places the bearer in a position of invisibility. The shield operates in a zone of high visibility; it cannot be taken as a representation of the body, for it is both more and less than the body.
Now, was the shield to bear the image or the insignia of the other, what then? What if the other were forced to confront themselves in the act of encountering their presumed opponent? This tilts the notion of the alter ego in the direction of ‘same but different’. We might wish to argue that identity begins with negation, but also to add that the enemy is the true pillar of the self. Might we argue, then, that this array of shields represents a search for the ennemi idéal; and the texts that appear on the verso, a more-or-less inscrutable set of self-announcements meant ‘for my eyes only’? Doodles of self, we might say, a secret array of incantations that are the true bearers of protective force if not intent.