Mannequins strike a pose


The desire to ‘climb the ladder’ of the social and economic order is humorously questioned by Justene Williams in The Vertigoats 2021. Lurid department-store shelving and vivid mannequins create the mood of a hyped-up retail environment. Williams distorts the mannequins’ limbs to draw attention to the ridiculousness of the ideal body propagated by the fashion industry and social media.

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Reinforcing the ‘vertigo’ alluded to in the artwork’s title, climbing holds and geometric boulders reference in-vogue rock-climbing gyms. The Vertigoats points to the irony of the fashion and wellness industries which, while advertising themselves as a means to realise individuality, actually engender conformity. In this way, Williams’s sculptures mimic not only shop props but also robots, making the analogy that people who are mindlessly devoted to contemporary trends are akin to androids.

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A few figures appear so completely consumed in their screens that they are unaware of their surroundings. The Vertigoats highlights how contemporary individuals have become so engrossed with perfecting their bodily and digital selves that they ignore the world. With wit and verve, Williams sounds a warning about the breakdown of personal and social relations.

Justene Williams, Australia b.1970 / Installation view of The Vertigoats 2021 / Mixed media / Purchased 2021 with funds from the Contemporary Patrons through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Justene Williams / Photograph: K Bennett © QAGOMA