Fringe Review: Museum of Modernia

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By Louise Pascale


Ok, full disclosure. I saw Sam Kissajukian’s show 300 Paintings and reviewed it here for mindshare last year. It was one of the best shows I saw in 2023 Fringe and for me the epitome of that little gem, tucked away in a small theatre completely removed from the shine of the big Gardens.

This year Sam was asked to come back to the Fringe and take 300 Paintings to a new level at the Light Room Studio at ILA. So for me to review it I had to come in with fresh eyes and that was not hard. The first thing that captivated me was seeing his work in the flesh.

There is something visceral seeing paint on canvas, examining brush strokes, looking deep into the work. Sam’s artwork is a treat for the art enthusiast (and for those who aren’t). The work is kinetic, yet seamlessly joined. You can see a narrative in it, even when that may not the one Sam tells you it is – which he does after the performance. And the cards that give the work an explanation, well that’s a separate piece to this whole show. They are short stories and musings that work with the art, while not working with the art. Go figure.

This is what art is, colour and movement for us all to decide on our own what it means. But in the Museum of Modernia you could easily be fooled in to thinking that art is therapy and through art Sam has not only discovered he lives with bi-polar but has made peace with it. But for me I saw something much bigger. Literally and metaphorically.

Art is Sam’s vehicle for teaching us what living with bi-polar is like. It is not a journey into his mind, but his world. Museum of Modernia is a submerging six month story where Sam chose to give up stand up comedy, rent a warehouse and create art. That could be the joke unto itself but the story that follows is a lesson in what living with bi-polar looks like. With a large surround screen we are taken on the highs, the lows and moments where Sam gives you absolute permission to laugh along with the illogic, which makes complete logic.

From the outset Sam is upfront, telling us we are going on this bi-polar journey with him. For some that would be confronting, for others it makes them curious. Either way Sam’s story telling – clearly refined from his stand up days – keeps you hooked as you go. We start with self-portraits and portraits, to experimenting with methods and form, to the miniatures of those experiments, to his Da Vinci days of invention to where we end at the Museum of Modernia (and how we get there is a circular art story in itself).

All the way you are laughing, enjoying the ride. Sam says he has one goal here and that is to de-stigmatise mental ill-health. But what he does is so much more, his art is a feast for the senses, his story telling is great stand up, and his post show talks around some of his art is the lesson in visual arts you didn’t know you needed – until you do.

5 Stars


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