***** stars

By Natalia Ristovska

“Artists need trauma to create…but when everyone feels trauma, well then everyone’s a f*cking artist…and when everyone’s an artist, there is no art!” – Juniper Wilde

There is a strange yet not wholly unfamiliar feeling that has been permeating the Australian arts scene since long before the dreaded Lachy D came to visit. Some call it FOMO (fear of missing out) – the love-child of our collective Imposter Syndrome and that guy that calls himself Tall Poppy (not a rapper). Others call it “what the hell am I doing with my life and why is no one looking”? In a country where fringe arts are very much kicked under the rug in favour of more conservative and commercially marketable fare, many a creative has sat in a darkened room staring blankly into the void wondering just what the hell it is all for…and why?

And then…Coronavirus – a breeding ground not only for the actual plague, but the explosion of the digital age of online streaming content. Sure, we already had influencers – makeup gurus, drama queens with no qualifications whatsoever other than to say racist things then fake-cry apologies when their follower count started to go backwards, a handful of actually useful how-to videos – but nothing like the tidal wave of online platforms and services that have seen a considerable uptick in use since the first time we heard the word lockdown.

Enter Alex Hines in glaring, gauche lamé and neon, looking like she wrestled a milf unicorn and it’s Gen Z illegitimate spawn for her outfit, tongue planted firmly in cheek as she tries – and succeeds – to embody the most vapid, vacuous and cringe-worthy parody of an influencer for the modern age: Juniper Wilde.

Part Bondi-wannabe wellness guru, part every post-show artist ever after a few tequilas, Juniper is horrifically glorious in her mediocrity. Her fragmented and stilted infomercial narrative is the epitome of awkward, peppered with enough “was that racist?” moments to make the viewer dislike her intensely while wondering what the hell is wrong with this person, and should I be calling the CAT team? We love and hate Juniper because we’ve seen too many TikToks like this that we thought were a joke…but weren’t.

Hines’ performance is flawless – and by flawless I mean an absolute trash fire. She is so convincing as Juniper that the viewer would be excused for wanting to run very far away for the first third of the show, before the ill-fated and clearly very disturbed Juniper’s anxieties and insecurities somehow manage to bleed through the TV and infect us all (spoiler alert: they already have). From the very first moment Juniper springs to life before us, right through to the train-wreck of a conclusion, Hines holds her own – keeping the audience captivated and dangling somewhere between wanting to feel empathy for this pitiful creature and really really wanting to see her fall. It’s a balancing act of emotional manipulation that is not easy to maintain – but Hines is up to the task. By the end, you don’t completely despise Juniper as much as you thought you did…or you just adore Hines’ artistic prowess enough to forgive her for putting your through hell. Here is an artist who is not afraid to get their hands dirty, is fully comfortable being as gross as required, and understands that sometimes you have to be ugly onstage to be beautiful. It’s not about pushing boundaries – it’s about pushing personal limits to tell a story, and Hines has got it down.

The hour-long ride is peppered with cleverly placed ads that serve to break up the cringe with more cringe (but it’s ok, because you still get to watch Hines’ being brilliant), and a mock ASMR piece involving pop-rocks that almost steals the show. Ticket holders are treated to Juniper’s favourite recipes of ‘Juni’s Noonies’ (an abomination of a crime against 2 min noodles) and a ‘Wet and Wilde’ cocktail so they can get in on the sensory experience (which can be found on Hines’ website here: https://www.alexandrahines.com/wildenightin), and a music video finale that is strangely ear-wormy and comforting after what has come before.

On the AV front, all is in order. The editing and video quality is of a high standard (if slightly too high quality for this humble reviewer’s dated little laptop), but it does not outshine the project. There is a sense that the sound and lighting could very well have been better and the creative team clearly possesses the gear to do so, but have opted instead for the sometimes blurred, stilted camera and muffled microphone route that lends authenticity to the show. Make no mistake, however, the AV team know exactly what they are doing and it’s done on purpose. If it looks bad, it’s because it’s supposed to.

The script is punchy and on point, with enough absurdist idiocy to keep those after “light viewing” entertained, while possessing the intellectual depth required for the more discerning and politically-minded viewer. There is an actual point to the show beyond watching the fall of “Australia’s one true Gay Icon,” and Juniper’s insecurity and underlying need for validation permeates every frame, reflecting the emotional plight of too many an artist doomed to online limbo for the past two years. There is a danger here of some things hitting a little too close to home – but what is the point of fringe art if not to challenge us?

Juniper Wilde is a stark reminder of the emotional and mental toll of isolation on the creative. Or those who wish they were creative. Or those who really just need the adoration of other people to make themselves feel worthy. It calls into question not only the value that others place on the arts (looking at you Federal Government), but what we ourselves see as valid and important creatively, and our motivations for doing so. At a time when literally anyone with a smart-phone can shart out a few seconds of badly lit content and call it a masterpiece (and, to be fair, who are we to say that it isn’t?), where social media influencers receive millions in revenue for doing the bare minimum of being a decent human being, where we’re all sitting locked in our houses creating seemingly pointless content for others to mindlessly consume in an attempt to remain relevant…Hines has come in like a wrecking ball holding up a mirror.

Juniper Wilde is, in some way, all of us.

Pass the Noonies.

CW: Contains strobe lights and sustained bright lights, haze effects, some nudity, moderate coarse language, both sudden and sustained loud noises, potentially triggering content or themes, including Self Harm or Suicide, Drug use, Alcohol Use, Death, Mental Health, COVID-19/Coronavirus