Review: ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd June – 3rd July, 2010


Many thankx to Amelia Douglas and Jenny Port Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in this posting.


A huge gallery crawl on Wednesday last saw me take in exhibitions at Nellie Castan Gallery (‘Malleus Melficarum’: strong sculptural work by James and Eleanor Avery; ‘Broken Canon’: vibrant mixed media collages by Marc Freeman); Anita Traverso Gallery (‘Peristereonas’: sculptures, photographs and mixed media by Barry Thompson); John Buckley Gallery (‘Perpetua’ by Emma can Leest, beautiful cut paper works; rather mundane paintings by Christian Lock); Karen Woodbury Gallery (‘Every breath you take’: wonderful galaxy-like paintings, perhaps as seen by the Hubble telescope, with a geometric/cellular base by Lara Merrett); The Centre for Contemporary Photography (‘Event horizon’: a group exhibition that “engages the horizon as a means to establish a physical locality with relation to the Earth’s surface and more broadly to the universe of which it is a miniscule component.” An exhibition that left me rather cold); and ACCA (‘Towards an elegant solution’ by Peter Cripps, again a singularly unemotional engagement with the precise, contained work: interesting for how the work explores spatial environments but in an abstract, intellectual way).

The stand out work from this mammoth day was ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery. Simply put, it was the strongest, most direct, most emotionally powerful work that I saw all day.





Jill Orr



Jill Orr’s new participatory performances are photographs of children from Avoca Primary School painted with white clay from the area, displayed in pairs. The children are photographed once with eyes open, once with eyes closed. Orr asked the children to imagine their future life when they had their eyes closed. The key to the work is a group photograph of the ghostly children outside the primary school where everyone is isolated from each other (see photograph below).

“White faces loom up out of a dark ground, described by Orr as a void. On the surface these portraits are finely crafted, the skin of masked face becomes one with the digital file to create a facial landscape. The materiality of the face and the photographic file are exposed for the viewer. Titling the series ‘vision’ Orr ventures into a ‘haptic visuality’ where “vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes.”

From the catalogue essay by Professor Anne Marsh, Monash University


In the performance, the ritual of being photographed, Orr instructs the children who are placed under the surveillance of the camera. “We are confronted  with the pose, the conscious composition of the image to be photographed, the inherent constructedness of the posed photograph.”1 The child assumes the pose by which they wish to be memorialized. The gaze (of the camera, of the viewer) is returned/or not in this spectacle.

Something happens when we look at these photographs. The text of the photographs becomes intertextual, producing as Barthes understands a “plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.”2 This is because, as Foucault observes, texts “are caught up in a system of references to … other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network …  Its unity is variable and relative.”3

The photographs invite us to share not only the mapping of the surface of the skin and the mapping of place (the history of white people living on the land in country Australia) and identity but the sharing of inner light, the light of the imaginary as well – and in this observation the images become unstable, open to reinterpretation. The distance between viewer and subject is transcended through an innate understanding of inner and outer light. The photographs seduce, meaning, literally, to be led astray.

As American photographer Minor White, who photographed in meditation hoping for a revelation in spirit though connection between person > subject > camera > negative > print, observes in one of his Three Canons

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over


Here the power of the photographer acting in isolation, the modernist tenet of authorship, is overthrown. In it’s place, “White supposes a relationship with subject that is a two way street: by granting the world some role in its own representation we create a photograph that is not so much a product solely of individual actions as it is the result of a negotiation in which the world and all its subjects might participate.”5 The autobiography of a soul born in the age of mechanical reproduction. This is the power of these photographs for something intangible within the viewer does take over. I found myself looking at the photographs again and again for small nuances, the detail of hairs on the head, the imagining of what the person was thinking about with their eyes closed: their future, their fears, their hopes, the ‘active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures’ (Orr, 2010).

These photographs seem to lengthen or protract time through this haptic touching of inner light. As Pablo Helguera observes in his excellent essay ‘How To Understand the Light on a Landscape’ that examines different types of light (including experiental light, somber light, home light, ghost light, the light of the deathbed, protective light, artificial light, working light, Sunday light, used light, narrated light, the last light of day, hotel light, transparent light, after light, the light of the truly blind and the light of adolescence but not, strangely, inner light)

“Experience is triggered by light, but not exclusively by the visible light of the electro-magnetic spectrum. What the human eye is incapable to perceive is absorbed by other sensory parts of the body, which contribute to the perception that light causes an effect that goes beyond the merely visual …

There is the LIGHT OF ADOLESCENCE, a blinding light that is similar to the one we feel when we are asleep facing the sun and we feel its warmth but don’t see it directly. Sometimes it marks the unplace, perhaps the commonality of all places or perhaps, for those who are pessimists, the unplaceness of every location …

We may choose to openly embrace the darkness of light, and thus let ourselves through the great gates of placehood, where we can finally accept the unexplainabe concreteness of our moments for what they are.”6


In the imagination of the darkness that lies behind these children’s closed eyes is the commonality of all places, a shared humanity of memory, of dreams. These photographs testify to our presence and ask us to decide how we feel about our life, our place and the relation to that (un)placeness where we must all, eventually, return.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog




Jill Orr



Jill Orr
‘Avoca Primary School’



“Jill Orr’s work centres on issues of the psycho-social and environmental where she draws on land and identities. Grappling with the balance and discord that exists between the human spirit, art and nature, Orr has, since the 1970s, delighted, shocked and moved audiences through her performance installations.

This current body of work involved children from the Avoca Primary School as active participants in Orr’s performance for the camera. The result is a series of high contrast black and white photographic portraits, which are shown as diptychs portraying the different states of seeing both outwardly and inwardly. One of each pair frames the child looking directly at the camera. The gaze meets the viewer. Who is looking at whom? The second captures the child whose eyes are closed. An inner world is intimated, but not accessible to the viewer.

In terms of the ‘gaze’, these works turn to the child as conveyer of the imaginary engaging both within and without. ‘I have found that creative acts require the visionary sensibilities of both the inner and outer world to operate simultaneously, consciously and unconsciously as dual aspects of the one action. In this instance the action is that of active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures.’[Jill Orr, 2010]. The portraits also reflect the present relationship to place that is etched into the faces of youth as already kissed by the harsh Australian sun.

Avoca is one of many townships that has been socially, economically and environmentally affected by drought and climate change. The portraits are created against this background.”

Text from the Jenny Port Gallery website




Jill Orr
‘Vision’ installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery
June 2010



1. Feiereisen, Florence and Pope, Daniel. “True Fiction and Fictional Truths: The Enigmatic in Sebald’s Use of Images in ‘The Emigrants'” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, p.175.

2. Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text” in Image, Music, Text. trans. S. Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (link no longer active)

3. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1973 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (link no longer active)

4. White, Minor. Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations. Aperture, 1969.

5. Leo, Vince. Review of Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations on Amazon website [Online] Cited 26/06/2010.

6. Helguera, Pablo. “How to Understand the Light on a Landscape,” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, pp.110-119.



Jenny Port Gallery

Level One, 7 Albert Street
Richmond, Victoria, Australia

Open: Wed-Sat 11-5pm, or by Appointment

Jenny Port Gallery website

Jill Orr website

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4 Responses to “Review: ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne”

  1. June 29, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Hy there, verry good post i really enjoy it reading.Gorgeous pics!

    • 2 bunyanth
      June 30, 2010 at 2:09 am

      Thankyou for your comments = much appreciated 🙂
      It takes a lot of work to research and write the reviews!

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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