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Nov
11

Review: ‘Selina Ou: New York’ at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 25th October – 19th November 2011

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A strong, nuanced body of work by Selina Au at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond. In the flesh these large colour photographs have a wonderful, polyvocal presence. The solo portraits are stronger in terms of composition and intertextuality than the double portraits.

Derived from the Latin intertexto, meaning to intermingle while weaving, intertextuality is a term first introduced by French semiotician Julia Kristeva in the late sixties.1 Intertextuality “is always an iteration which is also a re-iteration, a re-writing which foregrounds the trace of the various texts it both knowingly and unknowingly places and dis-places.”2 Intertexuality is how a text is constituted. It fragments singular readings. The reader’s own previous readings, experiences and position within the cultural formation influences these re-inscriptions.

Reminding me of a contemporary redefinition of the work of Diane Arbus, Ou’s reconceptualisations of space “produce a plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.”3 Through a process of materialisation, using the technique of assemblage, Ou weaves a lack of fixity into her photographs. She creates a kind of tapestry in the surfaces of her images, a play of pattern/randomness that redefines the significations of the body in the fold of inscription.

Take the first three portraits in this posting, for example. The photograph Tim, Hair Stylist, Lower East Side, New York weaves space, time and memory within the pictorial frame. The physical space between the portrait on the wall at rear, Tim and the clock at right is crucial to a reading of this photograph, as is the disjuncture between the appearance of the man in the framed photograph (in jacket and tie) and the casual attire of Tim. Just as important is the memorialisation of both men within the same space (where both presumably work/ed), the collapsing of past and present into a fluid space that is neither here nor there (the past of the man in the framed photograph, the moment of passing of Tim when the photograph was ‘taken’ and the present of the photograph being looked at). There is no fixed, monological representation here: the reading of this photograph hovers between past and present, between memory and reality and haunts the body of the subject, Tim.

Similarly, Raquel, Waitress and Fashion Designer, Nolita, New York and Jerome, Retail Assistant and Fashion Designer, Soho, New York offer radical re-iterations of space, this time with less temporal associations. In Raquel, two red chevrons at top left and right frame the face of the subject, playing off the colour-changing hair of the waitress/fashion designer, the title of the photograph an ironic comment on the intertextual nature of contemporary life: a waitress (low paid, menial labourer) and a fashion designer (famous, highly visible entrepreneur). The nonchalantly limp-wristed, ringed hand and over large glasses, coupled with the bedraggled threads of the black shorts – echoing the tousled nature of the subjects hair – also belies the statement “fashion designer.” The word Cervesas (beer) offers a dichotomy with the coloured bottles of flavoured water that surround the lower half of the subject while the reflection in the window behind Raquel provides a metaphorical vista into this distorted world view.

In Jerome, the same problem in a person’s relationship with self and others is evident: the context of Jerome as both a retail assistant (low paid, menial labourer) and a fashion designer (famous, highly visible entrepreneur). The narcissistic, self-importance of Jerome is beautifully portrayed by Ou as she balances the context of his body in space – his polka-dot shirt reflecting the dotted neon of the shops name, his logo emblazoned necklace doing the same, while the reflections in the shop window again hint at outside forces (the car and consumerism) and other worlds. The defiant, could not give a shit gaze of the subject into the camera lens hints at years of subjugation and unrequited ambition for this is not his shop, these are not his clothes despite the label “fashion designer.” He is just a retail assistant, the subject of his own con(text).

The strength of these photographs is that they blur the outlines of the fixed image dispersing an image of totality, “into an unbounded, illimitable tissue of connections and associations, paraphrases and fragments, texts and con-texts.”4 In this sense the solo portraits are much more successful than the rest of the work as Ou magically weaves the tapestry of life into her compositions, ready for the reader to bring their own experiences to these re-inscriptions. In a word these photographs are, literally, breath-taking.

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Many thankx to Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Selina Ou
Tim, Hair Stylist, Lower East Side, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Raquel, Waitress and Fashion Designer, Nolita, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Jerome, Retail Assistant and Fashion Designer, Soho, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Darren, Model and Carlito, Artist, Soho, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Carolyn and Jane, Lolitas, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Issa and Lamine, Taxi Mechanics, Upper West Side, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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1. Keep, Christopher, McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. “Interxtuality,” on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 13/11/2011. elab.eserver.org/hfl0278.html

2. Ibid.,

3. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006.
www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (no longer available)

4. Keep Op cit.,

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Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street
Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tues – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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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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