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Review: ‘Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1 – 41’ by Nicola Loder at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 7th April 2012

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“Fredric Jameson wrote that in the postmodern world, the subject is not alienated but fragmented. He explained that the notion of alienation presumes a centralized, unitary self who could become lost to himself or herself. But if, as a postmodernist sees it, the self is decentred and multiple, the concept of alienation breaks down. All that is left is an anxiety of identity… In simulation, identity can be fluid and multiple, a signifier no longer points to a thing that is signified, and understanding is less likely to proceed through analysis than by navigation through virtual space.”

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Sherry Turkle. Life on The Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, p.49.

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I have always loved the work of Nicola Loder ever since I saw her solo exhibition Child 1-175: A Nostalgia for the Present at Stop 22 Gallery in St Kilda in 1996. This exhibition is no exception. Loder is the consummate professional, her work is as imaginative and intriguing as ever and there has been a consistent thematic development of ideas within her work over a long period of time. These ideas relate to the nature of seeing and being seen, the mapping of identity and the process of its (dis)appearance.

This latest iteration of her ongoing series Tourist (described in detail, below, in the erudite essay by Stuart Koop) again involves de/reconstructions of identity through slippages, elisions, deletions, disappearances and transformations. In Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1 – 41 the shroud-like effigies that result from Loder’s project, a reference reinforced by the muslin cloth lying over the bench in the gallery space (see the installation photographs below), are a repeated re-presentation of a lost or missing identity: the disappearance of the person in their own minds; photography’s “capture” of the original person; Loder’s deletion of this identity (I was there) to be substituted by Photoshop’s geometric algorithms; the West Bengali women’s reinterpretation of this disappearance; and the reappearance of a new energy in the colourful, embroidered reinterpretations. I have very much a feeling of a spiritual energy in this last embodiment – think of the link between death and the spirit (as in the Shroud of Turin),

The images have multiple narratives and are already textualized but Loder disrupts this marking, the continual reiteration of norms by weaving a lack of fixity into her objects. In her reconceptualisations of space and matter Loder redefines the significations of the body in the fold of inscription, through a process of materialisation. But this materialisation, like the image seared into the fabric of the Shroud of Turin, still somehow eludes us. This is what makes this work so tantalising…

This interweaving of texts culminates in the body inscribed on another plane existing in, as Loder herself describes it, a “de-constructed non-space somewhere between image, imagination, identity, language and being,” which, as Stuart Koop observes, “is… not a removal or deletion but a reconfiguration beyond verisimilitude, beyond our appearance to others and ourselves.” This is the navigation through a virtual space that Sherry Turkle posits in the quotation at the top of the posting, where the self is decentred and identity is fluid and multiple.

Loder’s exquisitely sensuous description of disappearance allows us to see the phenomenal word afresh. I look forward with a sense of anticipation to the next voyage of discovery the artist will take me on.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Nicola Loder, Stuart Koop and Helen Gorie Galerie for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1 – 41 by Nicola Loder, installation photograph at Helen Gorie Galerie

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West Bengali woman embroidering the Disappearances

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“Photographer Nicola Loder explores the way in which people see.

The purpose of photography is largely to make things visible. Inspired in part by her experiences teaching blind children photography, Loder reverses photography’s function using it instead to capture objects and experiences that aren’t visible. She embraces Photoshop but counters its typical role of improving clarity and focus, rather using it to collapse images into layers of pattern and colour.

‘Tourist #5: disappearing project 1 – 40’ is a multi-faceted project that teases out notions of seeing and being seen and the role of creator as truth teller. Loder sent out a flyer inviting people who had disappeared to send her a full-length image of themselves with a written description of what happened when they disappeared. The stories and images she received range from out of body near death experiences to the mundane act of sleeping, each shedding light on what people identify as disappearing. Loder then manipulated the submitted images into highly colorful digital patterns, resonant of her earlier photographic work. She took the reworked images to India where they were embroidered onto muslin by local women in West Bengal. The result is beautiful hand-embroidered works that reflect the women’s personal interpretations of the images and incorporate their rich history, cultural patterns and iconography.

“The obliterated, atomized, reconfigured portraits ‘rematerialise’ as tapestries executed by women from a small rural village, at the margins of Indian society, who – but for NGOs dedicated to overcome disadvantage, in this case Street Survivors empowering rural women through skills development – are largely invisible to their communities, to politicians, as well as their castes.

Of course, Loder has paid these women, a means of recognizing and honoring their work, a means of bringing them into view, at the margins of economy, welfare and community. Indeed, she has taken their portraits and documented them at work, and it’s a startling contrast. Our middle-class stories, anxieties and interests ending up in the careful hands of these women in colourful saris, sitting and working together, our (largely) passing concerns darned into the muslin cloth in their laps, our own saturated photographic hues indistinguishable from the bright chaos of folded cloth and pleated skirts, with their nimble fingers tracing our desires and cares in bright lurid threads.” (Stuart Koops, 2012)

For Loder India is a central tenet of the project given its multiple associations with disappearing, from the focus on meditation to the burning of bodies at the Ghats in Varanasi, the final act of disappearing. On a personal level Loder lived in Calcutta as a child and views her experience of leaving India as another act of disappearing: both her Indian Ayah (Moti) and India physically disappeared from her life. Involving the women from her Ayah’s village is Loder’s reflection on and tribute to those experiences of disappearing.”

Press release from Helen Gorie Galerie website

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 11)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 16)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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Catalogue Essay by Stuart Koops

“Nicola Loder has facilitated childrens’ photography projects before, on several occasions working with marginalized groups, including kids from low socio-economic and non-English speaking schools and kids from the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. Indeed she chose these groups with purpose, to consider the role of photography in highlighting certain communities most often occluded on the basis of an incapacity – making the invisible visible, making those who cannot see visible to us, giving those without the means of expression a language we can understand – in many ways, reversing the polarity of familiar concepts, disrupting our conventional understanding.

In teaching blind kids especially, Nicola told me she felt like she was disappearing. Not surprising, I guess, when you try to describe the camera, the lens, optics, focus, framing, composition. When your identity or your role as a photographer dissipates along with the explanatory power of these foundation terms and concepts. And practical demonstrations must at first seem frustratingly pointless.

That profound experience seems to have led Loder to use photography in reverse, as the means to decompose images; to utilize Photo­shop’s algorithms, not to augment or highlight certain attributes in her portraits she ultimately took of these kids, but return images to an undifferentiated field of static, the digital correlate to the original photochemical chaos, the entropy of raw silver halides, which the ‘irrefutable sun’ miraculously sorts into resemblance. In short, to unphotograph the kids somehow, commensurate with their dis­ability and her own disappearance in the workshops.

But it’s not just Loder who has had the experience of disappearing. It’s a profound sensation shared by many and for different reasons, and Loder has collected different accounts of the experience which illustrate the further registers in which one may ‘disap­pear’; from spiritual attainment in transcending physical reality to out of body transcendental near-death experiences, from relief at escaping a difficult situation, to feelings of terror as a child abandoned, or worse, abducted, from the social isolation and alienation of teenagers and adults, to a freedom or liberation from social constraint and physical containment, wanting to leave behind an unhappy circumstance or just wanting to be magically, wonderfully invisible.

Practically speaking, there’s considerable interest in – and information on – how to disappear, especially in America. In 2008 artist Seth Price published How to Disappear from America, excerpted text from found sectarian tracts, paranoid rants and helpful DIY tips to assist anyone wishing to get off the grid without a trace (burn your credit cards, dump your car, hide your tracks, grow your own, etc) including great suggestions about where to go (motorcycle hangouts, punk rocks groups, new age dance studios, soup kitchens, churches, and homeless shelters).

But Loder’s more interested in the personal, individual experience of disappearing. She asked for photo-portraits to accompany people’s descriptions of disappearing, from which she has seemingly excised each subject, using Photoshop as she did before with the blind kids, leaving a whorl of digital effect in the vacant space within their outline, set in high relief against a lounge-room, or a yard, or other family members. Yet on closer inspection this is perhaps a matter of transformation, since ‘disappearing’ may be very different from ‘deletion’.

In Photoshop we are each just so much chroma, luma and shape. A touch of the magic wand and we are separated from the rest of our lives, ‘lassooed’, a godly power to designate liberated from special-effects cinema by the Knoll brothers in 1988 and given to every geek with a Mac II. Since when it’s just too easy to be deleted; two clicks and we’re in the trash.

But in Loder’s work our data is recast, colour intensified, details blurred, outlines softened, curves modified, screens overlaid and so it seems Photoshop’s myriad algorithms – set against their intended technical imperative to optimise appearances – might provide a metaphor for our disappearing, which is indeed not a removal or deletion but a reconfiguration beyond verisimilitude, beyond our appearance to others and ourselves. And while we might lose visual coherence as an image, we are inscribed upon another plane altogether, one at odds with photographic realism, and which Loder describes as a “de-constructed non-space somewhere between image, imagination, identity, language and being.” Like the shimmering dissipation of Kirk on the teleporter’s deck in Star Trek, these subjects are transported to another realm, different orders of reality merging into a new volatile blend. Perhaps it’s a higher plane too where all souls mingle and coalesce as either zeros or ones, a digital afterlife in which everything is equivalent and a new digital equanimity prevails.”

Stuart Koops 2012

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 8)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 17)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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Nicola Loder
Tourist #5: Disappearing Project 1-41 (no 18)
2012
Polyester thread, muslin
86 x 69cm

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West Bengali women embroidering the Disappearances

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Helen Gory Galerie
25, St. Edmonds Road,
Prahran, Vic 3181

Opening hours:
Wed – Fri 11 – 5pm
Sat 10 – 4pm

Helen Gory Galerie website

Nicola Loder 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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