13
May
12

Review: ‘Jacqui Stockdale: The Quiet Wild’ at Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th April – 19th May 2012

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After a slow start to the season there has be a veritable feast of excellent photography exhibitions in Melbourne over the last month or so, including John Gollings and Jane Brown at Edmund Pearce Gallery, the Fred Kruger and Light Works exhibitions (at NGVA and NGVI respectively), Littoral by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff at Colour Factory (the next local review after this one) and this exhibition, The Quiet Wild by Jacqui Stockdale at Helen Gory Galerie.

This is a very strong exhibition by Jacqui Stockdale, the metre tall colour prints (printed by the Colour Factory) displaying magnificently in the large gallery at Helen Gory. The photographs remind me of a perverse take on the ethnographic Cartes de visite that were produced during the colonial Victorian era in Australia, images of native peoples taken in studios with painted backdrops together with their cultural artefacts (which, coincidentally, can be seen in great detail and sadness in the Fred Kruger exhibition at NGVA). Drawing on personal places and stories, Mexican carnival and wrestlers masks, Indian masks, Aboriginal names and locations, Velasquez’s Las Meninas, the ghost of Frida Kahlo, rituals, gods (such as Rama) and deities, Australian scenery, performance (the process of painting the models and the outcome of this interaction), Stockdale creates a wonderful melange of archetypal characters that subvert traditional identities and narratives. Her creations “shape-shift” and frustrate attempts at categorization and assimilation.

Stockdale’s performative tactics and multiple modes of address, her polyvocal subject if you like, may be said to be an effect of textuality: “a conscious recognition and pursuit of an altogether different set of values and historical and cultural trajectories.”1 Undeniably this performative act (this “ritual spectacle”2) has links to the Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque and the carnival paradigm, which accords to certain patterns of play. Stockdale inverts cultural stereotypes (which embody elements of fixity, repetition, and ambivalence) located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary in order to subvert the collective memory of viewers that have been inscribed with a stereotypical collective vernacular: her work transgresses the fantasy that plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power.3

“Bakhtin likens the carnivalesque in literature to the type of activity that often takes place in the carnivals of popular culture. In the carnival… social hierarchies of everyday life – their solemnities and pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths – are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies. Thus, fools become wise, kings become beggars; opposites are mingled (fact and fantasy, heaven and hell).”4

In Stockdale’s world, a “world upside-down” (quite appropriate for Australia), “Each new identity is one of inversion; man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans and vice-versa.” Another example of this inversion can be seen in the “branding” of her photographs. In colonial Cartes de visite the sitter is, more often than not, unknown – unless it is an important person. It is the photographer’s name which is printed on the front and back of the card. In these photographs the photographers name is an illegible signature at bottom left, while the title of the person in the photograph is stamped into the work at bottom right. Here Stockdale again inverts traditional textual readings, the titles of her “photographic portraits that embody a world of mystical characters in masquerade” indecipherable to the uninitiated: a coded language of identity and place – Lagunta ManEl Gato, Les Jumeaux, Dogboy of Gondwanan, Infanta Shamanta and Rama Jaara, The Royal Shepherdess. ‘Lagunta’ is Aboriginal for Tasmanian Tiger and ‘Leeawuleena’ for the land around Cradle Mountain. ‘El Gato’ is the cat, ‘Jaara’ being the Aboriginal name for the Long Gully region and ‘Gondwanan’ the name for the southernmost of two supercontinents (the other being Laurasia) before the world split apart into the structure that we known today.

These are incredibly humorous, magical and symbolic photographs. A thought came into my mind when I was in the gallery surrounded by the work: for me they represented a vision of the Major Arcana of the Tarot (for example Jaguar Hombre could be seen as an inverted version of the Hanged Man with his foot in a figure four, the Hanged Man symbolising the need to just be in the world, yielding his mind and body to the Universal flow). The Major Arcana deal with the human condition, each card representing the joys and sorrows every man and woman can experience in a lifetime. In a way Stockdale offers us her own set of subversive Major Arcana, images that transgress the boundaries of the colonial vernacular, offering the viewer a chance to explore the heart of the quiet wild.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Helen Gory Galerie 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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Jacqui Stockdale
Rama-Jaara the Royal Shepherdess
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Jacqui Stockdale
Les Jumeaux
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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“In this modern world of distractions there is a wild nature that stirs inside of us. A desire for transcendence, to become someone else, dance part naked and chant our lost songs so that they can be heard above the sounds of cities and mobile ring tones. 

The Quiet Wild is a series of photographic portraits that embodies a world of mystical characters in masquerade set against hand-painted landscapes. The portraits playfully mimic the genre of exotic postcards and historical paintings where a fanciful subject is formally positioned within a make-believe landscape. The hand-painted settings in my photographs feature Australian scenery from places around Australia that have meaning to me including my mother’s property in Bendigo, the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and Lake Saint Claire in Tasmania.

I paint the models bodies and combine costumes and props including my own collection of rare masks originally used in dances of Mexican Carnival. This new work responds to established portrayals of human identity and masquerade informed by my research into different aspects of folk Carnivals where the masquerades are a fusion of clandestine voodoo, ancestral memory and personal revelation ritual and performance. Performance also plays a part in my photographic process where I interact with the models and allow the process to greatly determine the outcome. Each new identity is one of inversion; man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans and vice-versa.

The difference between painting the human subject and taking their portrait with a camera it is that during a photo shoot there is more of an element of performance. The subject, over a period of many hours often becomes a new character, extending a side of them that is not prevalent in daily life or invents a new identity. This is brought about by what I dress them in and how I direct them, provoking certain ideas, strengths about an animal power or super natural deity. I begin with an idea of character and a selection of costumes and them work intuitively as though in the dark or with eyes part open. I rarely end up with what I first imagined and revel in the surprise or discovery of a combined effort.

The inspiration for this series of work has come from a unique, rich and beautiful form of human expression that is found in the ritual side of folk art in the cultures around the world but mostly in Mexico. The traditional dances of Mexican Carnival provide an opportunity to revive the primeval gods from the depths of our communal memory, since dance constitutes our remotest language and most primitive sacred offering. The masks I have used in this series are from these types of ritual dance. They are recontextualised and worn in the works Lagunta Man and El Gato, Les Jumeaux, Dogboy of Gonwanan, Infanta Shamanta and Carnival of the Night. Other influences come from images of Exotic Postcards, regarding the formal presentation of the models, the constructed settings and the borders and way of labeling the image. Luchadora Botanica was influenced by a Goya Painting, Negro Returno – I wanted to bring one of my recent collages to life, See ‘to return’.

What I have done is imagined my own family as part ritualistic characters, setting in them in a landscape that I have visited.”

Artist statement by Jacqui Stockdale 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale
Jaguar Hombre
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Jacqui Stockdale
Lagunta Man, Leeawuleena
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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“The ghost of Frida Kahlo is a haunting one that permeates many artists consciousness bringing with it not just a tragic story but intoxicating aromas of Mexican exotic, masks, Voo-Doo, bloody Mayan rituals and Catholicism gone troppo.

This is clearly evidenced in Jacqui Stockdale’s latest exhibition at Helen Gory Galerie in works such as Negro-Returno, Long Gully. The white lacy heart-shaped overlay of ghostly trees conceals a part-portrait of Frida here depicted in front of Long Gully Bendigo, the Stockdale property, after the Black Saturday bush fire three years ago. This haunting shadowy backdrop appears again in Rama Jaara, The Royal Shepherdess, ‘Jaara’ being the Aboriginal name for the Long Gully region. It is a personal aside of something that obviously touched this artist deeply, one to which she has bought her troupe of tableau vivant players to. Here, a Mauritian girl called Mimi, standing at attention, arms akimbo, dressed in remnants of regal colonial attire. The pose reminiscent of that of the Infanta Margarita in Velasquez’s Las Meninas. The dog has moved from bottom right to bottom left, here a small spotted Chinese Joss paper effigy made for the journey to the afterlife, rather than a great bounding Spanish mastiff. Our young self-possessed Mimi stares directly out of the picture space not as an Infanta, but as one of nature’s children, a shepherdess, her hairstyle resembling a ram’s head, informing that part of the title, ‘Rama’ a play on words.

Both the artists brothers are also players in this tableau: the younger as Lagunta Man, Leeawuleena and the artist’s twin as El Gato, van Diemonia. ‘Lagunta’ is Aboriginal for Tasmanian Tiger and ‘Leeawuleena’ for the land around Cradle Mountain. ‘El Gato’ is the cat, and both carrying a filmic reference to the recent movie The Hunter, filmed around Cradle Mt in Northern Tasmania. While the compositional phrasing has more than a nostalgic whiff of 19th century still studio photography, seen here such staged manners marry well to popular cinematic culture.

As this exhibition unfolds certain characterising concerns appear and reappear. Decapitation, and cross-cultural iconography make this a lavish art dining at the high table of pictorial fusion cuisine. Mexican masks, Joss paper, skulls, rites of passage tit-bits mix it with popular culture on the shag pile to produce a totally new hybrid. Folk memories merge with diaristic experiences, found objects flirt with finely painted trompe-oeil effects in an almost self-regulating metamorphosis.

In this Stockdale becomes a sort of gatekeeper, a ring master choreographer who will both mystify and amaze you with her family carnivale. Picture by picture, costume by costume, the staged imagined and the real, combine into a most fascinating enticement I find impossible to resist.”

Catalogue essay by Jeff Makin, 2012

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Jacqui Stockdale
Dogboy of Gondwanan
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Jacqui Stockdale
Negro Returno, Long Gully
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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Jacqui Stockdale
Luchadora Botanica
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

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1. Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 227 – 228.

2. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World (trans. Helene Iswolsky). Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968, p.5.

3. “According to Bhabha, stereotypes are located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary. He suggests that fantasy plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power. Bhabha describes the mechanism of cultural stereotypes as embodying elements of fixity, repetition, fantasy, and ambivalence, and suggests that if certain types of images are constantly presented in a range of different contexts, they will become imprinted onto the collective memory of viewers and inscribed within a collective vernacular.”

Vercoe, Caroline. “Agency and Ambivalence: A Reading of Works by Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, p.240.

4. Anon. “Carnivalesque,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 13/05/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivalesque

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Helen Gory Galerie
25 St Edmonds Rd
Prahran VIC 3181
T: +61 3 9525 2808

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11am – 5pm

Helen Gory Galerie 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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