02
Jul
13

Review: Polixeni Papapetrou ‘A Performative Paradox’ and Daniel von Sturmer 
’After Images’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th July 2013

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Two solid if not overly memorable exhibitions are presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. While it is wonderful to see early work by this artist – work that features Marilyn and Elvis impersonators, circus people, body builders and drag queens – too many bodies of work are crammed into too small a space with too few images. Some of the later series are represented by just one image giving a hotch potch feel to the whole exhibition ensemble. Perhaps it would have been better to concentrate solely on the early black-and-white images and colour images, work that is rarely seen and informs the staged work that followed. Having said that the black-and-white photographs are a joy to behold, documenting as they do performative identities. The photographs have an intangible presence. There are strong elements of the frontality of Diane Arbus in the photographs of circus performers and drag queens, coupled with a intrinsic understanding of light and texture. The photographs of drag queens are the highlight of both exhibitions and Drag queen wearing cut out dress (1993, below) reminded me of an early black-and-white photograph by Fiona Hall (Leura, New South Wales1974) in its use of patterned wallpaper. Let us hope there is a large retrospective of Polixeni’s work (at NGV or Heide for example) in the future, one that can do justice to the depth and complexity of her vision as an artist.

Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images is an interesting conceptual experiment, one that investigates the splitting of the image (shadow) from its referent (object). “The images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.” In their black-and-white fuzziness the work looks impressive when viewed in the gallery space (see installation views below) but upon close inspection the individual photographs fail to hold the viewers attention. Personally, I found it difficult to impart any great meaning to any of these works and the investigation certainly does not produce memorable images, ones that will stay with the viewer months and years later. For me the exhibition became an exercise in guessing what shadows were which objects, a game that grew quickly tiresome. The work then became an exercise in the importance of captioning an image, as I constantly looked around the room trying to match the titles of the works with the images themselves. As abstract images they imparted little metaphysical poetry as ghost images (an afterimage or ghost image is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased). As images that investigate the link between text, object, shadow and language they started to become what the artist sought to enunciate: shadow objects bound to the realm of signification in some amorphous play, shadows that have the potential to become ‘Other’.

PS. As an analogy you could see these images as the equivalent of Jung’s human “shadow aspect” where, according to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection (as these shadows are projected by their objects). The shadow represents the entirety of the unconscious, ie. everything of which a person is not fully conscious, and is the seat of creativity. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” (Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131). Hence the potential halo/cination of these images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the CCP 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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Miss-Alternative-World-Ball-1993-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Papapetrou_Suzie,-Elvis-fan-at-home,-Melbourne,-1989-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Suzie, Elvis fan at home, Melbourne
1989
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Indian_Brave_2002-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Indian Brave
2002
Pigment ink print
85 x 85 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Three-young-men-paying-homage-to-Elvis-on-the-13th-anniversary-of-Elvis'-death,-Elvis-Memorial,-Melbourne,-1990-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne
1990
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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“This exhibition focuses on the performative in the work of Polixeni Papapetrou, from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children since 2002, regarded internationally as some of the most powerful and provocative works in the field of perfomative photography. Papapetrou’s enduring interest is in how the ‘other’ is represented and how the ‘other’ performs in reinforcing our own identity.

Polixeni Papapetrou is one of Australia’s leading contemporary photomedia artists. She has been exploring relationships between history, contemporary culture, landscape, identity and childhood through her photographic practice since the mid-eighties. In this exhibition, selected by Professor Anne Marsh in consultation with the artist, a particular thread has been selected across Papapetrou’s practice – that of the performative – from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children from 2002 to the present.

Her images are informed by her own experience as ‘other’, growing up as a Greek immigrant in a white, Anglo-Saxon, male-dominated culture in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. Marilyn Monroe impersonators, Elvis Presley fans, body builders, circus performers and drag queens have all taken their turn in front of Papapetrou’s camera. All of these people are, one way or another, performing i dentities.

In 2002 Papapetrou turned her focus to the experience of childhood, using her children as the performers in her pictures. There is a challenging confusion between fantasy, mythology, archetype, animism and theatricality present in these works, ranging from the playful to the transgressive, wrangling with the question of identity and stressing the embodied nature of experience.”

Text from the CCP website

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Polixi-Circus-detail-b-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Fortune teller (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Levitation, Silvers Circus' (detail) 1989

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Levitation, Silvers Circus (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni. 'Papapetrou Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus' series (installation view) 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus series (installation view)
1989-1990

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Daniel von Sturmer 'Production Still for After Images'

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Daniel von Sturmer
Production Still for After Images
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney

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“In After Images the shadows of a set of subjectively ‘important artefacts’ (a business card, a phone, a letter…) are presented alongside generic objects from the studio, for example: a bin, some tape, a ruler… Presented at 1:1 scale, the images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.

Photographed using a specially constructed ‘set’ to enable the separation of an object from its shadow, the resulting image stands alone, separated from its object yet inextricably bound to the realm of signification from which it has been cast.”

Text from the CCP website

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography 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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