Archive for the 'Australian writing' Category

12
Nov
18

10th year anniversary of Art Blart

13th November 2008 – 13th November 2018

 

Art Blart 10 year anniversary

 

 

A big effort

Art Blart has a readership of 1,500 a day. It has become a research tool for artists and photographers around the world. It is also an important form of cultural memory, with over 1,300 posts in its archive. The site is itself being archived by Pandora from the National Library of Australia.

What I find most important about the archive is that it gives me the opportunity to promote artists, to promote ideas and thoughts about art and life and, most importantly, to shine a light on different aspects of art, from the under recognised concepts to the disenfranchised and forgotten artists.

Reproduced below is the first ever post on Art Blart with the key tags, life and death. Not a lot has changed in 10 years. My concerns in that first post are still present – what we are doing to the planet and to our culture, how we construct our histories and memories, and how we can embrace diversity and equality the world over. Text and images and powerful tools for promoting such egalitarian ideals.

I must thank all the amazing galleries around the world for suppling text and media images. Your efforts are truly appreciated, for without you the archive would be nothing. Your enthusiasm and willingness to help has been incredible.

And to you, the readers, I must thank you for your for your attention and continued patronage. While the website is a personal form of expression there is also a good dose of altruism amongst its postings. I hope my musings have enlightened your ideas on art and life for the better. I hope you have all enjoyed the ride as much as I have enjoyed making and writing the website.

I will continue to write into history and memory as much as I can in the following years.

Marcus

 

 

First ever post

13th November 2008

 

 

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Newman once told a reporter.

“The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.”

.
Paul Newman

 

 

See the original posting

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09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

Opening hours:
Daily 9am-5pm

Black Mist Burnt Country website

National Museum of Australia website

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02
Nov
18

Text: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Death and the image’ 2018

November 2018

 

This text was written in 2017 for a special issue of the international magazine Text on the subject ‘Writing Trauma’. While the text was accepted, the peer-reviewers wanted heavy revisions, including reordering the piece and editing out my personal stories. At the time, I was going into hospital for an operation on my hand and such revisions were impossible to undertake.

Now, over a year later, I have reread the text… and I have amended and extended it, but otherwise I am going to leave it as I wrote it in the first place. I like the way I write and I like my personal stories. While it is a long read the writing addresses an important subject with, I hope, some interesting insights along the way.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 8,137

Download Death and the image (4.3Mb pdf)

 

 

Abstract

This text investigates how the act of photography visually writes trauma. Through an analysis of the context of images of death by artists such as Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, and Walker Evans the paper ponders how the camera captures human beings ante-mortem, at the death point, post-mortem and vita ad mortem.

It seeks to understand that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present. How does the act and performance of photography depict the trauma of death, this double death (for the photograph is a memento mori and/or the person in the photograph may already know that they are going to die).

“The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal” the pronouncement of the perfect paradox (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.”

Keywords

Trauma, photography, death, art, memento mori, war, execution, memory, victim, representation, Alphonse Bertillon, Robert Capa, Alexander Gardner, Walker Evans, ante-mortem, point of death, death point, post-mortem, punctum, empathy, vita ad mortem, life after death.

 

 

Death and the image

 

 

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“Photography, because it stops the flow of life, is always flirting with death…”

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John Berger1

 

“On the most fundamental level there are transitions from continuous to discontinuous or from discontinuous to continuous. We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.”

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Georges Bataille2

 

 

German Gen. Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution

 

“German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.” Blomgren, December 1, 1945. 111-SC-225295. National Archives Identifier: 531326

 

 

Trial and Execution of General Anton Dostler

The still photograph (above) can be seen being taken by the flash from a still camera that occurs at 5.16 secs in the YouTube film. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

 

 

1

One of life’s recurrent themes is mortality. As Bataille notes, we are discontinuous beings: we live, we breathe, and we die. Photography’s recurrent theme is also mortality. In a ghostly evocation, the medium possesses an odour of death that sticks in the throat. So how then does photography visually write the trauma of death – over time, through space, in different contexts, with multiple narratives and different points of view?

As a first point of reference, we need to define trauma. Trauma can be an injury to living tissue; a disordered psychic or behavioural state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset and an agent, force or mechanism that causes all or any of these conditions.3 Atkinson and Richardson note that the work of theorists such as Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, Dominick LaCapra, and Cathy Caruth in broad terms view trauma,

“… as the delayed manifestation of a psychic wound sustained during an experience that has happened too quickly to allow registration and processing of the event at the time of its occurrence. To study trauma in literary or cultural terms, then, is to be concerned with the tension between what is known and what is not known, and with the impact and dynamics of the woundedness and machinations of trauma – not only its purely physical instantiation, but in all its reverberations. This is what brings the study of trauma to the uncertainty of truth, the impossibility of bearing absolute witness to catastrophe, the multiplicity of historical narratives.”4

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Constitutive of trauma and its affects is the “piercing of the psychic shield” which protects a fragile subjectivity leaving in its wake shattered individuals, communities and even whole nations.5 Further, Michalinos Zembylas citing Kaplan (2005) notes that “an important distinction that needs to be made here is one’s positioning and context of encountering trauma,”6 between being a primary or secondary witness. Personally, I believe that a testimony (a formal written or spoken statement that something is true) in the first instance… becomes a testament (something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact) in the second.

When looking death in the face, we can state that death is a trauma not only for the physical body and the psyche of the person involved (the direct trauma victim), but also for the witness of the event, be they a primary witness – one who actually witnesses the traumatic event – or a secondary witness, a person “who has no personal connection to the victim but may encounter trauma through other sources such as the media and oral or written accounts of a catastrophe.”7

These secondary encounters can never be the actual experience of trauma but, acting through language (be it oral, written or visual), they may embody sensations that stimulate feelings and thoughts in the secondary observer. A social construction of a testament may produce an empathetic engagement in viewers as “secondary witnesses.”8 Through an understanding of spectatorship, experience, aesthetic effects, narrative strategies and temporal shifts in the polyvocal nature of language we can begin to understand how the affect of secondary traumatisation – on memory, history and the body – can break down the subject-object dichotomy, can break down the realist norms of representation to produce “a mode of cognition involving sensuous, somatic and tactile forms of perception.”9 Here language (the photograph in this case, reinforced by the title of the photograph) stands in for that which is absent, but it is not in opposition to an intensity of feeling. The language of the photograph can intensify the affect of the image, especially if the photograph becomes transcendent, embodied, in the vitality and “aliveness” of the viewer.10

This mimetic experience “promotes a critical and self-reflexive empathy” and knowledge in the secondary witness that LaCapra observes is a “virtual, not vicarious, experience … in which emotional response comes with respect for the other and the realization that the experience of the other is not one’s own.”11 Essentially, this is a social concept, a social construction of reality, a matrix-like view of the world that draws on relational and contextual dimensions for understanding trauma. This concept requires careful consideration of issues related to history, culture, race, gender, ideology, beliefs, agency and power.

“From a social constructionist and narrative perspective, people reconstruct their selves through the stories they tell about their past and the meaning they ascribe to the present in anticipation of the future. They shape their stories through active and creative interpretation of their lives and are in turn shaped by these stories. However, the self is not only a product of narratives. People are purposeful and moral beings, having the power and agency to change scripts, discourses and ideologies…”12

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Here we can ask, what are the machinations of the image in the affective dynamics of photographs of trauma and how are they situated in a certain relation to trauma? What do photographs actually do that give rise to a way of thinking and feeling about trauma?

Although no representation can fully describe the first hand experience of trauma because of the partial nature of language – its gaps, elisions and impossibilities of speech13 – it is because of these very gaps that new spaces of interpretation can open up. Rather than just representing the perceived reality of trauma (this happened, at this time, in this location – an ordering of reality), images have the unique ability to transcend their indexical relationship to the real, pointing and touching (as if with the index finger) to the relationality of trauma as it touches human emotion. With its ability to police and regulate it subject, the implicit violence of photography is a predatory means of taking possession of both its victim (the subject) and its viewer.

Anna Gibbs has stated that we live, “in a more or less continuous state of mediatized emergency and traumatic aftermath, desensitized by the onslaught of images … to the affect we ought to feel.”14 I strongly disagree. I would argue that the traumatic numbing15 and supposed “death of experience”16 allegedly present in the world of image circulation, translation, and accumulation only occurs if the witness lets it be so.

Personally, I believe that something in the image is transferred to the witness pre-cognition – intuitively, imaginatively – which can then be interpreted cognitively and relationally with regard to history and memory, art and culture, politics and experience through an orthogonal movement through time and space. As viewers and interpreters, we are not fixed at a particular point in time and space, nor do we observe from one particular point of view. Our existential engagement provides a space to close the gap between affect and enunciation.

“Facts can vibrate; they can give of colors, sounds, smells, images. To talk of these facts with no recognition of this is to lack any awareness of the act of enunciation, of the gaps between language and experience and the unpredictable ways that sparks can break out of language, leap across the gap and ignite the tinderbox of traumatic memory.”17

 

2

Surfing Pinterest (a photo sharing website) recently, I absentmindedly clicked on an abstract image of three hanging black shapes from the pantheon of image tiles that presented itself to me. Up popped this horrific image of three Afro-Americans who had been lynched in the Southern United States in the 1920s. I was shocked and dismayed. I had such a strong emotional reaction to the image. But more than that, my feelings and memories of the bigotry that I had faced as a young gay man growing up in the 1970s swelled in my consciousness. This story is a example of how exposure to an image can bring to the surface unresolved aspects of being ‘Other’, of being different, and being persecuted for that difference. I thought about the lives of these people that had led them to that point, their families, their histories and the terror that they must have experienced on that day. You cannot begin to understand that, but you can have empathy and anger against the systems of racism and bigotry that exist in the world.

Then the cognitive part of my brain linked the image to a report I had only just seen a few days before on lynching, which told of the thousands of Afro-Americans who had been killed between 1882 and 1968.18 Mentally, I then linked this to a Facebook posting which put forward the analogy that the current killing of Afro-Americans by police in the United States was akin to a contemporary and publicly endorsed and enforced form of lynching. Finally, in my head I heard Billie Holiday singing that famous song Strange Fruit, “a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era, “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.”19 I watched the video of Billie Holiday singing this song on YouTube.20 Every time I think of this image I have these associations of animate thought intrinsic to the original experience,21 where the micro and macro conditions of production work to “embody and register trauma,”22 a communicable language of sensation and affect, time and time again.

 

 

Billie Holiday – Strange fruit

 

 

These chains of affect, the nexus between affect / feeling / emotion / cognition, are a form of synaesthesia where facts, emotions, feelings, memories, sounds and images vibrate against each other as an active and continuous engagement of the self with the world in which one lives. In a human being who is un/consciously aware, these real and mediated experiences may encourage a sensory intensification that elicits thought and empathic vision in the materiality of embodied experience, something (the punctum?) that takes us out of our selves into a higher register of being.

As part of this system of impressions, of an instantaneous, affective response triggered by an image,23 photographs force us to engage visually and involuntarily. “Impressions that force us to look, encounters which force us to interpret, expressions which force us to think.”24 Encounters which force us to comprehend. The conjunction of affect and critical awareness “constitute the basis of an empathy grounded … on a feeling for another that entails an encounter with something irreducible and different, often inaccessible.”25 This combination of affective and intellectual operations – about forcing oneself to look (and that process of looking/surrendering) but never forgetting your ‘point of view’, your memory, history and identity, is when empathy becomes that process of surrender, “but also the catch that transforms your perception.”26 How is this “catch” enunciated in photographs? I now want to look at a few images that explicate these phenomena.

 

Ante-mortem: present but absent

3

With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the photograph as memento mori allows the spectator to observe death not at first hand, but through the representation of the image “taken from life.” Photographs provide a verification of reality through their apparent verisimilitude, while being woven into narratives – oral, textual, intertextual, spatial and temporal – that frame the event in multiple ways.

“Photographs … have come to stand in for reality … despite the fact that it is relatively easy to manipulate their meaning. As a result of their ability to project reality, images, and particularly those that depict death and destruction, are seen as potentially powerful pieces of documentary evidence…”27

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Photographs are embedded in “a context of the cultural circumstances at the time, and therefore exist rarely in isolation or without meaning”28 and can be seen as having a denotative level (what they physically represent) and a connotative level (the meanings attached to that representation).29 Photography quickly changed how death was displayed because it introduced a “reality” and immediacy of representation that was democratic, personal and everyday.30

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lewis Paine
26th April 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

An example of the personal, everyday and documentary nature of photography can be seen in the photograph taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865. This portrait is of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which occurred the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. The reality is Paine was executed in July 1865 just eight short weeks after this photograph was taken, so in effect (and in the affect on us of this knowledge), he is (already) a dead man walking. This is a double death – that death buried in the very act of taking any photograph, La petite mort or “the little death,” an idiom and euphemism for the orgasm of the photographic time freeze; and the fact that we know that he was going to die, those short weeks later.

The photograph forms the central panel of a three-panel Renaissance-like altarpiece, the form in which the three photographs are usually displayed. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement. The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

 

Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' 26th April, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver prints from a Collodion glass plate negative

 

 

This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is similar to Justin Beiber’s. Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate? He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his ironclad cell? And finally, his clothing – are they navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states. If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say: Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

One reading of his gaze is that he is interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future. Given his fate is he insane because of his interest? Another reading could be that he is looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way. And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject. Was it fear or the presence of the guards that stopped Gardner getting any closer, or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach. Imagine being Paine, having a photographer point a damn great view camera at you, documenting your countenance for prosperity. What was going on in Paine’s mind – what is his perspective on this performance by the photographer? And what brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques by which human beings constitute themselves, “technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”31 As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. In this instant, what Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida observes in Section 39:

“He is dead and he is going to die… The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”32

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here (your head and your heart), where past, present and future coalesce into a single point in time: his death and our death connected through his gaze, and the knowledge of our joint discontinuity. In this moment in time, what we are doing is making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. Language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable. The photograph inhabits you; it haunts you like few others, because it is a memoriam to a young man and his present death. Here he is present but absent at one and the same time.

As such, this is an image as triple death – the death of the photograph (past time / memento mori / remembrance of death), the death of the person in the photograph and also a third death, the knowledge that Paine is going to die. Death, like life, can be cyclical. This is the catch that transforms your perception, in Barthes terms the punctum of the image, in which the wounding, personally touching detail (past pose, future death) establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

“The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for trauma [my emphasis]) … inspires an intensely private meaning, one that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.”33

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This trauma, prick or wound that lifts the viewer out of themselves, out of their everyday existence, “points to those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognizable symbolic system. This kind of meaning is unique to the response of the individual viewer of the image.”34 This punctum also accounts for the importance of emotion and subjectivity in interacting with photographs; memory of that photograph displaces it from its moment of origin.35 Photography enacts the trauma of death even while being enacted upon.

Now we can read Eduardo Cadava’s comments on Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the photograph:

“As Benjamin suggests … the photograph, like the souvenir, is the corpse of an experience. A photograph therefore speaks as death, as the trace of what passes into history. I, the photograph, the spaced out limit between life and death, I, the photograph, am death. Yet, speaking as death, the photograph can be neither death nor itself. At once dead and alive, it opens the possibility of our being in time.”36

 

4

Photography then, can be seen as death taken away from itself.

Through the oscillation between studium (historical, social or cultural meanings extracted via semiotic analysis) and punctum (those features of a photograph that seem to produce or convey a meaning without invoking any recognisable symbolic system) the traumatic photograph of death, death’s afterimage, transcends the initial shock inducing signifier leading to a more extended form of engagement that addresses the duration of trauma in memory – through the images elisions, slippages, and conceptual, political and historical complexities. Our negotiation with imaging and imagining, therefore, takes place within ever-expanding contexts of meaning – some relating to the past and some to the present – which impact future interpretations.

I believe that these negotiations are, firstly, linked to what Deleuze calls the encountered sign, a “sign that is felt, rather than recognized, or perceived through cognition.”37 A feeling that is a catalyst for critical enquiry or deep thought. “For Deleuze, affect or emotion is a more effective trigger for profound thought because of the way in which it grasps us, forcing us to engage involuntarily…”38 Secondly, I believe that these negotiations are linked to what Barthes calls the images “third meaning.”

“In Barthes’ view, the image’s third meaning compels viewers after they encounter and deplete both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions. Barthes argued that the third meaning is difficult to locate, because it is not situated structurally or in a certain place of the image. It is similarly difficult to describe, because it involves what he called the image’s obtuseness, its accent or anaphoric side.”39

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Again, we have this idea of the catch, accent, or punctum that grasps us and takes us out of ourselves, that modulates the images “voice” (which is how the image takes on an already provided meaning upon its initial appearance), a voice which then also “helps us to understand both the image’s third meaning and the role of contingency in visual memory.”40

 

Death point

5

 

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“Ah, wretched as I am … to dwell not among the living, not among the dead.”

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Sophocles, ‘Antigone’41

 

 

Commentators such as Barbie Zelizer observe that images, especially about-to-die images, easily “reduce complex issues and circumstances to memorable but simplistic visual frames.”42 The image,

“… depicts for its onlookers a moment in an event’s unfolding to which they attend while knowing where that unfolding leads. This means that visual work often involves catching the sequencing of events or issues midstream, strategically freezing it at its potentially strongest moment of meaningful representation.”43

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Other writers such as Susan Sontag note that these images have the potential to stir public emotions, simply because they freeze a moment in time and can be looked at again and again… but at the same time the repeated viewing of images of atrocity can have a numbing effect.44 The pain and fear evidenced in the photograph as seen in the victim’s eyes (for example in the photograph of the shooting of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), expands the literal / informational side and its symbolic dimensions (chivalry, love, devotion, hope – Camelot!) into a Barthes’ third space. While Kennedy is a victim twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera) in a guttural interpretation of the image he is to remain a victim for eternity in the contingency of the future, as long as we continue to look at this photograph.

For me, this is sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time. It’s one of those events that you will remember for the rest of your life – where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small newsagent when the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot: first aural, then visual on the black and white TV that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph, then associative. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessens not.

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938) 'LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING' June 5, 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

While photographs of the actual moment of death are rare I have been able to find around ten images that capture this vital moment, a freezing of reality at the point of death, the death point: that line between presence and absence where life was there… and now death is in its place. Death was one step removed, now it is present.

However, I would argue that in the contextual language of the photograph, there is no singular death point. I would propose the idea of an extended period of time and space embedded in the spatio-temporal matrix of the image, so that there is no single point, no singular resolution to the traumatic moment of death – either for the person involved, nor the witness or viewer.

Setting aside the concept that the image could have been staged, in Robert Capa’s famous photograph Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (below), there is something about this image where space or some basic element is being democratised at the moment of death – or maybe in the choice to struggle with death. In an ontological sense of becoming, perhaps it is this that becomes the pure representation of time. In contrapunto, there is an anonymous image of a German soldier at the point of death on the steppes of Russia that is totally unknown. Why has one become famous and the other not?

Has it to do with the fame of the photographer, the pose of the person, or the agency of photography itself, where one photograph regarding the pain of others is too damning a legacy and of too plain a purpose to bare contemplating, while the other – with its masked face, outflung arm and falling, quasi-religious nature – has become possibly the most famous of war photographs through its proliferation in newspapers and magazines.

Whatever the merits of each image, these death point photographs are noteworthy for what is not said: the violence that is being perpetrated on the victim every time a person looks, and looks again, at the photograph. The writing of trauma by photography never ends, is always and forever infinite.

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954) 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936
Gelatin silver print
Photograph by Robert Capa © Cornell Capa / Magnum

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front' c. 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Falling German Soldier, Eastern Front
c. 1942
akg-images / Interfoto AKG138118

Caption: A German soldier pays the ultimate price of war. German casualties were less than those of the Red Army, but the steady attrition suffered by the Wehrmacht began to undermine its effectiveness.46

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

Anonymous photographer. 'Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942' 1942

 

Anonymous photographer
Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942
1942
Rare Historical Photos website 2013

Caption: A Soviet spy laughs at his executioner in a picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. It has been thought within the Finnish Defence Forces that the decision to withhold pictures of the fate of Russian POWs and spies may also have been prompted by concerns that pro-Soviet elements in Finnish society could have used the images for propaganda purposes. This picture was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.

It’s a pretty amazing picture. To capture the last few moments of life. He knows he will die in a few seconds, in a forest in the snow. And there he will bleed out and be forgotten. His life, his experience, has come to an end. What else could he do but smile? That smile was his final defiance. Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.47

 

 

6

Here we might ask, is it possible, through the use of encountered signs, “voice”, punctum, catch or accent, to extend the unreal time of death?

Personally, I believe it is and I would argue for a sense of a Buddhist “no-time”. A transcendent time embedded into the fabric of the image. In Walker Evans’ terms an “unconscious phenomenon” that culminates in amazing accidents of composition, where things constantly rub up against each other “in the desire to create a type of friction that tests the boundaries of representation.”48 An example of this spatio-temporal dimensionality, third meaning or Thirdspace, can be seen in the interplay between the still image and film footage of the execution of German General Anton Dostler by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade December 1, 1945. By examining the film we see a flash of light at 5.16 secs, which is the still photograph at the top of this text being taken by the flash of a camera. The photographer can then be seen walking off. Later in the film another angle of the execution is shown, again with the flash of the absent camera recorded, starting at 7.10 secs. The displacement of time and space, between one point of view and another, with the absence of the still camera in both instances (in the image and in the film), is uncanny.

The fluidity of Barthes’ third meaning, where the image’s obtuseness compels viewers, has obvious links to Edward Soja’s conceptualisation of “Thirdspace”, which emerged from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Soja defines Thirdspace as, “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.”49 In this amorphous space, “everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.”50

A further example of the presence of a third meaning in a still photograph can be seen in the image by an unknown photographer Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans (1944, below). Caught like a rabbit in headlights, the flash illuminates the collaborator kneeling, bound, and masked but it is not quick enough to freeze the explosion of wood, the dynamic breaking of the rope or the slight movement of the hands. The body seems to float on a bed of leaves. The cheap, dirty shoes and striped trousers leading up to the material that covers the victim’s face. Is that his hair, or a hat or another hood over his head? Although we know the what, why, and where of the photograph – an encounter with both its literal/informational side and its symbolic dimensions – the placing of the image, its accent and obtuseness is much more difficult to understand. The photograph and its protagonist seem to exist beyond time and space, the anonymous man surrounded by a death bed of leaves, bursting the bonds that wrapped him and held him tight. Like the mystery of Man Ray’s L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse (1920), the photograph has disturbed the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality, destroying the imploring label, “Do not disturb.”

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944'

 

Unknown photographer
Photo taken at the instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France. 21 November 1944
1944
Silver gelatin photograph
U.S. Army Signal Corps
National Archives Identifier (NAID)

 

 

Post-mortem: absent but present

7

 

Letherolfsvile Oct 29 AD 1859

This is the likeness of Catherine Christ

When I am dead and in my grave

And when my bones are rotten

Remember me

When this you see

Or I shall be forgotten

The grass is green The rose is red

here is my name when I am dead 51

 

 

This short poem written on a piece of paper hidden underneath an image in a daguerreotype case implores us to remember the person – a plea to the future to remember them – through a composite narrative of portrait and text. Through the creative addition of text, the language of photographs can be supplemented which adds to the functionality of the photograph as an effective memory object.52 But what if the scene of the text (the photograph) contains an absence, no depiction of the person who has died? What happens to the writing of trauma in images of the dead then?

If we acknowledge that a photograph of a person always prefigures its subjects passing then what we are doing “in reality” is deferring the death of an/other onto the foreseen death of ourselves. In this process, we must remember that every photograph is a construct, a performative act by the photographer. What the photographer chooses to record is an act of will, whether ethical or not. Photographers have the presence of mind to attend to a certain manufacture of history. When viewing this instant narrative the viewer must acknowledge a loss of a sense of time:

“This lost sense could manifest as reliving a traumatic episode as if it is taking place in the present … In the context of trauma… a loss of sense of time deprives one of the ability of remembering and telling one’s narrative in a chronological order.”53

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941) 'Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia' 1972

 

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Emmet and Edith Gowin
© Edith and Emmet Gowin and courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

 

One way that artist’s upset this chronological order is by playing with the fragmentary nature of time, space and memory – of present absence/absent presence. In Emmet Gowin’s accidentally double-exposed negative, Avebury Stone and Rennie Booher, England and Danville, Virginia, 1972 (above), the photograph combines “a funerary image of his wife’s grandmother, Rennie Booher, with the surface of a Neolithic monumental stone he had photographed in England a few days earlier.” Floating through eternity, encased in ancient rock that nourishes her spirit, Gowin’s photograph acts as a kind of testament of absent but present, neither here not there. This loss of sense of space and time can be deeply disturbing (like trauma) as it questions one’s physical presence in the world, but it can also have a transcendental dimension as both time and space are inextricably bound to the very specific conditions of the material world. Photographs like the one of Booher have the potential to draw together what would otherwise seem to be incompatible. To form what Jacob Bronowsi calls a “hidden likeness”, one that transcends time and space, one that is reactivated with every looking.

“The poem or the discovery exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness. When a simile takes us aback and persuades us together, when we find a juxtaposition in a picture both odd and intriguing, when a theory is at once fresh and convincing, we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…”54

.
An important fact about the nature of trauma is the compulsion of the human psyche to repeat traumatic events over and over again. The reproducibility of photographs and the ability to look at them again and again – their machine-like repeatability, their citationality or iterability to use Derrida’s signature term – feeds into this repetitive “death instinct” (Thanatos). However, Bronowsi’s “hidden likeness” (also the name of one of Emmet Gowin’s exhibitions and a form of punctum) is perhaps a liminal moment, one that may upset the death instinct. These liminal moments may occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. By disrupting the threshold – between life and death, between past, present and future time – they are requisite of the ghost (the soul) in the machine (the camera).

As Derrida observes, building on the work of Barthes,

“It belongs to it without belonging to it and is unlocatable in it; it never inscribes itself in the homogenous objectivity of the framed space but instead inhabits, or rather haunts it: “it is the addition [supplement]: it is what I add to the photograph and what is none the less already there.” … Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other … Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me.”57

 

8

In this scenario, perhaps the act of writing trauma through death in the image becomes the true act of learning, and the interpretation of that act becomes an act of creation rather than one of rote memorialisation. These are images that require contemplation, time, analysis, and sensation, where the subject of the photograph is transformed “from somebody merely seen to someone really felt,” which is, as Batchen says, “an emotional exchange transacted in the heart.”58

This emotional exchange can take many forms. It can be triggered when the dead body is only metaphorically represented in the image, when the physicality of death has been transmuted. For example, photographs such as Walker Evan’s Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below), or the documentary image Place where the corpse was found (1901-8, below) by the French photographer Alphonse Bertillon, propose a re-imaging and re-imagining of the life of the person. They do so through an un/ambiguous photographic context, that is, through the marking of place in the photograph. In the latter case, this marking of a life is represented by two pieces of wood lying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier in a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day. A photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Child's grave, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Child’s grave, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
7 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (18.7 x 23.9 cm)
© 2016 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914) 'Place where the corpse was found' 1st November 1902

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853-1914)
Place where the corpse was found
1st November 1902
From Album of Paris Crime Scenes
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 24.3 x 31 cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Other photographs picture the place of death nearly a century later in order to commemorate the traumatic death of “deserters” at the hands of a firing squad during the First World War. These are some of the most traumatic photographs of death I have seen, for they require me to imagine the mise en scène that was enacted at dawn almost 100 years ago, in the very place where these photographs were later “shot” at dawn.

The artist, Chloe Dewe Mathews, realised that “I was placing my tripod around the same spot where the firing squad had stood and looking directly at the place where the victim was placed.” It was, she says, “a solitary and sombre undertaking,” an undertaking (with that name’s etymological link to the word undertaker) which the viewer is invited to partake of, a re-imaging of those traumatic events that requires an active imagining, and thinking, in the neo-spectator. It is this duration of trauma in cultural memory which calls for an active negotiation in ways of seeing, a re-negotiation which can produce an empathic vision that “changes the terms of our engagement” with the image.

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews. 'Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais' 2013

 

Chloe Dewe Mathews (b. 1982)
Former Abattoir, Mazingarbe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
2013
Eleven British soldiers were executed here between 1915-18
From the series Shot at Dawn
© Chloe Dewe Mathews

 

 

Vita ad mortem: life after death

9

 

.
“… the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel61

 

 

The absence/presence contained within all photographs speaks to the ultimate affect: that of la petite mort – the “little death” – the sensation of orgasm as likened to death, a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the “life force.” While Barthes metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature, it can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that “a part of them dies inside.”

A photograph can also contain this melancholy transcendence, a catastrophe that has already occurred.

“Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe… This punctum, more or less blurred beneath the abundance and the disparity of contemporary photographs, is vividly legible in historical photographs: there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die… At the limit, there is no need to represent a body [in photographs] in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated.”63

.
Barthes’ concept of an extended punctum may be useful here, when he states, “I now know that there exists another punctum (another ‘stigmatum’) than the ‘detail’. This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’), its pure representation.”64

Here Barthes is proposing a punctum of intensity; a punctum as lacerating “detail”; and/or “the vertigo of time defeated.” This “temporal hallucination” embedded and embodied in the photograph – the temporality of the “will-have-been”, they are dead (today), they are already dead (yesterday), Barthes’ anterior future – represents a symbolically mediated subject bound up in three extases of time (past, present, and future).65

The subject becomes lost in the language of the photograph, the intersection of Lacan’s the Imaginary (in which the human subject creates fantasy images of both himself and his ideal object of desire), the Symbolic (the social world of linguistic communication and inter-subjective relations), and the Real (defined as what escapes the Symbolic, the Real can be neither spoken nor written, it is impossible, but is ceaselessly writing itself). These concepts serve to situate subjectivity within a system of perception and a dialogue with the external world.

According to Lori Wike, the experience of punctum and the structure of iterability can be aligned to Lacan’s concept of the death drive (or death instinct) present in the Symbolic order, in which the signifier “materializes the agency of death.”66 This may account for the role of the photographic punctum as trauma, in which the punctum opens up “a kind of subtle beyond” where “a blind field is created (is divined)…”67 As Barthes notes, “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead.”68 Further, we can say that, “unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as “presence” and “absence”, there is no absence in the real,” for the real is undifferentiated, “it is without fissure.”

“The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”69

.
The “mark” of photography is eviscerated in the intensity of the real, a traumatic loss of time that confronts us with our own mortality and the knowledge that we will not be remembered. This is where images of death can take us once the initial affective connection is established – to a noumenal space where in the play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable (Lacan’s différance).70

“In French, différance simultaneously contains within its neo-graphism the activities of differing and deferring, a distancing acted out temporally as well as spatially.”71 Where the moment (the time freeze of the shutter) turns in, on and around its own fulcrum, where there is always difference at the point of origin. For all of its instantaneous nature, in photography there is always a perverse moment of displacement and deferral. In its history, “a perverse complicity of continuity and resemblance with its supposed opposite, discontinuity and difference”72 … the latter only existing in a reciprocal relationship to the former.

The circle is closing and we return to where we started.

 

10

Human beings in their longing for lost continuity are mirrored by their photographs which transition from continuous to discontinuous and back again. While we yearn for our lost continuity, we must acknowledge that death is an unedited event, one that we cannot look back on. There is no following event to blank out that moment… and the dead are always dying. But what images of death in photography do is this: they allow us to approach the noumenal, that state of being of which we can have knowledge of, but can never know. We can approach, touch, feel, analyse, and have empathy for traumatic events in the representation of an unknowable reality. The photograph has the ability to go beyond the symbolic, to approach the impossible, the real.

The photograph may proffer a ‘releasement toward things’,73 a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which sustains the mystery of the object confusing the distinction between real time and sensual time, between inside and outside, input and output becoming neither here nor there. As Martin Jolly notes, citing John Thompson, “… images of death can be seen a form of “mediated, non-reciprocal intimacy, stretched across time and space” in which we are increasingly unconstrained by our location or our time.”74 Further, John Thompson observes, “While lived experience remains fundamental, it is increasingly supplemented by, and in some respects displaced by, mediated experience, which assumes a greater and greater role in the project of self-formation.”75

In the sense that the photograph becomes la petite mort, the little death, it embodies our desire for the soul to become eternal in the form of this mediated experience… the displacement of the soul via the ghost in the machine, the soul remembered throughout time in the traumatic trace of the photograph. Death in the language of photography is always postponed and deferred: into the physicality of the photograph; into cultural memory; into the gaze (of the photographer, the camera and the viewer); and into the body of the observer. Here, a relationship exists between an impossible reality (an encounter with an “outside” which is unknowable) and a floating referent in an image that is both formative and transformative. And in that relationship, as Donna Haraway observes, “Relationship is multiform, at stake, unfinished, consequential.”76

The text of eternity that the photograph proposes, imparts and imposes a paradoxical state of loss. The secret of telling truth in a photograph is that the more truthful, “the more orgasmic, the more pleasurable, the more suicidal”77 the pronouncement of the perfect paradox78 (you are dead but also alive) … then the more we are strangled while uttering it. The language of deferral in the writing of trauma in death and the image becomes the dissolve that seizes the subject in the midst of an eternal bliss. In death and the image we may actually die (be)coming.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan 2018

Word count: 8,137

 

 

Addendum

“Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina [god from the machine or, providential intervention], it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the progress of representation.”

Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 43.

 

“Written with her trademark flair and force, Sontag’s book [On Photography] inaugurated a wave of criticism, much of it influenced by Foucaultian theory, that underscored the instrumentality and implicit violence of photography, its ability to police and regulate it subjects, especially those lacking social and political power: the poor, presumed “deviants” or “criminals,” and workers. As Sontag herself acknowledged, however, photography is not only a predatory means of taking possession, but also a mode of conferring value; it can potentially be put to counter-hegemonic uses, used to see and frame in ways that affirm and legitimate, rather than strictly contain and control, the presence of culturally disenfranchised persons.”

Entin, Joseph. “Milton Rogovin’s Approach: Photography, Class, and the Aesthetics of Making Space (2008),” on the ASX website July 12, 2010 [Online] Cited 27/10/2018

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne) '[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]' c. 1863

 

Adrien Constant de Rebecque (Swiss, Lausanne 1806-1876 Lausanne)
[Man in Chainmail Tunic Posing as a Dying Soldier]
c. 1863
Albumen print from collodion glass negative
17.9 x 24.2 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)' 1934

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Ouvrier en grève, assassiné (Striking worker, assassinated)
1934
Silver gelatin print

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Silver gelatin print

 

 

One of my early heroes in photography was Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Many Mexican photographs tell such stories based on the mythology of the country: there are elements of the absurd, surrealism, macabre, revolution, political and socio-economic issues, also of death, violence, beauty, youth, sexuality and religion to name but a few – a search for national identity that is balanced in the photographs of Bravo by a sense of inner peace and redemption. This potent mix of issues and emotions is what makes Mexican photography so powerful and substantive. In the “presence” (or present, the awareness of the here and now) of Mexican photography there is a definite calligraphy of the body in space in most of the work. This handwriting is idiosyncratic and emotive; it draws the viewer into an intimate narrative embrace. Two famous photographs by Bravo illustrate some of these themes (Apollonian/Dionysian; utopian/dystopian). When placed together they seem to have a strange attraction one to the other.

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

Anne Frank, photograph inscribed with her wish to go to Hollywood, October 10, 1942

 

 

References

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’, in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21

Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson (eds) 2013 Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Barthes, Roland 1981 Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography New York: Hill and Wang

Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography paperback 1999 Massachusetts: MIT Press

Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International

Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography

Bronowski, Jacob 1958 Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row

Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 84-114

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, 110-111

Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller, 1972 in English

Edwards, Janis L. 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Communication Quarterly vol. 60 issue 5, 681-197

Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’ in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 16-49

Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 129-147

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 125-142

Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan

Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row

Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter

Jolly, Martyn 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’, in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 71-87

Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ in GENDERS no. 7 Spring, 22-31

Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter” in Yale French Studies no. 48 French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis Yale University Press, 39-72

Martin, Luther H and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) 1988 Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

Maxwell, Anne and Josephine Croci (eds) 2015 Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing

O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website

Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change Annandale NSW: Pluto Press Australia, 78-97

Randell, Karen and Sean Redmond (eds) 2008 The war body on screen, New York: Continuum

Rastas, David and Maria Schlachter 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art

Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town

Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 80-103

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Staines, Deborah (ed) 2007 Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website

Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press

Virilio, Paul 1994 The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster

Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, 1-28

Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Zembylas, Michalinos 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education New York: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Berger, John 1985 The Sense of Sight New York: Vintage International, 122

[2] Bataille, Georges 1962 Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo New York: Walker and Company, 15

[3] Anonymous 2016 Definition of Trauma by Mirriam-Webster, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trauma (accessed 8 November 2016)

[4] Atkinson, Meera and Michael Richardson 2013 ‘Introduction: At the Nexus’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 5

[5] Rutherford, Anne 2013 ‘Film, Trauma and the Enunciative Present’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 82

[6] Michalinos Zembylas 2008 The Politics of Trauma in Education, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 4

[7] Ibid., 4

[8] Rutherford Op. cit., 87

[9] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 49, 93

[10] Rutherford Op. cit., 94

[11] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 9

[12] Rogobete, Ileana Carmen 2011 Reconstructing Trauma and Recovery: Life Narratives of Survivors of Political Violence during Apartheid PhD thesis Cape Town: University of Cape Town, at https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/10884 (accessed 8 November 2016)

[13] Rutherford Op. cit., 85

[14] Gibbs, Anna 2013 ‘Apparently Unrelated: Affective Resonance, Concatenation and Traumatic Circuitry in the Terrain of the Everyday’ in M Atkinson and M Richardson (eds) Traumatic Affect Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

[15] “Perhaps rather than numbness, what we actually feel is our own helplessness or impotence, and the shame of helplessness, which robs us of agency. Helplessness is what Tomkins calls an affect complex, and within it distress is the dominant affect, although there may be admixtures in it of fear, anger and shame… Helplessness immobilises, and this is what induces the shame which, as a reduction of interest, makes us lower our gaze and look away.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect and the Images from Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 139-140

[16] “To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetize…”

Sontag, Susan 1977 On Photography New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 20

“Are we making too much of images? Are we lured by our own voyeurism and iconophilia, numbed as we are by the democracy of the spectacle? Or, on the contrary, do images open the eyes of our conscience? In other words do images merely entertain and anaesthetize us or do they shame us and awake our conscience?”

Chaouat, Bruno 2005 ‘Image malgré tout’ (review) in L’Esprit Créateur vol. 45 no. 1, at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/265181/pdf (accessed 8 November 2016)

[17] Rutherford Op. cit., 89

[18] Anonymous 2016 ‘Lynching in the United States’, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States (accessed 11 November 2016)

[19] Anonymous 2016 ‘Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday’, at http://genius.com/Billie-holiday-strange-fruit-lyrics (accessed 11 November 2016)

[20] ‘Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit’, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnlTHvJBeP0 (accessed 11 November 2016)

[21] Rutherford Op. cit., Footnote 55, 95

[22] Bennett, Jill 2005 Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 4 quoted in Rutherford, 95

[23] Ibid., 11

[24] Deleuze, Gilles 1964 Proust and Signs New York: George Braziller (1972 in English) 7, in Bennett 161

[25] Bennett Op. cit., 10

[26] Papastergiadis, Nikos and Mary Zournazi 2002 ‘Faith without certitudes’ in M Zournazi Hope: New Philosophies for Change 94-95, in Bennett, 10

[27] Hanusch, Folker 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 55

[28] Ibid., 56

[29] Ibid., 56

[30] Randell, Karen and Redmond, Sean (eds) 2008 The war body on screen New York: Continuum, cited in Hanusch, 30

[31] Foucault, Michel 1988 ‘Technologies of the self’, in L H Martin and H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 18

[32] Barthes, Roland 1980 La Chambre Claire (Camera Lucida) (1981 in English) New York: Hill and Wang Section 39, 94

[33] Houlihan, Kasia 2004 ‘Annotation on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography’ New York: Hill and Wang 1981 in Theories of Media, Winter at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm (accessed 12 November 2016)

[34] Strawberry 2013 ‘Roland Barthes: studium and punctum’ Museum of Education website 12 March, at https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/roland-barthes-studium-and-punctum/ (accessed 11 November 2016)

[35] “For memory is always in a state of ruin; to remember something is already to have ruined it, to have displaced it from its moment of origin. Memory is caught in a conundrum – the passing of time that makes memory possible and necessary is also what makes memory fade and die.”

Batchen, Geoffrey 2004 Forget Me Not: Photography & Remembrance New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 78

[36] Cadava, Eduardo 1992 ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’ Diacritics 22 no. 3-4 (Fall-Winter), 110 in Batchen 172

[37] Bennett Op. cit., 7

[38] Ibid., 7

[39] Zelizer, Barbie 2002 The Voice of the Visual in Memory, at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/folklore/center/ConferenceArchive/voiceover/voice_of_the_visual.html (accessed 13 November 2016)

[40] Ibid.,

[41] Brown, Andrew (ed. and trans,) 1987 Sophocles: Antigone, lines 850-52 Wiltshire: Aris and Phillips Ltd., 91

[42] Edwards, Janis L 2012 ‘Visual Literacy and Visual Politics: Photojournalism and the 2004 Presidential Debates’ Taylor Francis Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01463373.2012.725000 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[43] Zelizer Op. cit.,

[44] Sontag Op. cit., 18 cited in F Hanusch 2010 Representing death in the news: Journalism, Media and Mortality London: Palgrave Macmillan, 105

[45] See ‘Robert Capa: The Falling Soldier’, The Met website, at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283315 (accessed 13 November 2016)

[46] Walsh, Stephen 2000 Stalingrad: The Infernal Cauldron, 1942-43 London: Simon and Schuster, 23

[47] Anonymous photographer 2013 ‘Russian spy laughing through his execution in Finland, 1942’, Rare Historical Photos website 29 December, at http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/russian-spy-laughing-execution-finland-1942/ (accessed 13 November 2016)

[48] Brett, Donna West 2016 ‘Damaged: Ruin and Decay in Walker Evans’ Photographs’ Walker Evans Symposium Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography October 7, 5 at https://www.academia.edu/29201498/Damaged_Ruin_and_Decay_in_Walker_Evans_Photographs (accessed 13 November 2016)

[49] Soja, Edward W. 1996 Thirdspace Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 57

[50] Ibid., 57

[51] Batchen Op. cit., 47

[52] Ibid., 48

[53] Rastas, David 2016 Art as a Sanctuary for the Mad: Six characteristics of mystical experience and their visual accompaniment in contemporary art, at http://www.davidrastas.com/kunstglaube/madness&mysticism/essays.html (accessed 19 November 2016)

[54] Bronowski, Jacob 1958, Science and Human Values New York: Harper and Row, 31

[55] Anonymous 2015. ‘Hidden Likeness: Photographer Emmet Gowin at the Morgan’, The Morgan Library & Museum website May 22 through September 20, 2015 https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emmet-gowin (accessed 08 May 2018)

[56] See Turner, Victor 1966 The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure Chicago: Aldine. For a definition of liminality see Anonymous ‘Liminality’, Wikipedia website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality (accessed 08 May 2018)

[57] Batchen, Geoffrey 1997 Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography (paperback 1999) Massachusetts: MIT Press, 194

[58] Batchen Forget Me Not, 94

[59] O’Hagan, Sean 2014 ‘Chloe Dewe Mathews’s Shot at Dawn: a moving photographic memorial’ The Guardian website 29 June, at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/29/chloe-dewe-mathews-shot-at-dawn-moving-photographic-memorial-first-world-war (accessed 25 November 2016)

[60] Bennett 2005 Empathic Vision 69

[61] Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederich 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

[62] Anonymous 2016 ‘La petite mort’ Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_petite_mort (accessed 25 November 2016)

[63] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[64] Barthes Op. cit., 96

[65] See Wike, Lori 2000 ‘Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida’ in In[]Visible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Studies issue 3, at http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/issue3/wike.htm#BackFromNote10 (accessed 25 November 2016)

[66] Lacan, Jacques and Jeffrey Mehlman 1972 ‘The Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter’’ in Yale French Studies, no. 48, 53 quoted in Wike 2000

[67] Barthes Camera Lucida, 57-58 quoted in Wike 2000

[68] Barthes Camera Lucida, 31-32 quoted in Wike 2000

[69] Anonymous 2016, ‘The Real’, Wikipedia website at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real (accessed 25 November 2016)

[70] “Derrida sees differences as elemental oppositions working in all languages, systems of distinct signs, and codes, where terms don’t have absolute meanings but instead draw meaning from reciprocal determination with other terms… Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other… the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation – in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being – are always deferred.”

Anonymous 2016 ‘Différance’ at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Différance (accessed 25 November 2016

[71] Batchen Burning with Desire 179. Information on photography and differance 178-179.

[72] Batchen Burning with Desire 186

[73] “We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”

Heidegger, Martin 1966 Discourse on Thinking New York: Harper & Row, 55-56

[74] Thompson, John 1995 The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of Media Cambridge: Polity Press, 208 quoted in M Jolly 2015 ‘An Australian Spiritualist’s Personal Cartes-de-Visite Album’ in A Maxwell and J Croci (eds) Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 84

[75] Thompson 233 quoted in Jolly 2015

[76] Haraway, Donna and Cary Wolfe 2016 Manifestly Haraway Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 122, at https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed 26 November 2016)

[77] Kopelson, Kevin 1990 ‘Wilde, Barthes, and the Orgasmics of Truth’ GENDERS no 7 Spring, 26

[78] You are dead but also alive, the dissolution of the distinction between objective and subjective realities, “the image is an interface connecting inner and outer, past and future, affect and cognition.”

Gibbs, Anna 2007 ‘Horrified: Embodied Vision, Media Affect And The Images From Abu Ghraib’ in D Staines (ed) Interrogating the War on Terror Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 130

 

 

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22
Jul
18

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘Paris in film’ 2018 Part 2

July 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

 

Paris in film 2018

These photographs were taken on a trip to Paris in 2017 using my Mamiya twin-lens C220 medium format camera shot on Kodak Ektra 100 colour negative film.

It was strange taking these photographs over numerous, adventurous, energised days in Paris. Different from the yet to be sorted 4,000+ digital photographs I took, the act of taking these photographs allowed me to fully concentrate, to immerse myself in the environment, to loose myself in the process – with a commensurate dropping away of ego. I just was in the moment, “in the zone” as athletes would say.

They are only basic jpg scans of the negs, full frame, no cropping, and I have colour corrected as best I can, noting that all digital images look different from computer monitor to monitor – one of the perennial hazards of looking at work online. They have not been sequenced at the moment.

The photographs seem to hang well together as a body of work. I would love to get good scans and print some of them.

Through their clear visualisation, the photographs speak directly to the viewer.

Marcus

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68 images
© Marcus Bunyan

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The great goal that we must all pursue is to kill off the great evil that eats away at us: egotism.”

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“Sometimes I think I love nature just as much, if not more, for not being capable of translation into words… No words can describe some things. The more one says the less one sees. You see… nature is like love, it’s in the heart and you must not talk about it too much. You diminish what you try to describe. As for myself, I have no idea of my own nature when I act unselfconsciously. I only see what there is between the sky and myself. I have no part in it all. If I think of you, in my odd way I am you and I cease to exist.”

.
George Sand

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Parc de Sceaux' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Parc de Sceaux
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Fontainebleau' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Fontainebleau
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Fontainebleau' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Fontainebleau
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Animaux Nuisibles' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Animaux Nuisibles
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Animaux Nuisibles' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Animaux Nuisibles
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Animaux Nuisibles' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Animaux Nuisibles
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Rats Surmulots Captures aux Halles vers 1925' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Rats Surmulots Captures aux Halles vers 1925
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Dying light, KH in Saint-Eustache Church' from the series 'Paris in film' 2018

 

Marcus Bunyan
Dying light, KH in Saint-Eustache Church
2018
From the series ‘Paris in film’ 2018

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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24
Jun
18

Review: ‘DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER’ at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th May – 1st July 2018

Artists: Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens
Curator: Stephanie Sacco

 

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photo: Christian Capurro

 

 

It is a great pleasure to be able to post on my friend Carolyn Lewens’ joint exhibition with Pamela Bains, DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, both Visiting Fellows at Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.

I have known Carolyn since we were both studying photography at Brighton Tech under the tutelage of Peter Barker in 1989. Nearly 30 years later, we are both still making art and writing about art, which says a lot for our perseverance and perspicacity as both artists and human beings. There are not a lot of us left from those days, photographers who are still being creative, still following the path of enquiry with dedication and insight into the condition of (our) becoming.

In this latest iteration, an exhibition which investigates our place in the universe, Carolyn and Pamela offer a “creative response to an astrophysics program that is searching for the fastest explosions in the universe… an immersive and stimulating space wherein fresh awareness of the cosmos and science is mediated via aesthetic and conceptual means.” As the catalogue essay by Associate Professor Christopher Fluke observes, “Science and Art are both highly creative endeavours, that cannot succeed without research, experimentation, and an acceptance that some ideas will not work.” And so with this exhibition also. Some ideas work, some ideas do not.

The highlight for me in the first two galleries were the model telescopes, observatories and types of star made by research staff and postgraduate students in weekly workshops with the two artists. It was fascinating to see how modern astronomers see their own building blocks, fantastical human creations, architectural marvels made specifically to capture faint electromagnetic signals from the sky; and stars that can only be “captured” on photographic plates which record features invisible to the human eye. Akin to naive or “outsider” art (I hate that term but there is no better one at present to describe the work), these sculptures possess an essential presence in the “hands on” nature of their construction. Only in the darkened third gallery does the work of the two main artists coalesce, cosmogrify (I know that’s not a real word, but we are “out of this world”, as in cosmography, the branch of science which deals with the general features of the universe) into a satisfying whole. And what an out of this world gallery it is!

Pamela’s wondrous paintings, full of colour and paint splatters, transmogrify their earthly origins into music from the stars, while the paintings themselves are physically transformed and printed as digital photographs: in other words, there is a double transmogrification of concept and aesthetics going on here, moving from hand to universe and from analog to digital. As Fluke states, “The death event and the life giving properties shared between supernovae and our own physical outcome often reside in the subtext of Pam’s work, offering scope for the contemplation of ourselves as celestial entities.” These “creations” are illuminated by spotlights on one side of gallery three, and their multi-hued presence play off Carolyn’s blue cyanotype photogram images digitally printed on cotton rag on the other side of the long gallery – the exchange of constructed cosmos’ making for a truly immersive, quite moving experience.

Carolyn’s camera-less photograms use cyanotype photography, a process invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in the early 1840s, so this process is entirely appropriate for her investigation into the “metaphors of light and the mysteries of shadows.” As Fluke notes, “The creations that emerge are a direct response to the presence or absence of light, generating a shadowy imprint of more complexity than we can perceive. Links to photosynthesis via the cyanotype process mean her work is more about life than death.” Carolyn uses objects and materials which are often dense – folded and layered – which she then over exposes in order to get detail in some areas of the image. The resultant cyanotypes are then digital remastered (but not manipulated) in Photoshop, so that the resultant prints do not loose that beautiful blue that is the signature of the cyanotype process. Here again, transmogrification becomes a happening concept – an idea, a concept uses photosynthesis, the light of the sun, to create images in an early photographic process which are then scientifically remastered into digital photographs.

In both artists work, there is evidence of the ineffable, the unknowable, which is what makes this gallery so special. These works have been created out of the explosions of human imagination and creativity (like little big bangs) after observing light from stars millions of miles away, light that may no longer exist since it takes millions of years to reach us here on Earth. The light that these artists and astronomers observe may no longer exist, it is just an after image of a physical presence that may be long gone. To then create these universal emanations as intimations of the retina of the eye, being underwater, in the womb, or being a plant (think the tactile qualities of Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs); or cells of the brain and spermatozoa, is a special thing. The nexus between the works and the universe make these associations quite breathtaking.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Pamela Bain, Carolyn Lewens and Town Hall Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Conveying the wonder of science through art, Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens explore the universe with Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, resulting in an odyssey of aesthetic and sensory experiences.

DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER is a creative response to an astrophysics program that is searching for the fastest explosions in the universe. The artists, present for real-time space observations, were stimulated by bombardments of astronomical imagery, data and technology that inspired these new bodies of work. The exhibition offers an immersive and stimulating space wherein fresh awareness of the cosmos and science is mediated via aesthetic and conceptual means.

 

Carolyn Lewens in front of her work 'In the Photic Zone' 2018

 

Carolyn Lewens in front of her work In the Photic Zone 2017 at the opening of the exhibition
Photo: ImagePlay

 

 

Pamela Bain in front of her work Electric Cosmic 2018 at the opening of the exhibition
Photo: ImagePlay

 

 

THG Artist Interview: Carolyn Lewens & Pamela Bain – DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER, 12 May – 1 July 2018

 

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery one at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery one at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

 

Installation view of Pamela Bain’s work Candidate Light Collective 2018 (watercolour on cotton rag)
Photo: ImagePlay

 

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery two at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery two at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

 

Augmented visions: the art of the dynamic universe

Associate Professor Christopher Fluke

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The consistency of the night sky was important for the development of astronomy: a science of observation, record-keeping and prediction. Across human lifetimes, the stars maintained their positions with respect to an imagined celestial sphere. The planets – literally wandering stars – moved with respect to the fixed stars in their own regular cycles.

Much rarer, and sometimes a cause for alarm, were the unexpected events – an eclipse of the Sun or the sudden appearance of a new star in the immutable heavens. On 4 July 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded a bright light appearing in the constellation Taurus. So luminous that it was visible in the daylight for 20 days, it faded from view over the next two years. The cause of this transient celestial event was the explosion of a star 6500 light years away: a supernova event in our own Galaxy. Today, astronomers search the sky for other exploding stars – but in galaxies far beyond our own. Sophisticated telescopes capture the brief yet spectacular death throes of some of the biggest stars, revealing valuable information about the origin and evolution of all stars. The spark of inspiration for artists Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens was the Deeper Wider Faster project: a systematic search for short-lived, transient explosions. Led by Swinburne University of Technology’s Associate Professor Jeff Cooke and PhD student Igor Andreoni, Deeper Wider Faster requires the coordination of multiple observatories distributed around the Earth, all watching the same regions of the sky, waiting to catch a cosmic cataclysm.

While signalling the death of a star, a supernova is also a source of new life. At the heart of the explosion, nuclear processes create gold, silver, and other elements. Billions of years ago, supernovae created the elemental mixture that would collapse and coalesce into our Solar System: the raw materials for life. As Carl Sagan noted “we are made of star-stuff”.

The mutual composition shared by humans and the Universe has influenced Pamela’s work for some time. Her paintings capture the essence of the explosion and the aftermath. The interplay between light and dark and the shadowy in between also reveals a human presence via daubs of colour, paint splatters and brushstrokes amalgamating the artist with the Universe. While technical processes are later integrated, evidence of an organic origin remain. The death event and the life giving properties shared between supernovae and our own physical outcome often reside in the subtext of Pam’s work, offering scope for the contemplation of ourselves as celestial entities.

Many of the great astronomers of the Renaissance were also great artists, perhaps none more so than Galileo Galilei. Although not the first to draw the Moon through a telescope, Galileo’s sketches of the craters and shadows of the Moon were an essential step in overturning the conception that the Moon was a perfect object. Through drawing and illustration, astronomers could share, discuss and debate what was seen via the augmentation of lenses and mirrors. As telescopes grew in size, the increased level of detail they revealed challenged the skills of many astronomers. The quality of the interpretation was only as good as the talents of the astronomer-artist. During the 19th century, a move from subjectivity to objectivity in astronomical imaging took place. While not without their own challenges, photographic plates could record features invisible to the human eye, and the era of the astronomer-artist came to an end. The longer the exposure, the DEEPER and DARKER elements of the Universe could be seen.

The cyanotype photography used by Carolyn was invented by astronomer Sir John Herschel in the early 1840s. While Herschel created the process to make blueprint copies of his notes, Carolyn’s camera-less photograms allow her to “investigate the metaphors of light and the mysteries of shadows.”

Physical engagement with processes of light and materiality is central to Carolyn’s work. The creations that emerge are a direct response to the presence or absence of light, generating a shadowy imprint of more complexity than we can perceive. Links to photosynthesis via the cyanotype process mean her work is more about life than death. There has always been a close connection between art and astronomy. Depictions of the night sky, accompanied by stories of the origin of the Universe, appear throughout human history. Complex motions of the celestial objects were often encoded in architecture. In Peru, the Thirteen Towers of Chankillo encode the Sun’s motion on the horizon throughout the year.

Modern astronomers build architectural marvels to capture faint electromagnetic signals from the sky. Large white domes huddle together on the tops of mountains far from the light pollution of cities, holding mirrors with diameters measured in metres. Elsewhere, an enormous parabolic dish sits incongruously in the Australian countryside, surrounded by sheep and the occasional poisonous snake.

The orchestration of observatories at the heart of Deeper Wider Faster is depicted in an animation in the Gallery, conceived by Pamela and Carolyn, and animated by James Josephides. Connections are made between geographical locations of observatories and their place in the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves, X-rays, infrared, ultraviolet and visible light are all the same phenomena. Yet each holds its own secret about the transient, dynamic Universe.

In a return to astronomy’s artistic roots, Pamela and Carolyn led weekly workshops with research staff and postgraduate students from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing. The opportunity to make model telescopes with Carolyn or learn to paint supernova with Pamela was taken up enthusiastically. Science and Art are both highly creative endeavours, that cannot succeed without research, experimentation, and an acceptance that some ideas will not work. The creative outputs of Swinburne’s astronomers are shown alongside the primary works of the exhibition.

Science and Art are both iterative experiences – it can be hard to say when either has come to an end. DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER is an aesthetic and sensory response by Pamela Bain and Carolyn Lewens to Deeper Wider Faster. It implores us to reconsider the nature of the Universe, the light and the dark, and the augmented visions that astronomers use to capture the art of the dynamic Universe. This is the era of transient astronomy: the heavens are immutable no more.

.
Associate Professor Christopher Fluke
is a researcher with Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, and Director of Swinburne’s Advanced Visualisation Laboratory.

 

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

Installation view of gallery three at the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

Installation views of gallery three at the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photos: Christian Capurro

 

Pamela Bain. 'Electric Cosmos' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Electric Cosmos
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
140 x 186 cm
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Explosion' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Explosion
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Nebula' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Nebula
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Pamela Bain. 'Through A Portal Lightly' 2018

 

Pamela Bain
Through A Portal Lightly
2018
From the Death and Creation series
Painting remastered onto archival digital print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Opening of the exhibition 'Deeper Darker Brighter' at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne

 

At the opening of the exhibition Deeper Darker Brighter at Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Melbourne
Photo: ImagePlay

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Light Phenomenon 2' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Light Phenomenon 2
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Fast Burst' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Fast Burst
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Filamentous' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Filamentous
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Naked Retina 8' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Naked Retina 8
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Naked Retina 9' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Naked Retina 9
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Spiralling orbits' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Spiralling orbits
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'Light Remnants' 2017

 

Carolyn Lewens
Light Remnants
2017
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

Carolyn Lewens. 'In the Photic Zone' 2013-2018

 

Carolyn Lewens
In the Photic Zone
2013-18
Dimensions variable
Unique state cyanotype photogram image digitally remastered print on cotton rag
© image courtesy of the artist

 

 

Town Hall Gallery
Hawthorn Arts Centre
360 Burwood Road,
Hawthorn VIC 3122
Phone: +61 3 9278 4770

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm
Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Town Hall Gallery website

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11
Apr
18

Vale Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)

April 2018

 

My god, what a loss.

I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Polixeni Papapetrou. Sadness indeed…

Poli was a wonderful spirit and an incredibly gifted artist. Condolences to Robert Nelson and all of the family.

A selection of some of my favourite Papapetrou images are posted below – but really, there are so many memorable images, she leaves behind an indelible and lasting legacy.

From an earlier posting:

 

“What we should do is honour this talented and determined artist for creating so many memorable images over the years, for following her passion and her heart with courage and conviction. For the rest of my life I will always remember the spaces, the ambiguous vistas, the fantastical archetypes, the fables of her work. Images of drag queens and Dreamkeepers, Ghillies and goblins are etched in my memory. I will always remember them. You can’t ask much more from the work of an artist than that.”

 

You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream.

Marcus

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Drag queen wearing cut out dress' 1993

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
From the series Drag Queens 1988-1999
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

.
Paul Klee. Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] 1920

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne' 1990

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne
1990
From the series Elvis Immortal 1987-2002
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Mr Wrestling' 1992

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Mr Wrestling
1992
From the series Wrestlers 1992
Pigment ink print
100 x 100cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Indian Brave' 2002

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Indian Brave
2002
From the series Phantomwise 2002-03
Pigment ink print
85 x 85 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Lost' 2005

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Lost
2005
From the series Fairy Tales 2004-2014
Type C print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'In the Wimmera 1864 #1' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
In the Wimmera 1864 #1
2006
From the series Haunted country 2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105cm
Geelong Gallery Collection

 

 

In the Wimmera 1864 #1 from the Haunted country series is amongst the earliest works by the artist to have been staged in the Australian landscape and is one in which she explores the narrative of the ‘lost child’. The work references the story of three children lost in Mallee scrub near their home outside Horsham in the Wimmera District and is reminiscent, as the artist intends, of Frederick McCubbin’s late 19th century paintings of children lost or at least wandering absent-mindedly through the Australia bush. (Text from the Culture Victoria website)

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Hanging Rock 1900 #3' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Hanging Rock 1900 #3
2006
From the series Haunted country 2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Provider' 2009

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Provider
2009
From the series Between Worlds 2009-2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Mourner' 2012

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Mourner
2012
From the series Between Worlds 2009-2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Joy Pedlars' 2011 from 'The Dreamkeepers' 2011

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Joy Pedlars
2011
From the series The Dreamkeepers 2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Wanderer No. 3', 2012 from 'The Dreamkeepers'

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Wanderer No. 3
2012
From the series The Dreamkeepers 2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018) 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2013
120 cm x 120 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou. 'Scrub Man' 2012

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018)
Scrub Man
2012
From the series The Ghillies 2013
120 cm x 120 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Review of the exhibition Polixeni Papapetrou: Lost Psyche at Stills Gallery, 2014

When “facing” adversity, it is a measure of a person’s character how they hold themselves, what face they show to the world, and how their art represents them in that world. So it is with Polixeni Papapetrou. The courage of this artist, her consistency of vision and insightful commentary on life even while life itself is in the balance, are inspiring to all those that know her.

Papapetrou has always created her own language, integrating the temporal dissemination of the historical “case” into a two-dimensional space of simultaneity and tabulation (the various archetypes and ancient characters), into an outline against a ground of Cartesian coordinates.1 In her construction, in her observation and under her act of surveillance, Papapetrou moves towards a well-made description of the states of the body in the tables and classification of the psychological landscape. Her tableaux (the French tableau signifies painting and scene (as in tableau vivant), but also table (as in a table used to organize data)) are a classification and tabulation that is an exact “portrait” of “the” illness, the lost psyche of the title. Her images lay out, in a very visible way, the double makeover: of the outer and inner landscape.

These narratives are above all self-portraits. The idea that image, archetype and artist might somehow be one and the same is a potent idea in Papapetrou’s work. What is “rendered” visible in her art is her own spirit, for these visionary works are nothing less than concise, intimate, focused self-portraits. They speak through the mask of the commedia dell’ arte of a face half turned to the world, half immersed in imaginary worlds. The double skin (as though human soul, the psyche, is erupting from within, forcing a face-off) and triple skin (evidenced in the lack of depth of field of the landscape tableaux) propose an opening up, a revealing of self in which the anatomy (anatemnein: to tear, to open a body, to dissect) of the living is revealed. The images become an autopsy on the living and the dead: “a series of images, that would crystallize and memorize for everyone the whole time of an inquiry and, beyond that, the time of a history.”2

Papapetrou’s images become the “true retina” of seeing, close to a scientific description of a character placed on a two dimensional background (notice how the stylised clouds in The Antiquarian, 2014 match the fur hat trim). In the sense of evidence, the artist’s archetypes proffer a Type that is balanced on the edge of longing, poetry, desire and death, one that the objectivity of photography seeks to fix and stabilise. These images serve the fantasy of a memory: of a masked archetype in a made over landscape captured “exact and sincere” by the apparatus of the camera. A faithful memory of a tableau in which Type is condensed into a unique image: the visage fixed to the regime of representation,3 the universal become singular. This Type is named through the incorporated Text, the Legend: I am Day Dreamer, Immigrant, Merchant, Poet, Storyteller.

But even as these photographs seek to fix the Type, “even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity,”4 the paradox is that this kind of knowledge slips away from itself, because photography is always an uncertain technique, unstable and chaotic, as ever the psyche. In the cutting-up of bodies, cutting-up on stage, a staging aimed at knowledge – the facticity of the masked, obscured, erupting face; the corporeal surface of the body, landscape, photograph – the image makes visible something of the movements of the soul. In these heterotopic images, sites that relate to more stable sites, “but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror or reflect,”5 Papapetrou’s psyche, “creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation.”6 In her commedia dell’ arte, an improvised comedy of craft, of artisans (a worker in a skilled trade), the artist fashions the raw material of experience in a unique way.7 We, the audience, intuitively recognise the type of person being represented in the story, through their half masks, their clothing and context and through the skilful dissemination of collective memory and experience.

Through her storytelling Papapetrou moves towards a social and spiritual transformation, one that unhinges the lost psyche. Her landscape narratives are a narrative of a recognisable, challenging, unstable non-linear art, an art practice that embraces “the speculative mystery of ancient roles…  They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.” They are archetype as self-portrait: portraits of a searching, erupting, questioning soul, brave and courageous in a time of peril. And the work is for the children (of the world), for without art and family, extinction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Adapted from Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 24-25. I am indebted to the ideas of Georges Didi-Huberman for his analysis of the ‘facies’ and the experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot on hysteria at the Hôpital Salpêtrière in Paris in the 1880s.
2. 
Ibid., p. 48
3. Ibid., p. 49
4. Ibid., p. 59
5. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces,” in Diacritics Spring 1986, p. 24 quoted in Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 226-227
6. Fisher, Ibid., p. 227-228
7. “One can go on and ask oneself whether the relationship of the storyteller to his material, human life, is not in itself a craftsman’s relationship, whether it is not his very task to fashion the raw material of experience, his own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way.”
Benjamin
, Walter. Illuminations (trans. by Harry Zohn; edited by Hannah Arendt). New York: Schocken Books, 1968 (2007), p. 108

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Immigrant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Immigrant
2014
From the series Lost Psyche 2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Storyteller' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Storyteller
2014
From the series Lost Psyche 2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou website

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25
Feb
18

Review: ‘All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th January – 3rd March 2018

Curator: Samantha Comte

Artists: Broersen and Lukács, Kate Daw, Peter Ellis, Dina Goldstein, Mirando Haz, Vivienne Shark Le Witt, Amanda Marburg, Tracey Moffatt, Polixeni Papapetrou, Patricia Piccinini, Paula Rego, Lotte Reiniger, Allison Schulnik, Sally Smart, Kiki Smith, Kylie Stillman, Tale of Tales, Janaina Tschäpe, Miwa Yanagi, Kara Walker and Zilverster (Goodwin and Hanenbergh).

Review synposis: Simply put, this is the best local exhibition I have seen this year. A must see before it closes.

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Hanging Rock 1900 #3' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou
Hanging Rock 1900 #3
2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin

 

 

Oh my, what big teeth you have! Wait just a minute, they need a good clean and they’re all crooked and subverted (or a: how well-known stories are turned on their head and b: how real histories become fantasies, and how fantasies are reimagined)

.
This is going to be the shortest review in the known universe. Just one word:
.

SUPERLATIVE

.
.

Every piece of artwork in this extraordinary, quirky, spellbinding exhibition (spread over the three floors of the The Ian Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne) is strong and valuable to the investigation of the overall concept, that of fairy tales transformed.

The hang, the catalogue, and the mix of a: international and local artists; b: historical and contemporary works; and c: animation, video, gaming, sculpture, photography, painting, drawing and other art forms – is dead set, spot on.

There are too many highlights, but briefly my favourites were the historical animations of Lotte Reiniger; the painting Born by Kiki Smith which adorns the catalogue cover; the theatrical tableaux of Polixeni Papapetrou; the mesmerising video art of Allison Schulnik; and the subversive etchings of both Peter Ellis and Mirando Haz. But really, every single artwork had something interesting and challenging to say about the fabled construction of fairy tales and their place in the mythic imagination, a deviation from the normative, patriarchal telling of tales.

My only regret, that a: there hadn’t been another three floors of the exhibition; b: that there was only one work by Kiki Smith; and c: that there were not another set of disparate voices other than the feminine and black i.e. transgender, gay, disabled – other artists (if they exist?) that were working with this concept.

Simply put, this is the best local exhibition I have seen this year. A must see before it closes.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to The Ian Potter Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Installation photographs by Christian Capurro.

 

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed, the Ian Potter Museum of Art’s 2017 summer show, traces the genre of the fairy tale, exploring its function in contemporary society. The exhibition presents contemporary art work alongside a selection of key historical fairy tale books that provide re-interpretations of the classic fairy tales for a 21st-century context, including Little Red Riding HoodHansel and Gretel and The Little Mermaid.

 

Ground floor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Lotte Reiniger with Cinderella/Aschenputtel (1922) at left

 

 

Lotte Reiniger (born 1899, Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany; died 1981, Dettenhausen, West Germany)
Cinderella/Aschenputtel
1922
Silhouette animation film
Primrose Productions
Directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger
Production team: Carl Coch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy Music: Freddie Phillips
12.35 minutes
Footage courtesy of BFI National Archive, London

 

 

Lotte Reiniger began making her ground-breaking animations in Berlin during the 1920s. Influenced by early fairy tale illustrations, in particular, Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy (1887), Reiniger was attracted to the graphic nature of the imagery but also the compelling complexities of fairy tale narratives. Adapting the art of shadow puppetry, she created more than forty intricately crafted fairy tale films.

In 1935, she left Berlin for England, in response to the unjust treatment of the Jewish people. World War II had an enduring impact on Reiniger’s work and life. For example, when she made Hansel and Gretel, in 1953-54, she changed the ending of the narrative from the Brothers Grimm original, in which the witch is burnt in the over after being tricked by the children, because the taboo nature of this imagery was understandably too close to the horrors of the Holocaust. From her first film, Reiniger was attracted to the timelessness of fairy tale stories for her animations. Aschenputtel (Cinderella) (1922) was among her first filmic subjects and is amongst the words presented here. While Reiniger belonged to the cinematic avant-garde, working in independent production and experimental film making, her spirit harked back to an earlier age of innocence. (Wall text)

 

 

Lotte Reiniger
Hansel and Gretel/Hänsel und Gretel
1953/1954
Silhouette animation film
Primrose Productions
Directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger
Production team: Carl Coch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy Music: Freddie Phillips
10:19 minutes
Footage/Image courtesy of BFI National Archive, London

 

 

Lotte Reiniger
The Sleeping Beauty/Dornrӧschen
1953-1954
Silhouette animation film
Primrose Productions
Directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger
Production team: Carl Coch, Louis Hagen, Vivian Milroy
Music: Freddie Phillips
10:03 minutes
Footage/Image courtesy of BFI National Archive, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Lotte Reiniger (left) and Sally Smart (right)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Sally Smart’s work Blaubart (The Choreography of Cutting) 2017

 

 

Sally Smart‘s Blaubart (The Choreography of Cutting) is a complex assemblage of elements and ideas that relate to Smart’s recent work on the Russian Fairy tale, Chout (1921) where she found connections to Perrault’s murderous tale of Blue Beard, a lurid story about a noble man who marries numerous women killing each of them and storing their bodies in an underground bloody chamber.

Smart’s work explores this narrative by combining the blue and black silhouetted forms from Lotte Reiniger’s animation of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) with the black and white photographs of a modern dance performance of Blue Beard devised by Pina Bausch, a noted German dance choreographer. In Smart’s dramatic work a series of hanging dresses and wigs stand in for blue beards wives, whose bodies, in the story, were gruesomely hung from hooks. Blue Beard is a story of violence and betrayal that contains one of the most powerful fairy tale symbols, that of the forbidden room and the quest for knowledge. While we often try to make sense of the world through chronological narrative, Smart’s work suggests that it is the disconnected layers of experiences, stories, images and sensations that lead to a rich life of possibility. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Sally Smart (born 1960, Quorn, South Australia; lives and works Melbourne, Victoria)
Blaubart (The Choreography of Cutting) (detail)
2017
Mixed media installation
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Miwa Yanagi (left to right, Little Match Girl 2004; Gretel 2004; Untitled IV 2004; and Erendira 2004)

 

 

Japanese photographer, Miwa Yanagi constructs elaborate and complex images that examine the representation of women in contemporary Japanese society. Her third major series of works, Fairy tales focuses on a key theme, that of the young girl moving into womanhood and her relationship to the older woman.

Recasting the familiar tales of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, Yanagi explores the complex relationship between old women and young girls, often presented as the witch and the innocent princess. In this series, Yanagi returns to traditional methods of photography, creating complex backdrops, lighting and costumes. She dresses some of the young girls in wigs, make up and masks to look old and witch-like, creating a strangely unresolved image of an old woman with a young body, playing with the idea of binaries – innocence and heartlessness, maturity and youth. (Wall text)

 

Miwa Yangi. 'Gretel' 2004

 

Miwa Yanagi (born in born in 1967 in Kobe, Japan; lives and works in Kyoto, Japan)
Gretel
2004
Gelatin silver print
116 x 116 cm (framed)
Collection of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Amanda Marburg (right) and Miwa Yanagi (left)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Amanda Marburg (Juniper Tree 2016; Hansel and Gretel 2016; Maiden without hands 2016; Death and the Goose boy 2015; The Golden Ass 2016; Hans My Hedgehog 2016; Briar Rose 2016; and All Fur 2016)

 

 

Amanda Marburg has an enduring fascination with the macabre, referencing dark tales from film, literature and art history to create distinctive paintings that often picture sinister and menacing subjects within brightly rendered, plasticine environments. In this body of work, Marburg looks to the famous Brothers Grimm tales, particularly the first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, published in 1812. The brothers were dedicated to collecting largely oral folk tales from their German heritage, and among the first hey collected were narratives that told of the brutal living conditions of the time. In the better known 1857 edition of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales, more than thirty of the original stories have been removed from the earlier publication including ‘Death and the Goose Boy’ and ‘Juniper Tree’. These stories were often cautionary tales that encompassed gritty themes such as cannibalism, murder and child abuse and while they were popular when first published, they were deemed unsuitable for the later edition. (Wall text)

 

Amanda Marburg (born 1976, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne, Australia) 'Maiden without hands' 2016

 

Amanda Marburg (born 1976, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne, Australia)
Maiden without hands
2016
Oil on linen
122 x 92 cm
Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Lotte Reiniger (left), Sally Smart (middle), and Miwa Yanagi (right)

 

Broersen and Lukács. 'Mastering Bambi' (video still) 2011

 

Mastering Bambi Preview, 2010 – Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács from AKINCI Gallery on Vimeo.

 

 

Walt Disney’s 1942 classic animation film Bambi is well known for its distinct main characters – a variety of cute, anthropomorphic animals. However, an important but often overlooked protagonist in the movie is nature itself: the pristine wilderness as the main grid on which Disney structured his ‘Bambi’. One of the first virtual worlds was created here: a world of deceptive realism and harmony, in which man is the only enemy. Disney strived to be true to nature, but he also used nature as a metaphor for human society. In his view, deeply rooted in European romanticism, the wilderness is threatened by civilisation and technology. The forest, therefore, is depicted as a ‘magic well’, the ultimate purifying ‘frontier’, where the inhabitants peacefully coexist. Interestingly, the original 1924 Austrian novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten (banned in 1936 by Hitler) shows nature (and human society) more as a bleak, Darwinist reality of competition, violence and death.

Broersen and Lukács recreate the model of Disney’s pristine vision, but they strip the forest of its harmonious inhabitants, the animals. What remains is another reality, a constructed and lacking wilderness, where nature becomes the mirror of our own imagination. The soundtrack is made by Berend Dubbe and Gwendolyn Thomas. They’ve reconstructed Bambi’s music, in which they twist and fold the sound in such a way that it reveals the dissonances in the movie. (Text from AKINCI Gallery)

 

Broersen and Lukács. 'Mastering Bambi' (video still) 2011

 

Broersen and Lukács (Persijn Broersen born in Delft, The Netherlands in 1974 and Margit Lukács, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1973; both live and work in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Paris, France)
Mastering Bambi (video still)
2011
HD video
12:30 minutes
Courtesy of the artists and Akinci, Amsterdam

 

 

All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed, the Ian Potter Museum of Art’s 2017 summer show, traces the genre of the fairy tale, exploring its function in contemporary society. The exhibition presents contemporary art work alongside a selection of key historical fairy tale books that provide re-interpretations of the classic fairy tales for a 21st-century context, including Little Red Riding HoodHansel and Gretel and The Little Mermaid.

Featuring international and Australian contemporary artists including Kiki Smith, Patricia Piccinini, Amanda Marburg, Miwa Yanagi, Kara Walker, Allison Schulnik, Tracey Moffatt, Paula Rego, Broersen and Lukacs and Peter Ellis, All the better to see you with explores artists’ use of the fairy tale to express social concerns and anxieties surrounding issues such as the abuse of power, injustice and exploitation.

Curator, Samantha Comte said: “Fairy tales help us to articulate the way we might see and challenge such issues and, through transformation, triumph in the end. This exhibition looks at why fairy tales still have the power to attract us, to seduce us, to lure us and stir our imagination.”

A major exhibition across all three levels of the museum, the exhibition will be accompanied by a raft of public and education programs. American artist Kiki Smith uses fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood as a metaphor to express her feelings about the feminist experience in patriarchal culture. The Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego has constructed the same tale as a feminist farce, with Red Riding Hood’s mother flaunting the wolf ‘s pelt as a stole. Japanese photographer Miwa Yanagi, in her “Fairy Tale” series has created large scale images enacted by children and adolescents in which playfulness and cruelty, fantasy and realism, merge.

The theme of the lost child in the forest is played out through tales such as Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. Tracey Moffatt’s Invocations series of 13 images is composed of three disjointed narratives about a little girl in a forest, a woman and man in the desert and a foreboding horde of spirits. The little girl lost in the forest is familiar from childhood fairy tales, and the style of these images is reminiscent of Disney movies.

Broersen and Lukacs’ powerful video work, Mastering Bambi depicts the forest as a mysterious, alluring and sinister place. Often the setting of a fairy tale, the forest is used as a metaphor for human psychology. Australian artist Amanda Marburg, in her series How Some Children Played at Slaughtering looks to the stories that both excited and haunted generations of children and adults the infamous Grimm’s fairy tales. The melancholy of Marburg’s subjects is counteracted by her use of bewitching bright colour, which creates fairy tale-like landscapes with deceptive charm.

Fairy tales can comfort and entertain us; they can divert, educate and help shape our sense of the world; they articulate desires and dilemmas, nurture imagination and encapsulate good and evil. All the Better to See You With invites us to delve into this shadowy world of ancient stories through the eyes of a diverse range of artists and art works.

Press release from the Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Second floor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Paula Rego at left; Kylie Stillman’s Scape (2017) middle; and Kiki Smith’s Born (2002) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Paula Rego (from left to right, Happy Family – Mother, Red Riding Hood and Grandmother, 2003; Red Riding Hood on the Edge, 2003; The Wolf, 2003; The wolf chats up Red Riding Hood, 2003; Mother Takes Her Revenge, 2003; and Mother Wears the Wolf’s Pelt, 2003)

 

 

Portuguese born, British based artist Paula Rego subverts traditional folk stories and fairy tales, adapting these narratives to reflect and challenge the values of contemporary society, playing with feminine roles in culturally determined contexts and turning male dominance on its head.

In Little Red Riding Hood (2003), Rego presents an alternative telling of this well-known story. Her suite of paintings is based on Charles Perrault’s version of this fairy tale Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, 1695 in which the girl and the grandmother are eaten by the wolf, rather than the more famous Grimm version in which the girl and the grandmother survive after being rescued by a male protagonist. Rego reshapes the story for a contemporary context, reflecting on current ideas around gender roles in society and casting the mother as a sharply dressed avenger who overcomes the man-wolf without the aid of a male rescuer. (Wall text)

 

Paula Rego. 'The wolf chats up Red Riding Hood' 2003

 

Paula Rego
The wolf chats up Red Riding Hood
2003
Pastel on paper
104 x 79 cm
Collection of Gracie Smart, London
Courtesy Malborough Fine Art, London
© Paula Rego

 

Paula Rego. 'Mother Wears the Wolf's Pelt' 2003

 

Paula Rego
Mother Wears the Wolf’s Pelt
2003
Pastel on paper
75 x 4 x 92cm
Collection of Gracie Smart, London
Courtesy Malborough Fine Art, London
© Paula Rego
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Kylie Stillman’s Scape (2017) at left and Kiki Smith’s Born (2002) at right

 

Kylie Stillman. 'Scape' 2017

 

Kylie Stillman (born in Mordialloc, Victoria, Australia in 1975 lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
Scape
2017
Hand cut plywood
200 x 240 x 30 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Utopian Art, Sydney

 

 

Kiki Smith (born Nuremberg, Germany 1954; lives and works in USA)
Born
2002
Lithograph in 12 colours
172.72 cm x 142.24 cm
Edition 28
Published by Universal Limited Art Editions
© Kiki Smith / Universal Limited Art Editions Courtesy of the Artist and PACE Gallery, NY

 

 

Kiki Smith‘s practice has been shaped by her enduring interest in the human condition and the natural world. She evocatively reworks representations and imagery found in religion, mythology and folklore. Exploring themes recurrent to her practice such as birth, death and regeneration, in Born (2002) Smith alludes to an idea that has fascinated her for many years, the relationship of animals, particularly wolves and human beings. This illustration of Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerging from the wolf’s stomach, subverts the story line of this well-known fairy tale, depicting the couple rising from the body of he wolf rather than being consumed by him. The image is simultaneously savage and tender. Significantly the illustrations of the child and the grandmother are, in fact, both portraits of the artist, the depiction of the child’s face is derived from a drawing of Smith as a child. In this work, the two female figures are no longer victims and the wolf is no longer the aggressor. Instead there is a complicity between characters. Smith’s ongoing use of surprising narrative associations allows her to interrogate ideas around gender and identity, providing a disconcerting view of traditional fairy tale narratives. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Kylie Stillman’s Scape (2017) at left, Kiki Smith’s Born (2002) middle and Polixeni Papapetrou’s work at right

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Encounter' 2003

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born 1960, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
The Encounter
2003
Type C print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou has been fascinated with costume and disguise throughout her more than thirty years of photographic practice. In her Fairy Tales series (2004-14), she restages well-known stories in highly theatrical environments, combining recognisable motifs, such as the snowy-white owl in The Encounter (2006) and the brightly coloured candy house in her work The Witch’s House (2003). Papapetrou places her child actors in fantastical landscapes, capturing them performing in front of vividly painted trompe l’oeil backdrops; that evocatively suggest the rich interior world of the child’s imagination.

In her work, Papapetrou also explores the narrative of the lost child, which in the European tradition has a parallel in the tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’. In Australia, the most famous story of children lost in the bush is Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967), a tale embedded in our cultural imagination through both the novel and subsequent movie (1975). Set on St Valentine’s Day 1900, it is the story of three young girls on the cusp of womanhood disappearing without a trace. Papapetrou’s Hanging Rock 1900 #3 (2006), from the Haunted Country series (2006), captures the eerie quality of the Australian landscape and the hopelessness of the lost girls. (Wall text)

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Witch's House' 2003

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born 1960, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
The Witch’s House
2003
Type C print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'By the Yarra 1857 #1' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born 1960, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
By the Yarra 1857 #1
2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'By the Yarra 1857 #2' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born 1960, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
By the Yarra 1857 #2
2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Lost' 2005

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (born 1960, Melbourne Australia; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
Lost
2005
Type C print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Polixeni Papapetrou’s work at left and Kate Daw’s work at centre right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Kate Daw’s work Lights No Eyes Can See (2) (2017) at left; the work of Paula Rego middle; and Kylie Stillman’s Scape (2017) right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Kate Daw’s work Lights No Eyes Can See (2) (2017) at left, and her paintings Arietta’s House (2016), Lenci dolls (Lenu and Lila) (2016), and Lenci doll (back to the before) (2016) left to right

 

Kate Daw. 'Lights No Eyes Can See (2)' 2017

 

Kate Daw
Lights No Eyes Can See (2)
2017
Fired and painted clay dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne

 

 

Kate Daw‘s practice has been shaped by her ongoing interest in authorship, narrative and creative process. Daw’s new work for this exhibition Lights No Eyes Can See (2) (2017, above), is one of many iterations that the artist has made: its original lyric form was written as the song ‘Attics of my Life’, in 1970 by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter for the rock band The Grateful Dead. In its first iteration Daw reshapes the lyrics into a typed canvas work scaled up to a giant print and a performative iteration in which she asked art students to sing this song at set times of the day.

For this exhibition, Daw has transformed an exceprt of the song into a wall piece made in clay. The text describes the dreamy, subconscious space that fairy tales occupy, while the colour and form of the work suggests domestic decoration. Continuously moving between the domestic and the social, the everyday and the imagined, this work reflects Daw’s ongoing interest in how we constantly reshape and remake objects, texts and narratives to make sense of the world. (Wall text)

 

Kate Daw. 'Lenci dolls (Lenu and Lila)' 2016

 

Installation view of Kate Daw’s work Lenci dolls (Lenu and Lila) 2016
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne with a still from the video work Mound (2011) by Allison Schulnik at left,  and the work of Dina Goldstein from her Fallen Princess series at right

 

 

Allison Schulnik (born in 1978, San Diego; lives and works in Los Angeles, USA)
Mound
2011
Clay-animated stop motion video
4.24 minutes
Courtesy the artist and Mark Moore Gallery, California

 

Allison Schulnik (born in 1978, San Diego; lives and works in Los Angeles, USA) 'Mound' (video still) 2011

 

Allison Schulnik (born in 1978, San Diego; lives and works in Los Angeles, USA)
Mound (video still)
2011
Clay-animated stop motion video
4.24 minutes
Courtesy the artist and Mark Moore Gallery, California

 

Dina Goldstein. 'Cinder' 2007

 

Dina Goldstein (born 1969 in Tel Aviv, Israel; lives and works Vancouver, Canada)
Cinder
2007
From the Fallen Princess series
Digital photograph
76.2 x 106.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Dina Goldstein. 'Princess Pea' 2009

 

Dina Goldstein (born 1969 in Tel Aviv, Israel; lives and works Vancouver, Canada)
Princess Pea
2009
From the Fallen Princess series
Digital photograph
76.2 x 106.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Dina Goldstein. 'Snowy' 2007

 

Dina Goldstein (born 1969 in Tel Aviv, Israel; lives and works Vancouver, Canada)
Snowy
2008
From the Fallen Princess series
Digital photograph
76.2 x 106.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Dina Goldstein at left, and the video Untitled (scream) by Janaina Tschäpe at right

 

Untitled (Scream) from Janaina Tschape Studio on Vimeo

 

Janaina Tschäpe (born in Munich, Germany, in 1973; lives and works in New York, USA)
Untitled (Scream) (extract)
2004
HD video, no sound
5.34 minutes
Courtesy the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Vivienne Shark LeWitt (born Sale, Victoria, Australia in 1956; lives and works in Melbourne, Victoria) with The Bloody Chamber (1983) left and Charles Meryon the voyeur 1827-1868. La belle et la bête (1983) right

 

Vivienne Shark LeWitt. 'The Bloody Chamber' 1983

 

Installation view of Vivienne Shark LeWitt’s The Bloody Chamber 1983
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Shark LeWitt. 'Charles Meryon the voyeur 1827-1868. La belle et la bête' 1983

 

Installation view of Vivienne Shark LeWitt’s Charles Meryon the voyeur 1827-1868. La belle et la bête [The Beauty and the Beast] 1983
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Kara Walker centre and Peter Ellis right

 

Kara Walker (born in 1969, Stockton, California; lives and works in New York, USA) 'Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching' 2006

 

Kara Walker (born in 1969, Stockton, California; lives and works in New York, USA)
Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching
2006
Painted laser cut steel – 22 parts
Dimensions variable (61 x 97.2 x 228.6 cm)
Collection of Naomi Milgrom AO, Melbourne

 

 

Kara Walker is well known for her investigation of race, gender, sexuality, and violence through her elaborate silhouetted works. Since the early 1990s, Walker has been creating works that present disturbing and often taboo narratives using the disarming iconography of historical fiction.

Through the form of a child’s play set Walker reveals the brutal racism and inequality in American history. Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching (2006) uses simple cut-out silhouettes to create a series of characters and motifs that occupy a chilling, nightmarish world. Drawing from Civil War imagery of the American south, Walker creates parts for the play set – a plantation mansion, small huts, weeping willows, shackled slaves, Confederate soldiers and southern belles – then arranges these into a narrative. In the artists words, she questions how ‘real histories become fantasies and fairy tales’ and how it is, perversely, that ‘fairy tales sometimes pass for history, for truth’. In this work, Walker suggests histories can be played with – manipulated and parts removed – but also that storytelling can be adapted and reshaped to remember and reimagine the past. (Wall text)

 

Kara Walker (born in 1969, Stockton, California; lives and works in New York, USA) 'Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching' 2006 (detail)

 

Kara Walker (born in 1969, Stockton, California; lives and works in New York, USA)
Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching (detail)
2006
Painted laser cut steel – 22 parts
Dimensions variable (61 x 97.2 x 228.6 cm)
Collection of Naomi Milgrom AO, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Kara Walker left and Peter Ellis right

 

 

The prince and the bee mistress portfolio 1986

Melbourne based artist, Peter Ellis is a prolific image maker who creates hallucinatory scenes of make-believe animals and human-like creatures. His work takes its inspiration from diverse historical sources including children’s art and literature, detective novels, the legacies of Dada and Surrealism and the transformative qualities of fairy tales.

In this narrative etching The Prince and the Bee Mistress (1986), the artist illustrates a contemporary adult fairy tale by writer Tobsha Learner. It’s a surreal Gothic horror tale about the seduction of a young prince who succumbs to the disastrous ‘charms’ of the Bee Mistress. The Bee Mistress is capable of altering and morphing her body, which is comprised of a swarm of bees. Using his encyclopaedic knowledge of animals, objects and images, Ellis creates densely layered configurations of surprising and unsettling forms. This disturbing and perplexing imagery also references traditional fairy tales, with the puppet prince (plate 3) wearing the same costume as Heinrich Hoffmann’s little boy from the 1845 German children’s book Der Struwwelpeter (Shock Haired Peter). (Wall text)

 

Peter Ellis. 'The Princess Dream' 1986

 

Peter Ellis (born 1956 in Sydney, Australia, New South Wales; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
The Princes Dream
1986
Etching, soft-ground, drypoint, sugar-lift, photo-etching, plate-tone and relief printing
35.2 × 50.6 cm (plate) 50.4 × 65.9 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Peter Ellis. 'Dog Screaming' 1986

 

Peter Ellis (born 1956 in Sydney, Australia, New South Wales; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
Dog Screaming
1986
Etching, soft-ground, drypoint, sugar-lift, photo-etching, plate-tone and relief printing
35.2 × 50.6 cm (plate) 50.4 × 65.9 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Peter Ellis. 'Examining the Bee Sting' 1986

 

Peter Ellis (born 1956 in Sydney, Australia, New South Wales; lives and works in Melbourne Australia)
Examining the Bee Sting
1986
Etching, soft-ground, drypoint, sugar-lift, photo-etching, plate-tone and relief printing
35.2 × 50.6 cm (plate) 50.4 × 65.9 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Peter Ellis left and Mirando Haz (Amedeo Pieragostini) right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Mirando Haz (Amedeo Pieragostini), left to right The Little Mermaid (La Sirenetta), The Needle (L’Ago), The Emperor’s New Clothes (Gli Abiti Nuovi Dell’Imperatore), The Old Street Lamp (Il Vecchio Fanale), The Old House (La Vecchia Casa) all 1977

 

Mirando Haz (Amedeo Pieragostini) 'The Needle (L'Ago)' 1977

 

Installation view of Mirando Haz’s (Amedeo Pieragostini) work The Needle (L’Ago) 1977
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Mirando Haz. 'The Little Mermaid' 1977

 

Mirando Haz (Amedeo Pieragostini) (born 1937, in Bergamo, Italy; lives and works in Bergamo, Italy)
The Little Mermaid (La Sirenetta)
1977
Etching Plate
15.5 x 11.5; sheet 19.0 x 15.3
The University of Melbourne Art Collection
Gift of the Italian Cultural Institute 1985
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Zilverster (Sharon Goodwin born in Dandenong, Australia in 1973 and Irene Hanenbergh born in Erica, The Netherlands in 1966 formed the collaborative art practice Zilverster in 2010. They live and work in Melbourne, Australia) including The Table of Moresnet (2016) at centre

 

Third floor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing Tracey Moffat’s Invocations series (2000) (13 framed photo silkscreen works, dimensions variable, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia Collection)

 

 

Tracey Moffat‘s practice deals with the human condition in all its complexities, drawing on the history of cinema, art, photographs as well as popular culture and her own childhood memories to create works that explore themes around power, identity, passion, resistance and survival.

In her Invocations series, Moffatt explores a bizarre fairy tale world, inhabited by witches and spirits, a lost girl in a forest, and a man and woman in the desert battling their nightmares. It is a journey through landscape and scenes found in a rich array of different sources, from early Disney animations, Hitchcock movies such as The Birds, Goya paintings and the disturbing folkloric tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Using her skills as a filmmaker, Moffatt spent a year constructing the sets an directing actors to create each dramatic scene. She then worked with a printer for another year building the richly textured surfaces that give a powerful sense of illusion and otherworldliness to these works. Drawing on archetypal anxieties and fears, the lost child, the teenager yearning for escape and adult passions Moffatt’s Invocations series reveals the struggle for survival and the quest for power in a harsh and threatening environment. (Wall text)

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'Invocations # 5' 2000

 

Tracey Moffatt
Invocations #5
2000
Photo silkscreen
156 x 131.5 cm (framed)
Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the artist, 2013
Courtesy of the artist and and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'Invocations # 7' 2000

 

Tracey Moffatt
Invocations #7
2000
Photo silkscreen
156 x 131.5 cm (framed)
Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the artist, 2013
Courtesy of the artist and and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'Invocations #11' 2000

 

Tracey Moffatt
Invocations #11
2000
Photo silkscreen
119 x 105 cm (framed)
Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the artist, 2013
Courtesy of the artist and and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing a still from Allison Schulnik’s video Eager (2013-2014) at left, and Patricia Piccinini’s Still Life with Stem Cells (2002) at right

 

 

Allison Schulnik
Eager
2013-2014
Clay-animated stop motion video
8.25 minutes
Courtesy the artist and Mark Moore Gallery, California

 

Allison Schulnik. 'Eager' (video still) 2013-2014

 

Allison Schulnik
Eager (video still)
2013-2014
Clay-animated stop motion video
8.25 minutes
Courtesy the artist and Mark Moore Gallery, California

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Patricia Piccinini’s Still Life with Stem Cells (2002, silicone, polyurethane, human hair, clothing, carpet dimensions variable Monash University Collection), and at right a still from her DVD The Gathering (2007)

 

 

These two works by Patricia Piccinini focus on one of the artists enduring interests, that of children and their ambiguous relationship with the imaginary creates that populate her work.

The child is the central character of most fairy tales, often at the point of transition to adulthood. Many of the tales reflect adult anxieties around this stage of childhood. But children, as both readers and central characters, often welcome fairy tales, as the stories nurture their desire for change and independence, and provide hope in a world that can be harsh and brutal. Children are also more willing to take on the strange and the magical, which we see in Piccinini’s sculptural work Still Life with Stem Cells (2002) in which a young girl is seated on the floor playing with her toys. These are not toys we are familiar with however, they are stem cells scaled up from their microscopic size, and each is different, as stem cell have the unique ability to change into other types of cells. The child is relaxed and happy, willing to take on this unfamiliar new environment. Piccinini re-enchants the world of the child, presenting an alternative narrative of the world we know. Creating possibility and wonder, she uses the fairy tale narrative to suggest new ways to look at issues facing contemporary culture.

In Piccinini’s video work The Gathering (2009) a young girl is lying on the floor of a dark house, asleep or unconscious. We watch with trepidation as furry blobs crawl towards her. Piccinini often depicts children in her work to evoke a sense of vulnerability and innocence, but it is often ambiguous as to who is more vulnerable, the creatures or the child. She confronts us with the strange and sometimes monstrous, just as fairy tales do. (Wall text)

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Still Life with Stem Cells' 2002

 


Patricia Piccinini
(born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1965; lives and works in Melbourne, Australia)
Still Life with Stem Cells (photo detail)
2002
Silicone, polyurethane, human hair, clothing, carpet dimensions variable
Monash University Collection Purchased 2002
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

The Gathering by Patricia Piccinini from MMAFT on Vimeo

 

Patricia Piccinini (born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1965; lives and works in Melbourne, Australia)
The Gathering
2009
DVD, 16:9 PAL, stereo
3.30 mins
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn. 'The Path' (screen capture) 2009

 

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (game designers and co-directors of tale of tales) Auriea Harvey was born in Indianapolis, USA in 1971 and Michaël Samyn was born in 1968 in Poperinge, Belgium; they live and work in Ghent, Belgium
The Path (screen capture)
2009
Computer game developed by TALE OF TALES
Music by Jarboe and Kris Force
Courtesy of tale of tales, Belgium

 

 

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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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