Posts Tagged ‘hyperreality

17
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Lifelike’ at The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas

Exhibition dates: 23rd June – 22nd September 2013

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Life (like).

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“For the French theorist Jean Baudrillard, this consciousness of construction finds its most powerful expression in the concept of hyperreality. To appreciate Baudrillard’s view, recall the treatment of literary deconstruction… Deconstruction therorists propose that words gain their meaning through their reference to other words; literary works gain their significance by the way they are related to other writings. Thus language does not derive its character from reality, but from other language. Now consider the media – newspapers, television, the movies, radio. For Baudrillard, media portrayals of the world are not driven by the way the world “is,” but by the steadily emerging histories of portrayal itself. As these histories unfold, each new lamination is influenced by the preceding, accounts are layered upon accounts, and reality is transformed into hyperreality. For example, Baudrillard asks, what is the reality of the “Holocaust”? One cannot deny that certain events took place, but as time goes on these events become subject to myriad re-presentations. Diaries become subject to redefinition by television and movies; biographies influence the writing of historical novels; narrated history is transformed into plays, and each “telling” lays the experiental groundwork for subsequent retellings. Realities accumulate, accentuate, interpenetrate, and ultimately create the world of hyperreality – itself in continuous evolution into the future. We feel we possess an intimate acquaintance of the events in themselves; they are sharply etched in our consciousness. For Baudrillard, however, this consciousness moves increasingly toward hyperreality.

And thus the culture opens to the possibility of selves as artifacts of hyperreality. As political events, health and illness, and world history slip from the realm of the concrete into the domain of representation, so a commitment to obdurate selves becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. What, after all, is the reality of our motives, intentions, thoughts, attitudes, and the like? …

As we find, the current texts of the self are built upon those of preceding eras, and they in turn upon more distant forms of discourse. In the end we have no way of “getting down to the self as it is.” And thus we edge toward the more unsettling question: On what grounds can we assume that beneath the layers of accumulated understandings there is, in fact, an obdurate “self” to be located? The object of understanding has been absorbed into the world of representations.”

Gergen, Kenneth. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1991, pp.121-122.

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Many thankx to The Blanton Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the artwork in this posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art.

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Daniel Douke. 'Ace' 1979

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Daniel Douke
Ace
1979
Acrylic on masonite
8 x 8 x 12 1/4 in.
Courtesy Minnesota Museum of American Art, Saint Paul

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Evan Penny. '(Old) No One – in Particular #6, Series 2' 2005

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Evan Penny
(Old) No One – in Particular #6, Series 2
2005
Silicone, pigment, hair, aluminium
40 x 32 x 7 1/2 in.
© Evan Penny
Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York

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Vija Celmins. 'Eraser' 1967

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Vija Celmins
Eraser
1967
Acrylic on balsa wood
6 5/8 x 20 x 3 1/8 in.
Collection Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA
Gift of Avco Financial Services, Newport Beach

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Maurizio Cattelan. 'Untitled' 2001

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Maurizio Cattelan
Untitled
2001
Stainless steel, composition wood, electric motor, electric light, electric bell, computer
23 1/2 x 33 5/8 x 18 5/8 in.
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

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Keith Edmier. 'Bremen Towne' 2008

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Keith Edmier
Bremen Towne
2008
Installation dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery

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Bremen Towne was an idea I’d been thinking about prior to [my 2008] show at Bard College. It had been floating in my head for a number of years based on the sales brochure of my parents’ home I had obtained around 1999 off of eBay. It was just one of these things I had around… I didn’t really have the idea of constructing this house back then… As it turned out, the interior dimensions of my parents’ home from the original blueprints fit directly into one of the galleries at the museum. At that point I started considering it more as an art object, or as a sculpture more than an installation… The main visual references were family photographs, mostly taken during critical events or holidays or birthday parties. My process involved going through the photo album – everything. They were all pictures of people posing, so I started looking at the spaces [in the background]… I ended up buying the whole decade of both Sears and JCPenney catalogues up until that time, the early ’70s. Through that I was able to identify some products based on visual descriptions or in the family photographs… I initially went to a place that has all kinds of wallpapers and floorings from other periods, used a lot for movies and things like that. I heard they had thousands of wallpapers. It turned out I couldn’t find the exact wallpaper that was in the house. I guess at that point I started thinking it was more interesting for me to remake it, and to remake it more or less new. I wanted to represent the time element, the moment before the day of the family moving into the new house. It wasn’t supposed to look lived in.

I think I was initially interested in doing that to have some kind of separation from taking a real object that was loaded with personal history or some sentimental thing. It was a way of moving from a subjective to an objective position… [I was interested] in just thinking about the whole interior of the house itself as a cast, or this negative space. I thought about how the house is essentially the space that shapes us, that shapes oneself… I think that my reason to make it, or to make almost anything, went beyond just the visual aspects of it, or the idea of re-creating an illusion of the thing. I’ve always been more interested in a certain level of representation or pictorial literalness… I like words or descriptions like “actual” or “actual scale.” I like the idea of “what is real?” (Text from the Walker Art Center website)

Keith Edmier

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“The exhibition Lifelike, on view at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin June 23 to September 22, 2013, invites a close examination of artworks based on commonplace objects and situations, which are startlingly realistic, but often made of unusual materials in unexpected sizes.

Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this international, multigenerational group exhibition features 75 works from the 1960s to the present by leading figures in contemporary art, such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, James Casebere, Vija Celmins, Keith Edmier, Robert Gober, Ron Mueck, Mungo Thomson, and Ai Weiwei, and illuminates artists’ enduring fascination with realism.

Avoiding the flashiness embraced by 1960s Pop Artists and the slick urban scenes introduced at that time by the Photorealists, the contemporary artists in Lifelike investigate often overlooked items and moments as subject matter: a paper bag, an eraser, an apple core, a waiting roo, an afternoon nap. Favouring a handmade, labour intensive practice rather than technological enhancements, the works in the exhibition – including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing and video – transform the seemingly ordinary into something beguiling, loaded with narrative and metaphor.

The exhibition explores the many ways artists have pursued realism through a range of media. Some artists featured, such as Vija Celmins, Chuck Close, and Peter Rostovsky, paint from photographs, creating works that exhibit an astonishing degree of likeness and detail. Others work in sculpture often fashioning objects from materials that belie the pedestrian nature of the subject – Ai Weiwei’s jar of hundreds of sunflower seeds, hand painted on to cast porcelain, or Tom Friedman’s bee, made out of clay, plastic, and paint. In photography, artists including James Casebere and Isaac Layman play with the hyperreal, through fabricated scenes or clever layering of images. In video, artists including Thomas Demand and Jeon Joonho create moving images that at first seem familiar, but deceive us through sly use of animation.

Conspicuously absent in most of the works in Lifelike is a reliance on technological intervention. Instead, in seemingly inverse proportion to the ease of producing goods for the marketplace, many artists are slowing and complicating their own working methods, remaking banal things into objects of fixation and desire: Catherine Murphy’s details of textured fabric on the seat of a chair, or Ron Mueck’s strikingly “real” sculpture – down to the last hair and pore – of human subjects. Frequently these artists work from photographs, but just as often, their inspiration is the observed world, and the notion that a tangible, perhaps ephemeral object or moment can somehow be brought back to life – reinterpreted through the artist’s hand as re-made readymades.

To address the nuances of this subject, the exhibition presents several key conceptual sections:

Common Objects gathers a group of late 1960s and early 1970s works that borrowed strategies from Pop, but rejected that movement’s brand-name emphasis in favor of conceptual, more process-oriented approaches to subject matter.

Another section presents the notion of  The Uncanny, which features work by a generation of artists in the 1980s and 1990s who inflected realism with a psychologically-laden, surreal sensibility, such as Robert Gober’s child-sized chair and flower-covered box of tissues, resting mysteriously atop a floor drain; or Charles Ray’s disarming photograph of himself as a mannequin.

A third section entitled Realism into Abstraction presents a range of works by artists such as Peter Rostovsky, Catherine Murphy and Tauba Auerbach, in which lushly painted surfaces such as velvet curtains, the seat of a chair, and other ordinary items are cropped in such a way that they resemble abstract paintings, their original sources difficult to discern.

Handmade Sleight of Hand, the fourth section, presents work by artists who make objects that are indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts, but made with the traditional techniques of painting, sculpture, or drawing. Highlights include Jud Nelson’s trash bag carved from Carrara marble and Susan Collis’s checkered plastic shopping bag painstakingly rendered in ballpoint pen on paper.

A fifth section, Special Effects: The Real as Spectacle, presents artists making work that engages an instant response – be it astonishment, fear, confusion, or delight – through their surprising size or unusual installation.”

Press release from The Blanton Museum of Art website

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Peter Rostovsky. 'Curtain' 2010

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Peter Rostovsky
Curtain
2010
Oil on linen
72 x 48 in.
Courtesy of the artist

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What does it mean in Warholian fashion to “want to be a machine,” to long for a kind of inhumanity that has to be constantly performed and repeated? Is this not a radical disavowal of an all too human vulnerability? Can we not read in the mechanical appeals of photorealism a kind of excessive sentimentality, a naïve expressionism that uses the camera and the photograph as a shield against trauma?

And likewise in expressionism’s hyperbolic restatement of its humanity, is there not a silent concession to its opposite, a founding anxiety about inauthenticity, a mortal dread regarding the total triumph of simulation and technology?

However, it is important to stress that these are unfulfilled desires. No photorealist painting completely fools the viewer into the fact that it is machine-made; it entertains the fantasy, much like electronic music. And each autonomous artwork is only a temporary escape, a utopian space, “an orchid in the land of technology,” to borrow a phrase that Walter Benjamin applied to the illusion of reality in film.

What these two positions in fact represent are two negative theologies that stand as sentinels, forever pointing to and away from a traumatically unresolved subject position – a position of the never sufficiently technological, and the never completely human. They are both Romantic positions and should be read as such: as positions of longing and disavowal, not of identity.

Why would this be important to emphasize? Because it answers the familiar question asked to every painter painting photographs. It’s not about the ends, it’s about the means. It’s about the performance of painting that re-states the position, not the photolike product that it yields. In other words, it’s about trying and failing to be a machine. Therein resides the futility and poetic nature of the practice. The failure marks the fragility and evanescence of the subject negatively, knowing that the alternative is to misname, to misrepresent, to conjure the opposite. This poetic is more latent, and seldom acknowledged in art that aspires toward indifference and inhumanity, but I hope that I have shown that every tin man has a heart, just like every photorealist hides an abstract painter.  (Text from the Walker Art Center website)

Peter Rostovsky

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Matt Johnson. 'American Spirit' 2010

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Matt Johnson
American Spirit
2010
Paper, plastic, foam, paint, and magnets
1 x 3 1/2 x 2 1/4 in.
Edition of 3
Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Photo credit: Joshua White
© Matt Johnson

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Ron Mueck. 'Untitled (Seated Woman)' 1999

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Ron Mueck
Untitled (Seated Woman)
1999
Silicone, acrylic, polyurethane foam and fabric
25 1/4 x 17 x 16 1/2 in.
Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

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Alex Hay. 'Paper Bag' 1968

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Alex Hay
Paper Bag
1968
Fiberglass, epoxy, paint, and paper
59 1/4 x 29 x 18 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
© Alex Hay
Courtesy of the artist and Peter Freeman, Inc., New York Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson

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Jonathan Seliger. 'Heartland' 2010

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Jonathan Seliger
Heartland
2010
Enamel on bronze
103 x 29 x 29 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

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Yoshihiro Suda. 'Weeds' 2008

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Yoshihiro Suda
Weeds
2008
Painted on wood
Size varied according to site
© Yoshihiro Suda
Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo

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The Blanton Museum of Art

The museum is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue and is open Tuesday though Friday from 10 AM – 5 PM, Saturday from 11 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday from 1 – 5 PM. Thursdays are free admission days and every third Thursday the museum is open until 9 PM.

The Blanton Museum of Art website

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23
Feb
13

Review: ‘Confounding: Contemporary Photography’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2012 – 3rd March 2013

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964) 'Public housing' 2003

 

Thomas Demand (Germany, b. 1964)
Public housing
2003
Type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2010
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

 

 

Thinking contemporary photography

At its birth in the 19th century, photography was seen as the ultimate tool for the representation and classification of the visual world.1 Photography recorded reality; a photograph was seen as a visual and literal truth of something that existed in the world. It re-presented the world to the viewer, telling something of the world, reflecting the world. A photograph provided a freeze frame – the snap of the shutter – of one point in time and space. People were astounded that their likeness and that of the world around them could be captured for all to see.

Technological advancements in the early twentieth century, such as faster exposure times and more portable cameras, transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.2 The photograph began to reveal the personal dimensions of reality. It began to explore the intangible spaces that define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. “Photographers and artists attempted to depict via photographic means that which is not so easily photographed: dreams, ghosts, god, thought, time” (Jeffrey Fraenkel The Unphotographable Fraenkel Gallery Books 2013). With the advent of modernism, they sought to capture fragments, details and blurred boundaries of personal experience.3 The indexical link photograph and referent, between the camera, the object being photographed and the photograph itself was being stretched to breaking point.

Think of it like this. Think of a photograph of an apple that a camera has taken. There is a link between the photograph and its referent, the photograph of the apple and the object itself (in reality, in the lived world). As a viewer of the photograph of the apple we are secondary witness to the fact that, at some point in time, someone took a photograph of this apple in real life. We bear witness to the eyewitness. Now what if I rip up the photograph of the apple and reassemble it in a different order? Is this still not an apple, only my subjective interpretation of how I see an apple existing in the world? Is it no less valid than the “real” photograph of the apple? What kinds of visual “truth” can exist in images?

Presently, contemporary photography is able to reveal intangible, constructed vistas that live outside the realm of the scientific. A photograph becomes a perspective on the world, an orientation to the world based on human agency. An image-maker takes resources for meaning (a visual language, how the image is made and what it is about), undertakes a design process (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.

These ideas are what a fascinating exhibition titled Confounding: Contemporary Photography, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne investigates. In the confounding of contemporary photography we are no longer witnessing a lived reality but a break down of binaries such as sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments as artists present their subjective visions of imagined, created worlds. Each image presents the viewer with a conundrum that investigates the relationship between photographs and the “real” world they supposedly record. How do these photographs make you feel about this constructed, confounding world? These fields of existence?

Thomas Demand’s Public Housing (2003, above) plays with the real and the fictional, presenting the viewer with an idealised vision of a public housing complex illustrated on a Singapore $10 note. Demand makes large models out of paper and cardboard in his studio and then photographs the result before destroying the basis of his performance, the model, leaving only the photograph as evidence of their existence, an existence that emanated from the imagination of the artist. This particular Demand is unusual in that it depicts the totality of an outdoor structure, for the artist usually focuses on details of buildings, plants and environments in mid to close up view. The flattened perspective, limited colour palette and absence of detail adds to the utopian nature of the work (almost like a photographic Jeffrey Smart), aping the aesthetic and social ideals of Le Courbusier. As John Meades notes, “From early in its history, photography was adopted by architects as a means of idealising their buildings. As beautiful and heroic, as tokens of their ingenuity and mankind’s progress, etc. This debased tradition continues to thrive. At its core lies the imperative to show the building out of context, as a monument, separate from streetscape, from awkward neighbours, from untidiness.”4

In Roger Ballen’s photograph Terminus (2004, below), one the more moody works in the exhibition, a heavy wooden board with a deflated leather bladder on top presses down on a human face. Although it is not a human face (it confounds!), it is the painted face of a mannequin which the viewer can only acknowledge after a jolt of recognition. There is a feeling of entombment, a palpable feeling of claustrophobia, as the meta / physical “weight” of the bladder (like the weight of a heavy meteorite) presses down on the half obscured, thin lipped, black eyed face. Similarly confounding are the two photographs by Eliza Hutchison called The ancestors (2004, below). Shot from the waist up, these photographs remind you of those old black and white Photo Booth snapshots that you used to get for passports (there are still two of those machines outside the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street railway station, standing there like forlorn sentinels of a by gone age), complete with nondescript curtain that you used to pull behind you. There is something “not quite right” about the people in the photographs but you can’t put your finger on it until the text panel, a little gleefully, informs you that the portraits had been shot upside down. Now you realise what is out of kilter: more cheek and jowl rather than cheek by jowl.

The exhibition makes a powerful point as Robert Nelson in his review of the exhibition in The Age newspaper observes: photography doesn’t necessarily have to be confounding to be art, to become enduring, it just has to have a decent idea behind it.

“I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”5

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The idea has always been the issue. Collectively, it is the ideas contained within the images in this exhibition that unsettle the relationship between the photograph and the world in the mind of the viewer, not their confounding. I don’t find any of these images contain much emotion (except possibly the Ballen) but the images are transformational because they fire up our imagination. Images speak not just of the world, but to the world; they challenge our beliefs, our politics and our daily practices. The camera’s single viewpoint, our single viewpoint, our field of existence has changed. People find themselves somehow, somewhere, not in a lived reality but in an imagined one.

Much is staged, scaled and variations in perspective are paramount. This affects the relationship between the viewer and the viewed for we can no longer take anything at face value. In a media saturated world full of images we begin to question every image that we see: has it been digitally manipulated, does it, did it actually exist in the world? These days “truth” in photography is an elusive notion and that might not be such a bad thing as people question the nature of images that surround them, their authenticity and their aura. In a media saturated world, in a world no longer of our making, seeing is no longer believing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  • 1. Anon. “Flatlands: photography and everyday space,” press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website posted on Art Blart [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 2. Ibid.,
  • 3. Ibid.,
  • 4. Meades, Jonathan. “Architects are the last people who should shape our cities,” on The Guardian website, Tuesday 18 September 2012 [Online] Cited 19/02/2013
  • 5. “First, do all confounded photographic images qualify as art? Or does a photograph have to be founding in a special way? And second, can a photograph be art without being confounding?Bundling these questions together, I would say that being confounding is not a necessary property of art photography; and even when it’s present, it isn’t in itself a sufficient ingredient to guarantee enduringly valuable art. Photography doesn’t have to confound in order to be art, but it does have to have an idea in it. The idea is always the issue, whether it works by confounding us or not.”Nelson, Robert. “Getting the picture can be confounding,” in The Age newspaper, Wednesday January 2nd, 2013, p. 11.

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

 

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018) 'Home' 1991

 

Peter Peryer (New Zealand, 1941-2018)
Home
1991
Gelatin silver photograph
35.6 x 53.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Peter Peryer

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969) 'The drummer' 2004

 

Loretta Lux (Germany, b. 1969)
The drummer
2004
Cibachrome photograph
45.0 x 37.7cm (image) 56.0 x 49.0cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Foundation, 2006
© Loretta Lux/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

On 5 October, the National Gallery of Victoria will present Confounding: Contemporary Photography, an exploration of the uncanny worlds created by human imagination, dreams and memories.

Drawn from the NGV’s collection, the fourteen works on display transform the strange, uncomfortable and awkward into plausible realities. Visitors will discover the gaze of unnerving children in the hyper-real work of Loretta Lux; be jolted upon realising the hidden reality of Wang Qingsong’s monumental tableaux; and wonder at the strange beauty in the carefully constructed cardboard world of Thomas Demand.

Susan van Wyk, Curator, Photography, NGV, said: “Like the recollection of a dream, the photographs displayed in Confounding seem to make sense, but do not sit comfortably in the world. There are subtle, slightly sinister elements within the images that suggest a mystifying alternative reality… Through a selection of works by Australian and international artists, including two new acquisitions by Thomas Demand and Roger Ballen, Confounding explores the unexpected with images that bridge the divide between real and fictional.”

Confounding will present works by contemporary photographers including Roger Ballen, Pat Brassington, Thomas Demand, Eliza Hutchison, Rosemary Laing, Loretta Lux, Patricia Piccinini, Peter Peryer, Wang Qingsong and Ronnie van Hout.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Roger Ballen. 'Terminus' 2004

 

Roger Ballen (American 1950-, worked in South Africa 1982- )
Terminus
2004
Carbon print
45.2 x 44.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Bill Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012
© courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait' 1997

 

Patricia Piccinini (b. Sierra Leone 1965, lived in Italy 1968-72, arrived Australia 1972)
Protein lattice – subset blue, portrait
1997
From the Protein lattice series 1997
Type C photograph
80.5 x 80.3cm irreg. (image); 90.0 x 126.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Optus Communications Pty Limited, Member, 1998
© Patricia Piccinini

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962) 'Mephitis' 1995

 

Ronnie van Hout (New Zealand, b. 1962)
Mephitis
1995
Gelatin silver photograph
47.2 x 32.6cm (image), 50.5 x 40.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
© Courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965)
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.4 x 72.9cm (image), 105.4 x 82.9cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965) 'The ancestors' 2004

 

Eliza Hutchison (Australian, b. 1965)
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.3 x 73.0cm (image),105.3 x 83.0cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

 

 

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19
Nov
12

Review: ‘Preserved’ by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 7th November – 24th November 2012

 

Gregory Elms. 'Spotted Hyaena, Crocuta Crocuta' 2010

 

Gregory Elms
Spotted Hyaena, Crocuta Crocuta
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

 

 

This is an excellent exhibition by Greg Elms at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne. The photographs, made using a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, have great fidelity. Fidelity refers to the degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state of a real world object and is therefore a measure of the realism of a model or simulation. These photographs have great overall presence – as the artist himself puts it, “Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.” This limited depth of field means that the taxidermies loom out of the intimate darkness into the artificial light, the scanners passing recorded as a crescent moon in the eyes of the preserved, the deceased.

Ashely Crawford, in an excellent piece of writing, notes how Elms captures the notion of the animal as ‘other’ while observing that there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. The press release states that, “Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

These ideas can be further interrogated. Personally, I think it is more than just a singular, momentary death. There is the original death of the animal, its re/animation through the art of preservation, taxidermy, and then a second little death due to the light of the scanner. These photographic animalia may be a reflection on our ecological relationship to the world, caught in a double time-freeze – a postmodern reflection on our memories, histories and interactions with the animal world that are becoming released from the historical contexts on which they are traditionally based, the referent silently split from its once powerful reality. Much as we humans objectify our death through ritual (the dressing of the body, the viewing of the body, the singing of songs, the saying of validations for a life; the coffin, the priest, the burial, the burning) these photographs objectify a simulation of death, as though the death of these animals has been pre-served, like warming up a TV dinner in the microwave and then letting it go cold again. Our relationship to the animals of this world is now mainly about death (live sheep exports, eat your heart out!)

Gothic, nocturnal and now immortal, Elms photographs transcend the animal-human connection and evoke primal emotional responses in the viewer causing us to ask, yet again, what the hell we are doing to this planet.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © and courtesy of the artist and Edmund Pearce Gallery. Text © Ashely Crawford and Edmund Pearce Gallery.

 

Gregory Elms. 'Female Red Kangaroo, Macropus Rufus' 2010

 

Gregory Elms
Female Red Kangaroo, Macropus Rufus
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

 

 

Gregory Elms pursues the rupture of photography’s implicit claim to realism. To this end his current series, Preserved, investigates the staged realism of taxidermy. Both zoological document and faux wildlife imagery, the work oscillates between life and death, veracity and fiction, the horrific and the sublime. It documents the lifelike lifelessness of taxidermy, presenting a zoological menagerie that is both hyper-real and otherworldly. The work was inspired by childhood memories of taxidermy hunting trophies on the walls of the Sportsmans Bar, at his father’s suburban hotel. But it’s also a gothic investigation of our relationship with animals, influenced by the Romantic movement, the Age of Enlightenment, and the tradition of vanitas painting with it’s metaphorical associations to mortality. According to curator Simon Gregg it “erects an invisible barrier between us and the animals; a physical barrier but in many ways and with more consequence to us, a psychological barrier.”

As the artist observes,

“I grew up in a suburban hotel with a public bar festooned in taxidermy hunting trophies. I’d spend ages gazing at them and have remained enthralled by their life-like lifelessness ever since. For me taxidermy is akin to photography: it too presents a frozen moment as a copy of the real thing. On one level, the work explores our primal emotional responses when in close proximity to animals and insects. But it also explores what truth means in photography – is a contrived photograph still real? And doesn’t photography always render the real as contrived? I seek to highlight this conundrum with the further contrivance of taxidermy.

Inspired by gothic and nocturnal precursors in art, and the history of zoology, the fauna are recontextualised into a menagerie of lost lives – some of them, presumably, the celebration of a now forgotten hunting spree. Each one echoes the story of their demise and surrender to human intervention, their poses animated by a taxidermist’s skills of presentation and reality re-enactment. To document the series, I have employed the idiosyncratic image making qualities of a film scanner re-purposed into a lens-less camera, its simplicity reminiscent of a camera obscura. Set in an otherwise unlit studio, the resultant image reveals a constructed twilight that fuels a dark narrative. Focus of the subject is likewise abnormal, sharp only where features press against the glass platen screen, dissolving into darkness and blur as they recede, implying a sense of entrapment behind the image surface.”

Preserved raises allusions to the history of zoological inquiry and highlights the sense of loss intrinsic to mortality. Indeed, the works can be read as a series of ecological memento mori.”

Press release from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website.

 

Gregory Elms. 'Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Cacatua Galerita' 2010

 

Gregory Elms
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Cacatua Galerita
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

 

Gregory Elms. 'Red Fox, Vulpes Vulpes' 2010

 

Gregory Elms
Red Fox, Vulpes Vulpes
2010
Archival Inkjet Print

 

 

The Art of Preservation

by Ashley Crawford

In the world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 Science fiction classic Blade Runner one of the most prized possessions is a perfectly replicated owl. The film is based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which social status is most often based on the ‘model’ of animal one can afford – or even better, the ownership of a real animal in a world where most species have been killed by nuclear fallout. This is the background to a more complex story, but it is one that is infused with melancholy and a powerful sense of loss. What is humanity without the context of the animal?

But humanity and the animal and insect kingdoms have long maintained an imbalanced sense of symbiosis. On the one hand we ogle animals in zoos or more regularly via television documentaries. Only the most hardy of tourists today bother venturing into what remains of natural habitats – all too often zones of environmental Armageddon. Very few species are truly ‘domesticated’. Indeed almost all animals remain the ‘other’, psychologically impregnable – some are good for eating, some are pests but they all, in one way or another, remain objects of fascination.

Gregory Elms captures this sense of fascination with unnerving potency. His menagerie of misfits, malcontents and monsters are captured with alluring charm. Elms reveals no prejudice when it comes to selecting his portraits; the pestilent hyena alongside the strangely elegant and impelling Dead Leaf Mantis, the odious Cane Toad against the loyal Jack Russell. Via Elms’ aesthetic each and every one of them carries a peculiar charm, as though they had been groomed for their portraiture session. With his deliberately formalised composition, his animals become indisputably individualistic. They are not generic dogs, toads or birds. They are members of a bestiary noblesse.

Animals have, of course, long been the stuff of artistic inspiration, from Durer’s famous rabbit to Hirst’s infamous shark. In Australia, Elms fits alongside an enduring history of animal as subject, seen contemporaneously in the powerful 2004 exhibition Instinct at the Monash Faculty Gallery, which featured artists as diverse as Emily Floyd, Sharon Goodwin, Irene Hanenbergh, Louise Hearman, Ronnie van Hout, David Noonan and Lisa Roet.

And while Elms may capture the notion of the animal as ‘other’ he also taps into the strange connections we feel toward other species. The animal-human connection is obviously a fertile one. In light of the success of recent works in the firecracker-hot field of comparative ethology, delving into the minds and emotional lives of animals, there is much to say about the permeable membrane between human and non-human in postmodern culture. Animals have also played an intriguing, little-examined role in the emergence of technological modernity, from NASA’s space monkeys to experiments on animal behaviour and intelligence.

But Elms work also hints at the pre-history of animal-human interaction. Throughout art history, animals have been utilised by artists to represent human character traits – a man is a ‘snake’ or a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig’ depending on their personality. Animals have also featured in mythology and the supernatural – the werewolf, the vampire. Elms also turns the gallery into the scientific laboratory, the taxidermists studio and, inevitably, the Hunting Lodge.

Yes, often sadly, (the Cane Toad aside), Elms’ subjects are dead. But they live on with a strange majesty via Elms’ lens.

© Ashley Crawford 2012

 

 

Gregory Elms. 'Thailand tarantula, Haplopelma Albostriatus' 2011

 

Gregory Elms
Thailand tarantula, Haplopelma Albostriatus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

 

Gregory Elms. 'Cane Toad, Bufo Marinus' 2011

 

Gregory Elms
Cane Toad, Bufo Marinus
2011
Archival Inkjet Print

 

 

Edmund Pearce Gallery

This gallery is now closed.

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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01
May
11

Exhibition: ‘Photography & place: Australian landscape photography, 1970s until now’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 29th May 2011

 

Debra Phillips. 'Untitled 7 (view from model plane launch area)' 2001

 

Debra Phillips (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled 7 (view from model plane launch area)
2001
From the series The world as puzzle
Two Type C photographs
68 x 80cm each
Image courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
© Debra Phillips

 

 

Hot on the heels of my reviews of Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography at NGV Australia and Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs at Australian Galleries, Melbourne comes the exhibition Photography & place: Australian landscape photography, 1970s until now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. An insightful, eloquent text by Vigen Galstyan (Assistant curator, photographs, AGNSW) accompanies the posting.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Susanne Briggs for her help and to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs and the text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Douglas Holleley, 'Bottle-brush near Sleaford Bay, South Australia' 1979

 

Douglas Holleley (Australia, United States of America, b. 1949)
Bottle-brush near Sleaford Bay, South Australia
1979
Four SX-70 Polaroid photographs
61 x 76 cm
AGNSW collection, purchased 1982
© Douglas Holleley

 

 

Australian born and American based photographer Douglas Holleley has experimented with many aberrant photographic techniques over the course of his career. Holleley received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 1971 at Macquarie University before relocating to America to undertake a Master of Fine Arts, studying at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York between 1974 and 1976. Founded by Nathan Lyons in 1969 and affiliated with important photographers including Minor White and Frederick Sommers, the Visual Studies Workshop was a bedrock institution that fostered innovative photographic practice from the 1970s onwards. It was here that Holleley received tutelage from Ansel Adams in 1975. His early photographic output includes hand coloured black and white photographs as well as photograms and gridded arrangements of Polaroids. He later began experimenting with digital photography, applying the same principles of the photogram to his experiments with a flatbed scanner.

During the time spent studying photography in America in the 1970s Holleley became interested in Polaroid technology. When he returned to Australia in 1979, before later relocating permanently to America, Holleley commenced an extensive photographic project of documenting the Australian bush with a Polaroid SX-70 camera, effectively becoming one of the first professional practitioners of the medium in the country. The resulting images were presented as a series and published as a book – Visions of Australia – in 1980. Employing a refined formalist vocabulary, Holleley produced photographic mosaics by arranging his Polaroids into gridded compositions.

Dissected, disassembled and then collated within the pictorial frame, the landscape in Holleley’s works becomes slightly unnatural and detached. These works negate linear single point perspective by focusing on the ground and reducing the scene to a formal composite. Here, the expanse of the view and the horizon does not dominate the space of the image. The tessellating images produce a ‘whole’ that is slightly misaligned and unsettled. In some works, the photographer’s shadow is visible. It asserts itself as an ambivalent presence that is not tethered to the scene. This spectral form heightens the sense of disquiet that pervades the images.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 16/01/2020

 

Ian North. 'Canberra suite no 2' 1980, printed c. 1984

 

Ian North (New Zealand, b. 1945)
Canberra suite no 2
1980, printed c. 1984
From the series Canberra suite 1980-81
Type C photograph
37 x 45.7 cm
AGNSW collection, gift of the artist
© Ian North

 

Ian North (New Zealand, b. 1945) 'Canberra suite no 7' 1980, printed c. 1984

 

Ian North (New Zealand, b. 1945)
Canberra suite no 7
1980, printed c. 1984
From the series Canberra suite 1980-81
Type C photograph
37 x 45.7 cm
AGNSW collection, gift of the artist
© Ian North

 

 

Ian North is an Adjunct Professor of Visual Arts at both the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. He is a photographer, painter and writer, and was the founding curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia 1980 -1984. Throughout his career, he has been concerned with the legacy of Australian landscape, the impact of colonial narratives and their established visual conventions and, as a consequence, the politics of representing the subject. …

North’s methodology is concerned with the processes of vision and interaction as they have shaped the landscape. In Canberra Suite North presents an encyclopaedic record of Walter Burley Griffin’s intricately designed city, exploring the spatial interface between nature and humanity. The works are absent of human life – reminiscent of Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-six Gasoline Stations. The emotional ambivalence of the images is reflected in their use of colour, like that of postcards. As one of the first instances of larger format colour art photography in Australia, the images topographically map space as a depersonalised, banal subject. Yet their colour, like that of landscape painting, highlights flora, revealing the number of non-native plants included in Canberra’s design. As such, these artefacts of North’s private wanderings and systemic mode of looking are able to subtly critique colonialism.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 16/01/2020

 

 

EARTH SCANS AND BUSH RELEVANCES: Photography & place in Australia, 1970s till now

For many of us, landscape is a noun. A view from the window or the balcony, a strange immaterial ‘thing’ that makes people exclaim in awe, point to in pride, recall nostalgically, pose in front of or be used to bump up real estate prices. If one is an urban dweller, which most Australians are, then the landscape exists essentially as a mirage, something to create in the backyard, occasionally look at on holidays or hang on the walls. However, noted American cultural theorist and art historian W. J. T. Mitchell has proposed that we should think of landscape as a verb: an act of creation on our part that engenders cultural constructs, national identities and shared mythologies.

Photography & place is an exhibition that investigates this process of ‘landscaping’ through the work of 18 Australian photographers between the 1970s and now. Their significant contribution to representation of landscape broke new ground in what has always been a confounding topic. Indeed, as Judy Annear has pointed out in a 2008 essay in Broadsheet magazine, the practice of documenting and interpreting the notion of ‘place’ in Australian photography has been fragmentary in comparison to traditions in America, Europe or New Zealand. This reluctance to focus on the natural environment is perhaps a residue of the ‘terra nullius’ polemic, which shifted the attention of many photographers on the building of colonial Australia. Photography from the mid 19th to the early 20th century by photographers such as Charles Bayliss and Nicholas Caire actively documented the conquest of nature by white settlers, or presented views of untouched wilderness as epitomes of the picturesque: endless waterfalls, lakes, forests in twilights, enigmatic caves and an occasional nymph like creature prancing. Despite Bayliss’ efforts to show the indigenous people on their land, they are, as Helen Ennis observed in her 2007 book Photography and Australia, conspicuous by their absence: the land that we see surrounding them in early Australian photography by the likes of J.W. Lindt is often a mass-produced painted studio backdrop.

The advent of modernism in the 1930s only served to entrench the photographers deeper into the urban space. ‘Place’ is the city and it is here that industry, progress and culture shapes the Australian identity. It is still difficult to dislodge the iconic images of Max Dupain and David Moore as epitomes of Australianness, promulgated as they were through countless renditions in mass media and consumer culture. But as post-modern anxiety started to seep through the patchwork of the Australian dream, it was landscape that many critically informed photographers turned to as a tool for analysis and revision.

A number of factors conflated in the mid 1970s, engendering a radical shift in perspectives. One of the primary forces that began to reshape the approaches to landscape in Australian photography was the awareness of new artistic movements taking place in USA and Europe. The enormously influential exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape held in 1975 at the George Eastman House, Rochester, consolidated the spread of minimalist and conceptually informed photography which was avidly embraced by a younger generation of Australian photographers. One can also cite the rise of the Australian greens movement in Tasmania, the increasing awareness of Indigenous cultures and rights and not the least, the phenomenon of university-educated photographers as key milestones during this decade.

Lynn Silverman, Douglas Holleley, Jon Rhodes, Wes Stacey and Marion Marrison were among the practitioners who pointed their lenses out of the city, often exploring the fringes of human settlement and sometimes as in the case of Silverman, Stacey and Holleley, venturing into the desert. The element that collectively stamps their work is the ostensible fragmentation of the landscape. Instead of the holistic, positivist postcard views of Australia, we get something resembling a lunar vista. The palpable sense of alienation in American expatriate Lynn Silverman’s striking Horizons series from 1979 echoes in the disorienting grid-based Polaroid assemblages by Holleley conjuring up a space that appears hostile and to a degree indifferent to our presence. The foreignness of these landscapes is not necessarily a malevolent force as was customary to show in a slate of Australian New Wave films of the 70s and 80s. Rather a much more meditative stance is taken in regards to our relationship to a place which has been claimed without being understood or in many ways respected. Ingeborg Tyssen’s photographs hint at existing presences, forms and phenomena which are full of life and meaning that remain perpetually unresolved to an outsider. The imported paradigms of Western culture can not take root in this environment. One could easily define the landscape photography of this period in Lynn Silverman’s words as “an orienting experience” and a belated attempt at a proper reconnaissance of the land.

The coolly detached outlook that underlines the investigative drive of most of these photographers is magnified by their adoption of serial or multi-panel formats. It was certainly a way to expand and collapse the accepted faculties of the pictorial field, challenging and questioning the accepted notions of photographic ‘truth’. Jon Rhodes demonstrates the inherent power of this simple device in his cinematically sequential Gurkawey, Trial Bay, NT 1974, which transforms a seemingly wild and uninhabitable swamp into a joyful playground of an Aboriginal child.

In some instances the photographic approach is more concerned with elucidating the nature of the photographic image itself and the way it can influence and control our perception. As Arnold Hauser has lucidly described in his groundbreaking Social History of Art, images have always been used to secure and infer political power. As such, the metamorphosis of a visual representation into an iconographic one carries within it an element of danger as images begin to seduce the viewer away from objectivity. Indeed, images of Australia have been the most relentlessly and carefully used signifiers in promoting a (colonial) national consciousness by political, commercial and cultural institutions. In this light, it is not difficult to see the works of Wes Stacey and Ian North as acts of iconoclasm. Stacey’s droll and gently parodic series The road 1973-75, charts a snapshot journey that goes nowhere. Seemingly random, half-glimpsed shots of empty dirt roads, sunburnt grass mounds and endless highways emanate a sense of rootlessness and displacement, negating any possibility of objectification or identification with the landscape. Instead of epic grandeur and jingoism we get something that is confronting, uncomfortably real and in no way ‘advertisable’.

‘The Real’ is even more startling in Ian North’s subversive Canberra suite 1980-81, where the utopian dream capital has been reduced to banal ‘documents’ of depopulated, custom-made suburbia. The hyperreal concreteness of North’s Canberra gives the city an aura of a De Chiricoesque waking nightmare. In line with the set practices of conceptual photography of the period, North has distilled his images from any sign of formal mediation, forcing the viewer to focus on the raw content. It is through this forensic directness that the strange incongruity of human intervention within the landscape becomes ostensible.

Daniel Palmer has noted that North’s images “are highly prescient of much photography produced by artists in Australia today”. Certainly by the 1980s photographers became more actively engaged in analysing the nature / culture median. Strongly influenced by feminist and post-colonial theory, a number of practitioners used photography as a medium to document ideas rather than objective reality. Anne Ferran and Simryn Gill are particularly notable in this regard. Both artists are concerned with the historical and political dimensions of the locations they chose to photograph, resulting in multi-layered and complex strategies that require more involved intellectual interaction from the audience. Gill’s ‘staged’ photographs relate to us the agency of nature and time upon the cultural environment. Synthesis and amalgamation of outwardly irreconcilable elements – imported plants, Australian bush, cotton shirts – slowly, but surely melt into new, as yet unknown entities in Rampant 1999. The force of inevitable decay is absolute yet imbued with generative power as well. Exploring the constantly shifting certainties of what constitutes a ‘place’ the artist draws the audience into questioning its own role in this transformative process.

Ferran takes a more archaeological position in relation to her subject matter. Her eerie surveys of rather ordinary grass mounds in the series Lost to worlds 2008 become evocative paeans to obliterated lives, once we learn that the mounds are all that remain of the factories where convict women were sent to work. Looking at these shimmering ghost worlds one is reminded of Walter Benjamin’s essay The Ruin where the writer analyses the capacity of ruins to reveal the “philosophical truth content”. It is through this allegorical device that Ferran achieves a degree of rehabilitation for the absent histories she photographs.

History, in its manifold and troubling guises, is directly ‘exposed’ in the landscapes of Ricky Maynard, Michael Riley and Rosemary Laing. As Indigenous photographers, Maynard and Riley have played an important role in translating the cultural and political status of Aboriginal peoples into a ‘language’ that is universally understood. Their work remains firmly rooted in the traditions of contemporary art, yet the heavily symbolical slant shows a more ardent and personal engagement with the Australian landscape. Riley’s expressionistic series flyblown 1998 sums up in a few strategically juxtaposed metaphors the spiritual dimension of the landscape, while simultaneously revealing the diverging connotations of Australia’s fundamentally divided identity. The colonial legacy is shown as one of conquest and domination that clashes with the artist’s engagement with country. Maynard’s Portrait of a distant land 2005, explores the same dichotomy in more site specific terms. After permanently settling in Flinders Island, Maynard decided to return to the portrayal of Tasmanian Aborigines, taking a more collaborative approach. He sees this as a way of bypassing the propensity of the photographic image “to subjugate its subjects”. The resulting series is a profoundly poetic treatment that rises above social documentation to suggest the wider implications of historical change and disclose the ability of people to overcome what the artist has described as victimisation through a deeply compassionate relationship with the land. Ultimately Maynard gives us an edifying testimony to the affirmative power of the landscape as collective memory.

Interest in the political aspects of landscape photography has continued unabated into the 21st century. Yet a more philosophically inclined thread has become evident in the last two decades. No longer is it enough to deconstruct and pull apart ideas about landscape’s relationship to identity and nationhood. What photographers like Bill Henson, David Stephenson, Simone Douglas and Rosemary Laing question is the very possibility (or impossibility) of seeing itself. If positioning oneself in relation to nature seems like a distinct, albeit problematic proposition in the 1970s and 80s, the later works in the exhibition are resolutely ambivalent on the subject.

What can one grab onto when faced with the endless expanses of white in Stephenson’s The ice 1992, the terrifying darkness of Henson’s night scenes or the infuriating haze of Douglas’s twilight worlds? Perhaps the only recourse is to dissolve into the beckoning ‘forever’ of the vanishing point in Laing’s To walk on a sea of salt 2004. This void is not a boundary point between nature and culture – it is where culture ends and an entirely new state of consciousness begins: the realm of the sublime and the imagination. As history seems no longer to be trustworthy, ‘place’ can only be constructed as a metaphysical entity. It is a curious turnabout in some ways that echoes some of the early, turn-of-the-century encounters with the Australian landscape by photographers such as John Paine and Norman C. Deck. The sense of fear and awe towards the unfamiliar environment permeates their images, transcending the merely investigative / didactic motives of most colonial photography. What has eventuated from walking into this environment? Subjugation? Destruction? Incomprehension? Indifference? By going back to the point zero of the void and the sublime, contemporary photography negotiates a second attempt at engagement with nature through a renewed and deeper understanding of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with this life-giving force.

Vigen Galstyan
Assistant curator, photographs 1

 

  1. Galstyan, Vigen. “EARTH SCANS AND BUSH RELEVANCES: Photography & place in Australia, 1970s till now,” in Look gallery magazine. Sydney: Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, 2011, pp. 25-29.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'After Heysen' 2005

 

Rosemary Laing (Australian, b. 1959)
After Heysen
2005
Type C photograph
110 x 252 cm
On loan from The Australian Club, Melbourne
Image courtesy of the arts & Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing

 

Rosemary Laing (Australian, b. 1959) 'to walk on a sea of salt' 2004

 

Rosemary Laing (Australian, b. 1959)
to walk on a sea of salt
2004
Type C photograph
110 x 226.7 cm
Image courtesy of the arts & Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing

 

Jon Rhodes. 'Hobart, Tasmania' 1972-75 from the album 'Australia'

 

Jon Rhodes (Australian, b. 1947)
Hobart, Tasmania
1972-75
From the album Australia
1 of 53 gelatin silver photographs
11.9 x 17.7 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1980
© Jon Rhodes

 

Jon Rhodes (Australian, b. 1947) 'Tuncester, New South Wales' 1972-75 from the album 'Australia'

 

Jon Rhodes (Australian, b. 1947)
Tuncester, New South Wales
1972-75
From the album Australia
1 of 53 gelatin silver photographs
11.9 x 17.7 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1980
© Jon Rhodes

 

Michael Riley (Australian, 1960-2004) 'Untitled' 1998 from the series 'flyblown'

 

Michael Riley (Australian, 1960-2004)
Untitled
1998
From the series flyblown
Pigment print
82 x 107.8 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Anonymous gift to the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and Photography collections 2010
© Michael Riley Estate. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

Michael Riley (Australian, 1960-2004) 'Untitled' 1998 from the series 'flyblown'

 

Michael Riley (Australian, 1960-2004)
Untitled
1998
From the series flyblown
Pigment print
82 x 107.8 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Anonymous gift to the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and Photography collections 2010
© Michael Riley Estate. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Michael Riley received his first introduction to photography through a workshop at the Tin Sheds Gallery in Sydney, 1982. A Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi man, the artist moved to Sydney from Dubbo in his late teens. He became part of a circle of young Indigenous artists drawn together in the city at that time. A founding member of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative Riley was also a key participant in the first exhibition of Indigenous photographers at the Aboriginal Artists Gallery, Sydney in 1986 (curator Ace Bourke). In 2003 Riley’s work was selected for the Istanbul Biennial, and in 2006 his work was permanently installed at Musée de quai Branly, Paris. A major retrospective toured nationally in 2006-2008.

Riley’s fine art photography began in black and white but he quickly progressed to large-scale colour, a format that also expanded the cinematic qualities of his images, no doubt reflecting the influence film and video were having upon the artist as he worked simultaneously with these media. He produced, for example, the documentaries Blacktracker and Tent boxers for ABC television in the late nineties.

The photographic series flyblown bears a close relationship to the film Empire which Riley created in 1997. Like the film, these photographs give expression to the artist’s concern with the impact of European culture upon that of Australia’s Indigenous population, specifically, as he described it, the ‘sacrifices Aboriginal people made to be Christian’ [Avril Quaill, ‘Marking our times: selected works of art from the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Collection at the National Gallery of Australia’, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 1996 p. 66].

Christian iconography looms large in the series, as it has across much of Riley’s work. In flyblown, an imposing reflective cross is raised in the sky. Repeated in red, gold and blue its presence is inescapable. A symbol capable of inspiring awe, fear, devotion, Riley also engages with its elegiac qualities so that it functions as memorial marker. Another image depicting a bible floating face down in water conceptualises the missionary deluge, perhaps; submersion and loss through baptism, definitely.

flyblown reverberates with a subtle ominous hum – the quiet tension that precedes a storm. The parched earth beneath a dead galah seems to ache for the rain and water promised in the other images of clouds and dark skies. The nourishment Christianity offered and the inadvertent drowning of traditional culture that often followed is implied.

Visually linking the natural environment with religious symbolism Riley articulates Indigenous spirituality’s connections to country and widens his examination beyond to examine the sustained environmental damage. The negative side effects of pastoralist Australia are indicated by contrasting images of the long grass of cattle pastures with that of drought and wildlife death.

Riley’s success in articulating these issues and complexities, incorporating religious iconography so laden by history and meaning is a testament to his sensitivity and subtlety. Allowing room for ambiguity, Riley provides space for the mixed emotions of the subject and its history.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 16/01/2020

 

Simryn Gill. 'Untitled' 1999 from the series 'Rampant'

 

Simryn Gill (Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, b. 1959)
Untitled
1999
From the series Rampant
Gelatin silver photograph
25 x 24 cm
AGNSW collection, gift of the artist, 2005
© Simryn Gill

 

 

In Rampant, Simryn Gill turned her eye once more on Australia ‘… to see if I could find friends among the local flora’. This series of photographs was shot in sub-tropical northern New South Wales and shows unnerving images of trees and plants dressed up in clothes. In the photographs these ghostly forms are seen lingering in groves of introduced plants such as bamboo, bananas, sugar cane and camphor laurels. The plants are dressed in lungis and sarongs, generic clothing from South and South- East Asia, where many of these plants originate. Rampant is a form of memento mori, a record of the aspirations that saw plants only too successfully introduced into a pristine terrain which was unable to offer any resistance to their feral ways.

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard condenses his complex thinking on creativity and the human imagination into the metaphor of a tree, with its living, evolving growth and the simultaneity of being earth bound and heaven reaching, symbolising both the real and ideal.1 However, what happens when that tree is a camphor laurel, an admirable thing in its native land but out of place and wrecking havoc along the creeks of rural New South Wales?

Many once-useful species are now noxious weeds and over-successful colonisers, despised for their commonness, their success, their over-familiarity, and for being where we feel they should not be. They disrupt the order we would like to impose and remind us of our fallibility when attempting to play god and create our own earthly Edens. The language of natural purity that we use to protect our landscape also resonates with the nationalist rhetoric used to police our borders and to decide who are acceptable new arrivals and who are illegal aliens, often determined through scales of economic and social usefulness.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 16/01/2020

 

  1. Gaston Bachelard, ‘The totality of the root image’, On poetic imagination and reverie, editor and translator Colette Graudin, Spring Publications, Quebec, 1987, p. 85.

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008 from the series 'Lost to worlds'

 

Anne Ferran (Australian, b. 1949)
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
Gelatin silver print
© Anne Ferran

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008

 

Anne Ferran (Australian, b. 1949)
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
Gelatin silver print
© Anne Ferran

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941) 'The road: Outback to the city 3' 1973-75

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941)
The road: Outback to the city 3
1973-75
Folio 1 from “The Road” a portfolio of 280 photographs
Fuji Colour machine print
© Wesley Stacey

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941) 'The road: Surfers to Hobart 15' 1973-75

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941)
The road: Surfers to Hobart 15
1973-75
Folio 16 from “The Road” a portfolio of 280 photographs
Fuji Colour machine print
© Wesley Stacey

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941) 'The road: Port Hedland/Wittenoon/Roeburne, WA 14' 1973-75

 

Wesley Stacey (Australia, b. 1941)
The road: Port Hedland/Wittenoon/Roeburne, WA 14
1973-75
Folio 10 from “The Road” a portfolio of 280 photographs
Fuji Colour machine print
© Wesley Stacey

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

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07
May
09

Opening 2: ‘Urban Edge’ photographs by John Bodin at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th May 2009

 

Opening night crowd for John Bodin exhibition at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

John Bodin photographs at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

 

Opening and installation views of John Bodin’s exhibition Urban Edge at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

“Each one of us, then, should speak of his roads, his crossroads, his roadside benches; each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows … Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived …

Space calls for action, and before action, the imagination is at work. It mows and ploughs. We should speak of the benefits of all these imaginary actions.”

.
Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space

 

 

More interesting are the eerie contemplative photographs of John Bodin presented at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne, our second opening of the night. In a well presented show Bodin’s hyper-real photographs employ a limited colour palette to portray the constructed landscape of the urban fringe. The images work well because the artist leaves room for doubt in the mind of the viewer – what am I looking at, where is it, do I subconsciously remember these places? How do the photographs make me feel about the edges of the world, this strangeness that we inhabit? They engage the viewer in a fluid architecture of space and place.

Light and colour are important tools for Bodin and he plays with their form, darkening pavements, shooting at night, making subtle negative interpretations of roads and underground car-parks while desaturating buildings, landscapes and skies of ‘natural’ colour. Walls bleed in Witchhunt (2007) and then you work out the photograph is taken under a bridge with a pavement, graffiti providing the title of the work. Blue light emotes from behind the cloaked window of a house in Shrouded (2005) and you are left wondering by the crazed cellular like constructions of As if by Nature (2007).

Haunting and elegiac these compositions are worthy of your attention.

Lovely to meet Catherine Fogarty and John Bodin. Thank you for your help!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

John Bodin. 'Witchhunt' 2007

 

John Bodin
Witchhunt
2007

 

John Bodin. 'Shrouded' 2005

 

John Bodin
Shrouded
2005

 

John Bodin. 'As If By Nature' 2007

 

John Bodin
As If By Nature
2007

 

 

“Urban Edge continues on from the 2006 ‘Urban Abstraction’ exhibition at Anita Traverso Gallery by introducing contrasting elements and structure from the natural world alongside stark semi-abstracted urban scapes. Whilst we may at first perceive these as opposing forces, I contend that the integration is more harmonious than we think.”

.
John Bodin

 

 

When John Bodin takes a risk – which indeed he seems to do aplenty – he does so with a self-assurance that would make many photographers – and artists in general – weep.

All the clichés are there in his work – the towering skyscraper, the car traversing the road at dusk, the pitted track through the woods. But when Bodin frames his image something quite magical occurs. Rather than raise an eyebrow and say – ‘seen it all before’ – instead we are seduced into the deep chiascuro, the inarguably romantic, shadowy mis en scene.

Bodin has said that his photographs “comment on the conditioning process of familiarisation.” Indeed, the strange moment of familiarity is immediately cushioned by the sensual softness of tone he employs. If anything, it is the shock of the old.

Bodin has said that his study in philosophy and meditation serve as a visual source of reflection and are integral to his image making.

Whether it is a distinctly phallic office tower or the moments of surrealism in a found structure in the rural countryside, Bodin’s work exudes a strange peacefulness, a distinctly contemplative air. Everything he grabs from reality is given Bodin’s own air of tranquility. He doesn’t eschew colour exactly, but he tones it down, blanketing his subjects in a kind of downy, nostalgic but not quite melancholic fashion that links his entire oeuvre.

A work such as Lover’s Lane – a sandy track somewhere by the coast – links his sensual eye with a not altogether comforting sense of intimacy. The shadows of the trees encroach in an almost threatening tangle of dark shapes – the ideal place to reassure a trembling lass as they wander into the dark.

In 2006, the renowned fellow-photographer Les Horvat said in an opening speech that Bodin’s “stated interests in philosophy and meditation serve as a fertile source of reflection, integral to his image making. His images cleverly explore the contrast between the form and the aesthetic of the landscape. They do this by examining the utility of urban structure, and juxtaposing it against an aesthetic emotional sensibility that is evocatively expressed through his images.

“The paradox he lays before us is that on one hand, they ingeniously remind us of our human incursions in the natural world; on the other, they suggest that the significance of the landscape is actually assigned by these incursions,” stated Horvat.

Bodin has travelled extensively and in 2003 he served a short residency in New Delhi, India. Closer to home he held a solo show in May 2006 and participated in 11 group exhibitions over the last six years. He was a finalist in the 2005 New Social Commentaries Acquisitive Prize and the acclaimed Prometheus Visual Art Award in 2007. The respect Bodin holds amongst his peers is renowned and, as this show attests, will only grow with time.

Ashley Crawford. “John Bodin,” in Photofile 86 2009, p. 14

 

John Bodin in front of his work at the opening of his exhibition 'Urban Edge' at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

 

Artist John Bodin in front of his work Lover’s Lane (2007, left) and Object of Speculation (2008, right) at the opening of his exhibition Urban Edge at Anita Traverso Gallery, Melbourne

 

John Bodin. 'Midnight Solitude' 2005

 

John Bodin
Midnight Solitude
2005

 

John Bodin. 'Stumbling into Grace' 2008

 

John Bodin
Stumbling into Grace
2008
Type c print
120 x 80 cm

 

John Bodin. 'Mondrian in Berlin' 2005

 

John Bodin
Mondrian in Berlin
2005
Type c print
60 x 80 cm

 

John Bodin. 'Adrenalin Addiction' 2006

 

John Bodin
Adrenalin Addiction
2006
Type-C photograph
108 x 183cm

 

 

Anita Traverso Gallery
PO Box 7001, Hawthorn North 3122

Mobile: 0408 534 034

Anita Traverso Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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