Posts Tagged ‘identity construction


Exhibition: ‘Shea Kirk: Vantages’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15 June - 11 August 2019


Shea Kirk. 'Dale Robertson (left and right view)' 2019


Shea Kirk
Dale Robertson (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist



Another impressive exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, this time by artist Shea Kirk in their first solo exhibition.

Photographed in a home-studio with plain backdrops (which remind me of photo-booth images and the white backgrounds of Richard Avedon) on dual large format cameras, I love the split screen vision of these stereoscopic portraits. The schism between left and right, as when you close and open your left and right eye to see something from a different point of view. I couldn’t get the stereoscopic viewer provided to work for me when looking through it… which is probably a good thing because I like the split between the images, those different vantage points, instead of the image being combined into a statuesque edifice.

(The definition of “vantage” is a point of view or position that is more superior or advantageous than another. Personally I don’t think any point of view, in terms of identity construction, should be superior to another.)

Where I think the exhibition is less successful is in the pose of some of the subjects. The press release states that the subjects “stare at us with a disarming self-awareness … presenting as though conscious of their own vulnerabilities – they are aware of what it means to represent themselves”, but all to often I get no sense of who these people really are, what their personality is, in their stillness and statuesqueness, in the time freeze snap of the camera shutter.

I am no great fan of dead pan photography, and here the subjects too often stare off into the distance, supposedly immersed in their own reverie, allowing the viewers eye to rove over their outer appearance, as though the edifice tells us all about who they are. This works well in the image of the nude women covered in tattoos, a magnificent image of strength and beauty but the technique falls flat in the image of Christiane D’Arc (2018, below) for example. I just don’t buy this vacant stare, or to put it another way, photography as mere representation.

The sitter might be aware of their own vulnerabilities and aware of what it means to represent themselves, but it’s not they who are engaged in deciphering the enigma. The best images give you more, for example the photographs of Dale Robertson (2019, above). Here, in the right hand side image, the subject stares straight at the camera engaging me directly, while the mystery of this human being is enhanced by the left hand portrait where he is staring away. What is he thinking, feeling? I get it, it works.

This is a fantastic exhibition for a first solo effort. What is going to be really interesting is to see how Kirk develops this work further. What direction will the work take, which pathways will the artist uncover on their journey of discovery. I would suggest reading the Robert Johnson books He, She and We if not already read. For any artist, these are exciting times!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.



Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Shea Kirk: Vantages' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne


Installation views of the exhibition Shea Kirk: Vantages at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photographs: J. Forsyth



Vantages is an ongoing series of stereoscopic portraits by Melbourne-based artist Shea Kirk. Working with dual large-format cameras to simultaneously capture two images from different perspectives, Kirk invites subjects to be photographed in his humble home-studio. Each portrait is exposed onto black and white sheet film through a slow and methodical process, enabling an intimate exchange that highlights the agency between photographer and subject. When viewed through a stereoscope, these dual-portraits can be seen three-dimensionally, rendering the subject hauntingly statuesque.

Often in states of undress and portrayed standing or sitting in front of simple backdrops, the subjects in Vantages stare at us with a disarming self-awareness, perhaps only possible in the selfie-obsessed, smart-phone age. Subjects present as though conscious of their own vulnerabilities – they are aware of what it means to represent themselves – and through the very nature of this dual imaging process, they resist being reduced to a single vantage point.

Vantages references a rich history of photographic portraiture, with a freshness that is distinctly contemporary. Vantages considers the significance of portraiture now, through Kirk’s powerfully contemplative, and beautifully realised dual images.



Shea Kirk is a Melbourne-based visual artist working with traditional photographic methods and techniques. Shea Kirk has been a finalist in the Olive Cotton Award (2019); National Photographic Portrait Prize (2019) and the Head On Portrait Prize (2018), and has participated in a number of group exhibitions across Victoria.

Press release from the Centre for Contemporary Photography 21/09/2019


Shea Kirk. 'Mohini Hillyer (left and right view)' 2017


Shea Kirk
Mohini Hillyer (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist


Shea Kirk. 'Christiane D'Arc (left and right view)' 2018


Shea Kirk
Christiane D’Arc (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist


Shea Kirk. 'Jacob Coppedge (left and right view)' 2019


Shea Kirk
Jacob Coppedge (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist


Shea Kirk. 'Paul Stillen (left and right view)' 2019


Shea Kirk
Paul Stillen (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist


Shea Kirk. 'Joao Quintao Marcolla (left and right view)' 2019


Shea Kirk
Joao Quintao Marcolla (left and right view)
Courtesy the artist



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

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

Centre for Contemporary Photography website


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Exhibition: ‘XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery’ at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – 3rd February 2013


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräsentation: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery



I can die happy now that I have had the opportunity to do a posting on this amazing man. He challenged social stereotypes turning his body into an every changing, ever challenging work of art. He used his body as a canvas and inscribed narratives upon it. He used these narratives to challenge the dominant discourse, offering himself as material evidence to facilitate new perspectives. His body became a performance, the self as performance, one that was not fully pre-determined, for you never knew what he would do next, what social outrage he would offer up.

Through masks, makeup, wigs and body modification, Bowery confronted the viewer with an/other field of existence, one that promoted an encounter with the face of the other, causing an emotional response in the audience, the viewer. As Wendy Garden observes, “Being faced with another provokes a reaction: it makes an appeal, demands an engagement.”1 We cannot look away for we do not know what Bowery will do next. He used his large body, its bulk and presence to bring the viewer face-to-face with an/other. The magnification of his size and the emphasis and manipulation of his face, especially the mouth and eyes, rescales his presence in front of the viewer – at his performances, in the photographs of Bowery. For example, look at his creation Evening Wear – Andrew Logan’s 1986 Alternative Miss World (1986, below). Impossibly high and luridly coloured boots, leggings, a bustled and bedazzled jacket / skirt combo, crash helmet and the most maniacal black and white face you will ever see. Bowery unbalances the fixity of the single perspective and through his transgression destabilises the mastering gaze.

I was living in London at the time Leigh Bowery, Boy George, Marilyn and Divine were strutting their stuff in the nightclubs of London town. What a time. Maggie Thatcher (and I can hardly bring myself to type her name) was Prime Minister of a right wing Conservative government from 1979-1990, a period of social oppression of minorities, the breaking of the trade unions, the beginning of HIV/AIDS. Think Boy George’s famous song No Clause 28 that protested against a local government act that “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Bowery was a child of his time, a prescient, sentient being who was out there doing his thing, challenging the dominant paradigms of a patriarchal society. He burned like a comet, bright in the sky, and then was gone all too early. But he will never be forgotten. What a man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. 1Garden, Wendy. “Ethical witnessing and the portrait photograph: Brook Andrew,” in Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2011, p. 261.

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





The Legend of Leigh Bowery


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräs: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery; Cerith Wyn Evans, In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni, 2008
Courtesy Cerith Wyn Evans und White Cube


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräsentation: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery


Charles Atlas. 'Teach' 1992-98


Charles Atlas
© Charles Atlas, Courtesy Vilma Gold, London


Werner Pawlok. 'Portrait Leigh Bowery 3' 1988


Werner Pawlok (German, b. 1953)
Portrait Leigh Bowery 3
Courtesy Werner Pawlok



“”I think of myself as a canvas,” fashion pioneer Leigh Bowery once said about himself. If there were a formula to describe this enfant terrible who refused all categorisation throughout his life, this would be it: turning oneself into a work of art. Presenting himself in the most garish ways that defied all conventions and stylising himself as a walking work of art, Leigh Bowery, who was born in Australia in 1961, stirred up London’s sub-culture of the 1980s in the wake of post punk and New Romanticism. Being friends with stars of the scene like Michael Clark and Cerith Wyn Evans, he continuously reinvented himself on the manifold stages of the metropolis.

The show highlights Leigh Bowery’s life and work between fashion, performance, music, dance, and sculpture by presenting rarely exhibited costumes, numerous films, photographs, music videos, talk shows, and magazines. It approaches Bowery by way of artistic descriptions, reflections, and documentations in the work of friends, supporters, and colleagues, whose source of inspiration, entertainer, and muse he was: Bowery’s performative enactments oscillating between masquerade and radical self-expression were captured by filmmakers such as Charles Atlas, Dick Jewell, Baillie Walsh, and John Maybury. It took Fergus Greer a number of sessions that stretched over six years to shoot the legendary photo series Looks. As Charles Atlas’s Teach shows, Leigh Bowery developed his unmistakable outfits, gestures, and poses in multiple forms of self-reflection under his companions’ critical eye. Bowery’s one-week performance in the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London (1988) involved a two-way mirror: while the public could watch Leigh Bowery changing his outfits for hours on end, he saw only his own mirror image and remained inescapably confronted with himself and his movements. Though Bowery claimed that he had had to fight his shame initially and hid his room-filling physique behind conspicuous materials such as tulle, glitter, paint, and satin, his performances were anything but embarrassing: “The rest of us used drag and make-up to disguise our blemishes and physical defects. Leigh made them the focal point of his art,” Boy George once remarked. The nightclubs of London provided Bowery with catwalks on which to flaunt his visions of himself and let him always come out on top in terms of maximum attention. Lucian Freud, the British prince of painters, took great pleasure in Leigh Bowery’s fascinating personality and the fullness of his naked body. Bowery became one of his most important models, and the artist depicted him as he could never be seen in public: natural, intimate, and vulnerable.

Leigh Bowery’s art clearly differs from the designs, presentation patterns, and distribution channels of fashion designers. With Trash and Bad Taste irony, Bowery, like his idol John Waters and his main actor Divine, abandoned all conventions and stylistic doctrines in a both cynical and humorous way. His craftsmanship in tailoring and his creative potential constitute the core of an expressive self-stylisation which did not depend on encouraging the public through marketing strategies or offers of consumer goods. His vestimentary creations were based on the work with his own body, which he regarded as a malleable material and workable mass and which was to play an increasingly central part in his late oeuvre. Regarded as inexorably deficient, his body became the origin of those manifold appearances and kaleidoscopic diversifications that we find most astounding when confronted with Bowery’s work. He experimented with second skins of black latex, exaggerated the size and volume of his body with sweeping tulle attires, and made himself look taller with platform shoes. Bowery sabotaged glamorous, ornamental and transparent materials with steel helmets, toilet seats, and skulls. He fastened artificial lips in his cheeks with safety pins and wore flesh-coloured velvet suits that transformed his body into a vagina. Using adhesive tape and a bodice, he shaped his flesh into an artificial bosom, and he concealed his member behind pubic hair toupees or overemphasised it as he did in one of the Michael Clark Company’s dance performances. He disparaged unequivocal gender definitions and transcended their socially informed attributions – Gender Trouble: everything was a look. By and by, Bowery turned into what has been called “the self as performance.”

Leigh Bowery’s existence was the epitome of extremes. He looked for exceptional emotional and physical states like pain and ecstasy that would release him from the mediocrity of everyday life, like in the performance The Laugh of No.12 in Fort Asperen on June 4, 1994. Suspended on one foot, stark naked, wearing a black face mask, and displaying some clothespins on his genitals, he swung through the air uttering a sprechgesang, before he smashed a pane of glass with his bulky body. Exposing himself to his vulnerability in his performances, Bowery overcame physical injuries by showcasing them. His sometimes sadomasochist appearances and provocative lifestyle culminated in an attitude that crystallised into a sociopolitical approach in his statement “I like doing the opposite of what people expect.” Far from nocturnal footlights and kindred spirits’ protection, he – who was “larger than life” in every respect – strained the social limits of propriety with his big and exalted appearance. He enjoyed causing offence and holding up a mirror to the dictatorship of conformism, unmasking its heteronomy.

After an excessive life, Leigh Bowery died from AIDS at the age of 33. He was more than an extraordinary peripheral figure making his mark in the urban arena of exhibitionism and voyeurism. His virtuoso works have influenced haute couture collections by such fashion stars as Rei Kawakubo, John Galliano, Walter van Beirendonck, and Alexander McQueen. In spite of its simplicity, the latest fall/winter collection of Comme des Garçons shows obvious parallels to Leigh Bowery’s designs.”

Press release from the Kunsthalle Wien website


Robin Beeche. 'Evening Wear - Andrew Logan's 1986 Alternative Miss World' 1986


Robin Beeche (Australian, 1945-2015)
Evening Wear – Andrew Logan’s 1986 Alternative Miss World
Courtesy Robin Beeche


Nick Knight. 'Untitled (Leigh Bowery with Scull)' 1992


Nick Knight (British, b. 1958)
Untitled (Leigh Bowery with Scull)
© Nick Knight


Ole Christiansen. 'Farrel House' 1989


Ole Christiansen (Danish)
Farrel House
Courtesy Ole Christiansen


Fergus Greer. 'Leigh Bowery, Session VII, Look 38, June 1994' 1994


Fergus Greer (British)
Leigh Bowery, Session VII, Look 38, June 1994
Courtesy Fergus Greer
© Fergus Greer



Kunsthalle Wien
Museumsplatz 1
A-1070 Vienna

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 7pm
Thursday 10am – 10pm

Kunsthalle Wien website


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Exhibition: ‘A Perfect Price For Donny’ by Martin Smith at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 12th October – 12th November 2011


Martin Smith. 'My Father Doesn't Relate Well With Other Men' 2011


Martin Smith (Australian, b. 1971)
My Father Doesn’t Relate Well With Other Men



Martin Smith is one of my favourite photo artists working in Australia at the moment. Smith produces consistently intriguing, stimulating art. Having had a particularly fractious relationship with my own father I appreciate the pathos and humour that Smith achieves in his work. Fantastic!


Many thankx to Ryan Renshaw gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Martin Smith. 'My Father is a Deeply Flawed Human Being' 2011


Martin Smith (Australian, b. 1971)
My Father is a Deeply Flawed Human Being



Martin Smith’s artwork focuses on those small moments that glance into a life. Tending to gather photographs as opposed to taking them, his works offer wry observations rather than grand statements. The loss or absence inherent in photographic images, which are suggestive of another time and place, is echoed in the physical loss of the words cut into the surface of the works. One story is inscribed on another; just like one memory is laid upon another or one version of a story embellishes another. The resulting works are replete with the same ambiguity, melancholy and richness as one’s memory.

‘The storytelling came from when I started looking at my old family photos and thinking about what goes with them,’ Smith explains. ‘You know when you’re looking at family photos, there are particular stories that go with them – that’s that person, that’s the time when your uncle turned up for Christmas, and so on.’

Smith’s stories that are painstakingly hand-cut into the photographic image give a whimsical and highly personal account of his life, like his ill-fated attempt to become an actor with the Sandgate Amateur Theatre Group or the time he worked in the cutlery crew at Australian Airlines, combining the text of these stories with photographs. The scarring of the photographic image with Smith’s scalpel blade ensures a unique artwork, a notion at odds with the reproducible aspects of photography.

Martin’s exhibition stems from his reflection of his experiences as an actor in Roger Fagan’s play A Perfect Price For Donny and questions the legacy of what we ‘leave behind’ for others to read.

‘Tanya was from the past of my amateur theatre days when I was 17 years old and possessed with deluded dreams of being an actor. We were both new members of the Sacred Heart Players and we both landed the leads in the production of A Perfect Price for Donny written by Roger Fagan. Roger was an elderly member of the group and had joined years earlier to gain practical experience so he could finish his play. The Perfect Price for Donny was his first and only play. Roger had worked at the Railways for 32 years and had been writing A Perfect Price for Donny on and off over the 32 years. He had not started another play, he hadn’t written any short stories, prose or even a Haiku. Since he had retired two years ago he was finally able to realise his dream of finishing A Perfect Price for Donny at the age of 68′.

‘The memories are left behind and then reconstituted and turned into other things, it’s a language constantly getting churned up. Memories are things that inform taking the photo,’ Smith says ‘and I’m bringing some of the intrinsic aspects of the photograph with me. Photography captures the classic moments of life, like your first day at school,’ he continues, ‘but it doesn’t capture the other parts of your life that are sometimes way more significant.’

People spend a lot of time in a Martin Smith exhibition reading the works and then laughing or sighing in recognition. The photographs are all of fairly impersonal exteriors, almost crime scenes, not postcards, not picturesque snaps but odd disregarded corners of the world. In some way they are reminiscent of album covers or slightly lame posters but are brought into the present by Smith’s honest and often very funny tales of modern living.

Press release from the Ryan Renshaw Gallery website


Martin Smith. 'My Father's Talents Will Never Make Me Wealthy' 2011


Martin Smith (Australian, b. 1971)
My Father’s Talents Will Never Make Me Wealthy


Martin Smith. 'My Father Fails' 2011


Martin Smith (Australian, b. 1971)
My Father Fails



Ryan Renshaw Gallery

This gallery has now closed.


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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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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