Posts Tagged ‘identity construction

04
Aug
19

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 (Australian)
Dale Robertson (left and right view)
2019
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

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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.

 

Biography

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 (Australian)
Mohini Hillyer (left and right view)
2017
Courtesy the artist

 

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

 

Shea Kirk (Australian)
Christiane D’Arc (left and right view)
2018
Courtesy the artist

 

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

 

Shea Kirk (Australian)
Jacob Coppedge (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

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

 

Shea Kirk (Australian)
Paul Stillen (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

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

 

Shea Kirk (Australian)
Joao Quintao Marcolla (left and right view)
2019
Courtesy the artist

 

 

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

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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04
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2015 – 6th December 2015

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
On Being an Angel, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) achieved more in five years of artistic creativity than many artists achieve in a lifetime.

As a viewer you can read whatever you want into her photographs: feminism, surrealism, psychoanalytical theory, avant-garde, sexuality, gender, identity, sadness, happiness, joy. One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind but you can also feel echoes of Diane Arbus, the conceptual, narrative mystery of Duane Michals, the postmodern generation of Cindy Sherman (1977 onwards) and, someone who nobody mentions as an influence, the darkness of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (family members enacting symbolic dramas in masks, often set in abandoned places). Woodman also places masks on or off of her face. Further, “There are similarities in style to surrealistic photography, such as Woodman’s frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, gloves, hands, swans, fish, eels, masks, and sexual symbols. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, and Man Ray spring to mind.”1

Here, I see the influence of Carl Jung in her work, specifically in Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” of the self (traces and silhouettes) which may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. This shadow aspect may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”2 This shadow aspect can be see in the photograph Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (below).

Another element embedded in the work is that of the Mirror stage, which is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. “The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognise themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about 15 to 18 months… Lacan believed that the mirror stage represented a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”.”3 The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the “mirror stage”. “Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, “identification” is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of “alienation”, which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic.”4 This imaginary order can be seen in photographs such as Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 (below), where the image and even the title alludes to a form of self-alienation.

Riffing on the “highly influential writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva that were just beginning to be made available in translation. Among these thinkers’ central ideas was that identity was not organic and innate, but manufactured and learned through highly refined social constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship”5, Woodman’s work can also be seen to embody and ennoble these subjective and surrealist constructions (of self).

The artist is a CHIMERICAL CREATURE. Woodman’s transformations, her interior elements, become part of the wall or the house. She vanishes “from the room, out of the picture, at an given second.” A preoccupation with the body / her own body, and the dichotomy of subject-object, also adds multiple meanings and complexity to Woodman’s work. Her many angel images (and also images of umbrellas – Mary Poppins was released in 1964 when Woodman was growing up) suggest movement and the ability to fly, a fascination that found its ultimate expression when she jumped off a building in lower Manhattan at the age of 22.

We can read of all these things into the image/inary of Francesca Woodman if we want to. But they are not necessary to admire or appreciate her work. All we have to do is look at the photographs themselves; just return to the work. Here was a young artist, a young human being, expressing themselves through photography. She was just going for it and, as Corey Keller (a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) has noted, her youth was the source of her potency.

“Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.” Keller sees Woodman’s youth not as a liability, but as the source of her potency, though she admits the issue of her self-portraits continues to be fraught. “They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She’s not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.””6

While she may not have fully understood the layered nuances of French philosophy and Jungian psychology she INTUITIVELY knew what she was doing and what she wanted to achieve and capture in her work. There are lots of other photographers around the world that work in this same idiom, at art school and as mature artists, but none have that special something that Woodman has, something that one cannot quite put your finger on.

It is … a gap we can see across but cannot map.

Woodman is one of the greats. In her few short years as an artist, she achieved immortality through her images.
Her narrative – one of youth and vitality, of self exploration and transformation – is no myth. For she is legend.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Tellgren, Anna. Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (50kb pdf). 2015, pp. 13-14
  2. Shadow (psychology) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  3. Mirror stage on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  4. The Imaginary (psychoanalysis) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  5. Eklund, Douglas. “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  6. Corey Keller quoted in Cooke, Rachel. “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” on The Guardian website, Sunday 31 August 2014 [Online] Cited 04/12/2015

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Many thankx to the Moderna Museet, Stockholm for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been the object of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world. Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-1978), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of a few hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. Her production includes several self-portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred in such a way that their identity is hidden from the viewer. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Woodman worked in unusual settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass to evoke surrealist and occasionally claustrophobic moods.

Moderna Museet will present some hundred photographs by Francesca Woodman, with a selection from the series and themes she explored. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with Betty and George Woodman and the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel #1', Providence, Rhode Island, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Charlie the Model # 5', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Charlie the Model #5, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman From 'Eel' series, Venice, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Eel series, Venice, Italy, 1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From the 'three kinds of melon in four kinds of light' series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From the three kinds of melon in four kinds of light series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been shown in number of major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Her production includes several portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred and the models hidden from the viewer. Woodman worked in settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass, evoking surrealist and at times even claustrophobic moods.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods: the early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-78), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of several hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes and video.

Francesca Woodman. On being an angel presents 102 photographs and one video, representing most of the artist’s series and themes. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

Biography

Francesca Woodman was born into a family of artists in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958. Her mother, Betty, was a sculptor, her father, George, a painter and photographer, and her brother, Charlie, was a video artist.

 

Italy

The family often traveled to Italy and lived in Florence for a year between 1965 and 1966. Then they returned home to Boulder, Colorado, and Francesca continued her schooling. In 1968 her parents bought a farmhouse outside of Florence in Antella, and there they would spend their summers. Italy and its language, culture, and art history were frequent sources of inspiration for Francesca Woodman.

 

Providence

Woodman started taking pictures as a teenager and had attended a few art courses before she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1975. The college is among the oldest art schools in the United States, and the well-known photographer Aaron Siskind was one of her teachers. While at college, she lived in her studio in an industrial area where many of her pictures from that time were created. Between 1977 and 1978 Francesca Woodman spent a year in Rome as part of the school’s honours program. In the fall of 1978, she earned her BFA and exhibited the series Swan Song (1978) at the graduate show in RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery.

 

New York

Months later, in January 1979, Woodman moved to New York, where she lived at various addresses while looking for work. She spent the summer together with her boyfriend, Benjamin Moore, in Stanwood, Washington. Over the course of the next year, she exhibited her work at a number of smaller galleries and experimented with new techniques such as large format diazotypes, and colour images. She was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1980. There, she worked on a series of images exploring the relationship between nature and her body, among other projects. In early 1981, her artist’s book Some Disordered Interior Geometries was published by Synapse Press in Philadelphia. This was one of seven notebooks (including photographs that were glued in) that she worked with from 1976 onwards. Francesca Woodman took her own life on January 19, 1981.

 

Previous exhibitions

The first major retrospective of Francesca Woodman’s work was produced in 1986 by Ann Gabhart in collaboration with Rosalind Krauss for the Wellesley College Museum. It then toured a number of museums at American universities. Her first European exhibition was held in 1992 by Shedhalle in Zurich and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster and was shown in the spring of 1993 at The Finnish Museum of Photography, in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. On its way there, it stopped for two months at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The critic Lars O Ericsson wrote in Dagens Nyheter that the exhibition may have been the most important one to see in the capital at the time. To date, at least fifty separate exhibitions of Woodman’s photography have been held in Europe and the United States.

 

Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection

In connection to the exhibition with Francesca Woodman, Moderna Museet presents a selection of photographs from the same period from its collection, to show her in context. In Francesca Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms and were pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects.

The United States paved the way in this development, and when many started working more professionally with photography, it was institutionalized. This shift in the field eventually spread to Europe. Major photographic exhibitions were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring artists such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, all of whom were influential to many younger photographers.

One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind. His photography is often compared to that of Harry Callahan, since both were active for many years as teachers at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Another figure in American post-war photography is Minor White, who also had influence as a teacher. White wrote about and taught methods for understanding and interpreting photographs. New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975) was a significant exhibition. It was held at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester and one of the featured artists was Lewis Baltz. Other notable photographers in the new American wave were personalities as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe, Melissa Shook, and Jerry Uelsmann.

But it was also then, from 1977 forward, that Cindy Sherman started working on her break-out series Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is an artist of the postmodern generation, and it is not known if Woodman had been aware of the so-called Pictures Generation. Duane Michals stood for a more conceptual approach. He was one of the photographers who we know interested Woodman.

 

Diazotype

In the spring of 1980 Francesca Woodman started working on Blueprint for a Temple, where she was recreating the facade of a Greek temple using models draped in tunics similar to caryatids. The series began with a collection of details from bathrooms in New York, reminiscent of classical motifs. From having worked on a smaller scale, she had now moved on to truly large formats, some several meters in size.

These pictures are often categorised as blueprints, referring to a method of reproduction most frequently used for architectural plans. This is a contact print process on photosensitive paper; white lines on a blue background distinguish the finished product. (Other types of paper produced different background colours.)

The technique Woodman used was diazotype: a dry photographic process on paper coated with diazonium compounds, which are sensitive to blue and UV light and developed by ammonia vapour. Woodman experimented with this technique. She created the largest of these images by hanging a long sheet of photosensitive diazo paper on the wall of a darkroom. A photographic slide was projected onto the paper from a slide projector, often for hours. The paper was then developed in a diazo processor at a company that made commercial reproductions of architectural plans. The result was a set of magnificent works in blue, purple, and sepia tones.

Text from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm website

 

Francesca Woodman. 'About Being My Model', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
About Being My Model, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Spring in Providence # 2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Spring in Providence #2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Self-deceit #1', Rome, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Rome, Italy, 1977-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet’s first exhibition this autumn features the American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose oeuvre has been the subject of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years. Her photography has inspired generations of artists and photographers around the world. Woodman has been called a prodigy, and those who met her testify to her as a young woman who was always working and looking for themes and material for her photographs. Examining Francesca Woodman’s aesthetic oeuvre is a challenge and an adventure.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) photographs explore gender, representation and body. Her aesthetic world reveals surrealist influences, with frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, masks, and sexual symbols, bringing to mind the works of photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun and Man Ray. Woodman’s output includes several portraits using herself and her friends as models. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Transformation emerges as a theme in many of Woodman’s images, for example in one of her strongest and eeriest series, House from 1976, in which she gradually merges with the walls, the torn wallpaper and the open fireplace.

“Francesca Woodman created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her images reference history and the history of photography, but they also reflect their time, while unlocking new interpretations. She is deeply personal, and so her themes become universal. All of this is what On Being an Angel is about,” says curator Anna Tellgren.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, in Italy (1977-78), at the MacDowell Colony, and, lastly, in New York from 1979 until she died. Analyses of her work are often linked to her biography and chronology. During her active years, Woodman produced thousands of images and she also tried other techniques such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video. Some eight hundred photographs have been preserved. The words, short sentences, or quotations she scrawled on many of her prints have since given those pieces their titles.

The exhibition Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel is comprised of 102 photographs and one video by Francesca Woodman, and selections from most of her thematic groups and series are represented, including Polka Dots (1976), the From Angel series (1977), Swan Song (1978), Charlie the Model (1976-77) and her large Caryatid (Study for a Temple Project) (1980). In Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms, pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects. Alongside the exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a selection of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context.

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975- 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'From Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
Gelatin silver print
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. '(Study for Temple Project)', New York, 1980

 

Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
(Study for Temple Project), New York, 1980
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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27
Jan
13

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

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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 2002

 

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
Teach
1992-1998
Video still
© Charles Atlas, Courtesy Vilma Gold, London

 

Werner Pawlok. 'Portrait Leigh Bowery 3' 1988

 

Werner Pawlok (German, b. 1953)
Portrait Leigh Bowery 3
1988
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
1986
Courtesy Robin Beeche

 

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

 

Nick Knight (British, b. 1958)
Untitled (Leigh Bowery with Scull)
1992
© Nick Knight

 

Ole Christiansen. 'Farrel House' 1989

 

Ole Christiansen (Danish)
Farrel House
1989
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
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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29
May
12

Exhibition: ‘Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates:  25th February – 3rd June 2012

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes
© RMN/Gérard Blot

 

 

“In many ways, Cahun’s life was marked by a sense of role reversal, and her public identity became a commentary upon not only her own, but the public’s notions of sexuality, gender, beauty, and logic. Her adoption of a sexually ambiguous name, and her androgynous self-portraits display a revolutionary way of thinking and creating, experimenting with her audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality. Her poetry challenged gender roles and attacked the increasingly modern world’s social and economic boundaries. Also Cahun’s participation in the Parisian Surrealist movement diversified the group’s artwork and ushered in new representations. Where most Surrealist artists were men, and their primary images were of women as isolated symbols of eroticism, Cahun epitomised the chameleonic and multiple possibilities of the female identity. Her photographs, writings, and general life as an artistic and political revolutionary continue to influence countless artists, namely Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Del LaGrace Volcano.”

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Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Cahun was a resistance fighter during the Second World War, was arrested, sentenced to death and survived. She lived with her longtime female partner and collaborator on Jersey from 1937 until 1954, the year of her death. Entre Nous means “Between Us,” such an appropriate title for their collaboration, love and partnership. What a talent, what a woman and gay to boot!

Marcus

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

 

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
11.5 x 8.5cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
10.4 x 7.6cm
Soizic Audouard Collection

 

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) has something approaching cult status in today’s art world. However, her work was almost unknown until the early 1980s, when it was championed by the research of François Leperlier, after which exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes (1994) and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1995) brought it to public attention. Her life and work (both literary and artistic) bespeak an extraordinary libertarian personality who defied sexual, social and ethical conventions in what was an age of avant-garde and moral upheaval. Among her many photographs, it is undoubtedly her self-portraits that have aroused the greatest interest in recent years. Throughout her life, Cahun used her own image to dismantle the clichés surrounding ideas of identity. She reinvented herself through photography, posing for the lens with a keen sense of performance and role-play, dressed as a woman or a man, as a maverick hero, with her hair long or very short, or even with a shaved head. This approach was extended in innovative ways in her photographs of objects and use of photomontages, which asserted the primacy of the imagination and of metamorphosis.

By exploring the many different analyses made of Cahun’s work since the 1990s, and ranging across its different themes: from the subversive self-portraits that question identity, to her surrealist compositions, erotic metaphors and political forays, this exhibition confirms the modernity of a figure who, as a pioneer of self-representation and the poetry of objects, has been an important influence for many contemporary artists.

 

Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (I)

This set of photographs, going from 1913 to the end of the 1920s, includes some of Cahun’s major works, in which she staged her own persona, emphasising disguise and masks, and working through variations on gender: feminine, masculine, androgyne, undifferentiated. Sexual ambiguity is consciously cultivated and calls into question established norms and conventions. In 1928, she even represented herself with her head shaved, wearing a singlet, in profile, or with her hands against her face, or wearing a loose man’s jacket. Some of the mise-en-scènes from this period seem to anticipate contemporary performance.

 

Poetics of the object

The “assemblages of objects,” which make their appearance in around 1925, inventively explore what at the time was still a rather new form. This work came to wider attention in the Surrealist exhibition at the Charles Ratton gallery, in May 1936, and then with the commissioning of 22 photographic plates to illustrate a book of poems by Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic (1937), prefaced by Paul Eluard. These photographs capture ephemeral set-ups, often in a natural setting (garden, beach). Each “sketch” is a composition of heterogeneous elements, both found and made, such as knickknacks in spun glass, sewing items, twigs, bones, insects, feathers, gloves, pieces of fabric, shoes, tools, etc. This “theatre of objects” has both a visual and symbolic significance, which Cahun explained in her text Prenez garde aux objets domestiques (1936).

 

Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (continued)

The 1930s saw Cahun continuing to explore images of the self. However, questions of sexual difference and its social and cultural construction were now less to the fore as she went deeper into the potential of situations and disguises and experimented with duplication in a way that extended the work of the photomontages from the late 1920s.

 

Metaphors of desire

Eschewing the direct and sometimes reifying display of the female body found in many paintings and photographs, Cahun opted for a more subtle kind of “veiled eroticism” using distance and irony. Here we find some very evocative examples of her calculating games with desire. Whether through the contained display of the body, allegory (the bacchante or faun, surrounded by sensuous vegetation), or anthropomorphic objects (the hermaphroditic “père”), she aimed to capture the essence of desire, to bring out its essential grounding in fantasy.

 

The two of us. Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe (Marcel Moore)

The photograph Entre nous (1926) clearly establishes the spirit of this section, which evokes various aspects of Claude Cahun’s intimate relationship and artistic collaboration with her partner, Suzanne Malherbe. In fact, a number of the photographs here were taken by Suzanne following Claude’s suggestions. A double portrait from 1921 shows a surprising parallel which could be read as a metaphor of their relationship, a deep closeness and understanding between two strong personalities. The linchpin of this section is constituted by the four photomontages used to illustrate Aveux non avenus (1930), Cahun’s most significant literary work, gathering together all the artist’s main themes and obsessive metaphors. The plates were executed by Moore in collaboration with Claude Cahun.

 

Elective encounters

This series of portraits, which reflect the importance of friendship in the development of Cahun’s work, gives an idea of the figures who were important to her and influenced her, or to whom she felt close, among them Henri Michaux, Robert Desnos, André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba and Suzanne Malherbe. There are also two photographs from performances at Pierre Albert-Birot’s theatre Le Plateau (1929). They attest Cahun’s keen interest in theatre and acting.

 

Poetry and politics

In the 1930s Cahun’s positions grew increasingly radical in response to the rise of totalitarianism. She joined the Surrealists and associated with a number of groups on the left and far left. This radicalisation is reflected in her aesthetic. In line with the ideas put forward in her pamphlet Les Paris sont ouverts (1934), she exploited the subversive qualities of “indirect action” in the sphere of symbolic expression, making a number of objects in which poetry and politics are intimately intertwined. This process culminated when she used these pieces for two big series of photographs dominated by a mood of irony, revolt and provocation: “La Poupée” (The Doll), a figure fashioned out of newspaper, and “Le Théâtre” (The Theatre), a wooden mannequin surrounded by various elements and placed under a glass dome.

 

Beyond the visible. The last self-portraits

Close study of Cahun’s photographs reveals the presence of allusions to non-visible phenomena, pointing the way to other realities – and perhaps, too, beyond death. Her attraction to symbolism, her interest in Eastern doctrines and her closeness to Surrealism only confirmed the primacy of fantasy and metamorphosis evidenced in the intellectual and aesthetic approaches she took throughout her life. The series Le Chemin des chats (The Way of Cats, around 1949 and 1953), suggests a mediation on and questioning of reality and appearance. Cahun was a true cat lover: for her, this animal was the great intercessor, the medium of an intuitive contact between the visible and the invisible, leading to sensorial worlds that are both unfamiliar and yet very near.

Juan Vicente Aliaga and François Leperlier, curators of the exhibition

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1926

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait
1926
Gelatin silver print
11.1 x 8.6cm
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat

 

 

Born Lucy Schwob to a family of French intellectuals and writers, Claude Cahun (who adopted the pseudonym at age 22) is best known for the staged self-portraiture, photomontages, and prose texts she made principally between 1920 and 1940. Rediscovered in the late 1980s, her work has not only expanded our understanding of the Surrealist era but also serves as an important touchstone to later feminist explorations of gender and identity politics. In her self-portraits, which she began creating around 1913, Cahun dismantled and questioned preexisting notions of self and sexuality. Posing in costumes and elaborate make-up, Cahun appears masked as various personae: man or woman, hero or doll, both powerful and vulnerable. Almost a century after their making, these innovative photographs and assemblages remain remarkably relevant in their treatment of gender, performance, and identity.

From her university years until her death, Cahun was accompanied by her partner and artistic collaborator, Suzanne Malherbe, a childhood friend and stepsister. They surrounded themselves with members of the Surrealist movement and created work that embraced leftist politics. Cahun, with assistance from Malherbe (under the pseudonym Marcel Moore), produced photographs, assemblages, and publications from the 1920s on. The photograph Entre Nous (Between Us), featuring a pair of masks embedded in sand, gives the title to this show and is emblematic of their multifaceted relationship.

The first retrospective exhibition in the United States of Cahun’s work, Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun brings together over 80 photographs and published material by Cahun and Moore, including several photomontages from their 1930 collaborative publication Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), and the only surviving object by Cahun, which is in the Art Institute’s permanent collection.

Organiser: This exhibition was organised by the Jeu de Paume, Paris, and coproduced with La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona.

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago website

 

Claude Cahun. 'Combat de pierres' 1931

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Combat de pierres
1931
Gelatin silver print
21 x 15.5cm
Private collection
© Béatrice Hatala

 

Claude Cahun. 'Le Père' 1932

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Le Père
1932
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.7cm
LAC

 

Claude Cahun. 'Aveux non avenus, planche III' 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus, planche III
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print photomontage
15 x 10cm
Private collection

 

 

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
Phone: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Thursday – Monday 11am – 5pm
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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03
Nov
11

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
2011

 

 

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!

Marcus

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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
2011

 

 

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
2011

 

Martin Smith. 'My Father Fails' 2011

 

Martin Smith (Australian, b. 1971)
My Father Fails
2011

 

 

Ryan Renshaw Gallery

This gallery has now closed.

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15
Apr
09

Opening: ‘Nicola Loder: Tourist #3 sighted child 1-11’ at Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 15th April – 2nd May 2009

 

Nicola Loder opening at Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the opening of Nicola Loder’s exhibition Tourist #3 sighted child 1-11 at Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

A wonderful, social opening at Helen Gory Gallery of Nicola Loder’s latest work in her ongoing Tourist photographic series. As always Loder’s work looks superb, the mounting of the images at the back of thick perspex giving the images an almost holographic 3D effect. I still remember her exhibition of black and white children’s faces at the sadly closed Stop 22 Gallery in St Kilda many years ago: those images still impinge on the subconscious. This work continues those themes of instability in the mapping of identity, how we begin to see, to represent ourselves as an individual entity. Speaking of Stop 22 it was great to see Marianne, ex curator of that gallery at the opening with new bub in tow! There is an excellent catalogue essay by Stuart Koop (below).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Nicola Loder and Helen Gory Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Nicola Loder opening at Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the opening of Nicola Loder’s exhibition Tourist #3 sighted child 1-11 at Helen Gory Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

“We might think of Loder’s work as ‘undoing’ visuality. She sets technology in reverse, working against the imperatives of photography to clarify, focus, refine and sharpen images, as if our eyes worked backwards, as if acuity worsened. The face is an obvious (originary) limit beyond which chaos prevails and other senses are engaged to interpret what looks like abstract static but which many now believe is an unstriated sensory realm, a liberated space of interrelated, undifferentiated holistic sensory experiences; the original synaesthesia from which perception emerges as a travesty according to 5 distinct categories.

So it’s not blindness after all that the work references, not the failing of vision, but the first moments of looking, when ‘seeing’ begins to separate from the other senses and consolidates into a face, a percept, then into a code, a genre, a representation.”

Stuart Koop

 

loder-c

 

I don’t know who the lady and the bub are but thank you for the wonderful photograph – children upon children!

 

Nicola Loder. 'Tourist #3 sighted children 1-11' 2009

 

Nicola Loder (Australian, b. 1964)
Tourist #3 sighted child 1-11
2009
1200mm x 900mm,
lambda digital prints,10mm acrylic

 

The radiant Nicola Loder in front of one of her works

 

The radiant Nicola Loder in front of one of her works

 

 

Helen Gory Gallery

This gallery has now closed.

Nicola Loder website

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15
Dec
08

Review: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th November – 23rd December 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled #466' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #466
2008
Chromogenic print
254.3  x 174.6cm

 

 

The artist Cindy Sherman is a multifaceted evocation of human identity standing in glorious and subversive Technicolor before the blank canvas of her imagination. Poststructuralist in her physical appearance (there being no one Cindy Sherman, perhaps no Sherman at all) and post-photographic in her placement in constructed environments, Sherman challenges the ritualised notions of the performative act – and destabilises perceived notions of self, status, image and place.

The viewer is left with a sense of displacement when looking at these tableaux. The absence / presence of the artist leads the viewer to the binary opposite of rational / emotional – knowing these personae and places are constructions, distortions of a perceived reality yet emotionally attached to every wrinkle, every fold of the body at once repulsive yet seductive.

They are masterworks in the manner of Rembrandt’s self portraits – deeply personal images that he painted over many years that examined the many identities of his psyche – yet somehow different. Sherman investigates the same territories of the mind and body but with no true author, no authoritative meaning and no one subject at their beating heart. Her goal is subversive.

As Roy Boyne has observed, “The movement from the self as arcanum to the citational self, has, effectively, been welcomed, particularly in the work of Judith Butler, but also in the archetypal sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. There is a powerful logic behind this approbation. When self-identity is no longer seen as, even minimally, a fixed essence, this does not mean that the forces of identity formation can therefore be easily resisted, but it does mean that the necessity for incessant repetition of identity formation by the forces of a disciplinary society creates major opportunities for subversion and appropriation. In the repeated semi-permanences of the citational self, there is more than a little scope for counter-performances marked, for example, by irony and contempt.”1

Counter performances are what Sherman achieves magnificently. She challenges a regularised and constrained repetition of norms and as she becomes her camera (“her extraordinary relationship with her camera”) she subverts its masculine disembodied gaze, the camera’s power to produce normative, powerful bodies.2 As the viewer slips ‘in the frame’ of the photograph they take on a mental process of elision much as Sherman has done when making the images – deviating from the moral rules that are impressed from without3 by living and breathing through every fold, every fingernail, every sequin of their constructed being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Boyne, Roy. “Citation and Subjectivity: Towards a Return of the Embodied Will,” in Featherstone, Mike (ed.,). Body Modification. London: Sage, 2000, p. 212
  2. “To the extent that the camera figures tacitly as an instrument of transubstantiation, it assumes the place of the phallus, as that which controls the field of signification. The camera thus trades on the masculine privilege of the disembodied gaze, the gaze that has the power to produce bodies, but which itself has no body.”
    Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 136
  3. “Universal human nature is not a very human thing. By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind of construct, built up not from inner psychic propensities but from moral rules that are impressed upon him from without.”
    Goffman, Erving. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1972, pp. 44-45

 

 

Rembrandt van Rijn

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669)
Self-portrait as the apostle Paul (left)
1661
Self-portrait as Zeuxis laughing (right)
1662

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled #464' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #464
2008
Chromogenic print
214.3 x 152.4cm

 

 

For her first exhibition of new work since 2004, Cindy Sherman will show a series of colour photographs that continues her investigation into distorted ideas of beauty, self-image and ageing. Typical of Sherman, these works are at once alarming and amusing, distasteful and poignant.

Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has developed an extraordinary relationship with her camera. A remarkable performer, subtle distortions of her face and body are captured on camera and leave the artist unrecognisable to the audience. Her ability to drastically manipulate her age or weight, or coax the most delicate expressions from her face, is uncanny. Each image is overloaded with detail, every nuance caught by the artist’s eye. No prosthetic nose or breast, fake fingernail, sequin, wrinkle or bulge goes unnoticed by Sherman.

Sherman shoots alone in her studio acting as author, director, actor, make-up artist, hairstylist and wardrobe mistress. Each character is shot in front of a “green screen” then digitally inserted onto backgrounds shot separately. Adding to the complexity, Sherman leaves details slightly askew at each point in the process, undermining the narrative and forcing the viewer to confront the staged aspect of the work.

Press release at Metro Pictures Gallery

 

Installation view of 'Cindy Sherman' exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, 2008

 

Installation view of Cindy Sherman exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled
2008
Chromogenic print
148.6 x 146.7cm

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled
2008
Chromogenic print
177.8 x 161.3cm

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled #468' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #468
2008
Chromogenic colour print
191.8 x 151.1cm

 

 

The society portraits made in 2008 portray older women in opulent settings wearing expensive clothes, their faces stretched and enhanced unnaturally, showing signs of cosmetic surgery. These markers point to cultural standards of beauty and wealth, and here signal the failed aspiration to sustained youth. Printed large, presented in decorative and often gilded frames, and depicting figures in formal poses, these works are reminiscent of Sherman’s history portraits and classical portraiture in general. In this way, they remind the viewer that representation is not a new phenomenon, and the cultural implications in all images are tied to long and complex histories. In Untitled #468 the figure stands stoically with arms crossed and mouth slightly agape, wearing a fur, silk scarf, and white gloves, which the artist found at thrift shops. In the background, an ornate building mirrors the elaborate dress of the woman.

The perspective of the building does not align with that of the figure, blatantly breaking the illusion of reality and recalling Sherman’s 1980 series of rear-screen projections. This clear and deliberate artificiality indicates that images, characters, and even our own selves are constructed, not fixed.

Anonymous text. “Untitled #468,” on The Broad website Nd [Online] Cited 09/06/2022

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled
2008
Chromogenic print
244.5 x 165.7cm

 

 

Metro Pictures Gallery

This gallery has now closed

Metro Pictures 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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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