Posts Tagged ‘identity

10
Jun
18

Exhibition: ‘(un)expected families’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 17th June 2018

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977) 'Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT' 2005

 

Christopher Churchill (American, born in 1977)
Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT
2005
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elisa Fredrickson / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

It’s hard to get a sense of this exhibition from the media images, therefore difficult to make any constructive comment on the strength of the exhibition.

Apparently, “The exhibition’s gallery feels very domestic. Groups of photos hang on the walls – different sizes, colors, formats and frames – like you’d see in a living room or hallway. MFA curator Karen Haas confirms that evocation is absolutely intentional.

“Photographers from the very beginning have been fascinated by the way that the camera could capture images of loved ones, freeze them in time,” she says. “They form sort of reliquaries of memory, and these sorts of relationships to the objects – that idea of the photograph as a talisman-like object I think has been somewhat forgotten in our contemporary world.” …

Haas’ goal in creating this show is to illustrate how broad and diverse family configurations can be – without defining them. “The families that we’re born into, generational families,” she describes, “but also romantic unions, couples and chosen families – families we have chosen for ourselves.” And that includes the military and the church, Haas says. “I think the family is such a basic social construct – so basic to so many of our lives – that I hope that these kinds of images will really resonate with people.” (Text from The ARTery website)

Outsider family, insider family, single parent family, nuclear family, extended family, reconstituted family, childless family, gay family, step family, “family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them.”

But what is most important is this: “There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what is the best type of family structure. As long as a family is filled with love and support for one another, it tends to be successful and thrive. Families need to do what is best for each other and themselves, and that can be achieved in almost any unit.” (Types of Family Structure)

Families all have secrets, no matter how perfect they may seem to the outside world. Whether it be domestic violence behind closed doors or skeletons in the closet there is always more than meets the eye. And that’s where these photographs of families fail in their representation of the family. That, and the title of the exhibition – (un)expected families – because in the 21st century, nothing should be unexpected. By adding emphasis to the (un), the title merely propagates a form of discrimination, of outsider as different and therefore worthy of abuse because of that very difference. Expected families: we are all human beings and therefore anything is to be expected.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by American photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families explores the definition of the American family – from the families we are born into to the ones we have chosen for ourselves. The works on view depict a wide range of relationships, including multiple generations, romantic unions, and alternative family structures. Using archival, vernacular, and fine art photographs, (un)expected families offers a variety of perspectives on the American family, from Dorothea Lange’s depiction of a migrant family at the time of the Dust Bowl to Louie Palu’s portraits of US Marines fighting in Afghanistan. The exhibition illustrates that the family has always taken diverse forms: affluent and destitute, cohesive and fractured, expected and unexpected. Taken together, the photographs challenge visitors to consider what family means to them. (un)expected families features celebrated practitioners like Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Harry Callahan, as well as a number of renowned Boston-area artists, such as David Hilliard, Nicholas Nixon, Abe Morell, and Sage Sohier.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Home Workers, New York' 1915

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Home Workers, New York
1915
Lewis W. Hine/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant family, Texas' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant family, Texas
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fun
Dorothea Lange/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Ritz Bar, New York' 1947-48

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Ritz Bar, New York
1947-48
Estate of Louis Faurer/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932) 'When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young' 1979

 

Duane Michals (American, born in 1932)
When he was young, he could not imagine being old. And now that he is old, he cannot imagine ever having been young
1979
Gelatin silver print
Duane Michals, courtesy of the DC Moore Gallery, New York, and Osmos, New York

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Yazoo City, Mississippi' 1979

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Yazoo City, Mississippi
1979
Gelatin silver contact print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the National Endowment for the Arts and Richard L. Menschel, Bela T. Kalman, Judge and Mrs. Matthew Brown, Mildred S. Lee, and Barbara M. Marshall
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953) 'Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York' 1991

 

Nan Goldin (American, born in 1953)
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, New York
1991
Cibachrome print
Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography
© Nan Goldin
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“I used to think that I could never lose anyone if I photographed them enough. But in fact my pictures show me just how much I’ve lost.” ~ Nan Goldin

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945) 'Thanksgiving' 1992

 

Tina Barney (American, born in 1945)
Thanksgiving
1992
Chromogenic print
Contemporary Curator’s Fund, including funds donated by Barbara and Thomas Lee
Tina Barney/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tina Barney
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954) 'Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.' 2002

 

Sage Sohier (American, born in 1954)
Mum in her bathtub, Washington, D.C.
2002
Inkjet print
Living New England Artists Purchase Fund, created by the Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947) 'Tammy Hindle' 2006

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born in 1947)
Tammy Hindle
2006
Digital inkjet print
Gift of James N. Krebs
© Nicholas Nixon, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982) 'Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan' 2007

 

Julie Mack (American, born in 1982)
Self-portrait (Julie) with family in SUV, Michigan
2007
Chromogenic print
James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Photography
© Julie Mack. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964) 'Rock Bottom' 2008

 

David Hilliard  (America, born 1964)
Rock Bottom
2008
Panorama Construction

 

 

Rock Bottom features, in the left panel, a close up sharp focus portrait of Hilliard’s father standing in a lake, with a severe and harsh facial expression, yet vulnerably placing his hands on his chest between his two sailor swallow’s tattoos. In the right panel, Hilliard himself appears somewhat further from the camera. With a gentler facial expression, the photographer contrasts with his tense patriarchal figure, but features a similar hairy chest and matching tattoos  –  giving the viewer a hint on the subject’s father-son relationship. The middle panel is exclusive for environmental portraiture and the creation of meaning in the composition: a sunny day at the lake, where the blue skies and soft clouds perfectly reflect on the water and separate the subject matters. The real meaning of the juxtaposition relies on the knowledge of Hilliard’s personal life and the presence of the middle panel: although the father accept his son’s homosexuality, the issue has clearly been a source of tension between them, creating both emotional and physical distance between the subject matters. Represented by the central panel, a stunning view divides the two generations both visually and metaphorically, symbolizing the idea of emotional distance in an atypical form.

Like most of Hilliard’s photographs, Rock Bottom exposes how physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The presence of the middle panel, exclusively dedicated to environmental portraiture and the emphasis on the importance of our surroundings, also suggests the emotional distance between the subjects. The lack of elements and presence of great depth of field of the center panel insinuates that, regardless of the level of intimacy between the subject matters  – distance is always palpable.

Marina Pedrosa. “David Hilliard: Building Meaning Through Composition,” on the medium website [Online] Cited 22/08/2018

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966) 'Baby Toss' 2009

 

Julie Blackmon (American, born in 1966)
Baby Toss
2009
Elizabeth and Michael Marcus
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982) 'Mom' 2008

 

LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, born in 1982)
Mom
2008
Gelatin silver print
From “The Notion of Family” (Aperture, 2014)
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981) 'The Big Sister' 2012

 

Caleb Cole (American, born in 1981)
The Big Sister
2012
From the series Odd One Out (2010-Present)
Archival pigment print
49 × 68 cm (19 5/16 × 26 3/4 in.)
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs

 

 

Bringing together more than 80 pictures taken by photographers from the 19th century to today, (un)expected families at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), explores the definition of the American family – from the families we’re born into to the ones we’ve chosen. The photographs in the exhibition, on view from December 9, 2017 through June 17, 2018, depict a wide range of relationships – multiple generations, romantic unions and alternative family structures – whether connected by DNA, shared life experiences, common interests or even a social media network. Encompassing both carefully staged portraits and serendipitous snapshots, the selection of vernacular, documentary and fine art photographs in (un)expected families illustrates that the concept of family has long taken many forms – a subject that has fascinated photographers since the invention of the camera – and challenges visitors to consider what family means to them. Drawn primarily from the MFA’s holdings, the exhibition includes photographs by celebrated artists such as Nan Goldin, Gordon Parks, Nicholas Nixon, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Tina Barney, Emmet Gowin and Bruce Davidson. Loans from private collections include Victorian-era “hidden mother” photographs of children and turn-of-the-century portraits of women in intimate relationships sometimes referred to as “Boston marriages.” Additionally, (un)expected families highlights many New England photographers whose work centers on familial relationships, debuting eight photographs – acquired specifically for the exhibition – by Zoe Perry-Wood, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Amber Tourlentes, Caleb Cole, Tanja Hollander, David Hilliard and Jeannie Simms. An interactive component of (un)expected families invites visitors to share thoughts about their own families on response cards. A selection will be displayed in the gallery on a rotating basis, and all will be archived as part of the permanent exhibition record. Additionally, a free family guide engages children with close looking and drawing activities. The exhibition is generously supported by an anonymous donor.

“Almost as soon as exposure times became short enough to make portraiture feasible, photographers have been drawn to capture likenesses of loved ones. Perhaps that power to freeze a moment in time is what explains why family photographs are so often described as the first thing one would save from a burning building,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I find it particularly fascinating that there seems to be a growing interest among contemporary photographers to focus on families in their work – even as with the rise of smartphones and social media, our own personal pictures are increasingly relegated to the ether, rarely experienced as tangible objects.”

The images presented in (un)expected families span 150 years. Among the oldest pictures are photographs of “hidden mothers” (1860s-70s), depicting infants in the laps of concealed adults – a trick to keep the children still during long sittings or exposures. The mothers or nursemaids were draped with scarves or blankets, or hidden behind furniture or painted backdrops. Similarly, the contemporary photograph Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995 (1995) by Cambridge-based Elsa Dorfman (born 1937) focuses solely on the children. While names of the parents are among those handwritten on the bottom of the large-scale Polaroid, only their legs are visible in the composition. Another contemporary photograph juxtaposed with the Victorian-era “hidden mothers,” which were made during a period of high infant mortality rates, is Tammy Hindle (2006) by Nicholas Nixon (born 1947). Part of Nixon’s series documenting a family’s heartbreaking loss of a child, the image shows the mother, Tammy, carrying a portrait of the baby, Claire, to the funeral service, their bodies appearing to magically merge in the reflection within the picture frame.

Father-and-son relationships are explored in images by Dawoud Bey (born 1953), Duane Michals (born 1932) and Jim Goldberg (born 1953), all of which incorporate texts that amplify the moving and often painful stories behind the images, as well as recently acquired photographs by David Hilliard (born 1964) and Arno Rafael Minkkinen (born 1945). Hilliard’s triptych Rock Bottom (2008) is one of an extended series of panoramic photographs that trace the shifting narrative of the gay artist’s complicated relationship with his father. The beautifully choreographed self-portrait visually links the two men, unmistakably related to each other and sporting identical swallow tattoos, across a serene expanse of lake. Minkkinen’s 31-12-86, Self-Portrait with Daniel, Andover (1986), recently gifted to the MFA by the artist, is one of a little-known series of portraits that he took of his son Daniel as the boy grew and matured from infancy to adolescence. The photograph shows Daniel sitting on a bed, bathed in raking light and looking directly at his father’s large-format camera. With his head hidden from view, Minkkinen’s outstretched arms perfectly echo the curve of the headboard and create a haunting embrace that speaks to a parent’s deep-seated desire to encircle and protect a child.

Seventeen photographs representing multiple generations of a family are arranged in a salon-style hang, ranging from intimate depictions of parents with children, such as Baby Toss (2009) by Julie Blackmon (born 1966); to pairs of siblings, such as Twins at WDIA, Memphis (about 1948) by Ernest C. Withers (1922–2007); to a 1925 panorama capturing an extended family reunion encompassing about 200 people. The display also features recently acquired photographs by Sage Sohier (born 1954) and Jeannie Simms (born 1967). Sohier’s Mum in her bathtub, D.C. (2002) is from an extended series devoted to her mother, a former fashion model who had posed for Richard Avedon and Irving Penn in the 1940s. Simms’ Arnie, Susan & Elijah, Jamaica Plain, MA (2015) is from a series documenting the lives of couples married in Cambridge after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Recently acquired works by Amber Tourlentes (born 1970), Zoe Perry-Wood (born 1959) and Jess Dugan (born 1986) also document the experience of LGBTQ couples, families and individuals. Tourlentes has regularly made LGBTQ family portraits on the Town Hall stage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during its annual Family Week, sometimes revisiting the same subjects over the course of several years. Perry-Wood has spent the last decade photographing another annual event, the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) Prom, which offers a safe and celebratory occasion for young couples – an alternative to more traditional high-school proms. Allowing her subjects to pose in front of the camera in a studio-like setting, as seen in José and Luis (2015), Perry-Wood helps to give them a sense of personal agency and collective pride at a pivotal moment in their lives. Unlike Tourlentes and Perry-Wood, Dugan photographs her subjects – friends within the LGBTQ community – in natural light and the privacy of their own living spaces, exploring issues of gender, identity and social connection through large-format portraits such as Devotion, from the series Every Breath We Drew (2012).

With the invention of the small and affordable Kodak camera in the late 19th century, followed by the instant camera in the 1940s, many Americans no longer felt the need to visit formal portrait studios in order to record their personal lives. Among the casual snapshots featured in (un)expected families are Polaroids of Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Tina Radziwill, taken by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the summer of 1972 and exhibited at the MFA for the first time. The artist – along with filmmaker Jonas Mekas and photographer Peter Beard – was hired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to teach the children filmmaking and photography. Also on view are an album of photographs commemorating a fraternity at Baker University in Kansas (1910s) and six snapshots depicting “Boston marriages” (1920s-30s) – a turn-of-the-century term used to describe two women living together without the support of a man – romantic relationships in some cases and simply platonic partnerships in others.

Several groupings in the exhibition are centered on places of family life. Working roughly 50 years apart, one on New York’s Lower East Side and the other in Harlem, Lewis Hine (1874-1940) and Bruce Davidson (born 1933) both found the kitchen table an ideal site for their documentary photographs of tenement families in New York City. The groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990) by Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) – featuring the photographer herself as the central figure, alongside lovers, children and friends – speaks to all those who have loved, quarrelled and come together around a communal table. Similarly, Tina Barney (born 1945) often acts as both guide and participant in her photographs – including Thanksgiving (1992) – which portray complex family moments in the wealthy East Coast social scene that she grew up in. In another selection of photographs by Julie Mack (born 1982), Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), the car is shown as a setting for a contemporary family self-portrait, a shelter for a homeless family in Los Angeles, and a vehicle for escape for migrant farm workers and their families during the Dust Bowl.

Alongside biologically related families and romantic unions, the exhibition highlights bonds among close-knit communities – “chosen families” – often documented by photographers embedded within the groups. Louie Palu (born 1968) spent several years covering the conflict in Afghanistan, producing portraits of U.S. Marines that capture the terrible toll of war etched on their faces and reflected in their eyes. Danny Lyon (born 1942) was a student at the University of Chicago when he first befriended members of the Chicago Outlaws, a notorious motorcycle club. For a number of years, he documented the individual gang members, their families and friends, as well as races, meetings, social gatherings, rides throughout the Midwest and even their funerals. Nan Goldin (born 1953) uses her camera as a form of diary to record the lives of friends, whom she considers a surrogate family. In Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC (1991), Goldin represents two drag queens in New York City’s East Village, working in her characteristically direct, snapshot-like style. For the artist, who has lost many in her circle to HIV-AIDS, such images form tangible records of powerful human connections in fragile times.

Ethel Shariff in Chicago (1963) by Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and Hutterite Classroom, Gilford, MT (2005) by Christopher Churchill (born 1977) are among the photographs depicting religious communities. Ethel Shariff, the eldest daughter of longtime Nation of Islam head Elijah Mohammed, stands at the apex of Parks’ group portrait, surrounded by fellow members of the organization’s women’s corps. Churchill’s photograph is from a series of pictures on the theme of American faith – a project he undertook in the years just after 9/11. Traveling across the country, he visited various sacred landscapes, places of worship and religious communities including the Hutterites, a branch of the Anabaptists who trace their beginnings back to the Protestant Reformation. For Churchill, the series became an exploration into the very basic human need to be connected to something greater than ourselves. Similarly, Tanja Hollander (born 1972) traveled all over the world – across the U.S. and Europe, but also as far away as Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand – for five years, tracking down all of her hundreds of Facebook friends and making portraits of them set in their own homes. Shot with an iPhone or a simple point-and-shoot camera, these intimate pictures – two of which were acquired for the exhibition – present a fascinating commentary on the role of social media and interpersonal relationships in the 21st century.

Additional highlights of (un)expected families include photographs in a variety of formats. Caleb Cole (born 1981) is a local photographer particularly fascinated by the dynamics of family photographs found at estate sales and flea markets in which one of the subjects – in contrast to the rest of the smiling faces – appears especially sad or downcast. Cole digitally alters these vernacular images to isolate the single, lonely figure, all the while maintaining the shapes of the remaining sitters so that the “odd one out” is set off against the blank, white expanse of the group. In The Big Sister (2012), a recent acquisition, a young girl whose parents have just introduced her to a new baby looks dejectedly off into space as if desperately wishing she could return to her former status as an only child. Digital projections from the series To Majority Minority (2014-15) by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (born 1964) are also based on found snapshots, sourced from photo albums of immigrant families that have come to the U.S. from all over the world. Working with the owners of these albums, Matthew digitises the images and then recreates the figures and their poses using contemporary family members in place of the original sitters. By presenting them as projections that seamlessly flow from one generation into another, the artist measures the passage of time through the faces of subsequent generations, and the accompanying texts tell stories inspired by the treasured photographs of their ancestors.

Press release from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Photographer unknown (American) 'Untitled [Hidden Mother]' c. 1860s-70s

 

Photographer unknown (American)
Untitled [Hidden Mother]
c. 1860s-70s
Hand-coloured tintype
Collection of Lee Marks and John C. DePrez, Jr., Shelbyville, Indiana
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936) 'Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco' c. 1970

 

Elaine Mayes (American, born in 1936)
Group Portrait, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco
c. 1970
Elaine Mayes/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007) 'Twins at WDIA, Memphis' about 1948

 

Ernest C. Withers (American, 1922–2007)
Twins at WDIA, Memphis
about 1948
Gelatin silver print
Sophie M. Friedman Fund / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'She is a Tree of Life to Them' 1950

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
She is a Tree of Life to Them
1950
Gelatin silver print
Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund
Consuelo Kanaga/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ethel Shariff in Chicago' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ethel Shariff in Chicago
1963
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas in honor of Karen E. Haas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940) 'Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston' 1973

 

Roswell Angier (American, born in 1940)
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston
1973
Gelatin silver print
Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund, reproduced with permission / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947) 'Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California' 1989

 

Jock Sturges (American, born in 1947)
Misty Dawn and Alisa, Northern California
1989
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Elizabeth Lea
© Jock Sturges
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011) 'Felix and his Wife, Buffalo' 1992

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909–2011)
Felix and his Wife, Buffalo
1992
From the series Lower West Side Revisited
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Denise Jarvinen and Pierre Cremieux
© Milton Rogovin, Copyright 1952-2002 / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968) 'U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos "OJ" Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan' 2008

 

Louie Palu (Canadian, born in 1968)
U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31. Garmsir, Helmand, Afghanistan
2008
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated in honour of Linda and Alex Beavers
Louie Palu/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

And then there’s Louie Palu’s black and white portraits of Marines. These are some of the few single-person portraits among images of families or groups. Paired with a group photo, there is an initial sense of loneliness. But isolate the image and it’s a different story.

“In the military, you arrive alone and leave the military alone but live on a battlefield as part of a close group of people who will do everything to support you and are willing to risk their life to save yours,” he said. “When you are a soldier, your comrades can define a life-changing experience not a single member of your biological family will ever understand. When you come home, your mother, father, wife, brothers, sisters and children can never connect to that experience like your comrades can. When you are in a group, you are strong, and when you are alone, you are not.” (Text from the New York Times website)

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk' 1972

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Red Book: Tina Radziwill and Caroline Kennedy, Montauk
1972
Polaroid photograph
Sheet: 10.8 x 8.6 cm (4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937) 'Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995' 1995

 

Elsa Dorfman (American, born in 1937)
Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995
1995
Polaroid polacolor
Gift of Elsa Dorfman in memory of Dorothy Glaser
© Elsa Dorfman, 2013, all rights reserved / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953) 'Kevin' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, born in 1953)
Kevin
2005
From the series Class Pictures
Chromogenic print
Museum purchase with funds donated by the Friends of Photography and The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection
© Dawoud Bey
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Dawoud Bey (1953-) is a photographer known for his colour portraits of various subjects, perhaps most notably teenagers. This 2005 photograph is of a teen named Kevin and is from Bey’s series Class Pictures, which is a study of high school students across the country

 

Jess T. Dugan. 'Devotion' 2012

 

Jess T. Dugan
Devotion
2012
From the series Every Breath We Drew
Jess T. Dugan/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Jess T. Dugan

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972) 'Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts' 2012

 

Tanja Hollander (American, born in 1972)
Brittany Marcoux and Brian McGuire, Swansea, Massachusetts
2012
Inkjet print
Museum purchase with funds donated by James N. Krebs
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Tanja Hollander

 

 

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
To Majority Minority – Thuan
2014-15

 

 

The word immigrant conjures up families passing through Ellis Island or young men climbing across the southwest border fence. The United States of America of yesterday, filled with immigrants of European descent is giving way to a new multi-coloured and multicultural America. By 2050 “minority” populations in the U.S. will become the majority of the population. In this new multi-coloured America, we need to reframe our understanding of our newest immigrants in terms of their cultures, religions and stories.

In this project, I explore the generational transition from immigrant to native within families, starting with portrait photographs from these immigrant’s albums. These old photographs reflect where they have come from, revealing family histories and shared stories of immigration. The final portrait animation helps us empathise with these new Americans beyond the stereotype of the family at Ellis Island or the presumed terrorist.

 

 

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11
Apr
18

Vale Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)

April 2018

 

My god, what a loss.

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

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

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

From an earlier posting:

 

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

 

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

Marcus

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Paul Klee. Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] 1920

 

 

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

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Mr Wrestling' 1992

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Indian Brave' 2002

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Lost' 2005

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Hanging Rock 1900 #3' 2006

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Provider' 2009

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Mourner' 2012

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Polixeni Papaetrou. 'Scrub Man' 2012

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Immigrant' 2014

 

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

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Storyteller' 2014

 

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

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou website

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06
Dec
17

New work: ‘The Shape of Dreams’ 2013 – 2017 by Marcus Bunyan

December 2017

 

CLICK ON AND ENLARGE THE IMAGES BELOW TO SEE THE FULL SEQUENCE AND SPACING OF THE IMAGES

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017 (detail)

 

Marcus Bunyan
The Shape of Dreams 
(detail of sequence)
2013 – 2017
Digital photographs
42 images in the series
© Marcus Bunyan

 

The form of formlessness
The shape of dreams

 

 

A Christmas present to myself… my most complex and enigmatic sequence to date.

Shot in Japan, all of the images come from two 1950s photography albums, one of which has a large drawing of a USAF bomber on it’s cover. The images were almost lost they were so dirty, scratched and deteriorated. It has taken me four long years to scan, digitally clean and restore the images, heightening the colour already present in the original photographs.

Sometimes the work flowed, sometimes it was like pulling teeth. Many times I nearly gave up, asking myself why I was spending my life cleaning dirt and scratches from these images. The only answer is… that I wanted to use these images so that they told a different story.

Then to sequence the work in such a way that there is an enigmatic quality, a mystery in that narrative journey. Part auteur, part cinema – a poem to the uncertainty of human dreams.

Marcus

PLEASE GO TO MY WEBSITE TO SEE THE THUMBNAILS AND LARGER IMAGES

 

A selection of individual images from the sequence

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan
Untitled from the series The Shape of Dreams
2013 – 2017
Silver gelatin print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sequencing The Shape of Dreams 2013 – 2017

Sequencing The Shape of Dreams at a cafe table in Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria in July 2017 with my friend.

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

Marcus Bunyan. 'Sequenceing 'The Shape of Dreams' 2013 - 2017' 2017

 

Marcus Bunyan
Sequenceing ‘The Shape of Dreams’ 2013 – 2017
July 2017

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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29
Sep
17

Photographs: Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon

September 2017

 

More photographs from the artist Lionel Wendt.

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (Still life with mask and statue)' 1942

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Still life with mask and statue)
1942
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled' c. 1933-38

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
c. 1933-38
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled' c. 1933-38

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
c. 1933-38
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (Sea landscape)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Sea landscape)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'I Heard A Voice Wailing Where The Ships Went Sailing' c. 1935-40

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
I Heard A Voice Wailing Where The Ships Went Sailing
c. 1935-40
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (At the well)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (At the well)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (At the well)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (At the well)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (At the well)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (At the well)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (At the pottery)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (At the pottery)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel-Wendt. 'Untitled (Architecture surréaliste)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Architecture surréaliste)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (Buddha head and wine goblet)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Buddha head and wine goblet)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Gunaya Yakdessa Costume' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Gunaya Yakdessa Costume
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled' c. 1933-38

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Solarised woman)
c. 1933-38
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled' c. 1934-37

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Solarised nude)
c. 1934-37
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Solarised man in ocean)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'The Misery of Balanced Perplexities' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
The Misery of Balanced Perplexities
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Untitled (Canes)' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled (Canes)
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Untitled
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

Lionel Wendt. 'Narayanan' Nd

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Narayanan
Nd
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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18
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Joel-Peter Witkin – Photographs 1980-2016’ at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd – 25th August 2017

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Arms Broken By A Window, New Mexico' 1980

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Arms Broken By A Window, New Mexico
1980
Tirage argentique
64 x 64 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

“I think this whole conversation can be compressed into one thing. It’s that life is joyous and wonderful and it’s meant for us to grow as individuals, as citizens, as human beings and spirits. The terrible thing is that we have a choice and usually the negative choice is the easy way. That’s what we regret because we know we’ve harmed and we’re not meant to harm. We’re meant to heal and grow and share and if I had a knife at my neck or a gun to my head I’d say the same thing.”

.
Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

Magical momenti mori

This will be short and sweet because I on holiday in Europe.

It was a privilege to visit William Mora Galleries to see the first ever exhibition in Australia of the work of the renowned American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. To be able to spend time with these photographic constructions in such a tranquil space truly was a blessing.

While it is possible to read all sorts of influences into the work – running from Diane Arbus (masks) through Surrealism, collage and homages to still-life “Vanitas” style paintings from the 1600s, the ‘Storyville’ prostitue photos of E.J. Bellocq, carte-de-visite and the conversant arched form of the window cut-outs of Victorian photo albums, mythological themes, ars moriendi, post-mortem photography, et al – what makes Witkin’s photographs so unique is that they could only, ever, be the work of this artist. When you look at these beautiful photographs they bear his unmistakable signature.

Witkin is able to construct in a performative space placed before the lens, engaging narratives which often have an allusive mystery embedded in them. I for one do not pretend to understand all that is going on within the images in terms of their symbolism – but this is not necessary. What I can feel is the profound love and affection that the artist has towards his subjects and his craft. Witkin is not afraid: of life, of death, of ambiguities of sexuality, identity and disability, that confront each and every one of us throughout life. He is not afraid to make bold moves in his art, scratching into the surface of the negative, bleaching into the print, collaging over the top of the base print, never afraid of high key moments in the mise-en-scène, all to create the affect that he wants in order to tell the story. He directs his imagination through the presence and physicality of the final print.

Witkin’s allegories, his mediations on the universality of death as memento mori, or meme/n/to (a meme is an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another, as in the multiple rituals of death) mori, remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain are the glories of earthly life. His imaginative renditions posit this: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Anna and William Mora for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

 

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
‘Leda and the Swan’

 

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'The Great Masturbator And The Country He Rode In On, New Mexico' 2017

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
The Great Masturbator And The Country He Rode In On, New Mexico
2017
Tirage argentique
35 x 32 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

“Trump is a child living in a narcissistic hollow man – with the power to destroy the world…

Trump is not qualified to be President. His election to that office represents the ignorance of the American electorate and the corruption of our political representatives. Ours is not an intellectual culture in which thought and reason are unselfishly presented. It is a “Pop Culture” of materialistic escapism which has elected an autocratic, draft dodging, corrupt business man, who has made this country the laughing stock of the world.

The Great Masturbator And The Country He Rode In On took several months to create. The Trump model was willing to pose nude. In his right hand is the nuclear button. On his extended left arm is written: “The Only Conquest Left Is Ivanka.” On his right arm, he is wearing the symbol of Communism, the secret agenda Russia is promoting today under Putin. And for reasons yet unknown, all of us look forward to know why Trump is Putin’s marionette.

I made this photograph because I am involved in mankind. As a citizen of this formally great country, and as an artist, I made this photograph to help defeat the Republican party in the 2018 elections for its cowardice in putting their party ahead of their country. Where are our elected leaders, the Lincoln’s, the Kennedy’s of today? Where are our citizen’s hero’s, the César Chávez’s, the Martin Luther King’s, the Rosa Parks of today?

What ever happened to morality, courage and integrity?”

Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Installation photographs

 

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Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Joel-Peter Witkin - Photographs 1980-2016' at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Joel-Peter Witkin – Photographs 1980-2016 at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
© Dr Marcus Bunyan, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne and the artist

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Man With Dog, Mexico' 1990

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Man With Dog, Mexico
1990
Tirage argentique
95 x 72 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Self Portrait Reminiscent As A Self Portrait As A Vanity' 1995

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Self Portrait Reminiscent As A Self Portrait As A Vanity
1995
Tirage argentique
42 x 34 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Beauty Had Three Nipples' 1998

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Beauty Had Three Nipples
1998
Tirage argentique
55 x 63 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Monsieur Baguette As Orpheo' 2004

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Monsieur Baguette As Orpheo
2004
Tirage argentique
72 x 65 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

Orpheus is a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music, his attempt to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, and his death at the hands of those who could not hear his divine music. As an archetype of the inspired singer, Orpheus is one of the most significant figures in the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, portrayed or alluded to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting.

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Mother Of The Future' 2004

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Mother Of The Future
2004
Tirage argentique
67 x 76 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Ars Moriendi' 2007

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Ars Moriendi
2007
Tirage argentique
66 x 71 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

“It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking down the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries for help. The accident involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother’s hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it – but before I could touch it someone carried me away.” ~ Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Ars Moriendi

The Ars moriendi (“The Art of Dying”) are two related Latin texts dating from about 1415 and 1450 which offer advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death, explaining how to “die well” according to Christian precepts of the late Middle Ages. It was written within the historical context of the effects of the macabre horrors of the Black Death 60 years earlier and consequent social upheavals of the 15th century. It was very popular, translated into most West European languages, and was the first in a western literary tradition of guides to death and dying. There was originally a “long version” and a later “short version” containing eleven woodcut pictures as instructive images which could be easily explained and memorised. …

Ars moriendi consists of six chapters:

  1. The first chapter explains that dying has a good side, and serves to console the dying man that death is not something to be afraid of
  2. The second chapter outlines the five temptations that beset a dying man, and how to avoid them. These are lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice
  3. The third chapter lists the seven questions to ask a dying man, along with consolation available to him through the redemptive powers of Christ’s love
  4. The fourth chapter expresses the need to imitate Christ’s life
  5. The fifth chapter addresses the friends and family, outlining the general rules of behaviour at the deathbed
  6. The sixth chapter includes appropriate prayers to be said for a dying man

Allegorically the images depicted the contest between angels and demons over the fate of the dying man. In his dying agony his soul emerges from his mouth to be received by one of a band of angels. Common themes portrayed by illustrators include skeletons, the Last Judgement, corpses, and the forces of good and evil battling over souls. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Bad Student' 2007

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Bad Student
2007
Tirage argentique
86 x 70 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Myself As A Dead Clown' 2007

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Myself As A Dead Clown
2007
Tirage argentique
93 x 99 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'La Giovanissima' 2007

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
La Giovanissima
2007
Tirage argentique
87 x 76 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'The Scale, Bogota' 2008

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
The Scale, Bogota
2008
Tirage argentique
77 x 88 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

I was born and grew up with this sexual controversy enduring ridicule and insults and humiliations. My family took advantage of me for being joto. And I’m not to blame for being born so tired of so much reproach I left my house to study and fight against everything. I made my life and I’m happy. I hope you catch me sometime and to Saint Sebastian I thank that I left with the good of this operation that changed my life. Bogota 2008

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Model At The End Of Art School' 2009

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Model At The End Of Art School
2009
Tirage argentique
72 x 65 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

Beauty for some provides escape,
Who gain a happiness in eyeing
The gorgeous buttocks of the ape
Or Autumn sunsets exquisitely dying.

Julian Huxley (1887-1975)
‘Ninth Philosopher’s Song’ (1920)

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'The Paris Triad : Venus in Chains, Paris' 2010

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
The Paris Triad : Venus in Chains, Paris
2010
Tirage argentique
123 x 95 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'The Green Princess, Paris' 2011

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
The Green Princess, Paris
2011
Tirage argentique
82 x 73 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'A History Of The White World' 2011

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
A History Of The White World
2011
Tirage argentique
67 x 76 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Presenter Of The End Of Time Award' 2013

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Presenter Of The End Of Time Award
2013
Tirage argentique
113 x 103 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-) 'Imperfect Thirst' 2016

 

Joel-Peter Witkin (American, 1939-)
Imperfect Thirst
2016
Tirage argentique
67 x 54 cm
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon and William Mora Galleries
© Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

The symbolism of food and drink [in European painting 1400-1800] has roots in classical literature. Fruits, nuts, herbs, and grain are discussed in treatises on farming and natural history, and appear widely in mythology as attributes of gods and goddesses – grapes for Bacchus, god of wine; a sheaf of corn or wheat for Ceres, the grain goddess – and in metaphors for virtue and vice. Early religious writings such as the Bible and the Apocrypha, and Christian texts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance are also rich in this imagery, often borrowing from pagan symbolism and occasionally supplanting it. The pomegranate, for example, is depicted in mythological paintings as an attribute of Venus and a symbol of desire, fertility – because of its many seeds – and marriage, but appears as frequently in sacred images of the Virgin and Child. There are several legends of the pomegranate’s creation, contributing to its symbolic potency; according to one, it grew out of blood streaming from the wounded genitals of the lustful Acdestis. The pomegranate is perhaps best known, however, for its fateful role in the myth of Proserpina. Ovid tells in the Metamorphoses of Proserpina’s abduction by Pluto, ruler of the Underworld. Proserpina’s mother, Ceres, secured her release from Hades, but, before leaving Proserpina, ate the seeds from a pomegranate and, because she had consumed food in the Underworld, was compelled to spend part of every year there. Proserpina’s cyclical descent to Hades and rise to Earth was believed to bring about the changing of seasons, and the pomegranate was thus seen as a symbol of resurrection and immortality.

Jennifer Meagher. “Food and Drink in European Painting, 1400-1800,” on The Met website [Online] Cited 06/08/2017

 

 

William Mora Galleries
60 Tanner Street, Richmond
Victoria, Australia 3121

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 4pm

William Mora Galleries website

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01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

.
Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

.
Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

.
Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F,
Monash University Caulfield campus,
900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

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Saturday 12 – 5pm

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

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

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald “William Eggleston: Portraits”

 

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on The Guardian website

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on the Art News website

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle review on the Guardian website

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2 cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Text from the Art News website

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.” ~ Adrian Searle

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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