Posts Tagged ‘Intertexuality

12
Jan
13

Text: ‘Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale’ in IANN magazine Vol.8, ‘Unfound in Australia’, October 2012

January 2013

 

Jacqui Stockdale. 'Negro Returno, Long Gully' 2012

 

Jacqui Stockdale (Australian, b. 1968)
Negro Returno, Long Gully
2012
Type C Print
100 x 78cm

 

 

“What does it mean, to rediscover an unknown continent through the medium of photography in the 21st century? The seven artists that appear in this “Unfound in Australia” issue are well versed in the photographic technique and language familiar to modern art, yet show cultural distinctness that is nothing short of extraordinary. Our readers might experience a sense of shock or alienation from their work, which combines the new with the old. This kind of unsettling feeling may very well be an unconscious reaction to what we consider to be the ‘other.’ It is my hope that our readers will rediscover the power of photography as a chronological and visual language through these works of long under appreciated modern Australian photography.

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IANN magazine
Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia,” October 2012 ‘IANN Magazine’ website [Online] Cited 06/01/2013

 

 

My text that appears in IANN magazine Vol.8, “Unfound in Australia” (October 2012) on the art of Jacqui Stockdale is a reworking of the review of her exhibition Jacqui Stockdale: The Quiet Wild at Helen Gorie Galerie in April – May 2012. It is a good piece of writing but it is the “lite” version of the text that I wrote. Instead of the “heavy” version fragmenting away on some long forgotten backup hard drive, and for those of you that like a little more conceptual meat on the bone, it is published below.

Other artists featured in the Volume 8 edition of IANN magazine include Marian Drew, Henri Van Noordenburg, Justine Khamara, Magdalena Bors and Christian Thompson.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Orality, (n)framing and enactment in the art of Jacqui Stockdale

The concept of Orality is important in the art of Australian Jacqui Stockdale for her works are visual tone poems. Portraying identities in flux, her mythological creatures rise above the threshold of visibility to engage our relationship with time and space, to challenge the trace of experience.

Stockdale uses the body not as passive object but as descriptive and rhapsodic theme, the body as pliable flesh acting as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph, longing and desire. Drawing on personal places and stories, assemblage and performance (the process of painting the models and the outcome of this interaction), Stockdale creates a wonderful melange of archetypal characters that subvert traditional identities and narratives. Her creatures “shape-shift” and frustrate attempts at categorisation and assimilation.

The artist inverts cultural stereotypes (which embody elements of fixity, repetition, and ambivalence) located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary in order to dis/place the collective memory of viewers that have been inscribed with a stereotypical collective vernacular. In this process the work elides “fantasy” which Bhabha suggests plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power.1 In Stockdale’s upside-down world (quite appropriate for the “land down under”), “Each new identity is one of inversion; man becomes woman, child becomes adult, animals transform into humans and vice-versa.”2

An example of this inversion can be seen in her latest series of photographs, The Quiet Wild (2012). Here Stockdale unsettles traditional textual readings, the titles of her photographic portraits indecipherable to the uninitiated, a coded language of identity and place. Lagunta, Leeawuleena and Jaara for example, are three Aboriginal names meaning, respectively, Tasmanian Tiger, the name for the land around Cradle Mountain on that island and the name for the Long Gully region around Bendigo, Victoria (Stockdale’s native area); El Gato is the cat and Gondwanan the name for the southernmost of two supercontinents (the other being Laurasia) before the world split apart into the structure that we known today.

Stockdale’s performative tactics and multiple modes of address, her polyvocal subject if you like, may be said to be an effect of intertextuality3: “a conscious recognition and pursuit of an altogether different set of values and historical and cultural trajectories.”4 Undeniably her re-iterations and re-writings of cultural trajectories as ritual performative acts have links to Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque and the carnival paradigm, which accords to certain patterns of play where “the social hierarchies of everyday life… are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies.”5

It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic rather than information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.6

This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the meta-narrative, “and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”7 encourage escapism. Through the (n)framing of the body and the enactment of multiple selves Stockdale narrativises her mythological creatures, her charged bodies initiating new conditions of Otherness in the mise-en-scène of being. This is why her images are so powerful for her art approaches Otherness using a visual Orality and a theatrical openness that encourages disparate meanings to emerge into consciousness. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph – in the myth of origin; in something that can’t be explained by man; in the expression of meaning of the things that are beyond us.

Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

 

Footnotes

  1. “According to Bhabha, stereotypes are located within the realms of the fetish, the scopic, and the Imaginary. He suggests that fantasy plays a formative role in colonial exercises of power. Bhabha describes the mechanism of cultural stereotypes as embodying elements of fixity, repetition, fantasy, and ambivalence, and suggests that if certain types of images are constantly presented in a range of different contexts, they will become imprinted onto the collective memory of viewers and inscribed within a collective vernacular.”
    Vercoe, Caroline. Agency and Ambivalence: A Reading of Works by Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, p. 240.
  2. Stockdale, Jacqui. Artist statement 2012
  3. Intertextuality “is always an iteration which is also a re-iteration, a re-writing which foregrounds the trace of the various texts it both knowingly and unknowingly places and dis-places.” Intertexuality is how a text is constituted. It fragments singular readings. “The reader’s own previous readings, experiences and position within the cultural formation” also influences these re-inscriptions.”
    Keep, Christopher, McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. “Intertextuality,” on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 13/11/2011
  4. Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 227-228.
  5. Anon. “Carnivalesque,” on the Wikipedia website. [Online] Cited 13/05/2012
  6. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p. 119
  7. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan writings

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03
Apr
11

Review: ‘NETWORKS (cells & silos)’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield

Exhibition dates: 1st February – 16th April 2011

 

Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition 'NETWORKS (cells & silos)' at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan's 'Colony' (2005) in the foreground

 

Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition NETWORKS (cells & silos) at the newly opened Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan’s Colony (2005) in the foreground

 

 

This is a vibrant and eclectic exhibition at MUMA, one of the best this year in Melbourne. The curator Geraldine Barlow has gathered together some impressive, engaging works that are set off to good effect in the new gallery spaces. I spent a long and happy time wandering around the exhibition and came away visually satiated and intellectually stimulated.

The exhibition “explores the connections between artistic representation of networks; patterns and structures found in nature; and the rapidly evolving field of network science, communications and human relations.” (text from MUMA)

Networks connect – they describe (abstract) connections between people and things. Networks map simple or complex systems and can be real or an abstract representation of those systems. Networks form a nexus, “a sort of concentrated nodal point among a series of chains of markers” that reveals the centralising structure of networks (such as Facebook and Google). Robert Nelson in his review of this exhibition in The Age notes, “Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter [in their catalogue essay] describe the way networks paradoxically disorganise you, creating a disempowering messy grid of protocols that colonise your headspace … It’s commonplace to celebrate networks because they stimulate excitement about belonging, about extending your reach and joining in. These hopes are as pervasive as the networks themselves. But in structural terms, networks are also insidiously colonising and hierarchical, built on the principle of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming more dependent.”1

I believe that networks can also be altruistic and non-heirarchical, offering a horizontal consciousness rather than a vertical one: points of view and perspectives on the world that open up these (virtual) spaces to fluidity, mutation, transgression and subversion. Catherine Lumby observes that,

“The contradictory, constantly shifting nature of contemporary information and image flows tends to erode the moral authority of any social order, patriarchal or otherwise. It is this very collapse which has arguably fuelled social revolutions such as feminism and gay and lesbian rights, but which equally disrupts attempts by some to ground them in identity politics.”2

Critical to understanding the construction of these constantly shifting networks in contemporary society are the concepts of weaving and intertexuality. Intertextuality is the concept that texts do not live in isolation, “caught up as they are in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… Its unity is variable and relative (Foucault, 1973)3. In other words the network is decentred and multiple allowing the possibility of transgressive texts or the construction of a work of art through the techniques of assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari) – a form of fluid, associative networking that is now the general condition of art production.4

Infection of the network (by viruses for example) disrupts the pattern/randomness binary and may lead to mutations, ‘differance’ in Derrida’s terminology, spaces that are both fluid and fixed at one and the same time; neither here nor there.

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On to (some of) the work.

Masato Takasaka’s series of fibre-tipped pen and pencil on paper, Information Superhighway (2006-07), are wonderful, kaleidoscopic works – inventive and fun, full of rhizomic, multi-layered dimensionality. Nick Mangan’s mixed media sculpture Colony (2005, see photograph below) is a spiky, totemic, figurative creature made of axe, shovel and hammer handles and riddled with holes like driftwood that looks like a bizarre, Medieval torture instrument.

Bryan Spiers paintings Shadowmath and New descending (both 2010, see photograph below) are excellent, puzzle-like reinterpretations of delicate, Futuristic movements. As he describes them, “I think of my paintings as puzzles or visual toys. They are images to be manipulated by the viewer; reconfigured, recomposed, expanded upon. Trajectories of change are implied by repeated shapes and graded colour transitions. They describe a continuum to be followed to its logical conclusion outside of the picture plane. This leads to the dissolution of the image, proposing new images yet to be made.”

Heath Bunting’s 3 panel work from The Status project (all 2010) features interrelated data sets that reach a “level of absurdity in attempting to relate radically different but inter-related information.” This mind mapping schematic of connections (coloured connections with labels, markers and legends) based around Bristol, England has some unbelievable entries if you look really closely:

  • A1072 Able to provide natural person date of birth 2010
  • A1073 Able to access the Internet
  • A1003 A terrorist
  • A1047 Providing instruction or training in the use of imaginary firearms such as sticks
  • A1088 Providing training in leopard crawling

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Aaron Koblin’s beautiful video Flight patterns (2010) offers a mapping of thousands of plane journeys across the USA over time (based on East Coast time) so that the explosion of their frequency becomes like a fireworks display. Andrew McQualter’s fantastic acrylic paint wall drawings Three propositions, one example (2010-11), painted directly onto the gallery wall show various people, isolated from each other and from the viewer, talking and listening to their iPhones. As Robert Nelson comments, “They’re isolated individuals, all on their own plane, presumably doing social networking or communicating. If you walked past them, they wouldn’t respond because, with heads bowed, they’re absorbed in another reality. Their hands and minds are busy with a reality elsewhere.”

Present but not present, (not) here and there at the same time. This is a critical debate in contemporary culture: do these type of networks lessen our ability to build friendships and connections in the real world or are they just another element in our rhizomic network of associations that help with our interconnectivity: utopian or dystopian or equal measure of both? Does it really matter?

From the UK Kit Wise’s large digital print on aluminium series (including KTM SEA MOW RUH 2010, see below) are effective, offering solarised, negative, brightly coloured collages of seemingly atomised cities (the titles refer to the cities airport abbreviation codes). Mass Ornament (2009) by American artist Natalie Bookchin is one of my favourite works in the exhibition. In a horizontal panel of wall mounted screens play videos of people dancing in their bedroom. Bookchin has gleaned these gems from uploaded personal videos on YouTube – there are handstands, contortions, tap dancing, all manner of performances (some then deleted by the performer) – then collated by the artist and set to a Broadway-type music number. Mesmeric and amazing!

Koji Ryui’s spatial constructions Extended network towards the happy end of the universe (2007-11, see photograph below) are made of bendy, plastic drinking straws of different colours, encased and moulded into cellular shapes (reminding me of the white of the Melbourne Recital Centre exterior). Trailing off these structures in different colours are airborne-like filaments similar to the plant Old Man’s Beard. “Ryui repeats and arranges these objects in space to create peculiar environments and accidental narratives. In his installations, relationships or spaces between objects are equally as important as the objects themselves.” Wonderful.

Last but not least my favourite work in the exhibition: heart of the air you can hear by Sandra Selig (2011, see photographs below). The photographs do not do the work justice. Made simply from spun polyester, nails and paint this Spirograph-like construction is beautiful in its resonance and colour, captivating in its complexity. Built into a corner of the gallery the work floats at eye level, twists and turns and changes intensity of colour when viewed from different angles. From the front it looks like a spaceship out of Star Wars woven by light!

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There are many other excellent works in the exhibition that I have not mentioned. Some of the work disrupts the continual reiteration of norms by weaving a lack of fixity into the network’s existence. Other work visually makes comment on and reinforces the structure of such networks. Whichever it is this is a truly engaging exhibition that no single body, let alone a networked one, should miss.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Nelson, Robert. “Networks, Cells and Silos” review in The Age newspaper. Melbourne: Fairfax Media, 23/02/2011 [Online] Cited 23/03/2011
  2. Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, pp. 14-15
  3. Foucault, Michel cited in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 01/04/2011 no longer available online
  4. “To understand the production of art at the end of tradition, which in our lifetime means art at the end of modernism, requires, as the postmodern debate has shown, a careful consideration of the idea of history and the notion of ending. Rather than just thinking ending as the arrival of the finality of a fixed chronological moment, it can also be thought as a slow and indecisive process of internal decomposition that leaves in place numerous deposits of us, in us and with us – all with a considerable and complex afterlife. In this context all figuration is prefigured. This is to say that the design element of the production of a work of art, the compositional, now exists prior to the management of form of, and on, the picture plane. Techniques of assemblage, like montage and collage – which not only juxtaposed different aesthetics but also different historical moments, were the precursors of what is now the general condition of production.”Fry, Tony. “Art Byting the Dust,” in Hayward, Phillip. Culture, Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century. London: John Libbey and Company, 1990, pp. 169-170

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Many thankx to Monash University Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Kerrie Poliness. 'Blue Wall Drawing #1' 2007-11

 

Kerrie Poliness
Blue Wall Drawing #1
2007-11

 

Hilarie Mais. 'The waiting - anon' 1986

 

Hilarie Mais
The waiting – anon
1986

 

 

An interview with the curator: Geraldine Barlow

Where did your interest in networks come from?

I’ve long been fascinated by network maps of human relationships – the graphical representation of something seemingly so complex and multi-layered. The structure of the brain and how this relates to theories of mind is also an area of personal interest. Our society, bodies and relationships are all made up of different kinds of networks, and artists have long been interested in mapping out these structures. I realised some time ago that the visual representation of networks might make for an interesting exhibition, from this point on I collected and ‘tested’ different ideas of what the exhibition might include.

How is this explored in the exhibition?

Human relationships feature in some of the works in the exhibition, but not all. I hope the exhibition offers a wide variety of links between people’s familiar world and daily experiences on the one hand, and more abstract ideas on the other.

There are a number of works from the Monash University Collection included in the exhibition. Can you tell us about these and why you selected them?

The Monash University Collection is a great source of inspiration, it is a wonderful collection, but also, I think any artwork considered closely and over time opens up in surprising ways and offers unexpected insights, working with the works in the collection over a period of years allows me to think about them in a long and slow way.

Dorothy Braund’s work Christ with the disciples listening 1966 was given to the University in 1974. It is a very beautiful formal painting of a series of shaded circles and ellipses. At first glance it is simple and seems to represent a ring of figures, their heads and bodies gathered together. On closer examination it is not so clear where one figure ends and another begins, as a whole the clustered forms seem to operate more like a cell. Historically this cell of men and the ideas attributed to them has had a profound impact, in their day they might have been seen as a kind of terrorist cell.

Through the sensitive composition and balance of abstract form, the artist has created a complex representation of the relationships between people: the ways in which we are both connected to each other, and yet might also circulate ideas in a tight ‘Chinese whispers’ type circle. This work was painted in 1966, long before our current awareness of social and telecommunications networks, but it can still offer us insights in our contemporary world and the way we relate to each other.

How did the new gallery space affect the installation of the exhibition?

The exhibition was slowly forming in my mind, even as Kerstin Thompson’s wonderful gallery space was being designed and built. The gallery has offered a wonderful armature and character for the exhibition to work with, hopefully in the manner of a conversation. Kerstin was been very interested in understand and reflecting the essential structure of the building, not building over what was pre-existing. The exhibition like-wise has an interest in structural models, geometries and patterns – in finding a balance between the regular and the slightly warped. In the central corridor which runs down the spine of the gallery, Thompson has chosen to leave the mechanical services exposed, to allow the essential structure of the building to be a form of ornament. Many of the artists in the exhibition also have an interest in the relationship between structure and ornament.

 

Sandra Selig. 'heart of the air you can hear' 2011

 

Sandra Selig
heart of the air you can hear
2011

 

Sandra Selig. 'heart of the air you can hear' 2011 (detail)

 

Sandra Selig
heart of the air you can hear (detail)
2011

 

Koji Ryui. 'Extended network towards the happy end of the universe' 2007-11

 

Koji Ryui
Extended network towards the happy end of the universe
2007-11

 

 

The connections between artistic representations of networks and the rapidly evolving field of network science are the subject of the latest exhibition at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA).

Presenting the work of Australian and international artists, NETWORKS (cells & silos) reflects the organising principles and dynamics of our increasingly networked society, and related patterns found in organic, social and engineered forms.

MUMA’s Senior Curator, Geraldine Barlow conceived and developed the exhibition as a way of continuing the dialogue about the role and effect of different networks in society.

“Art and aesthetics are often treated as very separate enclaves from science, physics and mathematics,” Barlow says. “But art offers us a way to re- contextualise our associations and interactions with the networks around us and look at the effect they have on us. I hope the exhibition will prompt people to think about the networks in their lives and how they mould and shape us.”

A key inspiration for the exhibition was Annamaria Tallas’ documentary, How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer, which features the work of network scientist Albert-László Barabási.

“The documentary explores the thesis that all networks – both natural and man-made – conform to a similar mathematical formula, with the same patterns emerging over and again,” Barlow said.

The artworks featured in NETWORKS (cells & silos) explore networks as diverse as those found in urban planning and cities, biology, organisations, travel and of course social networks, as well as the dual qualities of hyper-connectedness and isolation that technology has heightened in modern life.

Extending the dialogue about the possibilities of networks is of great interest to MUMA Director, Max Delany, particularly in the university context.

“Within a university we have a vast array of specialist disciplines – science, technology, humanities – all having conversations about how the world is and where we want to be heading,” Delany says. “Often these conversations are held in isolation from each other, but considered together, and from the standpoint of artists, the possibilities of collaborative networks become very exciting.”

This collaboration can be seen in Kerrie Poliness’ work Blue Wall Drawing #1 (2007/2011). Students from Monash University have created the piece, following the formal and conceptual guidelines set out by the artist. Each version of Poliness’ work creates unique patterns and networks as the collaborative team choose how to implement the drawing rules which are structured to allow a different outcome in each space where they are applied.

The exhibition’s accompanying publication contains essays from curator Geraldine Barlow, network and social theorists Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, and science documentary filmmaker Annamaria Tallas, all exploring the exhibition’s theme. Digital and hard copies are available on request.

Press release from the Monash University Museum of Art

 

Bryan Spier. 'Shadowmath' 2010 (and) 'New descending' 2010

 

Bryan Spier
Shadowmath and New descending
both 2010

 

Kit Wise. 'KTM SEA MOW RUH' 2010

 

Kit Wise
KTM SEA MOW RUH
2010
Digital photograph

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday 12 – 5 pm

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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20
Mar
09

Review: ‘Order and disorder: archives and photography’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2008 – 19th April 2009

 

 Patrick Pound. 'Writing in a library' 1996

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander 1962-, worked in Australia 1989- )
Writing in a library
1996
Photocopies, oil stick, card
169.4 x 127.2 cm (image); 180.2 x 137.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Patrick Pound  

 

 

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

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T.S. Eliot

 

 

An interesting exhibition is presented in the permanent third floor photography gallery at NGV International, Melbourne on a subject that deserved a much more rigorous investigation than could been undertaken in this small gallery space. Presenting single works by Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Patrick Pound, Robert Rooney, Simon Obarzanek, Penelope Davis, Candid Hofer, Linda Judge and Charles Green and Lyndell Brown the works seek to investigate the nature of the relationship between photography and the archive, between the semi-permanences of an archival memory and the spaces of a transgressive intertexuality marked by fragmentary, ironic counter-performances.

As noted in the catalogue essay by NGV curator Maggie Finch the archive is a place for holding knowledge that contains elements of truth and error, order and disorder; archives are able to shape history and memory, depending on how, when and by whom the records are accessed. Any disruption of order, governance and authority can lead to alternative readings and interpretations as the arcane ‘mysteries’ of the methods of classification are overturned. Since Victorian times when the body came under the self-surveillance of the camera and was found wanting, photographs have documented the faces of criminals, the physiognomy of degeneration and the fever of war.

As Yiannis Papatheodorou has observed when reviewing Jacques Derrida Mal d’Archive

“Derrida declares that since the dominant power of the archive derives from the economy of knowledge, it also provides the institutional responsibility of the interpretation. The localisation of the information transforms the inscription, provided by the function of the archive, into the impression of a memory’s trace, conscious or unconscious …

The preservation of memory, the access to information, the “resources” of the sources and the working environment are not just the representation of a future memory. They are active practices and discourses that create hierarchies and exclusions. The archives are the languages of the past, activated however dialogically, according to scientific and social demands. The content of our choice is marked by the way we are seeking information. Far from being an abstract principle, our choice is an ideologically oriented negotiation closely related to the politics of interpretation.”1

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An there’s the rub. Not only is this exhibition a reordering of an unpublished memory (for that is what an archive is, a unique unpublished memory), it is also a reiteration of the authority of the gallery itself, the
“institutional responsibility of the interpretation.”
2 Deciding what was in this exhibition and what to leave out creates hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion – and in this case the inclusions are mainly ‘safe’ works, ones that challenge the ontology of existence, the cataloguing of reality in a slightly ironic way but oh – nothing too shocking! nothing too disordered! Nothing here then of the archive of images that substantiate the horrors of war, the trans/disfiguration of men in both World Wars for example. There are few images to haunt us, none to refresh our memories in a problematic way.

The more successful pieces, the works that challenge the order of the archive (“what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way”)3, are the ones by Ed Ruscha, Penelope Davis and Simon Obarzaneck (all below).

Ruscha’s vertical inverted cityscape is trapped in a display cabinet opened out on the horizontal plane in concertina format, like one of those optical illusion images in which you see an image looking from one direction and a different image from the other direction. Ruscha’s personal experience of driving down Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and his anthropological recording of the urban experience has been disseminated in a mass produced ‘artists’ book. No unique unpublished archive here. Beneath the facades of the shops other narratives emerge – images are stitched together, cars chopped off, people dismembered – all in a very linear, conceptual way; a journey from one point to another, one that is both subjective (the voice  and hand of the author) and objective (the en masse production of the book).

As Chris Balaschak has noted, “The images, taken during the day, capture only the facades of the buildings. Ignorance is given to cars or people, both of which are often cut in half between separate exposures. The imperfections of matching the facades are cracks along Ruscha’s drive. Through these cracks we find Ruscha, not such an anonymous author after all. Splitting cars in two, and mismatching facades we become keenly aware of the passage of time. The facades of buildings may appear as stage sets but they are active points on other itineraries, anticipating future and past narratives.”4

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This is Ruscha’s trace through the city but also our intersection with his journey, our chance to make our own itineraries as Balaschak (in his insightful writing) rightly points out. The fragmentary dismembering becomes the space between, the disorder of the linear into a heterotopic space of remembering. We the viewer create our own narrative, flitting through the cracks in the archive of memory, the photographer, the author of our own journey.

Penelope Davis photograms are luminous objects. She makes resin casts of the spine of discarded books and places the casts directly onto photographic paper and then exposes them to light. The books glow and hover in the blackness, the words on the spine reversed. Stripped of their context, of their memory, they become ethereal books, phantom texts, liminal images that hover between what is known and what is imagined. As Davis has said, Most people assume that when they look at a photo that they are looking at the thing photographed – but they are not. They are looking at a photo. Books and photographic images and archives are enigmatic – you can’t be sure of a singular definition or meaning.”

Davis is ‘messing around’ with the idea of veracity, the truth of photography and the ordering of the archive of our mind through the images we collate. We seek to grasp the original memory of an event, of the reading and ordering of our life through images and none is available to us, for as Foucault has observed memories are only ever fragmentary and distorted representations, partial truths a best. Like Jorge Luis Borges’ journey into the infinite universe of The Library of Babel, for Foucault the psyche is not an archive but a mirror, like the shining silver foil surface of the cover of the Ed Ruscha book:

“The search for the self is a journey into a mental labyrinth that takes random courses and ultimately ends at impasses. The memory fragments recovered along the way cannot provide us with a basis for interpreting the overall meaning of the journey. The meanings that we derive from our memories are only partial truths, and their value is ephemeral. For Foucault, the psyche is not an archive but only a mirror. To search the psyche for the truth about ourselves is a futile task because the psyche can only reflect the images we have conjured up to describe ourselves. Looking into the psyche, therefore, is like looking into the mirror image of a mirror. One sees oneself reflected in an image of infinite regress. Our gaze is led not toward the substance of our beginnings but rather into the meaninglessness of previously discarded images of the self.”5

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This leads us nicely onto the images of Simon Obarzanek.

In a fantastic series of photographs, the only ones of this exhibition that seemed to haunt me (as Susan Sontag says images do), Obarzanek photographs people in an ordered, almost scientific, manner. Photographed face on against a non-contextual background using a low depth of field, these repetitive, collective, unnamed people remind me of the images of Galton. But here the uniformity is overwhelmed by quirky differences – the placement of eyes and lips seem large offering a strange, surreal physiognomy. These images resonate, the challenge, they remain with you, they question the order of things as no other photograph in this exhibition does. From simplicity comes eloquence.

To finish I must address the elephant in the room, in fact two elephants!

There is not one digital photograph contained in the exhibition, the work being collage, Type C colour or black and white silver gelatin prints. There is no mention in the catalogue of the crisis of cultural memory that is now permeating our world. Some believe the ever expanding digital archive, the Internet, threatens our lived memories “amidst the process of the ‘digitisation of culture’ and the new possibilities of storing.”6 This vision entails the fear of loosing cultural contents, hitting the delete button so that  memory passes into forgetting. This is a vision to which I do not subscribe, but the issue needed to be addressed in this exhibition: how are digital technologies altering our re-assemblance of memory, altering photography’s ability inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images? What about the aura of the original or was there never such a thing?

Furthermore, it would seem that with photographs becoming less and less a fixed essence; with the meaning of the photograph more and more divorced from its referent; with the spectators look the key to reading photographs; and the performance of the photograph a cut and paste reality… then perhaps we are left not with the two polar opposites of order and disorder but some orthogonal spaces in-between.

The second elephant in the room in the gallery space itself.

Whilst the curators of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria do an amazing job running large exhibitions such as the Andreas Gursky and Rennie Ellis shows that have starred this year, the NGV ‘International’ is shooting itself in the foot with the current permanent photography gallery space. Small, jaded and dour it seems an addendum to other larger spaces in the gallery and to be honest photography and Melbourne deserves better. Personally I feel more alive in the fashion gallery that is on the floor below and that, for an photographer, is a hard thing to say.

As the theme for this exhibition deserved a greater in depth investigation so the gallery needs to expand it’s horizons and give the permanent photography gallery a redesign and overhaul. Where is the life and passion of contemporary photography displayed in a small space for all to see in a gallery that sees itself as ‘International’? In an occularcentric world the key word is intertexuality: the gallery space should reflect the electri-city, the mixing of a gallery design ethos with images to surround us in a space that makes us passionate about contemporary photography. Now that would really be a new order of things!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

  1. Papatheodorou, Yiannis. History in the promised land of memory. Review of  Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris, Éd. Galilée, 1995 [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009 (no longer available online)
  2. The archive is understood as collective reservoir of knowledge fulfilling diverse functions and conditioned by three main factors: conservation, selection and accessibility. How are contents stored and which media are used to conserve them? What is selected for storage and what is decided to be cleared out and thus forgotten? Who decides what is archived and who has access to the resources? All these questions paint the archive as a political space where relations of power cross aspects of culture and collective identity.”
    Assmann, A. (2003) Erinnerungsräume, Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnis. [Memory Spaces, Forms and Transformations of Cultural Memory] Special paperback editon, 1st edition publ. 1999, München: Beck, p. 343-346
  3. Derrida, Jacques. (1996) Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression. Transl. by E. Prenowitz, p. 18 orig. publ. as Mal d’Archive: une impression freudienne in 1995, Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press
  4. Balaschak, Chris. Itineraries [part 3] [Online] Cited on 20th March 2009 (no longer available online)
  5. Hutton, Patrick. “Foucault, Freud, and the Technologies of the Self,” in Martin, Luther and Gutman, Huck and Hutton, Patrick (eds.,). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock Publications, 1988, p. 139
  6. Featherstone, M. (2000) “Archiving Cultures,” in British Journal of Sociology, 51(1), pp. 161-184

 

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

Ed Ruscha. 'Every Building on Sunset Strip' 1966

 

Ed Ruscha (American, 1937- )
Every building on the Sunset Strip
1966
Artist book: photo-offset lithographs, letterpress, concertina, cardboard cover, silver-coated plastic-covered slipcase, 1st edition
17.8 x 760.7 cm (open); 17.8 x 14.4 x 0.8 cm (closed); 18.6 x 14.6 x 1.4 cm (slipcase)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Ed Ruscha, courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

 

Penelope Davis. 'Shelf' 2008

 

Penelope Davis (Australian 1963- )
Shelf
2008
From the Fiction-Non-Fiction series 2007-08
Type C photograph
90.0 x 70.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008

 

 

“Archives contain elements of truth and error, order and disorder and are infinitely fascinating. As both collections of records and repositories of data, archives are able to shape history and memory depending on how, when and by whom the materials are accessed. Their vastness allows for multiple readings to be unravelled over time.

Photography is naturally associated with archives because of its inherent ability to record, store and organise visual images. With this in mind, this exhibition brings together artists drawn largely from the permanent collection of the NGV who explore the idea of archives as complex, living and occasionally mysterious systems of knowledge. Several of the selected artists act as archivists, collecting and ordering their own unique bodies of photographs, while others create disorder by critiquing the ideas and systems of archives.”

Text from the NGV International website [Online] Cited 18/03/2009 (no longer available online)

 

Simon Obarzanek. '6 faces from 123 faces' (2000–02)

 

Simon Obarzanek (Israeli/Australian 1968-, worked in United States 1995-2001)
6 faces from 123 faces
2000-02
Gelatin silver photographs
(a) 33.1 x 25.4 cm; (b) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (c) 33.2 x 25.3 cm; (d) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (e) 33.4 x 25.4 cm; (f) 33.4 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003 (2003.86.a-f)
© Simon Obarzanek

 

Simon Obarzanek (Israeli/Australian 1968-, worked in United States 1995-2001) 'Box Hill girl' 2000-2002

 

Simon Obarzanek (Israeli/Australian 1968-, worked in United States 1995-2001)
Box Hill girl
2000-2002
Gelatin silver photograph
33.4 × 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 Simon Obarzanek (Israeli/Australian 1968-, worked in United States 1995-2001) 'Boy with eyes' 2000-2002

 

Simon Obarzanek (Israeli/Australian 1968-, worked in United States 1995-2001)
Boy with eyes
2000-2002
Gelatin silver photograph
33.4 × 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2003
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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