Posts Tagged ‘Juliana Engberg

01
Mar
13

Review: ‘Louise Bourgeois: Late Works’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th November 2012 – 11th March 2013

Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists
13 October 2012 – 14 April 2013

 

 

'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

 

“What counts, our whole purpose, is to try to understand what we are about, to scrutinise ourselves… Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.
”

“The fears of the past were connected with the functions of the body, they reappear through the body. For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.”

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Louise Bourgeois

 

“What images can art find for depicting femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eye-line of another gender?” Hughes questioned in a commentary that implied no precedents. “… [Her] influence on young artists has been enormous.”

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Robert Hughes quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online

 

“Yes, there are the oft-told stories of the father and the mistress, but it is Bourgeois’s intense love of her mother and her [mother’s] death that completely transformed her life… The art ultimately became about her never-ending grief… and her continuing desire  as a woman. It’s still so potent; not just as a memory, but as a constant.”

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Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO of Heide quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online

 

 

Tough Love

This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body. As the quotation above by Bourgeois states, her body became her sculpture.

I am no expert on the work of the artist. But what I will try and enunciate are my feelings when viewing the exhibition. Firstly, I thought the drawings by Louise Bourgeois in Heide II were the most magical thing that I saw all day; they seemed to be the well spring of her creativity, the initial thought sketched quickly and imperiously. Secondly, series such as Dawn (2007, below) and The Waiting Hours (2007), assemblages of cut fragments of her dresses and other textiles used to create spiral three-dimensional realities, were the most beautiful, peaceful Zen based works in the exhibition possessing as they did a calm, resolved, mandala-like presence. Lastly, the main group of sculptures were, for me, hard to look at. A series of severed heads, dismembered bodies, tapestry fragments, spiders, bones, an orrery-like planetarium, pendulous objects stuck with needles, kitchen implements and the house brought back memories of my own childhood.

I was born in the late 1950’s to a mother who didn’t really want to have children, to a mother who was already being beaten up by an abusive husband before she was even married, who lived on a remote, isolated farm in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine what my mother went through in those early years raising two children – with no hope of help or escape, with no women’s refuge to flee to, stuck there doing her best to protect her children and herself from a violent, mentally ill man. You cannot imagine the torment I went through for the first 18 years of my life, trying to protect my mother when I was old enough, creating my own worlds to escape the reality of the present (which is why I probably became an artist, to still create my own worlds). There were good times at Christmas and bonfire night, but the best part was growing up on the land, learning the rhythms of nature, learning to drive on a tractor and combine harvester, but always in the back of your mind was the instant of abuse lurking around the corner, the inherent violence of life. It is only now, as I have grown older, that I can truly appreciate the dire predicament that my mother was in and acknowledge a profound sense of gratitude towards her protection of me as a baby and child.

That is why this exhibition is, for me, tough love. The emotions of Bourgeois’ sculptures are close to the bone. As Jason Smith observes, “Bourgeois saw her mother as rational, patient and stoic in her nurturing, in contrast to the temperament of her father whom she regarded as irrationally emotional, unreasonable and capable of psychological cruelty. Bourgeois became aware at an early age that she was living in a time and social environment in which women and their identities were subordinate to men.”As Bourgeois says of the spider (her mother), “she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.” This is what my mother did as well, at great cost to herself.

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to curator and Director Jason Smith and Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

 

“The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.”

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Louise Bourgeois, from Ode to my Mother, 1995

 

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Spider' 1997 (detail)

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Spider (detail)
1997
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, bone
449.6 × 665.5 × 518.2cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Dawn' 2007 (detail)

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Dawn (detail)
2007
Fabric book, 12 pages
12 1/4 x 9 3/4 inches each

 

 

Around 1996, aged 85, Bourgeois began to mine her closets for the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime, and use them to make sculpture and ‘fabric drawings’, continuing her lifelong recall and articulations of familial dysfunction, desire and fear, anger and remorse, isolation and connectedness. In the recycling and reconstruction of her clothing and collected textiles Bourgeois intensified her work’s expression of the human body and of life’s episodes (those as daughter, wife, mother, woman, artist). The materiality of these works testifies to the impression of Bourgeois’ past on her psyche and on reparative acts of making through which her past was reconciled in her present. The beauty of the past for Bourgeois resided in the nurturing, repairing, fortifying and protective tendencies of her mother, which she aligned with the processes of stitching and assembling.

Blue Days (1996) is one of a number of works in which Bourgeois suspended, stuffed and shaped her dresses and shirts, sometimes adding abstract sculptural elements like the red glass sphere that operates here like a nucleus around which the new sculptural bodies circulate. With its intimate relation to the skin and contours of the body, to time and seasons, clothing was used for its power to summon memory: ‘You can retell your life … by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like the weather, the ocean, changing all the time.’

In other works Bourgeois’ fragmented figures and anatomical parts give physical form to anxieties rising from unfulfilled desire, acts of betrayal, losses or thwarted communication. Couple IV embodies the dark confusion of the child happening upon the sexual embrace of the adults. The copulating, decapitated lovers appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ and signal Bourgeois’ fraught obsession not only with the infidelities of her father, but also with sex itself. For Bourgeois there is ‘a fatal attraction not towards one or the other, but to the phenomena of copulation … I am exasperated by the vision of the copulating couple, and it makes me so furious … that I chop their heads [off]. This is it … I turn violent. The sewing is a defence. I am so afraid of the things I might do. The defence is to do the opposite of what you want to do.’

Louise Bourgeois’ practice was an elaborate articulation of an existence in which the sculpting world and the living world were one. Her late works summoned the past and confronted the present, and the passage of time, by using the very garments in which the experiences of her life, loves and longings resided.

Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO, Heide Museum of Modern Art. “Louise Bourgeois,” on The Melbourne Review website, November 2012 [Online] Cited 26/02/2013 no longer available online

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Blue Days' 1996

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Blue Days
1996
cloth, steel, glass
292.1 × 205.7 × 241.3cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison
2001
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison (detail)
2001
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Note that Femme Maison and other artworks are encased in ‘cells’. In one sense, the cell encases and protects the artwork; however, Louise Bourgeois’ intention was to use the cell also as a way of containing the memory held within the work.

The hybrid form of Femme Maison – with its dual translations to ‘woman house’ or housewife – appeared in drawings, paintings and sculpture, and in degrees of abstraction and figuration, from the mid 1940s onwards. In this key late work the textured fabric affirms the central relationship of woman with the domestic space. Stories of the house and the home defined Bourgeois’ identity. The architectural house and its contents – especially the table, bed and chair – and the familial home and its occupants, were the structures that shaped Bourgeois’ unstable sense of self, and her relationships with others. This work plays on the house literally growing out of the woman’s body (the nurturing mother) or, conversely, pinning her dismembered body to the ground, registering the paralysing power of fear, and recalling a painful childhood.

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Knife Figure' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Knife Figure
2002
fabric, steel, wood
22.2 × 76.2 × 19.1cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Couple IV' 1997

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Couple IV
1997
fabric, leather, stainless steel, plastic
50.8 × 165.1 × 77.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Untitled
2002
Tapestry, aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY.

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Cinq' 2007

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Cinq
2007
fabric, stainless steel
61 × 35.6 × 35.6cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art is proud to present two major exhibitions featuring the work of Louise Bourgeois. The first, Louise Bourgeois: Late Works includes over twenty, key works direct from the late artist’s studio in New York. The second exhibition, Louise Bourgeois and Australian Artists presents a selection of works by contemporary Australian artists who have been inspired by Bourgeois alongside prints and drawings from her vast graphic oeuvre. Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was one of the most inventive, provocative and influential artists of the twentieth century. Although her work has been exhibited extensively overseas, it has rarely been seen in Australia, and only once in significant depth, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1995 in an exhibition curated by then NGV curator Jason Smith. Louise Bourgeois: Late Works focuses on Bourgeois’s use of fabric in sculpture and what she termed ‘fabric drawings’. A preoccupation with memory and time, human relationships, fear and its annihilation, sexuality and the erotic body, are all emphases of Bourgeois’ final works.

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works is the first exhibition in Australia to survey the work of this profoundly important artist since her death in 2010 and has been curated by Jason Smith, now Heide Director & CEO – in close collaboration with the Bourgeois studio, New York – as a follow up to the 1995 exhibition at the NGV. Focusing on the final fifteen years of Bourgeois’ career, the exhibition examines the use of fabric in her works, and includes 18 sculptures, two suites of ‘fabric drawings’, watercolours, embroidered texts and lithographs never before seen in Australia. In the fabric works the processes of deconstructing and reconstructing, are applied to the contents of Bourgeois’ closets. The recycling of her garments, collected textiles and tapestry fragments intensifies her work’s expression of self-portraiture, and the profound personal experiences that defined her life and art.

Fabric was important to Louise Bourgeois, who grew up in her parents’ tapestry making business. In 1996, in her mid-eighties, Bourgeois began to transform the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime into sculptures and ‘fabric drawings’. For her, sewing was an act of healing or reparation, linked to memories of her mother who ‘would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or a petit point’, an image of calm amid more distressing family dynamics.

Central to the exhibition is Spider, 1997 one of the Bourgeois’ Cells sculptures which is dominated, enclosed and protected by a gargantuan spider – a recurring and powerful motif in the artist’s work. Bourgeois created her spider sculptures partly in tribute to her mother, saying: ‘Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. Spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother’. The female body and female subjectivity are concentrations in the exhibition.

The familial, biographical stories that provided life-long fuel for Bourgeois’ art are well known: her parents’ tapestry workshop in which she learnt the value of art as a form of reparation; her father’s public infidelity; her mother’s betrayal and early death; her complex sense of abandonment; her constant analysis of self; her belief in art a form of exorcism and as a potential reconciliation with the past.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the haunting Couple IV 1997, depicting a pair of copulating, and decapitated, lovers. The embracing figures are cast in the black of mourning, and appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ in the vitrine. The work signals Bourgeois’ fraught obsession with the past, the infidelities of her father, and with sex itself.

Surrealism and pathos combine in Bourgeois’ smaller, intimate works like Knife figure 2002 and Untitled 2002. Here we see a dark side of the domestic with the knife and the whisk looming threateningly large in relation to the prone, dismembered bodies. In their colouration and homely material qualities they inspire tenderness and protection, yet as with so many of Bourgeois’ bodies, each remains cut off from the world and isolated to deal with its fate.”

Press release from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

 

Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists

This exhibition looks at relationships, both real and imagined, between the art of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and that of ten Australian artists, in the rare context of a solo Bourgeois exhibition at Heide. Some pay direct homage to Bourgeois’ work or consider similar themes, while the connection of others registers more instinctually, on the level of a shared psychological intensity. Many of the works are rooted in memory and emotion, with a core that remains indecipherable – they do not illustrate or explain.

Forged regardless of fashion or fortune, Bourgeois’ oeuvre gave several artists in this exhibition the impetus to use personal subject matter as a creative source in the late 1980s and 1990s, an era when a cool, detached conceptualism dominated. Many share Bourgeois’ subjective focus and use the human body as a vehicle for self-expression, while for others her work’s formal precision and constant reinvention inspire. All respond to the exemplary fusion in Bourgeois’ art between inner compulsion and formal discipline, instinct and intelligence.

The Australian artists are Del Kathryn Barton, Pat Brassington, Janet Burchill, Carolyn Eskdale, Brent Harris, Joy Hester, Kate Just, Patricia Piccinini, Heather B. Swann.

Statement from the from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

 

Janet Burchill. 'Following the Blind Leading the Blind' 1997

 

Janet Burchill (Australian, b. 1955)
Following the Blind Leading the Blind
1997
Synthetic polymer and enamel paint on wood
144.6 × 142.6 × 29.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased 1999

 

 

“The grid is a very peaceful thing, because nothing can go wrong … everything is complete. There is no room for anxiety … everything has a place. Everything is welcome.”

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Louise Bourgeois

 

I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’ work for the first time about fifteen years ago in Los Angeles. Yes I am a CRAZY fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried…

These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art. Encounters when the artwork is somehow so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses … an experience of recognition, relief and awe that informs one’s deeper creative makeup.

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Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'no other side' 2012

 

Del Kathryn Barton (Australian, b. 1972)
no other side
2012
(one part of nine)
Dupion silk and embroidery cotton
9 parts, each 42 × 45cm
In collaboration with Karen Barton
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“I guess every artist has other practices that they aspire to. Louise Bourgeois’ practice – by which I mean the combination of the works, the way that they were made, the artist and the way that she conducted herself – is such a practice for me. The way that she worked for so long, and continued to develop her work in good times and bad, as well as the way that her works are so much of their times but at the same time not quite in sync with them inspires me. The fact that I hardly know the work she made prior to her fifties demonstrates the truth of the idea that art is a lifetime project that can continue to evolve as an artist matures. And then, of course, there is the work itself.”

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Patricia Piccinini

 

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising
2008
Bronze

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze (detail)

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising (detail)
2008
Bronze

 

 

“The massive aorta-like The Uprising, with its labyrinthine musculature, is a much stranger work. It establishes a bridge between the Vespa stags and the transgenic creatures, while being simultaneously amorphous and representational. Corporeal and mechanical, it suggests the plastic, porous, and uncertain world of the new nature that is at the core of the figurative works. For this reason it is physically sited at the boundary between natural history and art history…”

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Juliana Engberg

 

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Nectar' 2012

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Nectar
2012
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, refrigerator edition
1/6 83 × 48 × 51cm
Courtesy of the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and Haunch of Venison, London and New York

 

 

“Taking her cue from the vague boundaries of the biotech world, ‘where it is difficult to figure exactly where the good becomes tainted and the bad becomes justifiable’, Piccinini considers her own hybrid creations, however abject or grotesque, as lovable, associated with fecundity, growth and optimism. Like Bourgeois, she presents strange couplings of the animal and the human, that despite their de- formations always convey intimacy and warmth. Here the title Nectar suggests that there may be something nourishing in what might otherwise appear as a failed experiment.” (Text from educational pdf)

 

Pat Brassington. 'House guest #2' 2007

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
House guest #2
2007

 

Patt Brassington. 'The Guardian' 2009

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
The Guardian
2009
Pigment print on paper edition
6/8 112 × 87.5cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7, Templestowe Road
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
(Heide II and Heide III)
Tue – Fri 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm

Heide Museum of Modern Art website

Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art construction of ‘Spider’ video

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16
Sep
12

Review: ‘Pat Brassington: À Rebours’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th August – 23rd September 2012

 

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Installation photographs of Pat Brassington: À Rebours at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

 

 

 

This is a disappointing exhibition of Pat Brassington’s photographic work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Despite two outstanding catalogue essays by Juliana Engberg and Edward Colless (whose textual and conceptual pyrotechnics morphs À Rebours – against the grain/ against nature – into a “rebus,” an iconographic puzzle, a cryptic device usually of a name made by putting together letters and words; who notes that the work has strong links to the idea of perversion (of nature) and that the artist corrupts the normal taxonomic ordering of the photogenic so that the work becomes alien ‘other’, “an army of invaders from ‘the other side’ of the print, who give away their identities with the flick of reptilian tongue or a vulval opening on the back of the neck”) – despite all of this, the smallish images fail to live in the large gallery spaces of ACCA and fall rather flat, their effect as pail and wane as the limited colour palette of the work itself (which is why, I perceive, some of the gallery walls have been painted a sky blue colour, to add some life to the work).

Unlike most, I have never been convinced of the efficacy and importance of Brassington’s mature style. The work might have seemed fresh when it was originally produced but it now seems rather stale and dated, the pieces too contrived for the viewer to attain any emotional sustenance from the work. The vulvic openings, the blind steps on a path to nowhere, the libidinal tongues, fallen bodies, slits, effusions, effluxions and fleshy openings (where internal becomes external, where memories, dreams and alienness toward Self become self-evident) are too basic in their use of surrealist, psycho-sexual tropes, too singular in their mono-narrative statements to allow the viewer answers to the questions which the artist poses. In other words the viewer is left hanging; the work does not take you anywhere that is useful or particularly interesting. While it is instructive to see the work collectively because it builds the narrative through a collection of themes of disembodiment the claim (in the video) that sight lines are important in this regard does not stand scrutiny because the work is too small for the viewer to discern at a distance the correlation between different works. Look at the slideshow at the top of the posting and notice how the gallery hang makes the work and the space feel dead: too few pieces hung at too large a distance apart only adds to the isolation, both physically and conceptually, of the work.

For me, the revelation of the exhibition was the earlier work. As can be seen from the photographs posted here, the groupings of analogue silver gelatin prints within the gallery spaces have real presence and narrative power because the viewer can construct their own meanings which are not didactic but open ended. These pieces really are amazing. They remind me of the best work of one of my favourite artists David Wojnarowicz and that is a compliment indeed. In the video Brassington rails against the serendipity of working with analogue photography whilst acknowledging that this was one of its strengths because you sometimes never knew what you would get – while working in Photoshop the artist has ultimate control. Perhaps some of that serendipity needs to be injected into the mature work! I get the feeling from the analogue work that something really matters, but you are unsure what whereas the digital work has me fixed like a rabbit in the headlights and leaves no lasting impression or imprint on my memory.

It amazes me in these days of post-photography, post postmodernism where there is no one meta-narrative how curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work. Of course the other reason is that when a person walks into a room and there is a Henson, Arkeley or Brassington on the wall, the kudos and social standing of the person becomes obvious. Oh, you have a Bill Henson, how wonderful! It’s like a signature dish at a restaurant and everybody expects it to be the same, every time you go there. In art this is because the curators have liked the work and the collectors have bought the work so the artist thinks, right, I’ll have some of that and they make more of the same. Does this make this artist’s “style” the best thing that they have done. Sadly no, and many artists get trapped in the honey pot and the work never progresses and changes. Such is the case in this exhibition. Of course some artists have been more successful at evading this trap than others such as the master Picasso (who constantly reinvented himself in his style but not his themes) and in photography, Robert Mapplethorpe, who went from personal narrative to S & M photographs, to black men, to flowers and portraits as subject matter. What all of these transmogrifying artists do in all their bodies of work, however disparate they may be, is address the same thematic development of the work, ask the same questions of the audience in different forms. It is about time curators and collectors became more aware of this trend in contemporary art making.

In conclusion I would say to the artist – thank you for the work, especially the powerful analogue photographs, but it’s time to move on. Let’s see whether the journey has stalled or there is life and imagination yet on the path to alienation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

Pat Brassington. Installation and individual photographs from 'Cumulus Analysis' 1986-87

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from Cumulus Analysis
1986-87
18 silver gelatin photographs

 

 

As part of its Influential Australian Artist series, ACCA will present a survey of works by leading Australian photo-based artist Pat Brassington from August 11. Pat Brassington was one of the first artists to recognise the potential of the digital format, and has used it to create an enormous body of work – images that are hauntingly beautiful, deeply psychological, and sometimes disturbing.

Her works reference the tradition of surrealist photography. Recurring motifs usually include interior and domestic spaces and strange bodily mutations that take place within the human, predominantly female, form. The manipulation of the image is restrained, but the effect often uncanny and dramatic. À Rebours brings together works from Brassington’s exceptional 30 year career, presented over a series of small rooms aimed to emphasise the unsettling domesticity and claustrophobic atmosphere in her images. The exhibition title is inspired by the banned 1884 French novel of the same name, which in English translates as ‘against nature’ or ‘against the grain’.

Brassington was born in 1942 in Tasmania, and studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art in the early eighties She has exhibited in a number of group exhibitions including Feminism never happened, IMA, Brisbane (2010), On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney (2004) and in solo exhibitions at Art One Gallery, Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art and Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. ACCA’s Influential Australian Artist series celebrates the works of artists who have made a significant contribution to the history of Australian art practice, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a substantial catalogue documenting the artists’ career.”

Press release from ACCA

 

Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from Untitled (triptych)
1989
3 silver gelatin photographs

 

 

The Secret: The Photo Worlds of Pat Brassington

Juliana Engberg

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The photo-based works of Pat Brassington gained significant attention in the mid to late 1980s. Black and white images, sourced from reproductions, were arranged in grid and cluster formations to establish their status as a visual language which signified meaning beyond the apparent information they delivered. Adopting a modus operandi inherited from the montage, frisson-based tactics of surrealism, Brassington’s works seduced the viewer into a psycho-linguistic game of puns, Freudian jokes and visual metaphors by careful juxtaposition of images. Exploiting the license permitted by appropriation, and registering a knowledge of the use of signs and signifiers as part of an engagement with psychoanalysis and visual theory, Brassington’s works can be seen in the historical context of surrealist artists such as Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Brassai, Luis Buñuel and Raoul Ubac, as well as contemporary, post-modern artists, such as Barbara Kruger, Martha Rosler, John Baldessari and Silvia Kolbowski, who used image/linguistic associations and provocations to create meta-narratives.

Brassington’s early works, like The Gift, 1986, with its set of images showing details of the paintings of Christ as the ‘Man of Sorrows’ exposing the slit of wounded flesh, crops of cacti, hyper details of vampire movie stills in which blood gushes from a girl’s eyes, and the face of a man with eyes wide open and mouth agape, develop a disquieting set of associations – wounds, pricks, mouths, blood. These are the stuff of B-Grade horror movies, as well as evangelical ecstasy, and perhaps hint at more sinister rites. Similarly, Cumulus Analysis, 1987/8 with its play of clouds, shattered glass, fish, female body in the throws of a spasm, tensed hands, brail, hat crowns upturned to the sky, praying bodies, and angel statuettes, are a lexicon of signs that signify the female genitalia combined with violations and evangelical obsessions. Right of the grid, a solitary female face is seen, and with this simple exclusion from the ‘system’, Brassington turns the tables on the male gaze and replaces the ‘peephole image’ with a feminine look. Nevertheless in this ensemble, gathering analysis, the use of the female voyeur is an uncomfortable reversal. Instead of being witnesses to an oedipal drama, we are perhaps collusive on-lookers on an unspeakable trauma, along with a maternal watcher.

These earlier works of Brassington play out like story-boards for an inconclusive matrix of events. Like the early surrealists who looked outside ‘art’ towards forensic and medical images for their content, Brassington also borrows images from photographs depicting the research into hysteria conducted by Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpetriere hospital, Paris: an infamous 19th century asylum for (so-called) insane and incurable women; and from medical photographs of biological abnormalities. As well as their links to surrealism, Brassington’s borrowings from medical archives also acknowledge the feminist revisioning that took place during the 1980s, which saw in these images of women patients used as ‘hysterical’ evidence for the photographic and medical gaze, a female oppression by the patriarchal system. With this evident historical distancing and their clear links to popular culture through the borrowing of images from films, media and art, these mid-1980s works adopt an almost academic detachment from the personal: the open ended narratives become more general and part of a semiotic universality to some extent. For this reason many commentators, then and since, have been comfortable in describing these mid ’80s works as being within the theoretical, psychological-based feminisms of the 1980s.

Before these elegant, crisp and delineated works of the mid 1980s, however, Brassington made a series of small black and white images that carried a heavier, subjective and domestic load. Untitled VI, 1980, shows a young girl bound in rope and in Untitled IV, 1980, a little girl carries a decapitated doll. These small black and white photographs, altered in the development and printing process through over-exposure and intentional fuzziness, seem to burn like afterimages from some other time. Through visual manipulation, innocuous play obtains a macabre, torturous character. These photographs court unsettling ambiguity and suggestiveness. Unlike the more academic photo grids, these works also seem closer to home.

In the series 1+1=3, 1984 a male figure haunts the domestic space, his blurry outline, highlighted from behind to accentuate hirsuteness, seems ominous and domineering, his body is oversized to the frame of the image. In accompanying images from the same series, child like legs protruding from under a table, the skirt and dressed legs of a woman viewed from above, and a dog lying under a cover, all photographed with a kind of forensic clarity, suggest some ‘incident’ and portray hiding, and partial truths. These small, early works establish a precedent in Brassington’s future images in which very often legs are oddly organised, hoisted and disjointed from bodies, peculiar points of view are shown and bodies in partial concealment are all activated to produce mystery and unease.

In the early 1990s, the development of digital-format photography, with its capacity for image building, akin to, but even more potentially malleable then analogue forms of montage and collage, saw Brassington return to the mood of these earlier and enigmatic works with their focus on interiors and curious figures. The digital format provided Brassington with the opportunity to blend, blur, almost shake, and stain the photographic paper to unleash a new subjectivism. Works from the ’90s also see Brassington moving from black and white formats to experimenting with colour, which becomes vivid, livid and adds a kind of visceral saturation and abstraction to images with mute tonality.

In the works of the 1990s and 2000s Brassington enters into an extra-surreal phase, producing images that are cast adrift from reality or popular culture references and built from the imagination. Brassington’s own visual language is developed in these works that manipulate figures, surfaces, textures and odd attachments and visual interventions. As her expertise in image building increases Brassington’s works take on dense, viscous, and sometimes translucent qualities that tamper with natural tactility. Figures become phantasmic and morph-like, at times transparent or artificially bulky. Nostalgic colours are played off against sharper, off-registered hues. Bio-morphs appear liked strange growths attaching themselves to, or coming forth from bodies, especially mouths.

Brassington’s reoccurring symbolism is confirmed in these works in which fish are clutched, wounds appear like stigmata in necks and on dresses, tongues protrude and become uncanny matter, mouths are gagged, hold things or bring forth pearls of blood-red caviar seeds. The use of fabric, stockings and lace add a weird feminine monstrosity to the muted subject – mostly a child. This digital phase of newest works produce beautiful visual qualities in pearlescent colours and shiny surfaces, which make their clandestine, convulsive subjects all the more disconcerting to consider. Brassington lures the viewer into a game of guessing and provokes us to know – to dig deep into our collective unconscious, which innately understands these unnatural things. In these later works there is little, if any academic distancing. The images are compellingly honest and close.

During this time Brassington’s affiliation with surrealism and its deployment of artistic intuition drawn from the unconscious is strongly evident. Equally evident is the deliberation in these images, which is clear and unavoidable given the digital process which cannot provide an ‘accident’ like over-exposure, shaking, mis-framing or those usual happy ‘chance’ things that gave analogue photography its exciting edge for finding the surreal moment in a snap of reality. Brassington consciously works the unconscious. The domestic setting also reasserts itself in these later works in which odd things play out. In the series Cambridge Road, 2007 the atmosphere of reality is used in an almost bland, de-saturated way to give greater emphasis to figures which become smudges, dogs that seem electrified with alertness to some danger outside the frame, strangely framed corners of furniture, beds, and dressing tables that appear as dramatic items in some bizarre theatre of domesticity.

In Cambridge Road coated humans wear animal and portrait masks and adopt roles that are unclear: a wire clothes hanger, leaning on the wall, hung on a hook or discarded in the background takes on a nasty aspect. In these works an over exposed flash adds a spectral, apparitional aspect to the scene, causing it to seem inhabited by a haunting, or ghostly return. In another series Below Stairs, 2009, an x-ray rat and small child emerge from a trap door in the floor of a barren room. In a further work the trap door is vanished and a grown woman stands, with her back to the viewer indicating a closure against these hallucinations.  These works, which have affinities with Max Ernst’s drawing, The Master’s Bedroom, confirm Brassington’s knowing attachment to the idea of the room-box as theatre explored in surrealism by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell and female surrealists such as Dorothea Tanning, Lenora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois.

Around the same time as these picture theatres Brassington has created single figures. A scarlet dressed woman walks, retreating through an imaginary landscape in By the Way, 2010: a bag or pillow slip over her head – still hiding, or not seeing – but escaping – surviving perhaps.  A doll, dressed in a blue frock, Radar 2010, replaces the head with a light bulb stretched from the ceiling – rope like – unsettlingly similar to a noose, which demolishes cuteness. The bulb, standing in for the head, becomes a Cyclops, one-eyed thing, reminding us of the surrealist trope of the single eye ever used by Bataille, Ernst, Dali, Magritte, Man Ray, Buñuel and others, which in the surrealist visual language can so quickly become the mouth, the vagina dentate and object of possible castration. This bright spark of a doll is not all she seems.

These strange personages are like escapees from Brassington’s domestic dramas, new protagonists ready for their own story in the photo and digital world that Brassington has conjured from places we will never know, that are lived and returned in her own mind.  Among these personae Brassington creates an image of a person wrapped head to feet in a shiny eiderdown, a lone hand exposed clutches the cover closed.  The figure stands against the wall where shadow stripes stretch behind. This strangely real image reminds us of the small girl, in Untitled IV, 1980 once bound, who is now unleashed and protected, but still in hiding. In this most recent group Brassington has also delivered the compelling close-up face of a young child whose one eye turns inward towards the other. A torn blue piece of fabric covers the mouth. This image is called The Secret.

Juliana Engberg

 

Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from The Gift
1986
11 silver gelatin photographs

 

 

An interview with Pat Brassington

What sorts of things have inspired your work?

Ideas. Ideas that come from life’s experiences, from family and friends, the ideas embodied in the vast array of exhibited and published visual artworks. Literature, cinema and music, the natural world and human nature.
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Are there any particular artists who have influenced you?

There is a moving feast of artist’s works that passes through one’s consciousness. Here are a few from the past that popped into my head as I write: Goya, Giacometti, Fuseli, Magritte, Ernst, Hoch, Hesse, Bourgeois….
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Can you explain the processes and techniques in your work?

They vary but I often recycle a lot of material from my own photographic archive, something I continue to accumulate. As a work develops a specific requirement may arise so I will hunt around, or create the elements to produce a result I’m after. Clarification about the shape of new work emerges during the making process. It’s important to entertain possibilities and not shut them off unexplored: it can be like being in an extended state of uncertainty. But decisions are made.
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When you began working digitally and using Photoshop and digital colour printing techniques how did this develop or change the themes in your work?

I didn’t have the opportunity to explore analogue colour photography, but I probably didn’t want to really. I liked working in black and white. My early digital work was monochromatic – the outcome of scanning black and white negatives – but I quickly realised that the potential was there to enhance the expressive qualities of an image by introducing colour.
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How did you realise its potential?

It is part of the form of the visual world. Generally I don’t try to feel or deal separately with the components of an image.
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People comment on the personal nature of your work – what do you think about that?

I’m assuming that you are asking whether my work is autobiographical!  I would certainly attribute or acknowledge that my life experience has influenced how I respond to, or interpret, ‘being in the world’. Some things stick, they become a part of you whether you like it or not. Art endeavours bring strange impressions back to life and create a different past, a new past with new phantoms miming actions and walking through walls.
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Was the emergence of feminist theory and film theory guided by semiotics important to you?

Yes. And exposure to key texts was a liberating experience.
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What kinds of literature do you enjoy reading?

Fiction mostly, including poetry on occasion. Just wish I could engage more often. The last book I read was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and that was at least 12 months. I have bookshelves containing books I have read. A few missing links mind you but those I have managed to keep are a reminder to me of where I have been.
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How would your work have developed if the digital process had not become available?

Well there can be an unstable relationship between content and process. Maybe the subject matter may not have been much different in much of the work, but you can find yourself projecting ideas in the mind through process or more specifically in the forms typical of a process. Possibly the demonstrated capacity of computers to store, manipulate and converge images lead the way. Without drama it happened and the chemical playground moved over and the pixel playground dominated my thinking, not about what to do but how to do it.
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Does the digital permit a freedom from reality?

Look if you did a count digital manipulation may provide a few more options more easily, but the real struggle for freedom is in the mind.

 

 

Pat Brassington. 'Sensors' 2010

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Sensors
2010

 

Pat Brassington. ‘Radar’ 2009

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Radar
2009

 

Pat Brassington. 'By the Way' 2010

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
By the Way
2010

 

 

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
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Southbank
Victoria 3006
Australia

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20
Jul
09

Review: ‘Tacita Dean’ at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th June – 2nd August 2009

 

Photographs from the exhibition are in the chronological order that they appear.

 

Tacita Dean. 'Grobsteingrab (floating)' 2009

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Grobsteingrab (floating)
2009

 

 

“The subjects are connected to the medium I use. It’s all about light and time and phenomena to some extent, like a rainbow or a gust of wind or even an eclipse or a green ray, things like that. And this is the language of light. It’s not the language of binary pixels.”

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Tacita Dean1

 

“The value of her [Dean’s] work, writes Winterson, is one of the virtues of art itself: it is an intervention into the rush of everyday life, holding up time and space for contemplation.”

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Jeanette Winterson2

 

 

This is a dense, ‘thick’ exhibition by Tacita Dean at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne that rewards repeat viewing. The theatricality of each work and the theatricality of the journey through ACCA’s dimmed galleries (an excellent installation of the work!) makes for an engrossing exhibition as Dean explores the minutiae of memory and the significance of insignificant events: a contemplation on the space, time and materiality of the everyday.

The exhibition starts with 3 very large floating rocks (Grobsteingrab (floating), Hunengrab (floating) and Riesenbelt (floating) all 2009) printed on multiple pieces of photographic paper, the surrounds of the rocks painted out with matt black blackboard paint (see image at top of this posting). The rocks look like mountain massif and are printed at different levels to each other; they move up and down, earthed in the sense that the viewer feels their heavy weight but also buoyant in their surface shininess, seeming to float into the void. The textuality of the rocks is incredible, the suspension of the rocks fragmented by the fact that they are printed on multiple pieces of photographic paper, the edges of the paper curling up to dislocate the unity of form.

Opposite is the large multi-panelled T + I (Tristan + Isolde), a tour de force of Romantic landscape meets mythological journey (see image second from top). Sunshine searing through cloud lights the 25 Turner-esque black and white gravure panels that feature an inlet, fjord and ravine. Semi-legible words dot the landscape, reflecting on the legendary story: ‘undergrowth’, ‘dispute’, ‘brightening up’, ‘BLIND FOLLY’ and ‘the union involved in a manifestation(?)’ for example. Each panel is beautifully rendered and a joy to behold – my friend and I stood transfixed, examining each panel in minute detail, trying to work out the significance and relation between the writing and image. As with most of the work in the exhibition the piece engages the viewer in a dialogue between reality, story and memory, between light, space, time and phenomena.

After the small rear projected film Totality (2000) that shows the extraordinary event of a total eclipse of the sun by the moon for a period of two minutes and six seconds the viewer takes a short darkened passage to experience the major installation in the exhibition Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films) 2007 (see images below).

The first thing you see is one image projected onto a small suspended screen, the rest of the installation blocked by a short gallery wall to the right. The dancer Merce Cunningham sits in studious calm and observes us. This in itself is magical but as we round the corner other screens of different sizes and heights come into view, all portraying Cunningham’s dance studio and him sitting in it from different angles, heights and distances (including close-ups of Cunningham himself). In the six screen projection the performances of Cunningham are sometimes in synch, sometimes not. The director Trevor Carlson, holding a stop watch, times the 3 movements of Cage’s musical piece 4’33” and directs Cunningham to change position at the end of every movement; his hands move, he crosses his legs and the performance continues.

The work is projected into the sculptural space using old 16mm film projectors and their sound mixes with the studied silence of the Cage work and white noise. The mirrors in the studio make spaces of infinite recess, showing us the director with the stop watch, the windows, the floor, the markings of the dancers hands on the mirrors surface adding another echo of past presences. As a viewer their seems to be an ‘openness’ around as you are pulled into a spatial and sound vortex, a phenomena that transcends normal spatio-temporal dimensionality. As people pass through the installation their shadows fall on the screens and become part of the work adding to the multi-layered feeling of the work. This is sensational stuff – you feel that you transcend reality itself as you observe and become immersed within this amazing work – almost as though space and time had split apart at the seams and you are left hanging, suspended in mid-air.

The next two films are my favourite pieces in the exhibition. Darmstädter Werkblock (2007) shows us the significance of insignificant markings – edges and intersections, textures, blends and bleeds, the minutiae of existence in the markings on the fabric of an internal wall (see photograph below). Here is light, wood panelling, texture and again the sound of the whirring of the film projector. Usually I am not a fan of this kind of work having seen enough ‘Dead Pan’ photography and photography of empty yet supposedly important spaces in my life, but here Dean’s film makes the experience come alive and actually mean something. Her work transcends the subject matter – and matter is at the point where these interstitial spaces have been marked by the abstract signs of human existence that constantly surround us.

In Michael Hamburger (2007) Dean reaches the empito-me of these personal narratives that inhabit everyday life. Film of an orchard with wind rustling through the trees, clouds drifting across the sky, rotting apples on the branches, fallen fruit on the ground and a clearing with a man looking up at the trees is accompanied by the industrial sounds of clicks and pops like that of an old radio (see photograph above). The swirling sound of the wind surrounds you in the darkened gallery space much as the panoramic screen of the projection seems to enfold you. The scene swaps to an interior of a house and shows the man, has face mainly in shadow, the film focusing on the different type of apples in front of him or on the aged wrinkles of his hands holding the apples. He talks intelligently and knowingly about the different types of apples and their rarity and qualities. This is Michael Hamburger (now dead which adds poignancy to the film) – poet, critic, memoirist and academic notable for his translations of the work of W. G. Sebald, one of Tacita Dean’s main influences (and also an author that I love dearly).

One can see echoes of Sebald’s work in that of Tacita Dean – the personal narratives accompanied by mythical and historical stories and pictures. The tactility of Hamburger’s voice and hands, his caressing of the apples with the summary justice of the tossing away of rotten apples to stop them ruining the rest of the crop is arresting and holds you transfixed. Old varieties and old hands mixed with the old technology of film make for a nostalgic combination. As John Matthews of ArtKritique has so insightfully observed in his review of this work Dean implicitly understands how objects can be elegies for fleeting lives.

After this work one should have a break – go to the front of the gallery and have a coffee and relax because this is an exhausting show!

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The rest of the exhibition tends to tail off slightly, with less engaging but still interesting works.

In Die Regimentstochter (2005) (the name of a Donizetti opera) Dean uses a pile of 36 found and mutilated old opera and theatre programs from the 1930s and 1940s such as Staats Theatre, Berlin, Der Tanz and Deutsche Openhaus. These programs have had portions of their front covers roughly but clinically cut to reveal the inner pages beneath (see image below) and Dean uses them to comment on the politicisation of culture in Berlin’s mid-20th century history. The top of a powdered wigged head or the face of Beethoven has been revealed when the title of the work has been neatly removed along with something else:

“Each programme gives a tantalising glimpse of a title or a face through a small window cut into the embossed cover; we recognise Beethoven, Rossini, the face of a singer perhaps. When and by whom this incision in the cover was made, very neatly one might add, even more why these disfigured programmes were kept remains a mystery. A swift search in an archive would easily show what has been removed; most likely an embossed swastika, for these performances all happened during the Third Reich. Why they were removed is left to our imaginations; perhaps an avid theatre-goer livid at the co-option of culture by the regime, perhaps someone afraid they might be misinterpreted as fascist memorabilia, while wishing to retain the memories these performances triggered.”3

High up on a wall opposite these programs is the film Palast (2004) in which Dean reflects Berlin’s divided history in the jaded façade of the once iconic Palast, the government building of the former German Democratic Republic.4 Shards of light hit glass and reflections are fractured in their gridded panes (see images below). A bird is seen flying, viewed through the window and we see the stains on that window but in this film things feel a bit forced. Unlike the earlier Darmstädter Werkblock there is little magic here.

Again the minutiae of existence is examined in the final two films Noir et Blanc (2006), made on the last 5 rolls of Dean’s black and white double-sided 16mm film stock and Kodak (2006), both made at the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône before it closed it’s film production facilities (see images below). With the demise of the medium that she feels closest to Dean sought permission to film at the factory itself and both films examine that medium by turning it on itself.

“Dean became acutely aware of the threat to her chosen medium when she was unable to obtain standard 16mm black-and-white film for her camera. Upon discovering that the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, was closing its film production facility, Dean obtained permission to document the manufacture of film at the factory, where cameras have never before been invited. The resulting rear-screen projection ‘Noir et Blanc’, filmed on the final five rolls Dean acquired, turns the medium on itself. The 44-minute-long work ‘Kodak’ constitutes a contemplative elegy for the approaching demise of a medium specific to Dean’s own practice. Kodak’s narrative follows the making of celluloid as it runs through several miles of machinery and explores the abandoned corners of the factory. On the day of filming, the factory also ran a test through the system with brown paper, providing a rare opportunity to see the facilities fully illuminated, without the darkness needed to prevent exposure, and underscoring the luster of the celluloid as the dull brown strips contrast with the luminous, transparent polyester.”5

As writer Tony Lloyd has commented, “The film “Kodak” documenting the manufacturing of film was as solemn and reverent as a Catholic mass and equally as dull and inexplicable.”6 I wouldn’t go that far but by the end of the exhibition the nostalgia for old technologies, the brown paper programs and the film strip as relic were starting to wear a bit thin, like the sprockets of an old film camera failing to take up the film.

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At her best Tacita Dean is a fantastic artist whose work examines the measure of things, the vibrations of spirit in the FLUX of experience. Her work has a trance-like quality that is heavy with nostalgia and memory and reflects the machine-ations of contemporary life. In her languorous (thankyou Tony Lloyd for that word, so appropriate I had to use it!) and dense work Dean teases out the significance of insignificant actions/events and imparts meaning and life to them. This is no small achievement.

As an exhibition this is an intense and moving experience. Go, take your time and enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

  • Dean, Tacita quoted in Bunbury, Stephen.“Still Lives,” in The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Publishing, A2 section, Saturday June 6th, 2009, p. 20
  • Winterson, Jeanette, quoted in Bunbury, Stephen.“Still Lives,” in The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Publishing, A2 section, Saturday June 6th, 2009, p. 20
  • Anonymous. Product synopsis from Tacita Dean Die Regimentstochter [Paperback] on the Amazon website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009
  • Anonymous. Description of Tacita Dean: ‘Palast’ on the Tate St. Ives website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009 no longer available online
  • Anonymous. “The Hugo Boss Prize: Tacita Dean”, on the Guggenheim Museum website [Online] Cited 19/07/2009 no longer available online
  • Lloyd, Tony. “Opnion: Tacita Dean at ACCA,” on ArtInfo.com.au [Online] Cited 19/07/2009 no longer available online

 

 

Tacita Deam. 'T & I (Tristan & Isolde)' 2006

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
T & I (Tristan & Isolde)
2006
Photogravure on twenty-five sheets
Sheet (each): 26 3/4 x 33 7/8″ (68 x 86 cm)
Installation: 134 x 170″ (340.4 x 431.8 cm)
Niels Borch Jensen Gallery and Edition, Berlin and Copenhagen

 

 

Through drawings and films, Dean makes work that is frequently characterised by a poetic sensibility and fragmented narratives exploring past and present, fact and fiction. In this monumental printed work, she addresses themes of collective memory and lost history by combining the romantic legend of ill-fated medieval lovers Tristan and Isolde (whose initials give this piece its title) with the real-life tragedy of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. Dean often uses the sea and other maritime themes in her work, including the tale of Crowhurst, which has appeared in several of her projects.

In 1968 Crowhurst sailed from England for a solo, round-the-world yacht race and never returned. In T & I Dean connects the tale of this lost sailor to the story of Tristan and Isolde – whose tragic love story also hinges on sea voyages – through her majestic depiction of a barren, rocky coastline looking seaward. This work, based on a found postcard, includes the white, cryptic notes that Dean often scribbles on her prints and drawings. Here the musings include “start” and “stage 4,” clear theatrical directions, as well as fragments of a poem by “WSG” about an artist killed in an accident. The twenty-five-sheet composition suggests a cinematic narrative sequence, while reading it as a unified image has a breathtaking, visionary impact. The rich velvety texture of the photogravure medium contributes a nineteenth-century patina that is ideally suited to the intensity and foreboding melancholy of the subject.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 269

 

Tacita Dean. 'Banewl' 1999

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Totality
16mm colour film
2000

 

old 16mm projector

 

16mm film projector used by Tacita Dean to project Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’

 

Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

Tacita Dean. ‘Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films)’ 2007

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Merce Cunningham Performs ‘Stillness’ (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films) (stills)
2007

 

Tacita Dean. 'Darmstädter Werkblock' 2007 (still)

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Darmstädter Werkblock (stills)
16mm colour film, optical sound
18 minutes, continuous loop
2007

 

 

Take one of her best pieces, Darmstädter Werkblock 2007, which looks for most of its long eighteen minutes like an exploration of an empty room, which it is. The camera pans the space, exploring the frayed fringes of its empty, textile-clad, burnt brown walls. It settles on holes, tears, seams and faded spots marking where placards used to hang. We are formally intrigued, but also curious why we should care so much about this particular empty room in what we can vaguely sense is a museum. Perhaps we are even a little bored. Only later – not in the film itself, but in the accompanying materials – are we told that these rooms usually house the “Block Beuys”, a section of the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt arranged by Beuys himself over the decade and a half between its opening and the artist’s death. The Block is mired in controversy now that the walls, which are actually left over from when the rooms showed medieval artefacts, but which evoke and mirror Beuys’s own work, are slated for renovation.

Text from Philip Tinari. “Meditations on time,” in Tate Etc. issue 23: Autumn 2011 on the Tate website 1 September 2011 [Online] Cited 18/03/2019

 

Stills taken from the 16mm film Darmstädter Werkblock (2007) filmed in the seven rooms that make up Block Beuys, Joseph Beuys’s installation in Darmstadt’s Hessisches Landesmuseum. In September 2007, the museum announced that they intended to renovate the rooms, and to remove the brown jute wall coverings and gray carpet that had become such a feature of the installation. The decision caused much upset in Germany and beyond. Unable to document the rooms for copyright reasons, Dean requested that instead she might document the walls and carpet and the details of the space that surround Beuys’s work without making any visual reference to the work itself. The resulting film concentrated on the patches and the stains and the labor of those who have been maintaining the space over the last four decades – the parallel entropy of the museum space with the ageing of the work itself.

Text from Google Books

 

Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

Tacita Dean. 'Michael Hamburger' 2007

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Michael Hamburger (stills)
16mm colour anamorphic, optical sound
28 minutes
2007

 

 

Continuing her recent collection of film portraits, Tacita Dean’s Michael Hamburger is a moving portrayal of the poet and translator, a resident of Middleton in Suffolk and great friend of W.G. Sebald. It represented Dean’s first commission in Britain since 1999.

For its 28 minutes, the film quietly observes the poet in his study and among the apple trees in his garden. Sunlight dissolves the frames of the windows, the most insubstantial of thresholds between this home, only one-room-deep, and what lies outdoors; a rainbow marks its watery geometry in the sky; and the apples age upon the ground, shrunken, and yet somehow becoming more intensely themselves.

Although Hamburger is said to have despaired of reviews of his poetry which declared that he is ‘better known as a translator’, we might detect a similar deprecation of his self, by himself, in the film which shares his name. Unwilling, perhaps unable, to talk of his past and his migrations, most especially fleeing Nazism in 1933, he talks poignantly, instead, of his apple trees, of where they have come from, and of their careful cross-breeding. Purity is dismissed, and one senses with an awkward pathos that the poet is translating himself.

Text from the FVU website [Online] Cited 18/03/2019

 

Tacita Dean’s portrait of the poet and translator Michael Hamburger was filmed, at his home in rural Suffolk, in the last year of his life. Set against muted autumn colours, and with Hamburger performing an evocative, anecdotal inventory of the harvest from his apple orchard, the piece is a bittersweet reminder of time’s passing that deftly captures, and quietly honours, an exemplary 20th century literary figure.

 

Tacita Dean. 'Die Regimentstochter' 2005

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Die Regimentstochter (The Daughter of the Regiment)
2005

 

 

Die Regimentstochter is the latest in a series of projects made from material turned up in flea markets, in this case, a series of 36 antique opera programs from the 30s and 40s found in the flea markets of Berlin. Like the found photographs in Dean’s 2001 FLOH, these souvenirs remain unexplained by text. They retain the silence of the lost object, and they share a riddle: each program gives a tantalising glimpse of a title or a face through a small window cut into the embossed cover. Readers will recognise Beethoven, Rossini, or perhaps a singer. A swift search in an archive would easily confirm what has been removed, but it seems likely that the missing piece is a swastika. These performances all happened during the Third Reich. When and by whom the incision was made, and why these programs were both worth disfiguring and worth keeping, remains a mystery.

Text from the Amazon website

 

“Things no longer visible thus enhance our view of the past, and gaps, paradoxically, become memorials that engage the beholder’s imagination more actively than a didactic demonstration could. Merely by showing what remains, Tacita Dean not only calls up in our mind’s eye a specific historical situation and its abysses, but also erects an anti-monument to the forms customarily taken by the culture of memory.”

Andreas Kaernbach

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965) 'Die Regimentstochter' 2005

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Die Regimentstochter (The Daughter of the Regiment)
2005

 

 

They look lined up like a modern art object. The 36 opera program books are not considered as works of art. Nevertheless, the British and Berlin-based artist Tacita Dean turned them into a work of art.

“An incidental finding inspired Tacita Dean to her artwork,” tells the House of History. “At a Berlin flea market she discovered in the year 2000 36 opera program booklets from the years 1934 to 1942. Conspicuous were the title pages: from each of the booklets was a part cut out, including from the program of the eponymous opera “The Regimental Daughter” by Gaetano Donizetti (world premiere 1840). “Said part of the title pages of those notebooks was reserved for the swastika symbol. This was cut off by the previous owners. Why, that can only be speculated, continues the house of history. “Was it shame, the fear of being punishable or even a “private” act of resistance before the end of National Socialism? The program books in any case seem to have been of great cultural value to the former owner. ”

“Whatever the motives that made the owner or the owner of the program booklets of the Berlin opera from 1934 to 1942 come to shears in order to remove the Nazi swastikas from the cover pages of the booklets: The voices speak of the desire to conclude with a time that one does not want to be reminded of – a basic motive of German post-war history that stood in the way of an honest confrontation with the era of National Socialism for a long time, “said the Minister of Culture.

With her work, Tacita asks Dean questions about dealing with the Nazi past. Which motive behind it and who had heard the booklets remains open until today. Tacita Dean has created a work of art from these finds, which poses subtle questions about the examination of the Nazi past – but in a way that goes beyond purely historical reflection and awakens additional associations. What does that object, created by the artist from Canterbury, say about the relationship between art and politics? “Can the opera narratives be separated from the political environment in which they were performed and played?” asks the President of the Foundation for the History of the Federal Republic of Germany, Prof. Dr Hans Walter Hütter.

Monika Grütters continues: “The fact that the dark part of our identity does not disappear through concealment and suppression, and that it becomes visible again even where it was attempted to be eradicated, impressively shows Tacita Dean’s work Regimentstochter. That is why I very much welcome the fact that this unique work of art has a place in the collection which, in view of its significance in contemporary history, necessarily belongs to it – a place in the House of History which, unlike any other museum in Germany, presents German history from 1945 in all its facets illustrated and also devoted to the effects of National Socialism on the political and cultural life in post-war Germany.”

Text by Von Daniel Thalheim, “NS-Vergangenheit als Kunst – 36 Programmhefte aus der Nazi-Zeit im Haus der Geschichte,” on the ARTEFAKTE: Das Journal für Baukultur und Kunst website 2nd September 2015 [Online] Cited 17/03/2019 translated from the German by Google Translate.

 

Tacita Dean. 'Palast' 2004

Tacita Dean. 'Palast' 2004

Tacita Dean. 'Palast' 2004

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Three stills from the film Palast
2004

 

 

“A major survey of work by the internationally acclaimed British artist Tacita Dean will open at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) on June 6th, 2009.

In a great coup for Melbourne, fourteen recent projects by this celebrated contemporary artist will come together in what is the largest survey of Dean’s work to ever be shown outside of Europe.

Tacita Dean is one of Britain’s most accomplished and celebrated contemporary artists. She won the New York Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss award in 2007, was a Turner Prize nominee in 1998, and has had numerous solo exhibitions in Europe – at the Schaulager in Basel, DIA Beacon in New York, the de Pont Museum in the Netherlands, the Tate Britain, UK, the Musee d’art Moderne in Paris, France and the Villa Oppenheim in Berlin, to mention just a few.

Dean was also recently given the highly prestigious title of Royal Academician, awarded sparingly to alumni’s of the revered London art school who have achieved greatness in their work.

Tacita Dean was born in Canterbury in 1965, and moved to Berlin in 2000 after being awarded a DAAD residency. Early works focused on the sea – most famously she explored the tragic maritime misadventures of amateur English sailor Donald Crowhurst. Since moving to Berlin she has devoted her attention to the architecture and cultural history of Germany, a recurring theme also being the salvaging, saving and collecting of things lost. Many of her works rest on the icons of modernism, heroic failures and forgotten utopian ideals.

Dean is best known for her work with 16mm film, although she also works with photography, print and drawing. The qualities of filmmaking itself play a central role in her works – which hauntingly capture the passing of time, space and the mysteries of the natural world.

Her work occupies a place between fact and fiction. As British author Jeanette Winterson says, “Her genius, with her slow, steady, held frames, is to allow the viewer to dream; to enter without hurry, without expectation, and to accept, as we do in a dream, a different experience of time, and a different relationship to everyday objects.”

Included in this exhibition is Dean’s revered film installation, Merce Cunningham Performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007, which was recently presented at the DIA Beacon in New York, and the 2007 work Michael Hamburger. Two new wall-based works especially created for this exclusive ACCA exhibition will also feature.

Dean is also known for creating ‘asides’ – totally absorbing texts on the subjects explored in her work. She will contribute texts on all the projects included in the exhibition for a catalogue which will be published to coincide with this unique ACCA survey.

The exhibition has been curated by ACCA’s Artistic Director, Juliana Engberg and follows an early 2002 exhibition of Dean’s work curated by Engberg for the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

“Tacita’s works continue to enthral and inspire me. Not only has she rescued relics from history and restored them with a visual dignity and affection in her wonderful film projects, but increasingly she rescues the traditional art forms of drawing, print making, painting, photography and film from a digital abyss,” says Juliana Engberg. “Her works have a truth and quiddity about them, but also a playful artifice and technical tactic to bring out the tactile and material in all she deals with. Tacita is a sublime story-teller, a narrator of odysseys and attempts. She is a true artist sojourner.

In this selection of works made since 2004 we grasp the breadth of her practice and her pursuit of the time-honoured landscape, portrait and abstract genres,” she says.”

Text from the press release from the ACCA website [Online] Cited 17/07/2009 no longer available online

 

Tacita Dean. 'Noir et Blanc [Still]' 2006

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Noir et Blanc [Still]
16mm black-and-white Kodak film
2006

 

Tacita Dean. 'Kodak' 2006

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Kodak (still)
16mm colour and b/w film optical sound
44 minutes loop system
2006

 

Tacita Dean. 'Kodak' 2006

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Kodak (still)
16mm colour and b/w film optical sound
44 minutes loop system
2006

 

 

As Dean said in a Guardian article back in February: “Digital is not better than analogue, but different. What we are asking for is coexistence: that analogue film might be allowed to remain an option for those who want it, and for the ascendency of one not to have to mean the extinguishing of the other.”

In the same text, she wrote of the difference between film and digital as “not only emulsion versus pixels, or light versus electronics, but something deeper – something to do with poetry.” This poetry is exactly what she explored in one of her landmark films, Kodak (2006), a 45-minute examination of the production process of celluloid itself at a French factory fated for early closure because of a lack of demand. A film about the making of film, it hinged on the sort of super-aestheticised conceit that has become her staple. This is a tactic which allows her to turn even time itself into a structural device, as she did in 2008 with a film called Amadeus, which depicts a 50-minute crossing of the English Channel in a small fishing boat of the same name.

Text from Philip Tinari. “Meditations on time,” in Tate Etc. issue 23: Autumn 2011 on the Tate website 1 September 2011 [Online] Cited 18/03/2019

 

Tacita Dean. 'Kodak' 2006

 

Tacita Dean (English, b. 1965)
Kodak (still)
16mm colour and b/w film optical sound
44 minutes loop system
2006

 

 

Australia Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
111 Sturt Street, Southbank
Victoria 3006, Australia
Phone: 03 9697 9999

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 5pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

ACCA website

Tacita Dean website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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