Posts Tagged ‘masculinity

06
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image’ at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2018 – 10th February 2019

Curated by Steven Matijcio

 

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image' 2018

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

“As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say”.”

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Akram Zaatari quoted in Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

 

Alternate readings / elisions / a damaged life

This is the first posting of 2019, a new year, a new year of history, memory and life. And what a cracker of an exhibition to post first up!

I have always admired the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari for the ability of his work to critique the inevitable, referential history of photographs. Anyone who can shine a light on forgotten narratives, histories, contexts and memories, who enlightens the fixed gaze of the camera and the viewer to show the Other, and who empowers the disenfranchised and tells their stories… is excellent in my eyes. For this is what Art Blart has sought to do in the last ten years: build an archive that exposes underrepresented artists and forgotten histories to the world.

Photography, and life, is not all that it seems… and Zaatari implicitly understands the conundrums of the taking, viewing and collecting of photographs in archives. He understands the physical quality of the medium (the presence of the negative, the glass slide, the print and their manipulation by the photographer) as well as the truth of the medium, a kind of truth telling – through history, time, the personal and the collective – that obscures as much as it reveals. As his short biography notes, “Akram Zaatari is an artist whose work is tied to collecting and exploring photographic practices in the making of social codes and aesthetic forms. Regarding the present through a wealth of photographic records from the past… Zaatari investigates notions of desire, pursuit, resistance, memory, surveillance, the shifting nature of political borders and the production and circulation of images in times of war.” Indeed, a rich investigative field which Zaatari makes full use of in his work.

Simply put, the project that Zaatari is undertaking is one of archaeological excavation / re-animation of the many aspects of the cultural geography of Lebanon, his role as auteur in this process combining “image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to examine the photographic record, its making, genealogy and the role photography plays in the production and performance of identity.” (Wall text) “I’m really interested in how the personal and the intimate meet history,” Zaatari says. “What I’m doing is to write history, or [fill in] gaps of history, by using photographic documents.”1

Zaatari “deconstructs the archival impunity of photography to cultivate an expanded architecture of interpretation,” (Wall text) exploring the fold as a catalyst, a narrative, a re-organisation, an enduring obfuscation, and the memory of a material. What a photograph missed and what is present; what an archive catalogues and how, and what it misses, elides or denigrates (the classification system of an archive). As Rebecca Close observes, “The question of what an archive of the image fails to commemorate is particularly relevant in a country marred by decades of civil war and invasion.”2

It is also particularly relevant in a country (and a world) where men are in control. Zaatari interrogates (if I may use that pertinent word) the partitioning of history (between Palestine and Israel), the poses of decorum between male and female, the power of men in marriage, the stigma of homosexuality, male normativity, and “Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule…” (Steven Matijcio) The centre cannot hold the weight of these hidden his/stories, as invisible “non-collections” (E. Edwards) in institutions are opened up for critical examination. The damage that accrues through such obfuscation, through such wilful blindness to the stories embedded in photographs is boundless.

What we must remember is that, “photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject). Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematises the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.” As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction” as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.” As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,” “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.”3

I have no problem with the ethics and politics of the use of photo archives by contemporary artists and the appropriation of archival images as a form of “ironic archivization” to open up new critical insights into culture, and the culture of making, reading and archiving photographs. Zaatari appropriates these images for his own concerns to shine a light on what I call “the space between.” His interdisciplinary practice mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. As he observes of his profound and sensitive work, “Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” With this powerhouse of an artist, these histories will not remain hidden for long.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Venema, Vibeke . “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  2. Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  3. Bunyan, Marcus. “Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies,” on Art Blart, October 2013 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

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Many thankx to Akram Zaatari and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Acclaimed Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari combines the roles of image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to explore the role photography plays in both instituting and fabricating identity. He is also co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), an organisation established in Beirut to preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today. Within this endeavour Zaatari discovered the photographs of Hashem El Madani (1928-2017), who recorded the lives of everyday individuals inside and outside his humble studio in the late 1940s and 50s. Zaatari recontextualises this work, along with other archival photos and documents, in an interdisciplinary practice that mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. His work is both for and against photography, and the complex histories it cobbles.

For this exhibition he positions the seemingly simple fold as a narrative form, a reorganisation, an enduring obfuscation and the memory of material. In his words, “a photograph captures space and folds it into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others, covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” The work on display will attempt to uncover and imagine these stories, undertaking a provocative archaeology that peers into the fissures, scratches, erosion and that which archives previously shed.

Presented in partnership with FotoFocus Biennial 2018. Text from the Contemporary Arts Center website

 

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negatives from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Hands at Rest (video stills)
2017
SD Video / Running time: 7:30
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

This film is a meditative study of a  selection of studio photographs culled from Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani’s archives. In response to Madani’s maxim that “posing one’s hands on a flat surface such as a table, or a shoulder helps to straighten one’s shoulders,” Zaatari looks closely from one hand to the next, creating a portrait of Lebanese society that implicitly questions the politics embedded in poses of propriety and decorum. Fingers fitted with rings and bodies displaying the comfort and composure of a certain class are juxtaposed with others indicative of manual labor and untrained modelling. The slow, but precise inventory of the video, devoted to the most tactile limb in one’s body, also elicits the ever-present sensuality which circulates throughout Madani’s photographs. (Wall text)

 

Akram Zaatari. Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani From Akram Zaatari's 'Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices' 2014

 

Akram Zaatari
Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani
From Akram Zaatari’s Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices
2014
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
© A. Zaatari/Arab Image Foundation
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Zaatari says that was normal in the 1950s. “If you had your picture taken you would seize the opportunity to create something different of yourself,” he says. “They wanted to look at themselves as if they were looking at an actor in a film.” It was fun.

Movies were a great source of inspiration for Madani’s sitters. This included acting out a kiss – but only men kissing men and women kissing women. “In a conservative society such as Saida, people were willing to play the kiss between two people of the same sex, but very rarely between a man and a woman,” Madani told Zaatari. He remembers that happening only once.

“If you look at it today you think – is it gay culture? But in fact it is not,” says Zaatari. Social restrictions were different then. “If you wanted to kiss it had to be a same-sex kiss to be accepted.”

Men showed off their photos, but for women a picture was considered intimate and would only be shared with a trusted few. Madani had purposely found a studio space on the first floor, so that women could visit discreetly – seen entering at street level, their destination would not be obvious. Once inside, they could relax – but it did not always end well.

Extract from Vibeke Venema. “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny

For the first time in its 127-year history, the American Psychological Association has issued guidelines to help psychologists specifically address the issues of men and boys – and the 36-page document features a warning.

“Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health,” the report warns.

The new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” defines “masculinity ideology” as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” The report also links this ideology to homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.

The new guidelines, highlighted in this month’s issue of Monitor on Psychology, which is published by the APA, linked this ideology to a series of stark statistics: Men commit approximately 90 percent of all homicides in the U.S., they are far more likely than women to be arrested and charged with intimate partner violence in the U.S., and they are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide. …

The report addresses the “power” and “privilege” that males have when compared to their female counterparts, but it notes that this privilege can be a psychological double-edged sword.

“Men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege,” the guidelines state. “Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.”

Extract from Tim Fitzsimons. “American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny,” on the NBC News website [Online] Cited 10/01/2019

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948' 2007

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948
2007
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
Ed 5 + 2AP
220 x 145cm
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

The Fold

The fold is the pleat that results from turning or bending part of material against another such as in textile, paper or even earth strata. The fold is the trace that such an action leaves on material, the crease that marks the location of turning and pressing.

Inherent in the action of folding, is that material is turned or moved in three dimensions hence engages with space. Folding is the basic and simplest step in creating form or enclosure. It confines space within folds. It covers parts with other parts. Folding is editing. It is a construction that does not look like its original form.

Unfolding is undoing, deconstructing, turning material back to its initial form. The creases in an unfolded material inscribe its history and in a way save it from amnesia. History inscribes itself on material in creases and in other forms. When unfolded, material testifies that history has already found its way to it, through the fold.

The fold is the memory of material.

When the fold is intentional, it aims to reorganise material to reduce its volume, to create form, or confine space. When accidental or natural such as in geology, or due to ageing organic matter, the fold is a permanent deformation of matter the form of which remains little predictable.

When intentional, the fold is a creative action, like folding a paper sheet into a paper airplane or an origami, like folding several sheets into a book, or a sheet of cardboard into a box or even folding clothes to reduce their volume and store them on a shelf or in a box of specific dimensions.

The fold is a narrative form.

In a way every photograph is an exposure of a field of vision, of something somewhere. Like folding confines space, a photograph captures space and folds into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others. Every photograph reproduces in small what’s much larger in life, or brings close an image of somewhere far and out of sight. The impact of a fold in a photographed space is permanent, in the sense that hidden parts in a picture are irretrievable. What a photograph missed and that was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.

The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds. It is an element through which the initial construction of a photograph, its making, is undone. It is an element that bears the history of a photograph, its memory.

The fold in time is the representation of time shortened, like in literature, in illustration or typically in film. The fold in time is the ellipsis. The fold within a narrative is the jump-cut or the jump in time. The fold acknowledges the existence of hidden narratives covered by others. In a film, the cut is the fold.

Akram Zaatari

 

General installation views

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation views, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Left
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Cairo, Egypt 1940s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Alban
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

A negative for photography is equivalent to an engraved zinc plate for traditional print-making. Not only does it allow for the reproduction of the image or print but it itself carrier traces of the tricks the photographer has used while making a picture. As such, photographers did not want their negatives to be displayed because they often carried details the studio might not want to share with the public. The portrait of a baby was made by the Cairo based photographer Alban in the 1940s. Access to the negative tells us that the baby was held by his mother and that she was later withdrawn from the picture (Wall text)

 

Right
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Tripoli, Lebanon 1980s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Joseph Avedissian
Collection: Joseph Avedissian
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

At at time when going to a photography studio was the only way for people to be photographed for ID or other official purposes, these spaces were shared by a wide spectrum of society. During the Lebanese civil war, they were sometimes employed by opposing militias and certainly by civilians as well. Joseph Avedissian set up his first studio in the late 1950s in al Tell in Tripoli, North Lebanon. Like most inner cities during the civil war in Lebanon, al Tell was the playground of numerous militias ranging from the different Palestinian factions and the Syrian army extending to the Al Tawheed Islamic group in the 1980s. Zaatari visited Avedissian’s with the photographer Randa Saath in 2002. Thousands of negative sheets covered the floor, from where he picked up this sheet that represents one member of the local militia posing with his machine gun. Because of poor preservation, however, a patch of emulsion coming from another exposed negative was accidentally bound to it depicting a woman. The result is an uneasy co-habitation in the shared frame. (Wall text)

 

The End of Love

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari

The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Every photograph hides parts to reveal others…

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Akram Zaatari

 

 

Desire for the archive as an unassailable repository of documents, testimony and truth seems to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, the more imminent reality that there is no singular history on which all peoples can agree. And while the “post-truth” era feels pandemic in North America, in other parts of the world this is an all too familiar paradigm where the manipulation of the past is a customary practice to administer the present, and influence the future. This is especially true of Lebanon, where fifteen years of malignant civil war from 1975-1990 has produced a knotty, contested history riddled with sectarian animosities, institutionalised amnesia, and ubiquitous uncertainty. And yet when nothing is solid, codified or certain, everything becomes possible. Across the Middle East where formal archives remain partial and at risk, an increasing number of artists employ the fragments as fodder for new forms of historical preservation and production. Akram Zaatari (b. 1966 Sidon, Lebanon) is a pioneer within this amorphous terrain, marrying personal experiences of the war, an abiding interest in the vernacular performance of identity via photo and film and a quasi-archaeological treatment of lens-based documents as artefacts. Beyond his individual practice, one of Zaatari’s greatest, most enduring contributions in this field may be the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) – an archival institution he co-founded with photographers Fouad Elkoury and Samer Mahdad in 1997 to self-declaredly “preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today.” And while the AIF has successfully amassed over 600,000 images from multiple countries and eras, Zaatari adamantly refutes the onset of institutionalisation – shunning the paralysing conservation practices of museums and libraries to double down on a more radical, generative employment of these materials. In his hands, this archive moves beyond a delicate commodity to circulate as a mutable constellation that partakes in an expanded field of histories with cumulative socio-cultural cargo. As such, the archive can be seen as both Zaatari’s medium and subject, and the AIF as both his fuel and foil – collecting and re-presenting photos as “a form,” in his words, “of creative un-making and re-writing that is no less important than the act of taking images.” Ensuing questions of authorship and appropriation yield to more multi-faceted strategies of displacement, where the re-framing of photos and films as living, changing vessels unfurls invigorating new layers and folds to mine and forage.

He does so, not as an iconoclast seeking to condemn archives as cogs in the machine of hegemony, but rather as a revitalising gesture that replaces rhetorical manipulations with emancipated re-assignment. For Zaatari, this frisson happens most intriguingly in the seemingly ordinary and banal, in the snapshots and mistakes archives historically diminish, where he argues, “It is a misconception that photographs testify to the course of history. It is history that inhabits photographs.” As such, Zaatari regularly subverts the canonical treatment of photos as evidentiary relics hidden away in cold storage to slow their inherent/inevitable chemical entropy. He instead treats images as susceptible material objects, and one could argue, as surrogates for the subjects and structures they depict. Much like the wrinkles, scars and repressions that the human body + mind collects, Zaatari reads the folds endemic to photography as a palimpsest of information and suggestion. Whether it be a purposeful edit or crop, an aesthetic gesture to redirect our viewing, or the natural degradation of materials over time, he argues that “The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds.” As fertile superstructures that expand the interpretive constitution of said photos, such folds are less obfuscations than nascent fonts for alternative narratives to percolate. “In these folds lies a history…” according to Zaatari, “many histories.” In this inclusive arena, the micro and macro flow into one another as citizen and state intermingle, and one discovers pockets of collective history in the pictures we have of ourselves and one another. These photos and their attendant folds do not float unattached in clouds, but instead coalesce as archives of their making, and lenses to look backward and forward.

In his position that “the traces that transactions leave on a photographic object become part of it,” Zaatari argues that the physical manufacture and decay of a photograph (or film) is as much a contribution to history as that which it depicts. He calls the ensuing composites “informed objects,” which, while partial or possibly broken, highlight the greater whole “like an exploded view of a machine,” or “a model of the human body used in anatomy class.” As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say.” Zaatari’s poignant 2017 series A Photographer’s Shadow is a case in point, presenting a number of historical photos where the cameraman’s shadow has infiltrated the composition, which was historically reason to throw the picture away. In Zaatari’s revised appraisal, however, such discards are instead accentuated as elucidating nexus points where author and subject meet within the frame. A diptych of found photos Zaatari premieres in the CAC exhibition thickens this premise even further, displaying a malfunction in the camera of Hashem el Madani (1928-2017) that led to an in-frame doubling of men (presumably father and son) standing upon the rocks of a swelling shoreline. Evoking past hallmarks of romantic painting, a multiplicity gathers with equal muster across this pairing as the images coagulate with the residue and implication of generational, production and art historical lineage. The cresting physicality of this informed object is pushed even further in the 2017 work Against Photography, which removes the image from the equation to instead detail the natural patterns of environmental decay upon a series of 12 photo plates. By extracting the traditional focal point of the photographic process, Zaatari instead surveys iterations of deterioration that take on an uncanny beauty in multiple media – turning the archival chimera of folds and fracture into a verdant topography of patterns, avenues, and stories untold.

The continued consideration of the photograph as a physical entity with corresponding history, memory and lifespan connects to Zaatari’s ongoing exploration of the human body as it is performed for, and by the camera. As an index of experience and identity, the body and its photographic proxy find a surrogate-like relationship in the images he provocatively re-frames – where intimate narratives are gleaned from voluminous collections and otherwise numbing aggregates. And while we are only sometimes privy to the background and/or the names of those photographed, Zaatari is a long-standing student of the ways in which gender, sexuality and taboo are concurrently codified and obscured by indigenous photographic practices. By re-contextualising private photos in a public arena, Zaatari “frequently composes works,” according to Professor Mark Westmoreland, “that force the photographic medium to comment upon social aesthetics that it has been deployed to produce at different historical moments.” A compelling example is found in Zaatari’s 2011 re-presentation of Madani’s timeworn photographs of male bodybuilders performing feats of both physical strength and acrobatic agility in a showcase of masculine prowess. Inferences to homo-eroticism within this display were comparatively forbidden; and, while we must resist the temptation to define historical images through the lens of today, the entropic folds highlighted in Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule, male normativity, and the stigma of homosexuality. Like the photographer’s shadow that interrupts the self-contained world of his subjects in Zaatari’s aforementioned work, the humbling eclipse that befalls many an ideology and monument creep over a pantheon of bravado here. The violent exercise of patriarchal custody is on frightening display in Zaatari’s 2012 diptych Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend, where otherwise benign photographs of two young women are marred by a flurry of black scratches. These disturbing scars are the product of a controlling husband who demanded Madani lacerate the negatives of a portrait session initiated by his wife before they were married. Years later, after Mrs. Baqari burned herself to death to escape his control, the widowed husband came back to Madani’s studio asking for enlargements of these photos. Their display decades later under the auspices of this exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary valence of the fold, which in this case manifests a tragic relationship, evokes the history of effigies and iconoclasm, embodies the systematic societal violence against women, and opens up a plethora of readings that could not exist without slashes that span both object and subject.

The social life of the informed objects that Zaatari presents thereby opens a larger sociological discourse which, in the case of Lebanon, speaks to the ways love and sexuality have been regulated – and liberated – via photography and film. He traces the visual trajectory of this contested history largely by way of Madani’s studio photography, which pictured thousands of people over the course of almost half a century in Zaatari’s hometown of Saida. The ensuing photos demonstrate a complex spectrum of desire as people moved across both sides of the state-sanctioned line, performing the love they coveted and that which they concealed. As a site of concurrent fantasy and societal uniformity, what genders, professions, events and relationships were prescribed to “look like” created an orthodoxy of both restrictions and their corresponding transgressions. In The End of Love (2013), Zaatari presents over 100 photos of wedding portraits taken in Madani’s studio that collectively illustrate the codes surrounding this classic trope. Kissing was forbidden for such a photo which, in Lebanon, was taken a week after the ceremony with the bride wearing her wedding dress, supplemented by a bouquet of plastic flowers and white gloves provided by the photographer. And while the ensuing images are stiff, sober and highly formulaic, this End of Love is not a cynical farewell to the romantic aura of marriage, but rather a site where ideals collect in the margins, in aspirations that exceed both the subject and frame. Much like Arthur Danto’s post-historical 1984 essay “The End of Art,” Zaatari’s collection implies the exhaustion of a particular lineage of love and the opening of a chaotic, open-ended eddy where de-regulated desire could be performed. Madani’s studio was the site and catalyst for many of these performances; but, in this exhibition Zaatari pairs The End of Love with the aspiration of his 2010 video Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, in which a proposed reunion of estranged lovers is told in the form of typewritten dialogue. The voices here remain anonymous throughout, much like the many couples in The End of Love, and we gradually learn that these contemporary, same-sex lovers speak in prose drawn from popular cinematic clichés. Their conflicted flirtation culminates in the familiar romantic trope of a sunset at seashore, and more specifically that portrayed in the 1986 film Le Rayon Vert in which a disillusioned woman’s faith in love is restored after she sees a green flash at twilight. And yet, despite the overt homage, the time stamp in the bottom corner of Zaatari’s version implies this is his personal footage. And, that amidst many formulae, clichés and the already said, in the seams between The End of Love and Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, something unique and human can be spoken.

In contrast to the charge that photos are moments plucked out of time – slowly staving off death in the airless preservation of archives – Zaatari re-situates photos entrusted to the AIF in a multiplied field that spans origins and invention. Rather than entrenching images with fixed historical assignments, he performs subtle interventions to uncover and suggest alternate readings that inject life into said objects. As a stirring case in point, Un-Dividing History (2017) merges historical images by Khalil Raad (1854-1957), a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Yacov Ben Dov (1882-1968), a Zionist-Ukrainian filmmaker and photographer, who dually inhabited Jerusalem from 1907-1948 but “belonged,” in Zaatari’s words, “to completely different universes.” Glass photo plates from each of these men had been acquired into a private collection years later and stored against each other for over a half-century in the same position, slowly and mutually “contaminating” one another with the opposing image. Zaatari’s cyanotypes reveal these beautifully compromised hybrids, depicting “traces of one world inscribed into another,” and symbolically de-partitioning the tragic schisms/folds that have long scarred this population and place. This grid of 8 images is not one of easy, idealistic harmony, but rather a complex, messy, fundamentally human portrait of the way lives intersect and overlap, if only they are allowed. A related moment of extraordinary, stirring empathy is found in the 2013 project Letter to a Refusing Pilot, in which Zaatari realises the rumour of Hagai Tamir, an Israeli fighter pilot, who in 1982, during his country’s invasion of Lebanon, disobeyed the order to drop a bomb on what he knew to be a schoolhouse. The legend, and Zaatari’s ensuing interview with Tamir have taken multiple forms in the translation to art, most notably paper planes that have appeared in both video and physical form, floating across terrain that spans real and virtual, truth and myth. What in theory started as a description, or a document, or a letter, has thereby taken flight via multiple folds – transforming this story into a mutable vessel that lands often, but temporarily – its ultimate destination indeterminate. In this lightness of being and itinerant course, the paper plane embodies Zaatari’s affinity for ephemeral records rather than the weighted gravity of archives. These are images, objects, videos, memories and outtakes that bear creases, evince life, and find renewal in each and every reappraisal.

Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' 2010 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow everything will be alright
2010

 

 

Akram Zaatari was born in 1966, in Sidon, Lebanon and currently lives in Beirut. Zaatari works in photography, video, and performance to explore issues pertinent to the Lebanese postwar condition, specifically the mediation of territorial conflicts and wars though television and media. Zaatari collects and examines a wide range of documents that testify to the cultural and political conditions of Lebanon’s postwar society. His artistic practice involves the study and investigation of the way these documents straddle, conflate, or confuse notions of history and memory. By analysing and recontextualising found audiotapes, video footage, photographs, journals, personal collections, interviews, and recollections, Zaatari explores the dynamics that govern the state of image-making in situations of war. The strength of Zaatari’s work lies in its ability to capture fractured moments in time, even if these sometimes confuse because of their disconnect from the audience and lack of context. Regardless, the stories hold their own as fascinating narratives, managing to reflect on such universal themes as love and lust, and sweet reminiscence, even amidst turbulent political realities. The indie film was nominated for the teddy award for best short film in 2011.

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 1
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 2
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 3
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot4
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 5
2013

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Letter to a Refusing Pilot' (installation view) 2013

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In the summer of 1982, a rumour made the rounds of a small city in South Lebanon, which was under Israeli occupation at the time. It was said that a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force had been ordered to bomb a target on the outskirts of Saida, but knowing the building was a school, he refused to destroy it. Instead of carrying out his commanders’ orders, the pilot veered off course and dropped his bombs in the sea. It was said that he knew the school because he had been a student there, because his family had lived in the city for generations, because he was born into Saida’s Jewish community before it disappeared. As a boy, Akram Zaatari grew up hearing ever more elaborate versions of this story, as his father had been the director of the school for twenty years. Decades later, Zaatari discovered it wasn’t a rumour. The pilot was real. Pulling together all of the different strands of Zaatari’s practice for the first time in a single work, Letter to a Refusing Pilot reflects on the complexities, ambiguities, and consequences of refusal as a decisive and generative act. Taking as its title a nod to Albert Camus’ four-part epistolary essay “Letters to a German Friend,” the work not only extends Zaatari’s interest in excavated narratives and the circulation of images in times of war, it also raises crucial questions about national representation and perpetual crisis by reviving Camus’s plea: “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In an October 2012 interview with anthropologist Mark Westmoreland, Zaatari further probed whether emotions can be preserved with pictures. The difficulty in resolving the matter perhaps motivated the artist’s move into increasingly abstract terrain. The exhibition’s titular work confirms Zaatari’s current reticent position. Against Photography (2017) – 12 aluminium engravings produced from weathered negatives scanned and then put through a 3D scanner that records only surface texture – withdraws from the image entirely, leaving behind only the shine of relief.

Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625. [cited 07 Dec 18]

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari

Against Photography (installation view, right)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image with at left, Un-Dividing History 2017
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

These cyanotypes merge two bodies of work from a collection which is no longer in the Arab Image Foundation’s custody, and which consisted of glass plates of Khalil Raad, a photographer from Jerusalem, and those of Yacov Ben Dov, a Zionist filmmaker and photographer of Ukrainian descent. Raad and Ben Dov shared the same city, Jerusalem, but belonged to completely different universes. Zaatari conceived this series as a statement against partitioning history. As the glass plates were stored against each other for over 50 years in the same position, each plate was contaminated by the plate it was leaning against. The cyanotypes depict traces of a world impressed onto another and speak of the ineluctable shared history of Palestine and Israel, safeguarded by a passionate collector. (Text from the Sfeir-Semler Gallery website)

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (details)
2017

 

Akram Zaatari. 'History' (detail) 2018

 

Akram Zaatari
History (detail)
2018
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

History retraces Zaatari’s pursuit of damaged, erased, withdrawn or scrapped off photographic descriptions from the nineties until the present day. The earliest is a self-portrait he made in 1993, and the most recent are part of Photographic Phenomena, 2018 series.

 

 

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26
Nov
17

Text / Exhibition: ‘The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure’ at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales

Exhibition dates: 14th October – 3rd December, 2017

Curator: Richard Perram OAM

 

 

Todd Fuller and Amy Hill (Australia, 1988-; Australia, 1988-) 'They're Only Words'  2009

 

Todd Fuller and Amy Hill (Australia, 1988-; Australia, 1988-)
They’re Only Words
2009
Film, sound duration: 2:42 mins
Courtesy the artists and May Space, Sydney

 

 

I must congratulate curator and gallery Director, Richard Perram OAM and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery for putting on such a fine exhibition, worthy of many a large gallery in a capital city. An incredible achievement, coming at the same time as Latrobe Regional Art Gallery put on the recent René Magritte exhibition. All power to these regional galleries. Now on with the show…

 

Show and tell

The male body. The female body. The trans body. The gay body. Etc. etc. etc. …
The male gaze. The female gaze. The trans gaze. The gay gaze. Etc. etc. etc. …

I did my Dr of Philosophy, all four and a half years of it, on the history of photography and its depiction of the male body so I know this subject intimately. It is such a complicated subject that after all of time, nothing is ever certain, everything is changeable and fluid.

To start, the definition of masculinity that I used as a determination for the term in my PhD is included as the first quotation below. The quotation is followed by others – on the optic experience and the creation of body image; on body image and our relation to other people; on the anxiety caused by the crisis of looking as it intersects with the crisis of the body; and how we can overcome the passivity of objective truth (accepting dominant images in this case, as they are presented to us) through an active struggle for subjective truth, or an acceptance of difference. A further, longer quote in the posting by Chris Schilling examines Ernst Goffman’s theories of body, image and society in which Goffman states that the body is characterised by three main features: firstly, that the body as material property of individuals; secondly, that meanings attributed to the body are determined by ‘shared vocabularies of body idiom’ such as dress, bearing, movements and position, sound level, physical gestures such as waving and saluting, facial decorations, and broad emotional expressions; and thirdly; that the body plays an important role in mediating the relationship between people’s self-identity and their social identity. These quotations just start to scratch the surface of this very complicated, negotiated social area.

What we can say is this: that masculinity is always and forever a construct; that male body image is always and forever a further construct built on the first construct; and that photo media images of the male body are a construct, in fact a double or triple construct as they seek to capture the surface representation of the previous two conditions.

What strikes me with most of the photographs in this posting is that they are about a constructed “performance” of masculinity, performances that challenge cultural signifiers of mainstream and marginalised aspects of Western patriarchal culture. In most the masculine subject position is challenged through complex projections of masculinity, doubled through the construction of images. In fact, spectatorship is no longer male and controlling but polymorphous and not organised along normative gender lines.

Thus, these artists respond to four defined action problems in terms of representation of body usage: “… control (involving the predicability of performance); desire (whether the body is lacking or producing desire); the body’s relation to others (whether the body is monadic and closed in on itself or dyadic and constituted through either communicative or dominating relations with others); and the self-relatedness of the body (whether the body associates and ‘feels at home’ in itself, or dissociates itself from its corporeality).”1 Further, four ideal types of body usage can be defined in terms of these action problems: the disciplined body where the medium is regimentation, the model of which is the rationalisation of the monastic order; the mirroring body where the medium is consumption, the model of which is the department store; the dominating body where the medium is force, the model of which is war; and the communicative body where the medium is recognition, the model of which could be shared narratives, communal rituals (such as sex) and caring relationships.2

As Chris Schilling observes, “The boundaries of the body have shifted away from the natural and on to the social, and the body now has ‘a thoroughly permeable “outer layer” through which the reflexive project of the self and externally formed abstract systems enter.” In other words, masculinity and male figure can be anything to any body and any time in any context. The male body can be prefigured by social conditions. But the paradox is, the more we know masculinity and the male body, the more knowledge we have, the more we can alter and shape these terms, the less certain we are as to what masculinity and the male body is, and how or if it should be controlled. Taking this a step further, Schilling notes that the photographic image of the body itself has become an abstract system/symbolic token which is traded without question, much as money is, without the author or participants being present.3 You only have to look into some of the gay chats rooms to know this to be true!

The most difficult question I had to ask myself in relation to this exhibition was, what is it to be male? Such a question is almost impossible to answer…

Is being male about sex, a penis, homosociality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, friendship, braveness, dominance, perversity, fantasy, love, attraction, desire, pleasure, Ockerism, respect, loyality, spirituality, joy, happiness etc. etc. It is all of these and more besides. And this is where I find some most of these images to be just surface representations of deeper feelings: I just like dressing in drag; I like pulling a gun on someone; I like holding a knife next to my penis to make my phallus and my armoured body look “butch”. It’s as though the “other”, our difference from ourselves (and others), has been normalised and found wanting. I want to strip them away from this performative, normalising aspect. Most of these photographs are male figures dressed up to the nines, projecting an image, a surface, to the outside world (even though the performative tells us a great deal about the peculiarities of the human imagination). I want them to be more essential, not just a large penis dressed up for show. Only in the image Untitled [Auschwitz victim] (Nd, below), where the performance for the camera and the clothing the man is wearing is controlled by others – does some sense of an inner strength of a male come through. In times of unknown horror and dire circumstances, this man stares you straight in the eye with a calm presence and inner composure.

For me personally, being male is about a spiritual connection – to myself, to the earth and to the cosmos. I hope it is about respect for myself and others. Of course I use the systems above as a projection of myself into the world, as to who I am and who I want people to see through my image. But there is so much more to being male than these defined, representational personas. This is not some appeal to, as David Smail puts it, “a simple relativity of ‘truths'” (anything to anybody at anytime in any context), nor a essentialist reductionism to a “single truth” about our sense of being, but an appeal for a ‘non-finality’ of truth, neither fixed nor certain, that changes according to our values and what we understand of ourselves, what it is to be male. This understanding requires intense, ongoing inner work, something many males have no desire to undertake…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,230

  1. Chris Schilling, The Body and Social Theory, Sage Publications, London, 1993, p.95.
  2. Ibid., p. 95.
  3. Ibid., p. 183.

.
Many thankx to Director Richard Perram, Assistant Curator Julian Woods and the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The category of “masculinity” should be seen as always ambivalent, always complicated, always dependent on the exigencies (necessary conditions and requirements) of personal and institutional power … [masculinity is] an interplay of emotional and intellectual factors – an interplay that directly implicates women as well as men, and is mediated by other social factors, including race, sexuality, nationality, and class … Far from being just about men, the idea of masculinity engages, inflects, and shapes everyone.”

.
Berger, Maurice; Wallis, Brian and Watson, Simon. ‘Constructing Masculinity’. Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 3-7.

 

“We choose and reject by action … Nietzsche calls the body ‘Herrschaftsgebilde’ (creation of the dominating will). We may say the same about body-image. Since optic experience plays such an enormous part in our relation to the world, it will also play a dominating role in the creation of the body-image. But optic experience is also experience by action. By actions and determinations we give the final shape to our bodily self. It is a process of continual active development.” (My underline)

.
Schilder, Paul. ‘The Image and Appearance of The Human Body’. New York: International Universities Press, 1950, pp. 104-105.

 

“Body images should not exist in isolation. We desire the relation of our body-images to the body-images of all other persons, and we want it especially concerning all sexual activities and their expression in the body-image. Masturbation is specifically social. It is an act by which we attempt to draw the body-images of others, especially in their genital region, nearer to us.”

.
Schilder, Paul. ‘The Image and Appearance of The Human Body’. New York: International Universities Press, 1950, p. 237.

 

“As the French critic Maurice Blanchot wrote, “The image has nothing to do with signification, meaning, as implied by the existence of the world, the effort of truth, the law and the brightness of the day. Not only is the image of an object not the meaning of that object and of no help in comprehending it, but it tends to withdraw it from its meaning by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance that it has nothing to resemble” … It is this severance of meaning and its object, this resemblance of nothing, that the crisis of looking intersects with the crisis of the body. In contemporary culture we promote the body as infinitely extendable and manageable. Indeed, we mediate this concept through the permeation of the photographic image in popular culture – through advertising and dominant discourse that place the young, beautiful, erotic body as the desirable object of social attention. This is a body apparently conditioned by personal control (moral concern). But the splitting apart of image and meaning pointed to by Blanchot suggests that such control is illusory. There is no single truth; there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.” (My underline)

.
Blanchot, Maurice. ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’. New York: Barrytown, 1981, p. 85, quoted in Townsend, Chris. ‘Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking’. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p. 10.

 

“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the construction of the male figure through the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known … Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.” (My underline).

.
Smail, David. ‘Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety’. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153.

 

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure' at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales
Photos: Sharon Hickey Photography

 

 

“In line with current thinking the exhibition posits masculinity, and gender itself, as a kind of performance – a social construct that is acquired rather than biologically determined.

This idea has its limits, with most people happy to accept anatomy as destiny. Nevertheless, there is much we view as ‘natural’ that might be more accurately described as ‘cultural’. In an exceptional catalogue essay, Peter McNeil refers to Jonathan Ned Katz’s book, The Invention of Heterosexuality, which notes that the term “heterosexual” was first published in the United States in 1892. This is a remarkably late entry for a concept often viewed as a cornerstone of social orthodoxy.

A condition doesn’t require a word to make it a reality but it sure helps. Wittgenstein’s famous dictum: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world,” reminds us of the power of naming and categorisation.

To establish anything as an unquestionable norm is to stigmatise other views as abnormal. From the perception of abnormality comes the fear and hatred that surfaced during a same-sex marriage postal survey that revealed more about political cowardice than it did about Australian social attitudes. Although Perram has no qualms about celebrating gay sexuality his chief concern is to encourage a broader, more inclusive understanding of masculinity. …

One of the most striking moments in Perram’s show is a juxtaposition of Mapplethorpe’s 1983 portrait of gay porn star, Roger Koch, aka Frank Vickers, wearing a wig, bra and fishnets, his hands clasped demurely over his groin. The feminine coyness is at odds with Vickers’s musclebound torso and biceps which are fully on display in his self-portrait of the same year, along with his semi-erect penis.

The photos may be two versions of camp but the comparison shows how an individual’s sexual identity can be reconfigured with the appropriate props and body language. In the case of performance artist, Leigh Bowery, captured in a series of photos by Fergus Greer, the play of fantasy transcended the simple binary opposition of male and female, to create monstrous hybrids that question the limits of what it is to be human.”

John McDonald. “The Unflinching Gaze,” November 24, 2017

 

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Past)' 2013

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Present)' 2013

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-) 'Brother (Our Future)' 2013

 

Tony Albert (Australia, 1981-)
Brother (Our Past) 2013
Brother (Our Present) 2013
Brother (Our Future) 2013
Pigment on paper, edition of 3 150 x 100 cm each
Courtesy UTS Art, Corrigan Collection

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987) 'Blow Job' [still] 1964

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987)
Blow Job [still]
1964
16mm film, black and white, silent duration: 41 min at 16 frames per second
© 2017 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Caregie Institute. All rights reserved

 

 

Robert Wilson (United States, 1941-) 'Brad Pitt'  2004

 

Robert Wilson (United States, 1941-)
Brad Pitt
2004
Video portrait, looped
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation, New York

 

 

Peter Elfes (Australia, 1961-) 'Brenton [Heath-Kerr] as Tom of Finland' 1992

 

Peter Elfes (Australia, 1961-)
Brenton [Heath-Kerr] as Tom of Finland
1992
Cibachrome print
51 x 40.6 cm
Courtesy the artist © Peter Elfes

 

Casa Susanna Attributed to Andrea Susan '(Lee in white dress)' 1961

 

Casa Susanna
Attributed to Andrea Susan
(Lee in white dress)
1961
Digital copy from colour photographs
Collection of Art Gallery of Ontario, purchased with funds generously donated by Martha LA McCain 2015
© Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo: Ian Lefebvre

 

Nikki Johnson (United States, 1972-) 'David Amputation Fetishist' 2007

 

Nikki Johnson (United States, 1972-)
David Amputation Fetishist
2007
Digital print (from a set of images)
Courtesy the artist

 

Luke Parker (Australia 1975-) 'Double hanging' 2005

 

Luke Parker (Australia 1975-)
Double hanging
2005
Photograph, cotton thread, pins
15 x 40cm
Courtesy the artist and 55 Sydenham Rd

 

Gregory Collection. 'Mr Cullen & Mr Gornall' Date unknown

 

Gregory Collection
Mr Cullen & Mr Gornall
Date unknown
Digital copy from scanned negative
Courtesy the Bathurst Historical Society

 

 

Two hundred photos and videos by sixty two leading artists (twenty four Australian and thirty eight international) will be exhibited at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) from Saturday 14 October until Sunday 3 December 2017.

Curated by BRAG Director Richard Perram OAM, an openly gay man, The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure surveys how the male figure has been depicted by Australian and international artists in photo media over the last 140 years. It includes historic and contemporary fine art photography and film, fashion photography, pop videos and homoerotic art. Images range from the beautiful to the banal to the confounding.

Key artists in the exhibition include iconic American artists Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, and avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson with a video portrait of Brad Pitt; European artists such as Eadweard Muybridge, and Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden; and historic and contemporary Australian artists including Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss, Max Dupain, Deborah Kelly, William Yang, Gary Carsley, Owen Leong and Liam Benson. Works have been sourced from Australian and international collections, including a major loan of 60 works from the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York.

The exhibition brings an unflinching gaze to how concepts of humanity and the male figure are intertwined and challenged. Themes include the Pink Triangle, which deals with the persecution, torture and genocide of homosexuals in concentration camps during World War II to those in Chechyna today; and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The Unflinching Gaze exhibition is a unique opportunity for audiences in the Bathurst Region to access a world class photo-media exhibition, says Richard Perram OAM. The Unflinching Gaze not only deals with aesthetic concerns but also engages the community in a discussion around social issues. BRAG is working with local Bathurst LGBTI community groups to ensure that one of the most important outcomes of the exhibition will be to inform and educate the general Bathurst community and support and affirm the Bathurst LGBTI community.

The Unflinching Gaze: photo media and the male figure is a Bathurst Regional Art Gallery exhibition in partnership with Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York. Curated by Richard Perram OAM. This exhibition is supported by the Dobell Exhibition Grant, funded by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and managed by Museums & Galleries of NSW.

Press release from the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG)

 

American & Australian Photographic Company (Beaufoy Merlin & Charles Bayliss) 'Mssrs. Bushley & Young' Nd

 

American & Australian Photographic Company
(Beaufoy Merlin & Charles Bayliss)
Mssrs. Bushley & Young
Nd
Digital reproductions from glass photo negatives, quarter plate
From the Collections of the State Library of NSW

 

Horst P. Horst (Germany; United States, 1906-1996) 'Male Nude I NY' 1952

 

Horst P. Horst (Germany; United States, 1906-1996)
Male Nude I NY
1952
Silver gelatin print
25.4 x 20.3 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, gift of Ricky Horst

 

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Crusader' 2015

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Executioner' 2015

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-) 'The Terrorist' 2015

 

Liam Benson (Australia, 1980-)
The Crusader 2015
The Executioner 2015
The Terrorist 2015
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper, edition of 5 90 x 134 cm
Photograph by Alex Wisser
Courtesy of the artist and Artereal Gallery

 

 

George Platt Lynes (United States, 1907-1955) 'Blanchard Kennedy' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (United States, 1907-1955)
Blanchard Kennedy
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23 x 18.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1981

 

Christopher Makos (United States, 1948-) 'Altered Image: One Photograph of Andy Warhol' 1982

 

Christopher Makos (United States, 1948-)
Altered Image: One Photograph of Andy Warhol
1982
Gelatin silver photograph
50.6 x 40.8 cm each
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989) 'Helmut, N.Y.C. (from X Portfolio)' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989)
Helmut, N.Y.C. (from X Portfolio)
1978
Selenium toned silver gelatin print
19.7 x 19.7 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Foundation Purchase
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989) 'Roger Koch aka Frank Vickers: From the "Roger" Series' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (United States, 1946-1989)
Roger Koch aka Frank Vickers: From the “Roger” Series
1983
Gelatin silver photo
48.9 x 38.1 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Founders Gift
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

 

Body, image and society

“Goffman’s approach to the body is characterised by three main features. First, there is a view of the body as material property of individuals. In contrast to naturalistic views … Goffman argues that individuals usually have the ability to control and monitor their bodily performances in order to facilitate social interaction. Here, the body is associated with the exercise of human agency, and it appears in Goffman’s work as a resource which both requires and enables people to manage their movements and appearances.

Second, while the body is not actually produced by social forces, as in Foucault’s work, the meanings attributed to it are determined by ‘shared vocabularies of body idiom’ which are not under the immediate control of individuals (E. Goffman, Behaviour In Public Places: Notes on the Social Organisation of Gatherings, The Free Press, New York, 1963, p.35). Body idiom is a conventionalized form of non-verbal communication which is by far the most important component of behaviour in public. It is used by Goffman in a general sense to refer to ‘dress, bearing, movements and position, sound level, physical gestures such as waving and saluting, facial decorations, and broad emotional expressions’ (Goffman, 1963:33). As well as allowing us to classify information given off by bodies, shared vocabularies of body idiom provide categories which label and grade hierarchically people according to this information. Consequently, these classifications exert a profound influence over ways in which individuals seek to manage and present their bodies.

The first two features of Goffman’s approach suggest that human bodies have a dual location. Bodies are the property of individuals, yet are defined as significant and meaningful by society. This formulation lies at the core of the third main feature of Goffman’s approach to the body. In Goffman’s work, the body plays an important role in mediating the relationship between people’s self-identity and their social identity. The social meanings which are attached to particular bodily forms and performances tend to become internalized and exert a powerful influence on an individuals sense of self and feelings of inner worth.

Goffman’s general approach to the body is revealed through his more specific analyses of the procedures involved in what he terms the ‘interaction order’. Goffman conceptualises the interaction order as somehow autonomous sphere of social life (others include the economic sphere) which should not be seen as ‘somehow prior, fundamental, or constitutive of the shape of macroscopic phenomena’ (Goffman, 1983:4). His analysis of this sphere of life demonstrates that intervening successfully in daily life, and maintaining a single definition in the face of possible disruptions, requires a high degree of competence in controlling the expressions, movements and communications of the body.” (Goffman, 1969).

Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp.82-83.

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-) 'Resistance Training' 2017

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-)
Resistance Training
2017
Archival pigment print on cotton paper, edition of 5 + 2 AP
120 x 120 cm
Courtesy the artist and Artereal Gallery, Sydney Commissioned by BRAG for The Unflinching Gaze: photo media & the male figure with funds from BRAGS Inc. (Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Society Inc.)

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-) 'Milk Teeth' 2014

 

Owen Leong (Australia, 1979-)
Milk Teeth
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton paper, edition of 5 + 2Ap
120 x 120cm
Courtesy of the artists and Artereal Gallery Sydney

 

Samuel J Hood (Australia, 1872-1953) 'The 9th Field Brigade' 24/2/1938

 

Samuel J Hood (Australia, 1872-1953)
The 9th Field Brigade (four images)
24/2/1938 (Liverpool, NSW)
Photo negative (copied from original nitrate photograph) 35mm
From the Collections of the State Library of NSW

 

Anthony Sansone (Italy; United States, 1905-1987) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Anthony Sansone (Italy; United States, 1905-1987)
Untitled
1935
Bromide print
24.1 x 18.9 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, gift of David Aden Gallery

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-) 'Leigh Bowery, Session V' Look 27 February 1992

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-)
Leigh Bowery, Session V
Look 27 February 1992
Digital reproduction
Courtesy Fergus Greer

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-) 'Leigh Bowery, Session VII' Look 34, June 1994

 

Fergus Greer (United Kingdom, 1961-)
Leigh Bowery, Session VII
Look 34, June 1994
Digital reproduction
Courtesy Fergus Greer

 

Unknown American. 'Vintage photograph from the Closeted History/Wunderkamera' Nd

 

Unknown American
Vintage photograph from the Closeted History/Wunderkamera
Nd
Tintypes, paper photographs
Collection of Luke Roberts

 

Frank Vickers (United States, 1948-1991) 'Untitled (self-portrait)' 1983

 

Frank Vickers (United States, 1948-1991)
Untitled (self-portrait)
1983
Silver gelatin print
17.8 x 12.4 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, Founders’ gift

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (Germany; Italy, 1856-1931) 'Untitled' c. 1910

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (Germany; Italy, 1856-1931)
Untitled
c. 1910
Albumen silver print
20.3 x 15.2 cm
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Founders’ gift

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987) 'Untitled (Victor Hugo's Penis)' Date unknown

 

Andy Warhol (United States, 1928-1987)
Untitled (Victor Hugo’s Penis)
Date unknown
Polaroid
8.5 x 10.5 cm
Collection of Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation

 

Gary Carsley (Australia 1957-) 'YOWL' [still] 2017

 

Gary Carsley (Australia 1957-)
YOWL [still]
2017
Single Channel HD Video on Layered A3 Photocopy substrate
360 x 247 cms
Duration 4.32 min
Videography Ysia Song, Soundscape Tarun Suresh, Art Direction Shahmen Suku

 

Royale Hussar (Basil Clavering and John Parkhurst) 'Queens Guard 3' 1959-60

 

Royale Hussar (Basil Clavering and John Parkhurst)
Queens Guard 3
1959-60
Digital print from original negative

 

William Yang (1943- ) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (1943- )
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
19 gelatin silver photographs in the monologue
51.0 x 41.0 each sheet
Photograph: William Yang/Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

A photograph from the Sadness series, which depicts the slow death of his sometime lover, Allan Booth.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Auschwitz victim]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Auschwitz victim]
Nd

 

This prisoner was sent to Auschwitz under Section 175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalised homosexuality.
Photograph: Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

“The picture may have been taken by Wilhelm Brasse who was born on this date, 3 December in 1917, who became known as the “photographer of Auschwitz concentration camp”, though he was one of several, including Alfred Woycicki , Tadeusz Myszkowski, Józef Pysz, Józef Światłoch, Eugeniusz Dembek, Bronisław Jureczek, Tadeusz Krzysica, Stanisław Trałka, and Zdzisław Pazio whom the Camp Gestapo kept alive for the job of recording thousands of photographs of their fellow prisoners, supervised by Bernhard Walter, the head of Erkenundienst.

The photographs themselves present a transgression of the subject’s own self-image. The carte-de-visite format forces a confrontation of the victim (which in this situation, they are) with themselves in a visual interrogation, by placing a profile and a three-quarter view either side of a frontal mug shot. The final image seems to depict the subject beholden to a higher authority.

Brasse had been arrested in 1940, at age 23, for trying to leave German-occupied Poland and sent to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau where because he had been a Polish professional photographer in his aunt’s studio his skills were useful. Brasse has estimated that he took 40,000 to 50,000 “identity pictures” from 1940 until 1945.

Brasse and another prisoner Bronisław Jureczek preserved the photographs when in January 1945, during the evacuation of the camp, they were ordered to burn all of the photographs. They put wet photo paper in the furnace first and followed by such a great number of photos and negatives that the fire was suffocated. When the SS-Hauptscharfürer Walter left the laboratory, Brasse and Jureczek swept undestroyed photographs from the furnace, scattering them in the rooms of the laboratory and boarding up the door to the laboratory. 38,916 photographs were saved.”

James McCardle. “Ghosts,” on the On This Day in Photography website 03/12/2017

 

M. P. Rice. 'American poet Walt Whitman and his 'rebel soldier friend', Pete Doyle' Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Washington DC. c. 1865

 

M. P. Rice
American poet Walt Whitman and his ‘rebel soldier friend’, Pete Doyle
Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, Washington DC.
c. 1865
Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress
Photograph: Library of Congress/Library of Congress/Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

 

 

“The first extant photo of Whitman with anyone else, here Peter Doyle, Whitman’s close friend and companion in Washington. Doyle was a horsecar driver and met Whitman one stormy night in 1865 when Whitman, looking (as Doyle said) “like an old sea-captain,” remained the only passenger on Doyle’s car. They were inseparable for the next eight years.”

 

 

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG)
70 -78 Keppel St
Bathurst NSW 2795

Opening hours:
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Sundays 11am – 2pm

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01
Jul
17

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

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

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

 

 

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

.
Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

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

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

.
Christian Thompson

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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

 

 

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

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

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

 

 

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

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Thompson

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from MUMA

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
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Saturday 12 – 5pm

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31
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘The Classical Nude and the Making of Queer History’ at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 7th September 2014

 

These were the only press images I could get for this exhibition. I would have liked to have seen many more!

Marcus

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

 

 

Johann Joachim Winckelmann. 'Histoire de l'art de l'antiquité' 1781

 

Johann Joachim Winckelmann
Histoire de l’art de l’antiquité
1781
Leipzig: J. G. I. Brietkopf

 

Winckelmann was murdered in Trieste on June 8, 1768. The frontispiece to this French translation of the History presents an allegory of his death designed by his friend, the painter Adam Friedrich Oeser (1717-1799)

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion in Balachines's Orpheus II' 1948

 

George Platt Lynes
Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion in Balachines’s Orpheus II
1948
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Private Collection

 

Edwin Townsend. 'Tony Sansone' c. 1950s

 

Edwin Townsend
Tony Sansone
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
9.5 x 7.5 inches
Collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York

 

James Bidgood. 'Pan' 1965

 

James Bidgood
Pan
1965
Digital C-print
22 x 22 inches
Courtesy of the artist and ClampArt, New York

 

 

“Organized by the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and curated by scholar Jonathan David Katz, The Classical Nude and the Making of Queer History investigates how the visual iconography of Greco-Roman culture has acted as a recurring touchstone in the development of same-sex representation. Within the canon of western art history, images of the classical past have acted as a sensitive barometer for the shifting constructions of what we today call LGBT or queer culture. The classical past is queer culture’s central origin myth, and tracing how this tradition has been utilized by queer artists over time offers far more information about the cultural context that appropriates the classical than it does about that past itself.

Examining the classical nude across centuries of artistic production, this exhibition considers four major periods: Antiquity, the Renaissance, the nineteenth century, and the modern/contemporary period. Drawn almost exclusively from the collections of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York, the objects are diverse in medium and format. While all periods are represented, the majority of the works illustrate how artists in recent history have utilized classical iconography and themes to explore same-sex desire. It is in the recent past, as artists reimagined a classical legacy that had not accounted for diverse gender and racial perspectives, that we find queer culture’s relationship to the classical tradition at both its most complex and dynamic.

This presentation at the ONE Gallery is a condensed preview of a show to open at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in October 2014. Containing over ninety-five objects, the exhibition in New York will include works by Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo, Jacopo Pontormo, Andrea Mantegna, F. Holland Day, Romaine Brooks, Claude Cahun, Herbert List, Jess, Paul Cadmus, and Pierre et Gilles, in addition to the works presented here, and will be accompanied by a scholarly exhibition catalogue.”

Text from the ONE Archives website

 

Alonze James Hanagan (aka Lon of New York) 'Howard Hunter' c. 1950s

 

Alonze James Hanagan (aka Lon of New York)
Howard Hunter
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
13.25 x 7 inches
Collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York

 

Artist unknown. 'Replica of The Warren Cup' original c. mid-1st century AD

 

Artist unknown
Replica of The Warren Cup
original c. mid-1st century AD
Silver
Unnumbered issue from edition of twelve
Collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York. Image of the original courtesy of The British Museum

 

Bruce LaBruce with Nina Arsenault. 'Tripartite Goddess I, II, III' 2011

 

Bruce LaBruce with Nina Arsenault
Tripartite Goddess I, II, III
2011
Archival photograph
Signed on verso 1/10
18 x 28 in.

 

Austin Young. 'Dani Daniels, Los Angeles' 2011

 

Austin Young
Dani Daniels, Los Angeles
2011
Archival inkjet print
Edition 1/10

 

Wilhelm Von Gloeden. 'Untitled' 1895

 

Wilhelm Von Gloeden
Untitled
1895
Albumen silver print
9 x 6.75 inches
Collection of Sinski/McLaughlin

 

Friedrich O. Wolter. 'Drei Grazien' (Three Graces) Date unknown

 

Friedrich O. Wolter
Drei Grazien (Three Graces)
Date unknown
Photograph
5.5 x 3.5 inches
Collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York

 

Del LaGrace Volcano. 'The Three Graces, Jasper, Suzie and Gill, London' 1992

 

 

Del LaGrace Volcano
The Three Graces, Jasper, Suzie and Gill, London
1992
Digital C-print
30 x 23.5 inches
Collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York

 

 

ONE Archives Gallery & Museum
626 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Opening hours:
Thursday: 4 – 8pm
Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 1pm – 5pm
Closed Monday through Wednesday

ONE Archives website

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04
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male’ at Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 9th February 2014

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The Cult of Muscularity

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“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

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Richard Dyer. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p.114

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“The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ (Elliott Gorn. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986) in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the first time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures). Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’…”

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks). Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept for the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is reinforced through social and moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for a particular type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Excerpt from “Bench Press,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male, PhD thesis, RMIT Univesity, Melbourne, 2001.

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY AND MALE SEXUAL AROUSAL – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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

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Alexis Hunter. 'Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society - exorcise' 1977

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Alexis Hunter (born Epsom, New Zealand, 1948)
Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise
1977
10 Color photographs, mounted on two panels, both 25 x 101 cm
Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-prints between Alucobond and Plexiglas
Each 180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Digitally manipulates photos of women depicted in various suggestive poses, replacing their features with his own in a sufficiently consistent way for the image to retain its erotic content. By slipping into different bodies, he tests his own body and appearance, and he raises the issue of reality. The artist can only offer his own, man-made version.

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Lynda Benglis. 'Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4' 1974

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Lynda Benglis (born Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, 1941)
Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4
1974
26.7 × 26.5 × 0.5 cm
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
(From the section Experiments)

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Peter Land. 'Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994' 1994

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Peter Land (born Aarhus, Denmark, 1966)
Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994
1994
Colour video
Time, 25 Min.
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ursula Palla. 'balance' 2012

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Ursula Palla (born Chur, Switzerland, 1961)
balance
2012
Colour video installation
Time, 8 Min.
Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Masculinity under scrutiny

“This themed group exhibition is our contribution to the discussion on new role definitions of the male gender, a topic that has long been on the agenda of academia and popular culture. Works by artists of both sexes will address the issue of how contemporary art stages male role models and masculinity, critically scrutinizing the content of the same.

Who or what makes a man? How do men define themselves in art since feminism; how do they reflect on their gender and the portrayal thereof? Whereas the preferred angle of engaging with female artists is still today via “gender”, this is still a novel angle for looking at male artists. And as feminist art has finally become an established entity in major institutions, it is time to take a closer look at the art produced by men about men. The Sexual Revolution as well as the feminist and gay movements did not have only one side to them: they likewise impacted the roles of men and transformed images of masculinity. The exhibition therefore explores how contemporary Western artists of both sexes have, since the 1960s, invented new notions of masculinity or shattered existing ones. It does this with some 45 installations, some of which are large and extensive.

With this exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern is addressing a topic that, until now, has hardly been tackled in a museum context: the “normal” white heterosexual male, hitherto the ultimate measure for everything we consider characteristically human, is now facing a crisis. The exhibition and catalogue draw on the reflections and insights gained from masculinities studies to throw light on the consequences of the contemporary male crisis and how it is reflected in art, making the extent of the crisis visually palpable.

The works selected for the show have been divided up into six sections. These sections explore what “normal” might be and what the new nuances inherent in being “male” are today. The prescribed tour of the exhibition begins with the chapter on “Strong Weaknesses” and then proceeds through the sections focusing thematically on “Experiments”, “Emotions”, “Eroticism”, “Critique and Crisis”, and “Masculinity as Masquerade”. This route follows, at the same time, a roughly chronological order. The show is accompanied by a rich fund of educational programs with tours of the exhibition, discussions of artworks with invited guests, as well as a film program in collaboration with the cinema Kino Kunstmuseum, and not least, workshops for schools.

Participating artists: Vito Acconci / Bas Jan Ader / Luc Andrié / Lynda Benglis / Luciano Castelli / Martin Disler / VALIE EXPORT and Peter Weibel / Gelitin / Pascal Häusermann / Alexis Hunter / Cathy Joritz / Jesper Just / Jürgen Klauke / Frantiček Klossner / Elke Silvia Krystufek / Marie-Jo Lafontaine / Peter Land / Littlewhitehead / Sarah Lucas / Urs Lüthi / Manon / Paul McCarthy / Tracey Moffatt / Josef Felix Müller / Ursula Palla / Adrian Piper / Anne-Julie Raccoursier / Ugo Rondinone / Carole Roussopoulos / Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier / Sylvia Sleigh / Nedko Solakov / Megan Francis Sullivan / Sam Taylor-Johnson / Costa Vece / William Wegman / Silvie Zürcher.

Text from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat (born Brisbane, Australia, 1960)
Heaven (3 stills)
1997
Colour video
Time, 28 Min.
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Male to the Hilt: Images of Men

“The exhibition The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male zeroes in on the evolution of male identity since the 1960s. On view are works by 40 artists regardless of gender who question masculinity and stage it anew. The Kunstmuseum Bern seeks to foster dialogue in the exhibition and is therefore increasing its focus on social media. For the first time our visitors can respond to issues raised by an exhibition immediately on location…

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The whole spectrum of art media and male images

The exhibition is presenting works that cover the entire range of media used by artists, including paintings, drawings, photographs, films, videos, sculptures and performance-installations. Artists of all ages are represented in the exhibition, enabling it to highlight images of men in all age groups. Each of the artworks questions social norms, who or what a man is, while orchestrating masculinity in novel ways and reflecting on what it means to be a “man”. The artworks in the show take up the theme of masculinity or male emotions – as discussed in society in general or as openly demonstrated by men today: as weeping sport heroes, the disadvantaged position of divorced fathers, overstrained top managers or criminal youths.

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Of strong weaknesses, eroticism and the male in crisis

The exhibition is divided into six sections that explore key aspects of masculinity studies and thus simultaneously follow a loose art-historical chronological thread. The introductory section takes up the theme of “Strong Weaknesses” with representations of men weeping or expressing fear. The second section “Experiments” scrutinizes the exciting events that took place in conjunction with the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The section “Emotions” presents male emotionality in intensely stirring artistic orchestrations. The section “Eroticism” take us through a selection of artworks that investigate men as objects of desire. The last two sections of the exhibition “Crisis and Critique” and “Masculinity as Masquerade” investigate traditional male images and give us an account of the potential of new gender orientations.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Bas Jan Ader. 'I'm Too Sad to Tell You' 1970/71

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Bas Jan Ader (born Winschoten, Netherlands, 1942, died 1975 presumably on the high seas. Lived in California, USA, as of 1963)
I’m Too Sad to Tell You
1970/71
16mm, s/w
Time, 3:34 Min.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sylvia Sleigh. 'Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair' 1971

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Sylvia Sleigh (born Llandudno, Wales, Great Britain, 1916; died New York, USA, 2010)
Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair
1971
Oil on canvas
131 x 142 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh & Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT. 'Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit' (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File) 1969

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT
Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File)
1969
Documentation of the action
5 s/w photographs, 40.4 x 50 cm / 50 x 40.4 cm
Sammlung Generali Foundation
Wien Foto: Josef Tandl
© Generali Foundation © 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Austrian artists’ collective with Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban. Apparently became acquainted at a summer camp in 1978. Changed their name from Gelatin to Gelitin in 2005.

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“Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took careof the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.

Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and self-assured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented – insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily – in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.”

Part of the Preface to the exhibition by Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern and Klaus Vogel, Director of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Steve Buscemi' 2004

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Steve Buscemi
2004
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
99.2 x 99.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Gabriel Byrne' 2002

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Gabriel Byrne
2002
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
86.2 x 86.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Costa Vece. 'Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ' 2007

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Costa Vece (born Herisau, Switzerland, 1969)
Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ
2007
Ultrachrome – Digitalprint
106 × 80 cm
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-print between Alucobond and Plexiglas
180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Rico-Scagliola-&-Michael-Meier-Nude-Leaves-and-Harp-WEB

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Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1985; born Chur, Switzerland, 1982)
Nude, Leaves and Harp
2012
Floor Installation, HD Digital Print on Novilux traffic, dimensions variable
Ed. 1/5

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Jürgen Klauke. 'Rot' 1974

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Jürgen Klauke (born Kliding, Germany, 1943)
Rot
1974
Series of 7 photographs
Each 40 × 30 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern
(From the section Experiments)

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Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition

Kathleen Bühler Curator Kunstmuseum Bern

In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,”1 since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men.2 The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009.

Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome.3 This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier.4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.” With this metaphor, “an attempt is made to apprehend all the changes that contribute to the fact that the dominance of the male gender, which was formerly consolidated to a large extent, … has lost the obviousness of being self-evident.”5 Nothing therefore demonstrates the transience of gender stereotypes more clearly, and one might rightly ask whether the earlier “weaknesses” might long since have come to be considered new “strengths.” The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern takes up the thread that was already spun by the small but noteworthy exhibition in Switzerland Helden Heute (Heroes Today) in 2005.6 At that time, the focus was put on hero images in contemporary art and on society’s current need for strong men in art and politics.7 The current exhibition in Bern, in contrast, argues quite differently that specifically images of “weak” men best represent the social and cultural liberation movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The fact that men today are allowed to express their feelings publicly, as is shown for instance by the example of the exceptional Swiss athlete Roger Federer, or that they are staged by female artists as object of desire and no longer as subject of desire is a crucial innovation in the visualization of gender identities. After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender,8 the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time.9 It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue.

Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types – thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly – have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals.10 What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least. In Western cultural tradition, these are physically sound, white heterosexual men.11 They remain the norm unchallenged as a “blind spot” without their position of power and their power to make decisions ever becoming a focus. The masculine-heterosexual dominance succeeds in “remaining out of the question itself,” as the art historian Irit Rogoff has criticized, by subordinating all representations of the “other” to their own norm, including women, individuals with a different sexual orientation, and non-whites.12

The fact that male bodies are becoming visible today in the most unexpected places is demonstrated in a striking way by the work Nude, Leaves and Harp (2012) by Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier, which graces the entrance area to the exhibition in Bern. The artist duo incorporated detailed images of their naked, sculpted bodies into a palm and marble decor on the floor. The path to the exhibition literally leads over their nakedness. Two exhibitions in Austria were also recently dedicated to this new presence of the naked man,13 with numerous works documenting “the deconstruction of hegemonic models of masculinity – the look of desire at the male body as well as body cult and exploitation,” which is also a focus of the exhibition in Bern.14 However, while those responsible in Linz and Vienna assumed a distanced, art-historical perspective by taking an iconographic approach based on the selection of motifs or a chronological approach according to epoch, the exhibition in Bern favors a different perspective. It focuses on representations of masculinity in art since the nineteen-sixties while simultaneously taking the historical conditions of being a man into consideration by utilizing central issues in masculinity research as a guide. What thus results is a logical division of the exhibition and this publication into six chapters.

The introductory chapter “Strong Weaknesses” revolves around the change in gender virtues and considers this based on the example of the weeping and fearful man. The chapter “Experiments” presents eccentric artistic stagings and sociocritical actions that were influenced by the sexual revolution. The chapter “Emotions” highlights the point in time at which men themselves increasingly cast aside the image of the successful and unflinching hero and explore men’s emotionality through doing so. The chapter “Eroticism” describes the change in gaze and position from the male subject to object of desire. The final two chapters “Crisis and Criticism” and “Masculinity as Masquerade,” in contrast, are dedicated to a younger generation of artists who deal out criticism of their “fathers” and also discover the arsenal of gender stagings and their utopian potential anew.”

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Footnotes

1 Une riposte aux exagérations, aux absurdités et aux utopies du féminisme is the subtitle.

2 Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 19th ed. (Leipzig and Vienna, 1920), p. 390. Both Weininger’s book and Vogt’s pamphlet, which saw signs of cultural decay in the women’s movement, are considered to be expressions of a growing antifeminism. The often-used term “weak sex” then also provided the title of a theater piece by Edouard Bourdet in 1929, which was even filmed in 1933.

3 “Männer – Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn: Peter Schipek im Gespräch mit Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther,”
http://www.sinn-stiftung.eu/downloads/interview_maenner_das-schwache-geschlecht.pdf, p. 2 (accessed July 2013).

4 Carmen Sadowski, “Der Mann: das schwache Geschlecht,” Express.de,
http://www.express.de/living/studien-belegen-der-mann—das-schwache-geschlecht,2484,1190404.html (accessed July 14, 2013).

5 Michael Meuser and Sylka Scholz, “Krise oder Strukturwandel hegemonialer Männlichkeit?,” in In der Krise? Männlichkeiten im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Mechthild Bereswill and Anke Neuber (Münster, 2011), p. 56. See also the text by Michael Meuser in this book.

6 Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, Centre Pasquart, Biel, 2005.

7 Sociologists interpret this as a sign of need in times of social upheaval. See Dolores Denaro, in Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, ed. Dolores Denaro, exh. cat. Centre Pasquart (Biel, 2005), p. 20.

8 Oh boy! It’s a Girl, Kunstverein München, 1994; Féminin – Masculin, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995; Rosa für Jungs: Hellblau für Mädchen, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1999; Das achte Feld, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006; to name but a few.

9 To date, this has occurred only in smaller exhibition spaces, above all during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and has remained practically undocumented. An exception in this respect was the exhibition Women’s Images of Men (1984) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, organized by Joyce Agee, Catherine Elwes, Jacqueline Morreau, and Pat Whiteread.

10 Inge Stephan, “Im toten Winkel: Die Neuentdeckung des ‘ersten Geschlechts’ durch men’s studies und Männlichkeitsforschung,” in Männlichkeit als Maskerade: Kulturelle Inszenierungen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Claudia Benthien and Inge Stephan (Cologne et al., 2003), p. 13.

11 Richard Dyer, “Introduction,” in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, ed. Richard Dyer (London and New York, 1993), p. 4.

12 Irit Rogoff, “Er selbst: Konfigurationen von Männlichkeit und Autorität in der Deutschen Moderne,” in Blick-Wechsel: Konstruktionen von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit in Kunst und Kunstge-schichte, ed. Ines Lindner et al. (Berlin, 1989), p. 141.

13 Nude Men, Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2012-13; The Naked Man, Lentos Museum, Linz, 2012-13.

14 Barnabàs Bencsik and Stella Rollig, “Vorwort,” in Der nackte Mann: Texte, exh. cat. Lentos Kun-stmuseum Linz and Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art (Budapest, 2012), p. 7.

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Urs Lüthi. 'Lüthi weint auch für Sie' (Lüthi also cries for you) 1970

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Urs Lüthi (born Kriens, Switzerland, 1947)
Lüthi weint auch für Sie (Lüthi also cries for you)
1970
Offset printing on paper
85,5 x 58,6 cm
Ed. 15/100
Kunstmuseum Bern Sammlung Toni Gerber (Schenkung 1983)
© Urs Lüthi
(From the section Experiments)

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Luciano Castelli. 'Lucille, Straps Attractive' 1973

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Luciano Castelli (born Lucerne, Switzerland, 1951)
Lucille, Straps Attractive
1973
Collage on cardboard
100 x 70 cm
Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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littlewhitehead. 'The Overman' 2012

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littlewhitehead (Craig Little, born Glasgow (UK), 1980. Blake Whitehead, born Lanark (UK), 1985)
The Overman
2012
Mannequin, towels, Boxing Glove, wooden base
120 x 120 x 120cm
Saatchi Collection, London Courtesy of the artist/Sumarria Lunn Gallery/Saatchi Collection
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Pascal Häusermann. 'Megalomania, No. 8' 2009

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Pascal Häusermann (born Chur, Switzerland, 1973)
Megalomania, No. 8
2009
Monotype, oil paint, shellac
43 x 29 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait with Knickers' 1999

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait with Knickers
1999
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait With Skull' 1996

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait With Skull
1996
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Smoking' 1998

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Smoking
1998
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Silvie Zürcher. 'Blue Shorts' 2005/6

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Silvie Zürcher (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1977)
Blue Shorts
2005/6
From the series I Wanna Be a Son
Collage
31.5 x 24.4 cm
Courtesy Silvie Zürcher
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Kunstmuseum Bern
Hodlerstrasse 12
3000 Bern 7
T: +41 31 328 09 44
E: info@kunstmuseumbern.ch

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 10h – 21h
Wednesday to Sunday: 10h – 17h
Mondays: closed

Kunstmuseum Bern website

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28
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 2

Exhibition dates: 22nd November – 23rd March 2014

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This is the second of a two-part posting on the huge Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The photographs in this posting are from NGV Australia at Federation Square. The first part of the posting featured work from NGV International venue in St Kilda Road. Melbourne Now celebrates the latest art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice to reflect the complex cultural landscape of creative Melbourne.

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Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please note: All text below the images is from the guide book.

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“Melbourne is a microcosm of the global art world. This is evident not only in its possession of world-class infrastructure, but also in the multitude of tendencies, styles and modes of practice that circulate in its midst. I doubt that there is an underlying formal unity, or even a hierarchy of movements, that holds together and directs the global art world. This then begs the question: does the teeming multitude of art forms in Melbourne suggest that the local scene is an isomorph [a substance or organism that exactly corresponds in form with another] of global chaos, or a unique fragment that coexists with other entities?
The answer is paradoxical. It is our haunted and resistant sense of place that allows for both a form of belonging that is forever seeking to be elsewhere, and a unique aesthetic that anticipates the many returns of a repressed past.”

Nikos Papastergiadis. “As Melbourne in the world.” 2013

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“What the show delivers in spades is a sense of the city as a place of immense creativity and subtle exploration. While non-Melburnians might be tempted to see this as an especially large example of the city’s enduring fascination with itself, when the theme is the city, the inclusion of architecture and design makes sense.

And the result is anything but narcissistic; a turn round the exhibition reveals that although Melbourne features strongly in some works, it is also curiously incidental; at the heart of the show is an examination of urban and suburban, and what it feels like to live in a rapidly changing world where old certainties no longer apply.”

Anon. “Melbourne Now: this exhibition changes the city’s arts landscape,” on The Guardian Australia Culture Blog, nd

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Stephen Benwell 'Statue' 2012

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Stephen Benwell
Statue
2012

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Throughout his career a major preoccupation of Benwell’s work has been the depiction of the male figure. In 2006 he commenced a series of figurative sculptural works that explore issues relating to masculinity, naked beauty and sensuality. These works, initially inspired by eighteenth century figurines and Greco-Roman statuary, have become a significant aspect of Benwell’s recent practice. The artist contributes a group of these evocative male figures for Melbourne Now.

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Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

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Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960
Ocean Man
2013
from the series The Ghillies 2013
Pigment print
120.0 x 120.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013
© Polixeni Papapetrou/Administered by VISCOPY, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Papapetrou’s contribution to Melbourne Now comprises three photographs from her 2013 series The Ghillies. Working with her children as models and using the extreme camouflage costumes that are employed by the military, Papapetrou reflects on the passing of childhood and the moment when children separate themselves from their mothers. Young men often assume the costumes and identities of masculine stereotypes, hiding themselves, and their true identity, from plain sight in the process.

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Michelle Hamer born Australia 1975 'Can't' 2013

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Michelle Hamer born Australia 1975
Can’t
2013
Wool, plastic
52.0 x 67.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Michelle Hamer, courtesy Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Hamer’s contribution to Melbourne Now pairs works referencing local signage, Blame and punish the individual, 2013, and Can’t, 2013, with three earlier tapestries from her American series I Send Mixed Messages, 2013. While the contrasting palettes and particular nuances of typography, built architecture and native vegetation point to specific times and places, when amplified and dislocated Hamer’s chosen texts suggest a more universal narrative of perplexity and turmoil. The artist describes these powerful distillations as ‘revealing the small in-between moments that characterise everyday life’.

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Patricia Piccinini born Sierra Leone 1965, lived in Italy 1968-72, arrived Australia 1972 'The carrier' (detail) 2012

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Patricia Piccinini born Sierra Leone 1965, lived in Italy 1968-72, arrived Australia 1972
The carrier (detail)
2012
Silicone, fibreglass, human and animal hair, clothing
170.0 x 115.0 x 75.0 cm
Collection of Corbett Lyon and Yueji Lyon, Lyon Housemuseum, Melbourne, proposed gift
© Patricia Piccinini, courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
Supported by Corbett and Yueji Lyon

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Piccinini’s work for Melbourne Now is The carrier, 2012, a hyper-real sculpture of a bear-like figure holding an elderly woman. With his massive, hirsute and muscular physique, the creature is almost human; there is warmth and intimacy between the mismatched couple. The figures’ relationship is ambiguous. Are they mistress and servant, or simply unlikely friends, embarked on a journey together? It is nice to believe the latter, but hard to forget that humans rarely treat other animals equitably. The carrier investigates what we want from our creations, and wonders about unexpected emotional connections that might arise between us and them.

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Georgia Metaxas born Australia 1974 'Untitled 28' 2011

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Georgia Metaxas born Australia 1974
Untitled 28
2011
From The Mourners series 2011
Type C photograph
60.0 x 50.0 x 7.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Georgia Metaxas, courtesy of Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Metaxas’s contribution to Melbourne Now comprises five photographs from The Mourners series, 2011, which was first exhibited at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, in 2011. These stately portraits show women who have adopted the traditional practice of wearing black, symbolising perpetual mourning, following the death of their husbands. Photographed against plain black backdrops, dressed in their widows’ weeds, these women form an austere and mournful frieze.

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Stuart Ringholt born Australia 1971 'Nudes' 2013

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Stuart Ringholt born Australia 1971
Nudes
2013
Collage (1-52)
29.0 x 30.0 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
© Stuart Ringholt, courtesy Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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Expanding the artist’s greater naturist project, Nudes, 2013, is a series of collages featuring images of twentieth-century modernist art objects and nudes taken from soft porn references. In these works, Ringholt complicates the original function of the images as the spectator considers the relationship between the nude and the work of art. Interested in how images can be transformed by simple interventions, Ringholt opens possibilities for new narratives to emerge between the nude, the object and the audience.

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Richard Lewer born New Zealand 1970, arrived Australia 2000 'Northside Boxing Gym' (detail) 2013

Richard Lewer born New Zealand 1970, arrived Australia 2000 'Northside Boxing Gym' (detail) 2013

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Richard Lewer born New Zealand 1970, arrived Australia 2000
Northside Boxing Gym (details)
2013
Charcoal on existing wall, boxing bag, 5.1 sound system
550.0 x 480.0 x 480.0 cm (installation)
Collection of the artist
© Richard Lewer, courtesy Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide

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Since challenging fellow artist Luke Sinclair to a boxing match at Melbourne’s Northside Boxing Gym in 2001 (as a performance), Lewer has remained interested in the site, training there regularly and making art about it. For Melbourne Now Lewer presents an immersive recreation of the gymnasium, featuring a large-scale charcoal wall-drawing accompanied by mirrors, sound and a sweaty boxing bag.

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Hotham Street Ladies Australia est. 2007 'At home with the Hotham Street Ladies' 2013

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Hotham Street Ladies Australia est. 2007
At home with the Hotham Street Ladies
2013
Royal and buttercream icing, modelling paste, confectionary, furniture, plinths, pot plants, colour DVD, television, light fittings, heater, icing, video, chandelier, lampshade, fireplace, furniture, television, crockery, cutlery, glassware, fabric dimensions variable (installation)
NGV commission Supported by Melbourne Now Champions the Dewhurst Family
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

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The collective’s members are Cassandra Chilton, Molly O’Shaughnessy, Sarah Parkes, Caroline Price and Lyndal Walker. Their practice embraces themes of home life, feminism and craft and explores how collaborative participation in, and contemporising of, these activities creates a distinct cultural community. Their work’s innovative combination of humour and contemporary critique with nostalgic or familiar elements makes it appealing to a wide audience. Often thought of in terms of dysfunction, the share house in their hands becomes a site of creativity, cooperation and overindulgence.

Food is a constant presence in HSL’s work, from recipe swap meets, street art and public art commissions to controversial cake entries in the Royal Melbourne Show. For Melbourne Now the group take baking and icing to a whole new level. Their installation At home with the Hotham Street Ladies, 2013, transforms the foyer of The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia into an icing-bombed domestic wonderland. Their commission for kids invites children and families to photograph themselves within one of the scenes from HSL’s icing- and lolly encrusted share house.

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Lucy Irvine 'Before the after' 2013

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Lucy Irvine
Before the after
2013

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For Melbourne Now Irvine has constructed a large site-specific work at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Before the after, 2013, which establishes a dialogue with the gallery building, its architecture and the temporality of the exhibition. Spilling out across the floor, the serpentine form is an interruption of the order of things, a writhing obsidian mass that clings to the interior of the building. At the same time the work is a nuanced meditation on the nature of surfaces and skin. Irvine’s iterative practice argues for value in the gestural, and proposes the act of making as a form of knowledge.

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Paul Knight 'Untitled' 2012

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Paul Knight
Untitled
2012
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Paul Knight 'Untitled' 2012

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Paul Knight
Untitled
2012
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Knight’s recent folded photographic works extend his interest in notions of authorship, photographic agency, the relationships between observer and observed, and ideas of intimacy and love. Each scene captures a couple lying together, bodies entwined, in bed – the artist privy to an intense, personal scene of absorption. There is an evident trust between Knight and his subjects, who sleep gently, seemingly unaware of, or perhaps complicit in, his presence. The illusion is ruptured by the folding of the photographic print, which has the effect of sometimes forcing the couples closer together, other times slicing them apart. The fold intensifies the sense of intimacy and draws attention to the physical state of the photograph.

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Installation view of the series 'Milk Bars of Melbourne', 2010-13 by David Wadelton at the exhibition 'Melbourne Now'

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Installation view of the series Milk Bars of Melbourne, 2010-13 by David Wadelton at the exhibition Melbourne Now
Photo: © David Wadelton

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David Wadelton. 'Milk Bar, Jenkens Avenue Frankston North' 2012

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David Wadelton
Milk Bar, Jenkens Avenue Frankston North
2012
From the series Milk Bars of Melbourne, 2010-13
Photo: © David Wadelton

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David Wadelton. 'Milk Bar, Napier Street, Essendon' 2012

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David Wadelton
Milk Bar, Napier Street, Essendon
2012
From the series Milk Bars of Melbourne, 2010-13
Photo: © David Wadelton

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For Melbourne Now, Wadelton contributes a series of recent photographs of suburban milk bars selected from his vast personal cache. Whereas these shots of corner-store facades – windows jammed with ice-cream, soft drink and newspaper logos, handpainted typography and scrawled graffiti – echo the Pop paintings that made his name, insofar as they combine ready-made commercial symbols on the same flat, pictorial plane, the photographs’ grey- scale palette and documentary presentation differ from the futuristic aesthetic of Wadelton’s canvases. While the paintings delight in global commercial imagery, Milk Bars of Melbourne, 2010-13, shows a local culture in terminal decline.

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Penny Byrne 'iProtest' (detail) 2012-13

Penny Byrne 'iProtest' (detail) 2012-13

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Penny Byrne
iProtest (details)
2012-13

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While at first iProtest, 2012-13, resembles a display of endearing souvenir-style figurines hanging on a wall, its potency is revealed on closer inspection. Each figurine is personalised with details relating to one of the many conflicts driven by mass protests around the world. Nationalism is referenced by faces painted with flags; acts of violence leave bodies dismembered and bloodied; and the cutest figurines are in fact riot police, wielding guns and dressed as clowns. The omnipresent symbol of Facebook is also ingeniously added to the work. Byrne’s crowd of modified figurines explores the way social media has become a significant tool for coordinating protests around the world.

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Julia deVille 'Degustation' (detail) 2013

Julia deVille 'Degustation' (detail) 2013

Julia deVille 'Degustation' (detail) 2013

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Julia deVille
Degustation (details)
2013

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Informed by a fascination with death, memento mori and Victorian jewellery design, deVille’s work relies on traditional techniques and involves a broad range of animals, precious and semiprecious metals and gems. The artist is a vegan and passionate advocate for the fair and just treatment of animals, and only uses animals that have died of natural causes in her work. By examining death in this distinctive way, deVille urges us to consider our own mortality and the beauty of death and remembrance. For Melbourne Now she has created an installation titled Degustation, 2013, which evokes an ornate Victorian-style dining room, filled with her sculptural pieces and works from the NGV collection.

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Mira Gojak 'Transfer station 2' 2011

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Mira Gojak
Transfer station 2 (foreground)
2011

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With Transfer station 2, 2011, Gojak creates a sculptural work of unfurling, freewheeling loops, shaky erratic lines and clusters of blossoming tangles that appears like a drawing suspended in space. A high-keyed palette of cobalt blues, soft pinks and fluorescent yellows activates heavier blackened thickets that punctuate perspectives of uninterrupted space. Suspended from the ceiling by a single line, Gojak’s sculpture is a not-quite-settled upon Venn diagram. Its openness is held still in a moment, together with all the scribbled-out mistakes, digressions and exclusions, stalling or directing the movement and exchange circulating around the forms.

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Daniel von Sturmer 'Paradise park' 2013 (detail) with Elizabeth Gower's '150 rotations' 2013 (detail) on the wall behind (left)

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Daniel von Sturmer Paradise park 2013 (detail, foreground) with Elizabeth Gower’s 150 rotations 2013 on the wall behind (detail, left)

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The first version of 150 rotations was displayed recently in an exhibition, curated by Gower, that explored the appropriation and use of urban detritus as a visual art strategy by a variety of Melbourne artists. Further developed for Melbourne Now, Gower’s contribution now comprises 150 circular components, each made up of tea-bag tags, price tags and elements cut from junk mail catalogues, which colonise the wall like a galaxy of vibrant constellations. Akin to the light from long-dead stars, the familiar ephemera, which is usually thrown out, recycled or composted, now serves a new purpose and takes on a mesmeric, formal beauty.

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Daniel von Sturmer 'Paradise park' 2013

Daniel von Sturmer 'Paradise park' 2013

Daniel von Sturmer 'Paradise park' (detail) 2013

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Daniel von Sturmer
Paradise park
2013

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Von Sturmer’s Melbourne Now commission for kids, Paradox park, 2013, creates a space for enquiry and interaction with art, conceived with a child’s innate sense of curiosity and wonder. Paradox park comprises a large tilted plane with small circular apertures through which a child (or adventurous adult) can push their head in order to view small projections of animated objects atop and below the surface. By placing the viewer’s point of reference inside the work, von Sturmer posits experience itself as a creative act – a unique interplay between viewer and viewed.

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Melbourne Design Now Simone LeAmon (curator, exhibition designer) born Australia 1971 Edmund Carter (exhibition designer) born Australia 1983 'Design in everyday life' 2013

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Melbourne Design Now
Simone LeAmon (curator, exhibition designer) born Australia 1971
Edmund Carter (exhibition designer) born Australia 1983
Design in everyday life
2013
Supported by The Hugh D. T Williamson Foundation

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Melbourne Design Now is the first design exhibition of its kind to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria. A presentation of localised creative intelligence in the fields of industrial, product, furniture and object design, this project comprises more than ninety design projects from forty designers, design studios and companies. Melbourne Design Now celebrates design’s relationship to everyday life and how contemporary designers are embedding unique and serial design production with ideas, meaning and emotion to resonate with the city of Melbourne.

The breadth of design projects in this ‘exhibition within the exhibition’ intends to communicate to the public that the work of Melbourne designers is influencing discourses, future scenarios and markets both at home and around the world. Ranging from cinema cameras by Blackmagic Design to the Bolwell EDGE caravan, eco-design education tools by Leyla Acaroglu to Monash Vision Group’s direct-to-brain bionic eye, and furniture made with ancient Australian timber by Damien Wright to biodegradable lampshades by LAB DE STU, these design projects consolidate Melbourne as one of the great design cities in the world today.

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Melbourne Design Now Gregory Bonasera 'Palace table' 'Derby pendant light' 2013 Kate Rohde 'Ornament is Crime vessels' 2013

Melbourne Design Now Gregory Bonasera 'Palace table' 'Derby pendant light' 2013 Kate Rohde 'Ornament is Crime vessels' 2013

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Melbourne Design Now

Gregory Bonasera
Palace table
Derby pendant light
2013
Kate Rohde
Ornament is Crime vessels
2013

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Gregory Bonasera is a ceramicist with an in depth understanding of the processes utilised in the production of ceramics; a methodical thinker who works more like an industrial designer than a potter to realise his creations and to advise and collaborate with other designers on their projects. Consistently adding new works to his range of innovative functional and sculptural ceramic wares, Gregory casts his creations in fine porcelain and bone china employing a hybrid of state of the art CAD technology with traditional 270 year old ceramic production methods. His works are strongly influenced by natural forms, science, biology, botany and geometry.

Kate Rohde’s jewellery and vessels are created in resin, a signature material that features extensively in her visual art practice. These pieces take a playful, decorative approach, often incorporating elements typical of Baroque and Rococo style, drawing particularly on the decorative arts and interior design of this era. The highly ornate nature reveals, on closer inspection, that much of the patterning is drawn from flora and fauna sources. The combination of the two intersecting interests creates a psychadelic supernature. (Text from the Pieces of Eight Gallery website)

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Installation view of Jess Johnson Various titles 2013

Installation view of Jess Johnson Various titles 2013

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Installation view of Jess Johnson Various titles 2013

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Johnson creates fantastic worlds in images that combine densely layered patterns, objects and figures within architectural settings. Cryptic words and phrases are part of her unique and idiosyncratic iconography. The artist’s drawing and installation practice is inspired by science fiction, mythological cosmology and comic books, and reflects a diverse interest in art, ranging from illuminated manuscripts to folk art traditions such as quilt making. Her contribution to Melbourne Now includes ten new drawings that depict the imagined formation of a future civilisation. These are displayed within a constructed environment featuring a raised podium, painted walls and patterned floor which, together with the drawings, offers an immersive experience.

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Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now

Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now

Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now

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Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now

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Sampling the City: Architecture in Melbourne Now reveals the complex web of personalities, factions and trajectories that make up Melbourne’s vibrant contemporary architectural culture. This project asks: What are the ideas and themes that inform Melbourne’s design culture? Who are its agitators and protagonists? How are emerging architects driving new ways of thinking? The project is in four parts:

  • A ‘super graphic’ introduction sampling Melbourne’s contemporary architectural culture
  • A projection space with architectural imagery curated to five themes: representation and the city; craftsmanship and materiality; art-engaged practice; stitching the city; and bio-futures/advanced architecture
  • An incubator/studio environment providing insight into the processes of six leading Melbourne architects: Cassandra Fahey, Make Architecture, March Studio, Muir Mendes, Studio Bird and Studio Roland Snooks
  • An intimate screening room with a video artwork by Matthew Sleeth

Sampling the City is curated by Fleur Watson, with exhibition design by Amy Muir and Stuart Geddes, projection and soundscape design by Keith Deverall, introductory narrative by Watson and Michael Spooner and built environment imagery by Peter Bennetts.

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un Magazine. 'un Retrospective' (installation view) 2013

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un Magazine
un Retrospective (installation view)
2013

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For Melbourne Now, un Magazine presents un Retrospective – a selective history of artists, writers and art practice in Melbourne since 2004, as featured in the back catalogue of the magazine. Taking inspiration and content from past issues, un Retrospective assembles recent local works of art alongside correlating text – whether original essay, review or interview – from the pages of un Magazine, highlighting the relationships between criticism and practice, writers and artists, that have been fostered in the publication. un Retrospective celebrates ten years of un Magazine and contemporary art in Melbourne while providing a point of historical context within the newness of Melbourne Now.

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Slave Pianos 'Gamelan sisters' 2013

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Slave Pianos
Gamelan sisters
2013

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Slave Pianos – a collaboration between artists, composers and musicians Rohan Drape, Neil Kelly, Danius Kesminas, Michael Stevenson and Dave Nelson – make historically grounded, research-based installations and performances utilising humour, immediacy and the conflation of ‘high’ and ‘low’ idioms to suggest connections and interrelations between the largely discrete fields of music, art and architecture.

For Melbourne Now Slave Pianos present Gamelan sisters, 2013, a self-governing electromechanical ‘slave’ gamelan, which allows audience members to select pieces from a repertoire of compositions arranged by Slave Pianos via a wall-mounted console alongside related scores. The Gamelan sisters instrument features in Slave Pianos’ space opera The Lepidopters, to be performed in Indonesia and Australia in 2014, which is based on a three part science fiction story set in Indonesia commissioned from American writer and art critic Mark von Schlegell. A comic depicting the first two parts of The Lepidopters, drawn by Yogyakarta-based artist ‘Iwank’ Erwan Hersi Susanto – a member, with Kesminas, of the Indonesian art-rock collective Punkasila – is also presented in the Melbourne Now Reading Room.

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The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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24
Aug
09

Exhibition: ‘Pierre et Gilles. Retrospective’ at the C/O Berlin Gallery, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 25th July – 4th October 2009

 

Many thankx to the C/O Berlin Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Mercury' 2001

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Mercury
2001

 

 

“It’s hard to think of contemporary culture without the influence of Pierre et Gilles, from advertising to fashion photography, music video, and film. This is truly global art.”

Jeff Koons

 

The cosmos of the worldwide renowned French artist duo is a vivid, colourful world poised between baroque sumptuousness and earthly limbo. Pierre et Gilles create unique hand-painted photographic portraits of film icons, sailors and princes, saints and sinners, of mythological figures and unknowns alike. Pierre et Gilles pursue their own, stunningly unique vision of an enchanted world spanning fairytale paradises and abyssal depths, quoting from popular visual languages and history of art. Again and again, they re-envision their personal dream of reality anew in consummate aesthetic perfection.

Pierre et Gilles are among the most influential artists of our time. In their complex, multilayered images, they quote from art history, transgress traditional moral codes, and experiment adeptly with social clichés. Their painterly photographic masterpieces exert an intense visual power that leaves the viewer spellbound.

Over the last thirty years, Pierre et Gilles have created photographic portraits of numerous celebrities including Marc Almond, Mirelle Mathieu, Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg, Iggy Pop, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Nina Hagen, Madonna, and Paloma Picasso. They work almost exclusively in an opulently furnished studio, where their subjects are costumed lavishly and placed before three-dimensional backgrounds. Pierre photographs the model, and Gilles retouches and hand-colours the print. The reproducible portrait is rendered unique through painting, which highlights each detail with carefully selected materials and accessories.

As only venue in Germany, C/O Berlin presents the exhibition as the first of Pierre et Gilles in fifteen years. The show comprised a total of 80 unique large-format works – from their early photographies of the 1970s to the brand new pictures that were never shown in public before.”

Text from the C/O Berlin website [Online] Cited 20/08/2009 no longer available online

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'St. Sebastian' 1987

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
St. Sebastian
1987

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Neptune' 1988

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Neptune
1988

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Saint Rose De Lima' 1989

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Saint Rose De Lima
1989

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Le Petit Communiste Christophe' 1990

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Le Petit Communiste Christophe (The Little Communist Christophe)
1990

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Legend' (Madonna) 1990

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Legend (Madonna)
1990

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'La Madone au coeur blessé' 1991

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
La Madone au coeur blessé (Madonna with a wounded heart)
1991

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'St. Sebastian of the Sea' 1994

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
St. Sebastian of the Sea
1994

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'The Martyrdom of St Sebastian' 1996

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
The Martyrdom of St Sebastian
1996

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Extase' (Arielle Dombasle) 2002

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Extase (Arielle Dombasle)
2002

 

Pierre et Gilles. 'Le Grand Amour' (Marilyn Manson and Dita von Teese) 2004

 

Pierre et Gilles (French, Pierre Commoy b. 1950 and Gilles Blanchard, b. 1953)
Le Grand Amour (Marilyn Manson and Dita von Teese)
2004

 

 

C/O Berlin
Postfuhramt
Oranienburger Straße 35/36
10117 Berlin

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am – 8 pm

C/O Berlin 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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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