Posts Tagged ‘Pat Brassington

05
Nov
17

Review: ‘An unorthodox flow of images’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 30th September – 12th November 2017

Curators: Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne

Living artists include: Laurence Aberhart, Brook Andrew, Rushdi Anwar, Warwick Baker, Paul Batt, Robert Billington, Christian Boltanski, Pat Brassington, Jane Brown, Daniel Bushaway, Sophie Calle, Murray Cammick, Christian Capurro, Steve Carr, Mohini Chandra, Miriam Charlie, Maree Clarke, Michael Cook, Bill Culbert, Christopher Day, Luc Delahaye, Ian Dodd, William Eggleston, Joyce Evans, Cherine Fahd, Fiona Foley, Juno Gemes, Simryn Gill, John Gollings, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Andy Guérif, Siri Hayes, Andrew Hazewinkel, Lisa Hilli, Eliza Hutchison, Therese Keogh, Leah King-Smith, Katrin Koenning, O Philip Korczynski, Mac Lawrence, Kirsten Lyttle, Jack Mannix, Jesse Marlow, Georgie Mattingley, Tracey Moffatt, Daido Moriyama, Harry Nankin, Jan Nelson, Phuong Ngo.

Historic photographers: Hippolyte Bayard (180-1887), Charles Bayliss (1850-1897), Bernd and Hilla Becher (Bernd Becher 1931-2007, Hilla Becher 1934-2015), Lisa Bellear (1962-2006), James E. Bray (1832-1891), Jeff Carter (1928-2010), Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953), Olive Cotton (1911-2003), Peter Dombrovskis (1995-1996), Max Dupain (1911-1992), Walker Evans (1903-1975), Sue Ford (1943-2009), Marti Friedlander (1928-2016), Kate Gollings (1943-2017), André Kertész (1894-1985), J. W. Lindt (1845-1926), W. H. Moffitt (1888-1948), David Moore (1927-2003), Michael Riley (1960-2004), Robert Rooney (1937-2017), Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006), Mark Strizic (1928 -2012), Ingeborg Tyssen (1945-2002), Aby Warburg (1866-1929), Charles Woolley (1834-1922).

 

 

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880

 

(1) J W Lindt (1845-1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
1880
Courtesy State Library Victoria, Pictures Collection

 

 

Thought to be the first press photograph in Australia, this shows Joe Byrne, a member of the Kelly Gang, strung up for documentation days after his death, which followed the siege at Glenrowan. Byrne is displayed for an unknown photographer and the painter Julian Ashton who is standing to the left with possibly a sketchbook under his arm. Lindt’s photograph captures not only the spectacle of Byrne’s body but the contingent of documentarians who arrived from Melbourne to record and widely disseminate the event for public edification.

 

 

Double take

I was a curatorial interlocutor for this exhibition so it was very interesting to see this exhibition in the flesh.

An unorthodox flow of images is a strong exhibition, splendidly brought to fruition by curators Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne. To be able to bring so many themes, images, ideas and people together through a network of enabling, and a network of images, is an impressive achievement.

The exhibition explores the notion of connectivity between images in our media saturated world – across context, time and space. “With a nod to networked image viewing behaviour and image sharing – in one long line – the flow also impersonates the form of a sentence.” While the viewer makes their own flows through the works on view, they must interpret the interpolation of images (much like a remark interjected in a conversation) in order to understand their underlying patterns of connection. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s horizontal rhizome theory1 – where the viewer is offered a new way of seeing: that of infinite plateaus, nomadic thought and multiple choices – here the relationship between the photograph and its beholder as a confrontation between self and other, and the dynamic relation between time, subjectivity, memory and loss is investigated … with the viewer becoming an intermediary in an endless flow of non-hierarchical images/consciousness.

In this throng of dialects, the exhibition meanders through different “sections” which are undefined in terms of their beginning and end. The starting point for this flow is the public demonstration of trauma for the edification of society (the photographs of the aftermath of the siege of Ned Kelly and his gang at Glenrowan), notably what is thought to be the first press photograph in Australia, J W Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (1880, above), and the flow then gathers its associations through concepts such as studio work, the gaze, disruption, truth, performance and traces, to name just a few. The exhibition ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organisations of power and contextual circumstances, moving forward and backwards in time and space, jumping across the gallery walls, linking any point to any point if the beholder so desires. In this sense (that of an expanded way of thinking laterally to create a democracy of sight and understanding), the exhibition succeeds in fostering connections, offering multiple entryways into the flow of images that proposes a new cultural norm.

For Deleuze and Guattari these assemblages (of images in this case), “… are the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process involves a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings.”2 Now here’s the rub (or the trade-off if you like) of this exhibition, for everything in life is a trade-off: the accumulation of new meaning that such a flow of images creates is balanced by what has been lost. Both an accumulation and disinvestment of meaning.

I have a feeling that in such a flow of images the emotion and presence of the subject has been lost, subsumed into a networked, hypermedia flow where, “images become more and more layered until they are architectural in design, until their relationship to the context from which they have grown cannot be talked about through the simple models offered by referentiality, or by attributions of cause and effect.”3 The linear perspective developed during the Renaissance and its attendant evidence of truth/objective reality (the logic of immediacy) is disrupted. It is no longer about being there, about the desire for presence, but about a logic of hypermediacy that privileges fragmentation, process, and performance. Of course, immediacy / hypermediacy are part of a whole and are not exclusionary to each other. But here contemporary art, and in particular contemporary photography, keeps coming back to the surface, redefining conceptual and aesthetic spaces.

This is where I was plainly unmoved by the whole exhibition. Conceptually and intellectually the exhibition is very strong but sequentially and, more importantly, emotionally – the flow of images failed to engage me. The dissociative association proposed – like a dissociative identity disorder – ultimately becomes a form of ill/literation, in which the images seem drained of their passion, a degenerative illness in which all images loose their presence and power. In a media saturated world what does it mean to pluck these images from a variable spatio-temporal dimensionality and sequence them together and hope they give meaning to each other? Ultimately, it’s a mental exercise of identity organisation that is pure construct.

Further, this (re)iteration is a repetition that is supposed to bring you successively closer to the solution of a problem: what is the relevance of the stream of image consciousness in contemporary society? What happens to the referentiality and presence of the individual image?

With this in mind, let us return to the first image in the flow of images, J W Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (1880, above). Here Byrne is displayed for an unknown photographer and the painter Julian Ashton who is standing to the left with possibly a sketchbook under his arm. Amongst other things, the image is by a photographer taking a photograph of another photographer taking a photograph of the body of Joe Byrne. Immediately, the triangular relationship of camera / subject / viewer (cause and effect) is disrupted with the addition of the second photographer. There is a doubling of space and time within this one image, as we imagine the image the photographer in the photograph would have taken. And then we can see two variations of that internal photograph: Photographer unknown Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880 (below) and William J. Burman’s Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880 (1880, below) which 1/ appears to solve who the “photographer unknown” is (unless Burman purchase the rights to use another’s photographers’ negatives); and 2/ is a more tightly framed image than the first iteration. If you look at the top of the head in the second image the hair goes over the metal hinge of the door behind… so the photographer (the same one) has moved closer and dropped the height of the camera, so that the camera looks up more, at the body.

Other details fascinate. The ring on the left finger of Joe Byrne; his stripped shirt; the rope under his arms used to help support his weight; the rope disappearing out of picture to help string him up; and questions such as, how did they get his left hand to stay in that position? This is also, “an image of an audience as much as a portrait of the deceased … Members of the public are also documented; children, men – trackers perhaps, bearing witness to the public display of retribution that was intended to restore social order.” To the left we have what is presumably the photographers’ coat hung on a tree; a man wiping his nose with his thumb; and Aboriginal man; and a boy looking at the camera. Through his silhouette the Aboriginal man can probably be identified as Tracker Johnny, one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly, and we can see a portrait of him in an albumen photograph held by the Queensland Police Museum (1880, below). A picture of the ‘Other’, both outsiders, the outlaw and the Aboriginal, detailing the social order. The blurred image of the boy looking at the camera shows the length of the time exposure for the glass plate, but it is his “Janus-faced” visage that I am fascinated with… as he both looks forwards and backwards in time. Whilst most images within An unorthodox flow of images are conceptually grounded, they also evidence only one direct meaning in relationship to themselves within that network, “each one connected to those on either side,” – from point to point to point. Conversely, in this image the interpretation is open-ended, WITHIN THE ONE IMAGE. It is a network all of its own. I also remember, emotionally, the other images of the burnt out Glenrowan Inn, the place where the rails were taken up (I was there!), the bodies in the coffins, the preparation for the photograph of the Kelly Gang Armour laid out in a muddy field for documentation, and the burnt to a cinder, charred remains rescued from the ashes of the Glenrowan Inn laid out on a piece of wood. There is a physicality to these photographs, and an emotional charge, that no other photograph in this exhibition matches. I think, then, not of Joe Bryne’s lifeless body and its/the photographs morbidity, but of him as a younger man – standing legs crossed, one hand on hip, the other resting on the surface of a table, imagining his touch on that table in reality – a son, an outlaw, a living being.

I wish the curators had been braver. I wish that they had given these images more chance to breathe. I wish they had cut the number of images and sequenced them so that the space between them (what Minor White calls ice/fire, that frisson of space between two images that adds to their juxtaposed meaning) provided opportunity for a more emotional engagement with what was being presented. Yes, this is a strong exhibition but it could have been so much more powerful if the flow had not just meandered through the sentence, but cried out, and declaimed, and was quiet. Where was the punctum? Where was the life blood of the party, if only disappearing in a contiguous flow of images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

 

Word count: 1,642

  1. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987
  2. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p. 166
  3. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138.

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Many thankx to the CCP for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. The numbers in brackets refer to the number of the image in the field guide. The text is also taken from the field guide to the exhibition.

 

An unorthodox flow of images commences with what is known as the first press photograph in Australia and unfurls through historic, press, portraiture, popular and art photography, some in their intended material form and others as reproductions. An unbroken thread connects this line of still and moving images, each tied to those on either side through visual, conceptual, temporal, material or circumstantial links.

This is a proposition about photography now. Relationships between images are sometimes real, and sometimes promiscuous. Unorthodox brings new contexts to existing artworks whilst celebrating the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space. (Text from the CCP website)

 

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

J W Lindt. 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography Benalla' 1880 (detail)

 

J W Lindt (1845-1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla (details)
1880
Courtesy State Library Victoria, Pictures Collection

 

photographer unknown. 'Joe Byrne's Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June' 1880

 

(2) Photographer unknown
Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June
1880
Photographic print from glass plate
12 × 19.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

This image appears to the one of the images taken by the photographer in J. W. Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla 1880 (above)

 

William J. Burman (1814-1890) 'Joe Byrne's Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880' 1880

 

William J. Burman (1814-1890)
Joe Byrne’s Body, Benalla Gaol, 29 June 1880
1880
At 209 Bourke Street, East Melbourne 1878 – 1888
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm

 

This image appears to the one of the images taken by the photographer in J. W. Lindt’s Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly Gang, hung up for photography, Benalla 1880.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Portrait of Tracker Johnny from Maryborough District one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly]' c. 1880

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled [Portrait of Tracker Johnny from Maryborough District one of five trackers who helped track Ned Kelly] (detail, not in exhibition)
c. 1880
Albumen photograph
Queensland Police Museum
Non-commercial – Share Alike (cc)

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Kelly Gang Armour' 1880

 

(3) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Kelly Gang Armour
1880
Albumen cabinet portrait
16.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

“As objects of contemplation, images of the atrocious can answer to several different needs. To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself more numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible.”  ~ Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Place where rails were taken up by Kelly gang' 1880

 

(4) Unknown photographer
Place where rails were taken up by Kelly gang
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'The Glenrowan Inn after the Kelly Siege' 1880

 

(5) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
The Glenrowan Inn after the Kelly Siege
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Charred remains from Kelly gang siege' 1880

 

(6) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Charred remains from Kelly gang siege
1880
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

 

In her comments on a related photograph by Bray, Helen Ennis writes, “What you see pictured, presumably as part of the official documentation are the thoroughly blackened remains of either Dan Kelly or Steve Hart… Relatives raked what remained of the bodies… from the ashes of the Glenrowan Inn. These were then photographed before family members took them home on horseback and buried them. … [These photographs] also underscore the brutality and barbarism of the post-mortem photographs – the violence physically enacted on the body in the first instance and then visually in terms of the photographic representation.”

Helen Ennis. “Portraiture in extremis” in Photogenic Essays/Photography/CCP 2000-2004, Daniel Palmer (ed.), 2005, CCP, pp. 23-39, p 34.

 

J. E. Bray (1832-1891) 'Untitled ["McDonnell's Tavern opposite Railway Station, remains of Dan Kelly and Hart in coffins"]' 1880

 

(7) J. E. Bray (1832-1891)
Untitled [“McDonnell’s Tavern opposite Railway Station, remains of Dan Kelly and Hart in coffins”]
1880
Albumen cabinet portrait
16.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916)
Steve Hart (1859-1880) (front and verso, not in exhibition)
c. 1878
Albumen carte de visite
6.5 × 10.5 cm
© Collection of Joyce Evans

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916) 'Steve Hart' (1859-1880) c. 1878

 

W. E. (William Edward) Barnes (1841-1916)
Steve Hart (1859-1880) (not in exhibition)
c. 1878
Albumen carte de visite
State Library of Victoria

 

Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) 'Flagellation of Christ' 1455-1460

 

(9) Piero della Francesca (1415-1492)
Flagellation of Christ
1455-1460
Oil and tempera on wood, reproduced as digital print on wallpaper
58.4 × 81.5 cm, reproduced at 20 × 30 cm

 

 

The meaning of della Francesca’s Flagellation and exact identity of the three foreground figures in fifteenth century dress, is widely contested. In the context of this flow of images, the painting represents the pubic display of suffering as punishment, for the edification of society. In both J.W. Lindt’s documentary photograph and the possibly allegorical Flagellation, the broken body of Joe Byrne and that of Christ are isolated from other figures and subject of conversation and debate by gathered figures. Other formal similarities include framing of the tableau into shallow and deep space the organising role of architecture in signifying the key subject.

 

Joosep Martinson. 'Police Hostage Situation Developing at the Lindt Café in Sydney' 2014

 

(10) Joosep Martinson
Police Hostage Situation Developing at the Lindt Café in Sydney
2014
Digital print on wallpaper
20 × 30 cm

 

The scene outside the Lindt Cafe siege, caught by the photojournalist in a moment of public trauma. This bears formal resemblance to J.W. Lindt’s photograph of Joe Byrne, and even further back to Piero della Francesca.

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

(13) Tracey Moffatt
I made a camera
2003
photolithograph
38 × 43 cm, edition 201 of 750
Private collection

 

Returning to J.W. Lindt’s photograph – in particular the hooded central figure photographing Joe Byrne – Tracey Moffatt’s picturing of children role-playing calls to mind the colonial photographer’s anthropological gesture.

 

Siri Hayes. 'In the far reaches of the familiar' 2011

 

(14) Siri Hayes
In the far reaches of the familiar
2011
C-type print
88 × 70 cm, exhibition print
Courtesy the artist

 

The photographer’s hood is the photographer.

 

Janina Green. 'Self Portrait' 1996

 

(15) Janina Green
Self Portrait
1996
Digital version of a hand-coloured work in early Photoshop
44 × 60 cm
Courtesy the artist and M.33, Melbourne

 

Georgie Mattingly. 'Portrait IV' 2016

 

(16) Georgie Mattingly
Portrait IV (After Arthroplasty)
2016
Hand-tinted silver gelatin print
36 × 26 cm
Unique hand print
Courtesy the artist

 

The photographer’s hood has become a meat-worker’s protective gear, tenderly hand-coloured. [And spattered with blood ~ Marcus]

 

Lisa Hilli. 'In a Bind' 2015

 

(17) Lisa Hilli (Makurategete Vunatarai (clan) Gunantuna / Tolai People, Papua New Guinea)
In a Bind
2015
Pigment print on cotton rag
76 × 51.5 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

 

‘The woven material that hoods the artist’s identity is a reference to collected Pacific artefacts, which are usually of a practical nature. Magimagi is a plaited coconut fibre used for reinforcing architectural structures and body adornment within the Pacific. Here it emphasises the artist’s feeling of being bound by derogatory Western and anthropological labels used by museums and the erasure of Pacific bodies and narratives within public displays of Pacific materiality.’  ~ Lisa Hilli 2017, in an email to the curator

 

 

In an era of ‘tumbling’ images, An unorthodox flow of images presents visual culture in a novel way: commencing with Australia’s first press photograph, 150 images unfurl in flowing, a-historical sequences throughout the gallery. Each work is connected to the one before through formal, conceptual or material links.

An unorthodox flow of images draws upon the photographic image in its many forms, from significant historical photographs by major Australian artists, such as J.W. Lindt, Olive Cotton and Max Dupain, through to contemporary international and Australian artists, such as Tracey Moffatt, Michael Parekowhai, Christian Boltanski and Daido Moriyama. This exhibition brings early career artists into the flow, including Georgie Mattingley, Jack Mannix and James Tylor.

Celebrating the breadth of photographic technologies from analogue through to digital, including hand made prints, a hand-held stereoscope, early use of Photoshop, iPhone videos and holography, An unorthodox flow of images propels the viewer through a novel encounter with technology, art, and the act of looking. Rather than a definitive narrative, this exhibition is a proposition about relationships between images: sometimes real and sometimes promiscuous, and is inevitably open to alternative readings. Contemporary culture necessitates quick, networked visual literacy. So viewers are invited to make their own readings of this unorthodox flow.

Akin to how images are experienced in our personal lives and perhaps to how artists are influenced by the multiverse of photography, this extraordinary gathering also includes spirited incursions from other kinds of images – rare prints of grizzly 19th century photojournalism abuts contemporary video first shared on Instagram, and surrealist French cinema nestles in with Australian image-makers.

This exhibition aims to bring new contexts to existing artworks to highlight networked image-viewing behaviour, whilst honouring the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space. An unorthodox flow of images is presented as part of the 2017 Melbourne Festival.

Press release from the CCP

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

(30) Siri Hayes
Plein air explorers
2008
C-type print
108 × 135 cm, edition 4 of 6
Collection of Jason Smith

 

An artist’s studio in the landscape.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Wendy and Brett Whiteley's Library' 2016

 

(31) Robyn Stacey
Wendy and Brett Whiteley’s Library
2016
From the series Dark Wonder
C-type print
110 × 159 cm, edition of 5 + 3 artist proofs
Courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Gallery, Brisbane

 

The landscape brought into the studio by a camera obscura. Robyn Stacey captures the perfect moment of light and clarity, in this instance, also turning the egg-object into an orb of light.

 

Pat Brassington. 'Vedette' 2015

 

(37) Pat Brassington
Vedette
2015
Pigment print
75 × 60 cm, edition of 8,
Courtesy the artist and ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne and Bett Gallery, Hobart

 

Two orbs, a positive and a negative space.

 

Anne Noble. 'Rubys Room 10' 1998-2004

 

(38) Anne Noble
Ruby’s Room 10
1998-2004
Courtesy the artist and Two Rooms Gallery Auckland

 

Daido Moriyama. 'DOCUMENTARY '78' 1986

 

(42) Daido Moriyama
DOCUMENTARY ’78
1986
Silver gelatin print
61 × 50.8 cm
Private collection

 

Leah King-Smith. 'Untitled #3' 1991

 

(43) Leah King-Smith
Untitled #3
1991
From the series Patterns of connection
C-type print
102 × 102 cm, edition 6 of 25
Private collection

 

 

‘I was seeing the old photographs as both sacred family documents on one hand, and testaments of the early brutal days of white settlement on the other. I was thus wrestling with anger, resentment, powerlessness and guilt while at the same time encountering a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’ ~ L King-Smith, White apron, black hands, Brisbane City Hall Gallery, 1994, p. 7. In this series, the artist superimposes the colonial portrait onto images of the subject’s own landscape, returning the dispossessed to country.

 

 

Unorthodox: a field guide

We could have started anywhere. Perhaps every image ever made connects with another image in some way. But, we have begun with what is known as the first press photograph in Australia – a grisly depiction of Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne, strung up some days after his execution, for a group of onlookers, including a group of documentarians who came in by train to record the event: a painter and several photographers. This is an image of an audience as much as a portrait of the deceased. A hooded photographer bends to his tripod, and a
painter waits in line. Perhaps a seminal moment between competing technologies of record, magnificently captured by colonial photographer, J. W. Lindt (1845-1926): this is as decisive a moment as current technology permitted. Members of the public are also documented; children, men – trackers perhaps, bearing witness to the public display of retribution that was intended to restore social order.

From here, Unorthodox draws a thread of images together, each one connected to those on either side, whether through visual, conceptual, temporal, material or circumstantial ties, or by something even more diffuse and smoky – some images just conjure others, without a concrete reason for their bond. Spanning the entire gallery space, nearly 150 images unfurl with links that move through historic, press, portraiture, popular and art photography.

You are invited to wander through CCPs nautilus galleries, and make what you will of this flow because unlike a chain of custody, there is no singular narrative or forensic link: you are invited to explore not just connections between works but to see individual works in a new light.

At the core of this exhibition is an attempt to lay bare the way that images inform and seep into everyday life, underpinning the way that we see, interpret and understand the world. With a nod to networked image viewing behaviour and image sharing – in one long line – the flow also impersonates the form of a sentence.

The act of looking. Looking is a process, informed by context – where and when we see something, and what surrounds it. Here, images are unbuckled from their original context, indeed there are no museum labels on the wall. But this is often the way when viewing images on the internet, or reproduced in books, referenced in ads, reenacted in fashion shoots, or reinterpreted by artists. The notion of reproductions within photography is slippery, made more so by the rapid circulation of images whereby we sometimes only know certain originals through their reproductions. In this exhibition, sometimes we have the original images, at others we proffer ‘reproductions’, setting out a swathe of contemporary and historical approaches to the craft of photography and video, unhampered by traditional constraints of what we can or cannot show within a non-collecting contemporary art space.

This exhibition moves through a number of notional chapters, for example visual connections can be made between orbs made by soap bubbles (no. 32, 34) and moons (no. 33); eyes (no. 40, 41, 42), gaping mouths (no. 37), the balletic body in space (no. 45); and light from orbs (no. 44, 46) and then moonlight on the ocean (no. 47), which tumbles into salty connections, with photographs exposed by the light of the moon through seawater (no. 48) connecting to an image of salt mines (no. 50), and on to salt prints (no. 51).

We have been influenced by observing how audiences view exhibitions, traversing the space, seemingly drawing connections, making their own flows through works on view. In spite of its indexicality to the world, photography is particularly open to multiple readings due to its reproducibility and its vulnerability to manipulation. A key to this permeability is the intention of the photographer, which can become opaque over time. For example, installation artist Christian Boltanski’s found photograph (no. 137) has been taken out of its time and context
so as to mean something quite different from what the photographer intended.

Importantly, due to their multiple readings, many works could be equally effective if placed in other sections of the exhibition. For example, of the many places to position Leah King-Smith’s Untitled #3 (no. 43), we have elected to locate it amongst compositions that include orbs. However, it is also a staged work; a constructed or collaged photograph; it embodies an Indigenous artist returning the colonial gaze and, due to the age of her source photograph, it represents a deceased person. And, in her own words King-Smith is responding to the trauma of settlement. ‘I was thus wrestling with anger, resentment, powerlessness… while at the same time encountering a sense of deep connectedness, of belonging and power in working with images of my fellow Indigenous human beings.’

A curious process indeed, we have been open to many repositories of images while gathering this flow – from our work with artists at CCP; to childhood memories of images and personal encounters with photography and video; to our trawling of the Internet and books; as well as conversations with writers, artists and collectors. From these stores, we have also considered which works were available in their material form, as opposed to reproductions on wallpaper, postcards and record covers. While we exhibit a broad timespan and multiple technologies, our primary desire as a contemporary art space is to create new contexts for the exhibition of contemporary photography and video.

Unorthodox is a proposition about relationships between images: sometimes real and sometimes promiscuous, and is inevitably open to alternative readings. It brings new contexts to existing artworks whilst celebrating the materiality of real photographs, in real time and critically, honouring the shared democratic experience of the public gallery space.

Naomi Cass and Pippa Milne

 

Brook Andrew. 'I Split Your Gaze' 1997

 

(62) Brook Andrew
I Split Your Gaze
1997, printed 2005
Silver gelatin print
160 × 127 cm
Private collection
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris and Brussels

 

Brassaï. 'Young couple wearing a two-in-one suit at Bal De La Montagne Saint-Genevieve' 1931

 

(63) Brassaï
Young couple wearing a two-in-one suit at Bal De La Montagne Saint-Genevieve
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
Reproduced as digital print on wallpaper
23.2 × 15.9 cm, reproduced at 24.5 × 19 cm

 

William Yang. 'Alter Ego' 2000

 

(64) William Yang
Alter Ego
2000
from the series Self Portraits
Inkjet print, edition 2 of 30
68 × 88 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Sue FORD (1943-2009) 'St Kilda' 1963

 

(65) Sue Ford (1943-2009)
Lyn and Carol
1961
Silver gelatin print, edition 3 of 5
44 × 38 cm
Courtesy Sue Ford Archive

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

(76) Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953)
Spirit of Endurance
1937
Silver gelatin print
16.8 × 20.4 cm
Private collection

 

 

In the following two works, a critical change of title by the artist reveals what, alone, the eye cannot see. This photograph had already achieved iconic status as a symbol of the noble Australian landscape when, following the loss of his son who died aged 21 at Tobruk in 1941, Cazneaux flipped the negative and presented the image under the new title Spirit of Endurance. The tree is now classified on the National Trust of South Australia’s Register of Significant Trees.

 

Jeff Carter (1928-2010) 'The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia' 1964

 

(77) Jeff Carter (1928-2010)
The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia
1964
Silver gelatin print
37.5 × 27.2 cm
Private collection

 

 

Changing a title can dramatically alter the meaning of an image. This work has had several titles:

Morning Break 1964;
Dreaming in the sun at Marree, outside the towns single store 1966;
At times there is not too much to do except just sit in the sun… 1968;
‘Pompey’ a well known resident of Marree;
and finally The Eunuch, Marree, South Australia 2000

Under early titles, the photograph appeared to be a simple portrait of “Pompey”, a local Aboriginal man in Marree who worked at the town’s bakery. The final title draws viewers’ attention away from what might have seemed to be the man’s relaxed approach to life, and towards the violence enacted on Aboriginal communities in castrating young boys.

 

 

Persons Of Interest - ASIO surveillance 1949 -1980. 'Frank Hardy under awning Caption: Author Frank Hardy shelters under an awning, in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955'

 

(82) Photographer undisclosed
Persons Of Interest – ASIO surveillance images
1949 -1980
‘Frank Hardy under awning Caption: Author Frank Hardy shelters under an awning, in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955’
C-type prints
22 × 29 cm each
Private collection

 

The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) employed photographers to spy on Australian citizens. The photographs which were annotated to indicate persons of interest, were retained by ASIO along with other forms of material gathered through espionage.

 

Luc Delahaye. 'L'Autre' 1999 (detail)

 

(85) Luc Delahaye
L’Autre (detail)
1999
Book published by Phaidon Press, London
17 × 22 cm
Private collection

 

In the footsteps of Walker Evans’ classic candid series, Rapid Transit 1956

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

(94) David Moore (1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Silver gelatin print
35.7 × 47 cm
Private collection

 

In 2015, Judy Annear said of this famous photograph: “It’s great to consider that it’s not actually what it seems.” Years after the photo was published, it emerged that four of the passengers in it were not migrants but Sydneysiders returning home from holiday.

 

Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006) 'Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima' 1945

 

(95) Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006)
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
1945
Digital print on wallpaper, reproduced at 20 × 25 cm

 

While not present at the the raising of the first flag over Iwo Jima, Rosenthal witnessed the raising of the replacement flag. Some maintain that this Pulitzer Prize winning photograph was staged, while others hold that it depicts the replacement of the first flag with a larger one.

 

Charles Kerry (1857-1928) 'Aboriginal Chief' c. 1901-1907

 

(103) Charles Kerry (1857-1928)
Aboriginal Chief
c. 1901-1907
Carte de visite
13.7 × 8.5 cm
Private collection

 

No name or details are recorded of this sitter from Barron River, QLD. He was a member of the touring Wild West Aboriginal troupe, which staged corroborees, weapon skills and tableaux of notorious encounters between armed Native Police and unarmed local communities.

 

Brook Andrew. 'Sexy and Dangerous' 1996

 

(104) Brook Andrew
Sexy and Dangerous
1996
Computer-generated colour transparency on transparent synthetic polymer resin, included here as postcard of artwork
original 146.0 × 95.6 cm, included here at 15.3 × 10.5 cm
The artist is represented by Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne; Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris and Brussels

 

William Eggleston. 'Untitled (glass on plane)' 1965-1974

 

(116) William Eggleston
Untitled (glass on plane)
1965-1974
C-type print
41 × 56 cm
Private collection

 

Bill Culbert. 'Small glass pouring Light, France' 1997

 

(117) Bill Culbert
Small glass pouring Light, France
1997
Silver gelatin print, edition of 25
40.5 × 40.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, Auckland

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935, printed 1992

 

(118) Olive Cotton
Teacup Ballet
1935
Silver gelatin print
35.5 × 28 cm
Courtesy Tony Lee

 

David Moore (1927–2003) 'Sisters of Charity' 1956

 

(119) David Moore (1927-2003)
Sisters of Charity
1956
Silver gelatin print
40.5 × 27.1 cm
Private collection

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher. 'Kies-und Schotterwerke (Gravel Plants)' 2006

 

(120) Bernd and Hilla Becher (Bernd Becher 1931-2007, Hilla Becher 1934-2015)
Kies-und Schotterwerke (Gravel Plants)
2006
Silver gelatin print
99 × 121 cm
Private collection

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

(123) Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Silver gelatin print
44 × 39 cm
Private collection

 

Joyce Evans. 'Budapest Festival' 1949

 

(138) Joyce Evans
Budapest Festival
1949
Inkjet print
7.6 × 7.6 cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Jeff Wall Canadian (1946- ) 'A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)' 1993

 

(145) Jeff Wall
A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)
1993
Transparency on lightbox, included here as postcard of artwork
250 × 397 × 34 cm, included here at 15.3 × 10.5 cm
Artist is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery; Gagosian; and White Cube Gallery

 

Masayoshi Sukita. 'David Bowie - Heroes' 1977

 

(147) Masayoshi Sukita
David Bowie – Heroes
1977
Record cover
31 × 31 cm

 

Sukita: In gesture and gaze, Sukita’s photograph for David Bowie’s 1977 cover harks back 60 years to Weimar Republic artist, Erich Heckel’s 1917 painting, Roquairol, which is in Bowie’s art collection.

 

 

(148) Francis Alÿs
Railings (Fitzroy square)
London, 2004
4.03 min.
Francis Alÿs website

 

We posit Fitzroy Square at this point; in honour of your journey through this unorthodox flow of images.

 

 

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

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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30
Nov
14

Review: ‘PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th October – 7th December 2014

Artists: Micky Allan, Pat Brassington, Virginia Coventry, Sandy Edwards, Anne Ferran, Sue Ford, Christine Godden, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Fiona Hall, Ponch Hawkes, Carol Jerrems, Merryle Johnson, Ruth Maddison, Julie Rrap, Robyn Stacey.

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

With the National Gallery of Victoria’s photography exhibition program sliding into oblivion – the apparent demise of its only dedicated photography exhibition space on the 3rd floor of NGV International; the lack of exhibitions showcasing ANY Australian artists from any era; and the exhibition of perfunctory overseas exhibitions of mediocre quality (such as the high gloss, centimetre deep Alex Prager exhibition on show at the moment at NGV International) – it is encouraging that Monash Gallery of Art consistently puts on some of the best photography exhibitions in this city. This cracker of an exhibition, the last show curated by Shaune Lakin before his move to the National Gallery of Australia (and his passionate curatorial concept), is no exception. It is one of the best photography exhibitions I have seen all year in Melbourne.

Most of the welcome, usual suspects are here… but seeing them all together is a feast for the eyes and the intellect. While most are social documentary based photographers what I like about this exhibition is that there is little pretension here. The artists use photography as both a means and an end, to tell their story – of mothers, of workers, of dancers, of lovers – and to depict a revolution in social consciousness. What we must remember is the period in which this early work appeared. In the 1970s in Australia there were no formal photography programs at university and photography programs in techs and colleges were only just beginning: Photography Studies College (1973) in South Melbourne, Prahran College of Advanced Education (Paul Cox, John Cato, 1974) and Preston Tech (c. 1973, later Phillip Institute) were all set up in the early 1970s. The National Gallery of Victoria photography department was only set up in 1969 (the third ever in the world) with Jenny Boddington, Assistant Curator of Photography, was appointed in 1972 (later to become the first full time photography curator). There were three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb). While some of the artists attended these schools and others were self taught, few had their own darkroom. It was not uncommon for people to develop their negatives and print in bathrooms, toilets, backyard sheds and alike – and the advise was to switch on the shower before printing to clear the dust out of the air, advise in workshops that people did no bat an eyelid at.

What these women did, as Julie Millowick (another photographer who should have been in this exhibition, along with Elizabeth Gertsakis and Ingeborg Tyssen for example) observes of the teaching of John Cato, was “bring to the work knowledge that extended far beyond picking up a camera or going into a darkroom. He [Cato] believed that you must bring to every image you create a wide depth of insight across social, cultural and historical concerns. John was passionate in his belief that an understanding of humanity and society was crucial to our growth as individuals, and ultimately our success as photographers.”1 And so it is with these artists. Never has there been a time in Australian photography when so much social change has been documented by so few for such great advantage. In all its earthiness and connection, the work of these artists is ground breaking. It speaks from the heart for the abused, for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. The work is not only for women by women, as Ponch Hawkes states, but also points the way towards a more enlightened society by opening the eyes of the viewer to multiple points of view, multiple perspectives.

There are few “iconic” images among the exhibition and, as Robert Nelson notes in his review in The Age, little pretension to greatness. One of the surprising elements of the exhibition is how the four photographs by Carol Jerrems (including the famous Vale Street, 1975), seem to loose a lot of their power in this company. They are out muscled in terms of their presence by some of the more essential and earthy series – such as Women at work by Helen Grace and Our mums and us by Ponch Hawkes – and out done in terms of their sensuality by the work of Christine Godden. These were my two favourite bodies of work: Our mums and us and Christine Godden’s sequence of 44 images and the series Family.

Hawkes’ objective series of mother/daughter relationships are deceptively simple in their formal structure (mother and daughter positioned in family homes usually looking directly at the camera), until you start to analyse them. Their unpretentious nature is made up of the interaction that Hawkes elicites from the pairing and the objet trouvé that are worn (the cowgirl boots in Ponch and Ida, 1976) or surround them (the carpet, the table, the plant and the painting in Mimi and Dany, 1976). This relationship adds to the power of the assemblage, juxtaposition of energy and form being a guiding principle in the construction of the image. While the environment might be ‘natural’ it is very much constructed, both physically and psychologically, by the artist.

The work of Christine Godden was a revelation to me. These small, intense images have a powerful magnetism and I kept returning to look at them again and again. There is sensitivity to subject matter, but more importantly a sensuality in the print that is quite overwhelming. Couple this with the feeling of light, space, form and texture and these sometimes fragmentary photographs are a knockout. Just look at the sensitivity of the hands in Untitled, c. 1976. To see that, to capture it, to reveal it to the world – I was almost in tears looking at this photograph. The humanity of that gesture is something that I will treasure.

The only criticism of the exhibition is the lack of a book that addresses one of the most challenging times in Australian photographic history. This important work deserves a fully researched, scholarly publication that includes ALL the players in the story, not just those represented here. It’s about time. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Circles must expand as history moves away from a generation and cohort and, hopefully, the future will ask its own questions” … and I would add, without putting the blinkers on and creating more ideology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Julie Millowick and Christopher Atkins. “Dr John Cato – Educator,” in Paul Cox and Bryan Gracey (eds.,). John Cato Retrospective. Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing, 2013.

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

 

 

“As feminism took off among intellectuals of both sexes, art history would sometimes be interrogated to account for the reasons why there were relatively few great female artists.

While art historians would create reasonable apologies and impute the deficit to centuries of disadvantage to women, it was left to women artists to construct a view of art that redefined the stakes.

They sought a vision that didn’t see art as line-honours in transcendent inventions but a conversation that furthered the sympathy and consciousness of the community”

.
Robert Nelson The Age Wednesday November 5, 2014

 

 

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled' 1984 (1)

 

Pat Brassington
Untitled
1984 (1)
From the series 1 + 1 = 3
Gelatin silver print
18 x 28 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy of the artist, ARC ONE Gallery (Melbourne), Stills Gallery (Sydney) and Bett Gallery (Hobart)

 

Pat Brassington‘s photographs have often made use of the artist’s home and family life as subject matter. The photographs included in this exhibition were taken during the early 1980s and, with their tight cropping and diagonal obliques, suggest that family life is an anxious and ambivalent place. Erotically charged body parts – whether partner’s or offspring – are left to hang, like fetish objects drifting through a dream. Brassington is consciously mining the clichés of psychoanalysis, with her focus on shoes, panties and an ominous father figure, but she reworks this symbolism with a comical lightness that is closer to a teen horror film than the analyst’s couch.

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 1
Gelatin silver prints
17.5 x 11.6 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' (detail) 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle (detail)
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace was a member of the Sydney-based feminist collective Blatant Image (which also included Sandy Edwards), which formed around the Tin Sheds at Sydney University. The collective was interested in examining and reconfiguring the representation of women in popular culture, and also in developing alternative venues for socially conscious art and film. The photographs displayed here point to the two interconnected preoccupations of Grace’s work at this time: the social and cultural construction of motherhood and femininity (and the way that each of these categories are produced by and through consumerism and popular culture), and the documentation of women’s labour. An active member of Sydney’s labour movement, Grace photographed women working in a range of workplaces (including factories and hospitals) for both the historical record and as promotional aids for activist organisations.

Grace’s Women seem to adapt to repetitive-type tasks was widely shown in Sydney and Melbourne, including the exhibition The lovely motherhood show (1981). This work of seven panoramas depicting a string of nappies on a washing line at once points towards the inexorable tediousness of motherhood, and at the same timeattempts to demystify the romantic myths of motherhood found in contemporary advertising and popular culture. Grace’s photographs were also widely used in posters produced by trade union and women’s groups. During the 1970s and 1980s screen printing was a cheap and effective way to incorporate photographic imagery into posters. Community groups also embraced screen printing because its aesthetic stood in opposition to commercial advertising, and the process lent itself to a do-it-yourself work ethic.

 

Merryle Johnson. 'Outside the big top' 1979-80

 

Merryle Johnson
Outside the big top
1979-80
From the series Circus
Hand coloured gelatin silver prints
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Merryle Johnson, 2014

 

Merryle Johnson‘s photographic feminism sits alongside her contemporaries Micky Allan and Ruth Maddison. In the first instance, it is expressed in the autobiographical nature of her images, which often refer to her family history. And like Allan and Maddison, Johnson also used hand-colouring to reinvigorate documentary photography and to bring a decidedly female perspective to the medium. Johnson’s contribution to feminist photography in Australia is also reflected in her use of photographic sequences – multiple images printed on the same sheet. In these works, the single, perfectly realised photographic image of Modernist photography was replaced with a series of images that draw attention to the fragmentary, contingent and inconclusive nature of photography. The serialisation of photographs also engages a more embodied, spatialised and assertive experience than single pictures alone.

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur' 1973

 

Christine Godden
Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur
1973
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
8.4 x 13.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie pregnant' 1972

 

Christine Godden
Joanie pregnant
1972
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden’s Untitled c. 1976 is part of a sequence of 44 images that represented fragments and textures that combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of poetry. The series Family c. 1973 details the domestic environment and experience of young families in the American West.

As well as presenting subjects that engaged a ‘feminine’ subject, Godden’s photographs critically interrogate many of the claims for a distinctly ‘feminine sensibility’ being made by and for women artists at this time. The ‘Untitled’ prints on display here were originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. These pictures were originally shown as part of a tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think’. The tightly cropped glimpses of bodies and textures combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of visual poetry.

Christine Godden’s Family series comprises a large number of images detailing the domestic environment and experience of young families living in the American west. Godden was at this time a student at the San Francisco Art Institute and was very active in feminist networks, including the Advocates for Women organisation, for whom she photographed events and actions. Godden’s Family series documents her experience of the counter-cultural families of America’s west coast, who provided and celebrated a new model of family life and women’s work.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art with, at right, Anne Ferran’s Scenes on the death of nature, scene I and II (1980-86)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Scenes on the death of nature, scene I' 1980-86

 

Anne Ferran
Scenes on the death of nature, scene I
1980-86
Gelatin silver print
122.0 x 162.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran‘s series Scenes on the death of nature presents five tableau-like scenes showing the artist’s daughter and her friends in classical dress. When they were first exhibited, commentators noted the enigmatic quality of the images, and how they resisted clear meaning, narrative and any attribute of personal style. To many, they represented a significant shift away from documentary photography. This might well be the ‘death’ to which the titles refer. For the critic Adrian Martin, the pictures appeared to evoke myth, while also being ambivalent about a photograph’s capacity to point to or allude to anything outside of itself; in this way, they can be seen to exemplify a certain post-modern approach to photography.

All the same, it is possible to see these important pictures as signposts for another kind of death. The photographs allude to some of the ways that the subject of girl/woman has been produced through visual culture, whether the monumental friezes of classical or Victorian architecture, or Pre-Raphaelite tableaux. In this way, they evoke the idea of ‘femininity’ as a source of meaning. Rather than rejoicing in, resisting or critiquing ‘femininity’ as earlier feminist photographers might have done, Ferran’s pictures remain steadfastly, even ‘passively’ ambivalent. As the artist wrote at the time, the works reveal ‘very little of a personal vision or private sensibility’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with 'Vale Street' (1975) at left

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with Vale Street (1975) at left and Lynn
(1976) at right

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems
Lynn
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems was one of a number of Australian women whose work during the 1970s challenged the dominant ideas of what a photographer was and how they worked. She adopted a collaborative approach to making photographs, which often featured friends and associates, and sought a photographic practice that would bring about social change. For Jerrems, as for many of her contemporaries, the photograph was an agent of social change, a means of both bringing people together and creating active and engaged social relationships. As she stated:
.

I really like people … I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated; maybe it’s a way of bringing people together … I care about [people], I’d like to help them if I could, through my photographs…

.
The iconic Vale Street shows Jerrems’s friend Catriona Brown standing in front of Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, teenage boys from Heidelberg Technical School where Jerrems was teaching at the time. The photograph was taken at a house in Vale Street, St Kilda. Although it is unclear if Jerrems conceived of this image as a feminist gesture, the subject’s assertive, bare-chested pose and Venus symbol led to this photograph being interpreted as a statement of feminist power.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series 'Our mums and us' at the exhibition 'Photography Meets Feminism'

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series Our mums and us at the exhibition Photography Meets Feminism. Her photographs were made by women, of women, for women.

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Ponch and Ida' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Ponch and Ida
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Lorna and Mary' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Lorna and Mary
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Mimi and Dany' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Mimi and Dany
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes‘s best-known series Our mums and us documents a selection of the photographer’s contemporaries standing with their mothers. The photographs were taken at each subject’s family home and record generational shifts in personal style and domestic decor. Originally shown at Brummels Gallery of Photography in 1976, which was Hawkes’s first solo exhibition, Our mums and us has become one of the most celebrated examples of feminist photography in Australia.

The use of pronouns in the title suggests the series was made by women, of women and for women; it is a defiant and celebratory feminist gesture, which foregrounds women as at once independent and connected to each other. Reflecting on the series, Hawkes explains that ‘feminism helped me to understand that my mother was actually a woman too, and not just a mother, and Our mums and us came out of that realisation.’

 

installation-i

installation-j

installation-k

installation-l

installation-h

 

Ephemera and books from Ponch Hawkes personal collection, including the cover of the seminal book A Book About Australian Women by Carol Jerrems and Virginia Fraser (Melbourne, 1974)

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison
Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
From the series Let’s dance
Gelatin silver print
27.0 x 18.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison
Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne
1985
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 24.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photographs shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

 

Virginia Coventry. 'Miss World televised' 1974

 

Virginia Coventry
Miss World televised
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.5 x 13.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Miss World televised is typical of Virginia Coventry‘s photographic work from this period, which tended to revolve around tightly organised sequences of pictures of the same subject (swimming pools in a Queensland town; the spaces between houses) or an event (a car moving through a carwash; a receding flood).

At the time, Coventry shared a house with Micky Allan. One night, while watching Allan’s black-and-white television, she saw footage of the 1974 Miss World pageant on the news. Immediately taken by the way the poor reception distorted the bodies of the contestants, Coventry began to photograph the footage. Once she developed the film, she realised the visual ‘disruption’ caused by the incongruity of the telecast process and the camera’s shutter speed obscured the figures and the beauty of the contestants, without necessarily deriding or critiquing the women themselves. As Coventry has written of the pictures: “I remember discussions with other women at the time about the way that the distortions offered a protection to the integrity of the actual person in the photo-images. Because of the radical slippage between reportage and reception, the individual is no longer the subject. The title operates to focus attention on Miss World telecast as a quiteabstract construction – as do the black-and-white, grainy, prints.”

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s looks at the vital relationship of photography and feminism in Australia during the 1970s and ’80s.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues.

On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s will feature vintage prints of important photographs, many of which have not been seen for decades.

MGA Interim Director, Stephen Zagala states, “We are proud to present this exhibition, which provides an as-yet untold account of Australian photography and draws heavily on MGA’s nationally significant collection of Australian photography.””

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

“This exhibition explores the encounter between photography and feminist politics during the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Both photography and feminism thrived during this period. Feminist politics of the 1970s expanded on its earlier fight for equal rights by illuminating discrimination against women in various contexts. This included addressing domestic violence, inequality in the workplace, sexism in the media, and the economics of parenting. Alongside this expanded critique of patriarchy, feminist politics also celebrated ‘sisterhood’ by drawing attention to the undervalued achievements of women and by taking pride in distinctly female perspectives on the world.

Photographic practice also expanded its parameters during the 1970s. Together with other art forms such as painting and sculpture, photography became more experimental and irreverent. Most photographic artists rejected the tradition of highbrow fine art photography and invested the medium with personal sentiment and everyday content. The camera also became a useful tool for a generation of artists more interested in social engagement than aesthetic finesse.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues. On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford‘s series The Tide Recedes 1969-71 was made for her first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. People were becoming more removed from nature but Ford felt that woman share a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. The contrasty black and white photographs of bodies melding with rocks in montage prints that are as rough as guts work magnificently.

These prints were made as preparation for Sue Ford’s ambitious series The tide recedes, shown as part of Ford’s first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. Throughout this body of work, images of naked women and of men and women embracing merge with a marine landscape. The series expresses Ford’s concern that people were becoming too removed from nature, and allude to the idea that women share
a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. It also draws on a technique that was central to feminist photographic practice – montage, where two disparate fragments are brought together to produce new and often unexpected meanings. While this reflects Ford’s work as a film maker, where montage is often used in storytelling, this strategy also embeds her pictures in the field of activist art. With montage, it is the viewer who ultimately makes sense of a work, as they find and see connections between disparate fragments.

While the prints presented in the 1971 exhibition were ambitious in scale and resolution, Ford preferred prints that were – in her terms – ‘rough as guts’. Prints such as those shown here represented an explicit rejection of the maleness of both the camera as a technological instrument and the arcane knowledge of the darkroom.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west (details)
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Picnic)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Picnic)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey established a reputation for her hand- coloured prints in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Introduced to the process by Micky Allan, Stacey’s early hand-coloured prints examined the life and culture of Australia, especially her native Queensland. Stacey hand-coloured her photographs so as to invest them with personal attributes: “At the time I was interested in hand colouring [because it was] a technique associated with women’s work and craft. This approach seemed a good way to visually re-enforce the personal and intimate quality of the prints.”

Among Stacey’s most important contributions to the feminist tradition of hand colouring photographs are her pictures of Queensland architecture, taken during a road trip to western Queensland made with her mother. These images refer to an heroic subject in Australian culture – the stoicism of the outback and the people who populate it. But Stacey revises these myths, by presenting the images as intimate and personal.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Ice' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Ice
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
104.0 x 175.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Jet' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Jet
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
164.0 x 103.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

In the late 80s, Stacey began to hand colour her transparencies rather than the print, thereby incorporating an aspect of reproducibility to the images. In this way the work shifted from the unique print, with its references to nostalgia and the careful rendering of places and times, to something resembling the glossy images found in 1980s’ mass media, especially Hollywood cinema.

 

Julie Rrap. 'Persona and shadow: Madonna' 1984

 

Julie Rrap
Persona and shadow: Madonna
1984
Silver dye bleach print
203.0 x 126.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997
Courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery (Melbourne) and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

 

 

This photograph is from the series of nine works titled Persona and shadow. Julie Rrap produced this series after visiting a major survey of contemporary art in Berlin (Zeitgeist, 1982) which only included one woman among the 45 artists participating in the exhibition. Rrap responded to this curatorial sexism with a series of self-portraits in which she mimics stereotypical images of women painted by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Each pose refers to a female stereotype employed by Munch: the innocent girl, the mother, the whore, the Madonna, the sister, and so on.

Appropriating the work of other artists is one of the strategies that characterises the work of so-called ‘postmodern’ artists active during the 1980s. The practice of borrowing, quoting and mimicking famous artworks was employed as a way of questioning notions of authenticity. Feminist artists tended to use appropriation to specifically question the authenticity of male representations of females. In more straightforward terms, Rrap reclaims Munch’s clichéd images of women and makes them her own. Rrap ultimately becomes an imposter, stealing her way into these masterpieces of art history, but the remarkable thing about these works is the way that the artist foregrounds the process of reappropriation itself. The procedure of restaging, collage, overpainting, and rephotographing becomes part of the final image, testifying to a d0-it-herself politic. (Wall text)

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan’s two series Babies and Old age were shown in Melbourne and Sydney around 1976-77; their reception revealed much about the anxieties that informed photographic criticism and practice at the time, with critics dismissing the works as ‘slight’ and ‘feminine photographs par excellence’. Across a series of exhibitions between 1976 and 1980, Allan challenged many of the established conventions of fine art photography, in both technique and subject. Allan overpainted the black-and-white print with watercolour, gouache and pencil to the extent of both acknowledging the under recognised history of women’s photographic work – historically, women were employed by studios to hand-paint or tone photographic prints – and transgressing the smooth surface of photographic prints that was prized by traditional art photographers.

For Allan, overpainting rejected the technical sameness of modern photography and introduced an emotional warmth. Allan’s hand-colouring also interrupted the myth of photographic transparency – the notion of the photograph as a ‘disinterested’ window onto the world. Overpainted, the photograph became subjective, contingent and fallible. The lightness of many of Allan’s interventions enhances this sense of fallibility. (Wall text)

 

With a body of work ranging across painting, photography and performance, investigations of subjectivity have been central to Micky Allan’s practice. Allan has consistently drawn on feminist strategies which emphasise the personal and autobiographical. In the early 1970s she became involved with the experimental performance and collective activities based at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, working there as both a set designer and a photographer, documenting early feminist work. Of this time Allan has said that she saw “photography as a form of social encounter … that in comparison with painting it [was] much more integrated to what was going on.”1

Allan has acknowledged social documentary as the basis of her photographic work. For a short period she recorded political figures and the surrounding social changes in which she was both a participant and an observer. Old age, the second of three series whose focus is lifecycles (the other two being Babies 1976 and The prime of life 1979-80), comprises 40 hand-coloured individual portraits. Allan introduced the technique of hand-colouring in her work in 1976, a technique taken up by many women photographers at that time to counter the then dominant modes of masculine production. While there is stylistic variation across the series, each portrait, close-up in viewpoint, is meticulously rendered in pastel colours. The images do not capture a simple moment but rather work together to poignantly symbolise a rich regard for age. Of this Allan has said: “Altogether they are an attempt to familiarise and personalise “age”, in a society which tends to ignore or stereotype the old.”2

1. ‘On paper – survey 12’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 21 Jun ‘ 20 Jul 1980, as quoted in 1987, Micky Allan: perspective 1975-1987, Monash University Gallery, Clayton p. 4
2. Ibid p. 19

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

 

Exhibiting artist’s biographies

Micky Allan (b. Australia 1944) studied Fine Art at the University of Melbourne, and painting at the National Gallery School in the 1960s. Allan began taking photographs in 1974 after joining the loosely formed feminist collective at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. During this time Allan was part of a vibrant community of feminist artists that included Virginia Coventry, who taught her how to take and print photographs. Allan returned to painting as her primary medium in the early 1980s.

Pat Brassington (b. Australia 1942) is a Hobart-based artist who studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1985. Brassington draws on a personal archive of visual material to compose her images. This archive includes both photographic and non-photographic material, which has either been found or produced by Brassington. Her work takes inspiration from surrealist photography, with its recurring interest in fetish objects and uncanny domestic scenes. Brassington typically employs digital collage to manufacture disjointed compositions, and she exhibits her work in elliptical series that suggest dream-like narratives.

Virginia Coventry (b. Australia 1942) studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology during theearly 1960s, before undertaking postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. While painting and drawing have been constant features of Coventry’s practice, she started taking photographs during the mid-1960s and developed a significant reputation for her photo-based work during the 1970s. Her photographic work typically engages with socio-political issues and often incorporates textual elements that give it a discursive form.

Sandy Edwards (b. New Zealand 1948 arr. Australia 1961) has been an important figure in Australian photography as both a maker and advocate since the 1970s. Edwards’s practice has paid particular attention to women and their relationship with the media of photography and film. Most of her work is documentary in nature but her photographic prints are often presented in sequences that elaborate conceptual points. Edwards has also been a prolific curator of exhibitions promoting the work of contemporary photographers, especially in Sydney.

Anne Ferran (b. Australia 1949) is a Sydney-based photographer and academic. She studied humanities and teaching before training in photography at Sydney College of the Arts. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-1980s and has become one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed photographers. Ferran’s practice is largely concerned with using photography to reclaim forgotten pasts, with a specific interest in the histories of women and children in colonial Australia. In pursuing this interest, Ferran often develops her projects through archival research and fieldwork.

Sue Ford (Australia 1943-2009) studied photography at RMIT and was the first Australian photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1974. Over the course of her artistic career Ford worked with still photography and moving images, beginning with traditional analogue film and then embracing the possibilities offered by photomedia and digital technologies. In this respect, Ford is a key figure in the history of avant-garde photographic experimentation. Ford’s artworks are also remarkable for their critical engagement with contemporary social issues, while also expressing deeply personal perspectives on the world.

Christine Godden (b. Australia 1947) has played a significant role in Australian photography as a maker, curator and advocate. After studying in Melbourne, Godden completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1975 and a Master of Fine Arts at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York in 1980. On her return to Australia, she became director of the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, and was consequently a prominent spokesperson for Australian photography during the 1980s. Her own photography is couched in a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice.

Helen Grace (b. Australia 1949) is a self-taught artist who began making work as an active member of feminist and labour organisations in Sydney during the mid-1970s. Often straight-forwardly documentary in style, Grace’s approach to photography is closely aligned with political consciousness raising. Her work for the labour and women’s movements was widely circulated around the time of its production, both in the pages of publications and in posters produced by trade unions and women’s groups. Grace’s writing on photography and film, history and politics have also made a significant contribution to the critical discussion that surrounds feminist practice in Australia.

Janina Green (b. Germany 1944 arr. Australia 1949) studied Fine Arts at Melbourne University and Victoria College before training as a printmaker at RMIT. In the 1980s she taught herself photography and subsequently specialised in this medium. Green held her first solo exhibition of photography in 1986 and has exhibited regularly since then, participating in over 30 group exhibitions and producing over 20 solo shows. Green’s photographs are distinguished by their sophisticated and often sensuous surfaces, which testify to her early training in printmaking. In her role as a teacher in the photography department at the Victorian College of the Arts, Green has also played a significant role as a mentor for younger photographers.

Fiona Hall (b. Australia 1953) initially trained as a painter, and has ultimately become a celebrated sculptor, but photography was her primary medium in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hall developed an interest in photography at art school and worked as an assistant to the well-known landscape photographer Fay Godwin while she lived in London between 1977-78. Hall subsequently studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in New York during 1982. Hall’s photographic practice demonstrates a fascination with decoration and style, which is informed by a critical interest in the premise of a ‘feminine’ sensibility.

Ponch Hawkes (b. Australia 1946) took up photography in 1972 while working as a journalist for the counter-cultural magazines Digger and Rolling Stone. Her early photography was informed by her role as a commentator on alternative social issues, and she has often used her images to engage with contemporary critical debates. During the 1970s Hawkes was part of a loosely formed feminist collective based at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. Since that time she has continued to work closely with community groups around Australia and remains a key figure in contemporary photographic practice.

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949-80) was born in Melbourne and studied photography at Prahran Technical College under Paul Cox and Athol Shmith between 1967 and 1970. Although she practised as an artist for only a decade, Jerrems has acquired a celebrated place in the annals of Australian photography. Her reputation is based on her compassionate, formally striking pictures, her intimate connection with the people involved in social movements of the day, and her role in the promotion of ‘art photography’ in this country.

Merryle Johnson (b. Australia 1949) graduated from Bendigo College of Advanced Education in 1969 with a major in painting. She took up photography in 1970 and it subsequently became central to her professional life, both as an arts educator and an exhibiting artist. Johnson’s approach to photography is informed by her broader training as an artist. This is particularly evident in her use of hand-colouring and sequencing. While the subject matter of her images is largely drawn from everyday life, she employs artistic devices to bring a sense of drama and fantasy to documentary photography.

Ruth Maddison (b. Australia 1945) is a self-taught photographer and artist. Maddison began working as a professional photographer in 1976, and she has been regularly exhibiting her work since 1979. Photography has been her primary medium, but in later years her artistic practice has expanded to include moving-image, textiles and sculpture. An interest in personal biography and the celebration of everyday existence informs her artistic practice. She is most well-known for her hand-coloured photographs of domestic life. In 1996 Maddison relocated from Melbourne to Eden, on the south coast of NSW.

Julie Rrap (b. Australia 1950) studied humanities at the University of Queensland (1969-71) before establishing her career as an exhibiting artist in Sydney during the 1980s. Rrap’s involvement with performance art and avant-garde politics during the 1970s laid the foundations for her later work in photography, painting, sculpture and video, which is largely concerned with the representation and experience of women’s bodies. The photographic objectification of female bodies is a persistent theme in Rrap’s work, but her highly expressive self-portraits invest the medium with a subjective intensity that affronts the clinical quality of voyeurism.

Robyn Stacey (b. Australia 1952) is a Sydney-based photographer who has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s. During the 1980s Stacey produced staged or ‘directorial’ photographs that drew on the visual language of cinema and television. Through the 1990s Stacey engaged in further training and study, and experimented extensively with new media including digital photography and lenticular prints. In 2000 Stacey began working with natural history collections in Australia and overseas, using photography to bring the contents of these archives to life. Throughout her career, Stacey has been interested in photography as an expressive medium that can be used to reiterate, remix and reanimate visual information.

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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13
Apr
14

Review: ‘Hoda Afshar / Under Western Eyes’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd April – 3rd May 2014

 

Dear readers, my apologies for the lack of local reviews and postings since the beginning of the year. It’s not that I haven’t been out and about looking at exhibitions, far from it, simply that there has been little stimulating enough to do a posting on. Photographically, it has been a very slow start to 2014 in Melbourne.

There have been disappointing exhibitions from Jacqui Stockdale at Helen Gory Galerie (Super Naturale 15 Mar – 5 Apr 2014) where the artist removed her fabulous painted backgrounds and isolated the carnivalesque figure in Victorian album ovals against non-descript, beige colours, hence robbing them of the wonderful interplay between figure and context; Jane Burton at Karen Woodbury Gallery (In Other Bodies 2 April – 3 May 2014) where her intimate, sightless, pinhole portrait photographs are overlaid with “bruised candy colours,” in reality a sickly tri-colour overlay that ruins any presence some of the more powerful images ever had; Pat Brassington at Arc One Gallery (Pat Brassington 8 April – 15 May 2014) where, despite three interesting images (Blush, Major Tom and Night Shade), the rest of the exhibition feels like the photographs are a caricature of themselves, repeating earlier statements, with the work going nowhere (success breeds complacency?); and Polly Borland at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Wonky 28 Mar – 25 May 2014) where the staged photographs of sculptural forms are insipid to say the least and the prints have pixellation the size of golf balls. You would have thought that a person of her supposed standing in the art world would have at least got the prints right.

It is a great pleasure then to finally discover some strong exhibitions around Melbourne town that are worthy of a posting: Hoda Afshar / Under Western Eyes and Stephen Dupont / The White Sheet Series No. 1, both at Edmund Pearce; the group exhibition Khem at Strange Neighbour; The Rennie Ellis Show at Monash Gallery of Art; and the magnificent Rosemary Laing / The Paper at Tolarno Galleries. Other postings to follow in the next week or so.

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I love Hoda Afshar’s work. It’s big, bold, brash, beautiful, and it has something important to say and does so, eloquently. I only wish I could read the text written on nipple and background to further understand the intricacies and references of the work. The photographs pull back the veil on how Westerners commodify the representation of Islamic women in the form of decodable stereotypes. This reductive interpretation of the identity of Muslim women is bound up with aspects of exoticism, which has links to the influential book Orientalism (1978), by Edward W. Saïd, “a foundational text for the academic field of Post-colonial Studies, wherein the denotations and connotations of the term “orientalism” are expanded to describe what Saïd sees as the false cultural assumptions of the “Western world”, facilitating the cultural misrepresentation of the “The Orient”, in general, and of the Middle East, in particular.” (Wikipedia)

For Western society, “oriental” art emanated from a type of primitive fantasy, reflecting the increasingly exotic tastes of Europe from the late 19th-century following European colonialism. In her work Afshar interrogates aspects of a visual neo-colonialism. Here the voices of the marginalised are acknowledged but only so far as the language of acknowledgement is controlled by neo-colonialism (another form of imperialism which is an out a growth of classical colonialism) – in which the image and literature of the oppressed is controlled by societal structures that seek to delimit the nature of their independence.

As Bhabha notes, “Postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of Third World countries and the discourses of “minorities” within the geopolitical divisions of East and West, North and South. They intervene in those ideological discourses of modernity that attempt to give a hegemonic “normality” to the uneven development and the differential, often disadvantaged, histories of nations, race, communities, peoples.” (Bhabha, H. K. The location of culture. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 71)

Postcolonial theory formulates its critique around the social histories, cultural differences and political discrimination that are practised and normalised by colonial and imperial machineries. What Afshar does is poke a great big stick at these (visual) machineries, phenomenologies that continue to operate within the operating “theatres”, the mass-produced and parcelled consumer identities of the Western world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

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

 

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #1' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #1
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #2' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #2
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #3' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #3
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

 

Edmund Pearce is pleased to present Under Western Eyes, a solo exhibition by Hoda Afshar. The exhibition comprises a series of digitally manipulated photographs, criticising the continual representation of Islamic women in the contemporary art world as veiled, subjugated and suppressed. This new project explores how the veil – seen as a sort of forced enclosure – has become the dominant mode of representing Islamic women in the West.

In speaking of the series Hoda states, “veiled women are often portrayed as a homogeneous group; powerless subjects whose veil serves either as a symbol and tool of oppression, or is celebrated as an exotic commodity. As such, the images of Muslim women have been reduced to easily decodable stereotypes; mass-produced and parcelled for Western audiences as a consumer item. In this series, I intend to emphasise the reductive interpretation of the identity of Muslim women in the West and praising of such imagery as an attitude bound up with aspects of exoticism.”

Hoda Afshar is a visual artist and Photographer. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Art at Curtin University. After finishing a BFA, majoring in Photography, at Azad University of Art and Architecture in Tehran, she began her career as a documentary photographer. In 2006 she was selected by World Press Photo as one of the top ten young documentary photographers of Iran to attend their Educational training program. Additionally, Hoda is currently a lecturer at the Photography Studies College in Melbourne. She has also been exhibiting locally and internationally since 2007 and was short listed for prestigious photography awards such as the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prizes (2012) and the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Prize (2013). She lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #5' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #5
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #6' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #6
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #7' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #7
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

Hoda Afshar. 'Westoxicated #9' 2013

 

Hoda Afshar
Westoxicated #9
2013
Archival Pigment Print
104 x 90 cm / edition of 5

 

 

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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26
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Pat Brassington: Quill’ at Bett Gallery, Hobart

Exhibition dates: 10 May – 31 May 2013

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Always enigmatic but slightly more accessible new work from Australia’s master of ambiguity Pat Brassington. Not that I would say that any of these images are really memorable in their own right but collectively they speak to the alienation of everyday life – alienation from Self, shadow and surroundings.

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

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Pat Brassington. 'Blink' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Blink
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Candie' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Candie
2013
pigment print
60 x 44 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Deuce' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Deuce
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Fathoms Deep' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Fathoms Deep
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Masterclass' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Masterclass
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Matinee' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Matinee
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Mind Game' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Mind Game
2013
pigment print
60 x 46 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Quicksilver' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Quicksilver
2013
pigment print
60 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Shadow Boxer' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Shadow Boxer
2013
pigment print
72 x 50 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'The Guest' 2013

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Pat Brassington
The Guest
2013
pigment print
60 x 44 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Pat Brassington. 'Untitled' 2013

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Pat Brassington
Untitled
2013
pigment print, unframed
90 x 65 cm (paper size)
edition of 8

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Bett Galllery
369 Elizabeth Street
North Hobart Tasmania 7000
Australia
T: +61 (0) 3 6231 6511

Opening hours:
10am – 6pm Monday – Saturday
12noon – 6pm Sunday

Bett Gallery website

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01
Mar
13

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

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

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

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“What counts, our whole purpose, is to try to understand what we are about, to scrutinise ourselves… Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.
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“The fears of the past were connected with the functions of the body, they reappear through the body. For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.”

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Louise Bourgeois

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

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Robert Hughes quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog

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

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Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO of Heide quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog

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Tough Love

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Spider' (detail) 1997

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

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

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

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Louise Bourgeois, from Ode to my Mother, 1995

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

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Dawn' 2007 (detail)

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

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

Blue Days (1996) is one of a number of works in which Bourgeois suspended, stuffed and shaped her dresses and shirts, sometimes adding abstract sculptural elements like the red glass sphere that operates here like a nucleus around which the new sculptural bodies circulate. With its intimate relation to the skin and contours of the body, to time and seasons, clothing was used for its power to summon memory: ‘You can retell your life … by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like the weather, the ocean, changing all the time.’
In other works Bourgeois’ fragmented figures and anatomical parts give physical form to anxieties rising from unfulfilled desire, acts of betrayal, losses or thwarted communication. Couple IV embodies the dark confusion of the child happening upon the sexual embrace of the adults. The copulating, decapitated lovers appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ and signal Bourgeois’ fraught obsession not only with the infidelities of her father, but also with sex itself. For Bourgeois there is ‘a fatal attraction not towards one or the other, but to the phenomena of copulation … I am exasperated by the vision of the copulating couple, and it makes me so furious … that I chop their heads [off]. This is it … I turn violent. The sewing is a defence. I am so afraid of the things I might do. The defence is to do the opposite of what you want to do.’

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

Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO, Heide Museum of Modern Art.”Louise Bourgeois,” on The Melbourne Review website, November 2012

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Blue Days' 1996

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

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

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

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Knife Figure' 2002

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

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Louise Bourgeois
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Couple IV' 1997

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

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

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Louise Bourgeois
Untitled
2002
Tapestry, aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY.

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Cinq' 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

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Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists

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

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

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

Statement from the from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

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

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

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

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Louise Bourgeois

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

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

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Del Kathryn Barton

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Del Kathryn Barton. 'no other side' 2012

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

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

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Patricia Piccinini

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Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze

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Patricia Piccinini
The Uprising
2008
Bronze

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

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Patricia Piccinini
The Uprising (detail)
2008
Bronze

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

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Juliana Engberg

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Patricia Piccinini. 'Nectar' 2012

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

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

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Pat Brassington. 'House guest #2' 2007

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Pat Brassington
House guest #2
2007

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Patt Brassington. 'The Guardian' 2009

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

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

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

Heide Museum of Modern Art website

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

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26
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Flatlands: photography and everyday space’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 13th September 2012 – 3rd February 2013

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This posting contains one of my favourite early works by Fiona Hall, Leura, New South Wales (1974, below) which is redolent of all the themes that would be expressed in the later work – an alien landscape that examines “the relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the [fecund] garden in western iconography.” In her work the “nature” of things (plants, money, videotape, plumbing fittings, birds nests, etc…) are re/classified, re/ordered and re/labelled.

Another stunning photograph in this posting is Minor White’s Windowsill daydreaming (1958, below). It is one of my favourite images of all time: because of the power of observation (to be able to recognise, capture and present such a manifestation!); because of the images formal beauty; and because of its metaphysical nature – a poetry full of esoteric allusions, one that addresses a very profound subject matter that is usually beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. This alien presence, like the structure of an atom, is something that lives beyond the edges of our consciousness, some presence that hovers there, that we can feel and know yet can never see. Is it our shadow, our anima or animus? This is one of those rare photographs that will always haunt me.

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text accompanying photographs © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007.

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Cecil Bostock (Australia 1884–1939) 'Phenomena' c. 1938

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Cecil Bostock Australia 1884-1939
Phenomena
c. 1938
gelatin silver photograph
26.3 x 30.5cm
Gift of Max Dupain 1980

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Bostock remains an enigmatic personality in Australian pictorial and early modernist photography. This is at least in part due to his body of work being scattered on his death in 1939 as it was auctioned to cover his debts. Fortunately Phenomena was left to his former assistant Max Dupain who had worked with him from 1930 to 1933.

Phenomena was one of 11 photographs Bostock exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe and it was placed in the window at David Jones along with other photographs such as Plum blossom 1937 by Olive Cotton and Mechanisation of art by Laurence Le Guay. Phenomena is a wonderful modernist work with its plays of light and dark and disorienting shapes and curving lines. It is impossible to tell exactly how the shapes are made or where the light is coming from, nor what the objects are. It could easily be exhibited upside down where the viewer could be looking down on objects arranged on a flat surface. Phenomena is a tribute to Bostock’s restless, inventive and exacting abilities.

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Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974

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Fiona Hall Australia b.1953
Leura, New South Wales
1974
Gelatin silver photograph
27.8cm x 27.8cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased 1981
© Fiona Hall

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The rich tones and fine detail of Leura, New South Wales were made possible by Hall’s use of a large-format nineteenth-century view camera. The antiquated technology, once used by colonial photographers to document nature and the taming of the Australian landscape, here records instead the verdant foliage of a floral-patterned couch and carpet. Made at the beginning of Hall’s career, it demonstrates her burgeoning interest in the representation of nature. The relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the garden in western iconography has since been a recurrent theme in her work, which ranges across photography, sculpture and installation. Leura… differs from Hall’s other photographs in that it documents a “found” object. Hall’s later works, such as The Antipodean suite 1981 and her large-format polaroids of 1985, are of her own constructions and sculptures. Her Paradisus terrestris series 1989-90, 1996, 1999, of aluminium repousse sculptures takes the garden of Eden as its subject and treats it as an Enlightenment florilegium, wherein nature is classified, ordered and labelled. This kind of botanical transcription, like photography, was the process through which the alien Australian landscape was ‘naturalised’ by its colonists – a process which Hall wryly comments on in this acutely observed encounter within a domestic interior.

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David Moore. 'Light pattern, camera in motion' c. 1948, printed 1997

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David Moore Australia 1927 – 2003
Light pattern, camera in motion
c. 1948, printed 1997
Gelatin silver photograph
50.7cm x 40.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Karen, Lisa, Michael and Matthew Moore, 2004

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Simryn Gill. From 'A long time between drinks' 2005

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Simryn Gill Singapore/Malaysia/Australia b.1959
From A long time between drinks
2005
Portfolio of 13 offset prints
29.8cm x 29.7cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
© Simryn Gill

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Among Simryn Gill’s multi-disciplinary explorations of identity and belonging, investigations of suburban locations carry a particular resonance due to their often autobiographical nature. A long time between drinks 2009 is an intensely focused look at suburban Adelaide which was the artist’s first experience of Australia when she arrived in 1987 from Kuala Lumpur, and the city where she first exhibited. Gill returned to Adelaide in 2005 to revisit this early point of contact, producing an evocative series of 13 images.

The photographs impart an ostensible sense of alienation and isolation that corresponds to the artist’s position as an outsider looking in. Gill’s viewpoint of these empty streets that seem to lead nowhere is forensic and detached. But surprisingly, as repetitious compositions and details culminate across the photographs, the prosaic subject matter becomes increasingly surreal, abstract and even poetic.

As Sambrani Chaitanya has stated, “Gill’s work is an investigation of the limits of categorisation,”1 and this group of works, just as in Gill’s examination of Marrickville (where she now lives) in May 2006, emphasises the difficulty of defining an idea of place through mere description. Memory, time and pure invention are required to fill in the gaps. The eerie, yet evocative environment in these photographic prints is further enhanced by their presentation in a square box emulating those of sets of vinyl LP recordings.

1. Sambrani, C “Other realties, someone else’s fictions: the tangled art of Simryn Gill,” [Online], Art and Australia Vol.42, No.2, Summer 2004, p.220/

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b1955 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997

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David Stephenson USA/Australia b.1955
Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy
1997
From the series Domes 1993-2005
Type C photograph
55 × 55 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by Joanna Capon and the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2002
© David Stephenson

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With poetic symmetry the Domes series considers analogous ideas. It is a body of work which has been ongoing since 1993 and now numbers several hundred images of domes in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, England, Germany and Russia. The typological character of the series reveals the shifting history in architectural design, geometry and space across cultures and time, demonstrating how humankind has continually sought meaning by building ornate structures which reference a sacred realm.2 Stephenson photographs the oculus – the eye in the centre of each cupola. Regardless of religion, time or place, this entry to the heavens – each with unique architectural and decorative surround – is presented as an immaculate and enduring image. Placed together, the photographs impart the infinite variations of a single obsession, while also charting the passage of history, and time immemorial.

2. Hammond V 2005, “The dome in European architecture,” in Stephenson D 2005, Visions of heaven: the dome in European architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York p.190

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“A new exhibition, Flatlands: photography and everyday space, examines photography’s role in transforming the way we perceive, organise and imagine the world. The 39 works by 23 Australian and international artists included in the exhibition have been drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection of 20th century and contemporary photography.

Definitions of space have always depended on the scientific, social and cultural aspects of the human experience. At its birth in the 19th century, photography’s monocular vision was seen as the ultimate tool for representation and classification. Elusive phenomena such as distance, depth and emptiness seemed within grasp. Yet, limited to freezing single moments or viewpoints in time, the photograph’s ability to objectively represent the world was under question by the turn of the 20th century. Technological advancements, such as faster exposure times transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.

Embracing partiality and ambivalence, modernist photography sought to capture the fragments, details and blurred boundaries in the expanses we call personal space. What the photograph began to reveal were dimensions which German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described in 1931 as the ‘optical unconscious’ of reality. The works of photographers such as Melvin Vaniman, Frederick Evans, Harold Cazneaux, William Buckle, Franz Roh, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Josef Sudek, Minor White and Robert Rauschenberg explore the intangible in spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. Windows, doorways, ceilings, staircases – these mundane and ordinary passageways suddenly acquire a centrality and metaphysical depth normally denied to them.

The edges between sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments became further entangled in the subjective visions of late 20th century and contemporary photographic work. For Daido Moriyama, Fiona Hall, Pat Brassington, Simryn Gill, Christine Godden, Geoff Kleem, Leonie Reisberg, Ingeborg Tyssen, David Stephenson and Justine Varga, space is seen to be a product of the perception of the individual. Photographs are able to reveal realms outside of the scientific – that is those created by emotion, memory and desire.

As Fiona Hall commented in 1996, our belief might be maintained, for at least as long as the image can hold our attention, in the possibility of inhabiting a world as illusory as the two-dimensional one of the photograph.” Collectively, these images destabilise naturalised certainties while activating the imaginary dimension and the unsettling, albeit poetic potential of photography to impact and alter our view of the world.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003 'By my window' 1930

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
By my window
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
20.3 x 15.1cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006

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Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964

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Olive Cotton Australia 1911-2003
Skeleton Leaf
1964
Gelatin silver photograph
24.7 × 19.6 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006
© artist’s estate

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Minor White America 1908-1976 'Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958' 1958

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Minor White America 1908-1976
Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958
1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Gelatin silver photograph mounted on card
Gift of Patsy Asch 2005
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Art Museum

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Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958

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Minor White American 1908-1976
Windowsill daydreaming
Rochester, New York, July 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Museum of Art

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Informed by the esoteric arts, eastern religion and philosophy, Minor White’s belief in the spiritual qualities of photography made him an intensely personal and enigmatic teacher, editor and curator. White’s initial experience with photography was through his botanical studies at the University of Minnesota where he learned to develop and print photomicrography images, a view of life that he saw as akin to modern art forms. White advocated Stieglitz’s concept of ‘Equivalence’ in which form directly communicated mood and meaning, that ‘darkness and light, objects and spaces, carry spiritual as well as material meanings’.1 White disseminated his photographic theories through the influential quarterly journal ‘Aperture’, which he edited and co-founded with his contemporaries Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall and others.

Like Stieglitz, White also worked in sequences that through abstraction, expression and metaphor emphasised his mystical interpretation of the visual world. The sequences allow for a dialogue to continue through and in-between the images, engaging the viewer in a visual poem rather than any strict or formal narrative. The series, Sound of one hand, exemplifies White’s study of Zen and esoteric philosophies, reflecting his meditation of the Zen koan from which he saw rather than heard any sound. The first of the series, Metal ornament, Pultneyville, New York, October 1957 presents an abstracted form that is both sensual and elusive, slipping in and out of ocular register. The ambiguous graduated tones and reflected light pull the eye into the centre of the image before vicariously dragging it back. This broken semi-elliptical shape is mirrored in Windowsill daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958 as the gently moving curtains play with the light and shadows of White’s flat, creating abstracted organic forms. Abstracted forms of nature were of great interest to White as can be seen in the rest of the series that capture the frosted window of his flat with its crystallised ice, condensation and glimpses of the outside world.

1. Rice S 1998, “Beyond reality,” in A new history of photography, ed M Frizot, Könemann, Cologne pp.669-73

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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16
Sep
12

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

Exhibition dates: 11th August – 23rd September 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Cumulus Analysis
1986-87
18 silver gelatin photographs

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

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

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

Press release from ACCA

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

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
Untitled (triptych)
1989
3 silver gelatin photographs

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The Secret: The Photo Worlds of Pat Brassington

Juliana Engberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juliana Engberg

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Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

cactus-c-WEB

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

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Pat Brassington
Installation and individual photographs from
The Gift
1986
11 silver gelatin photographs

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An interview with Pat Brassington

What sorts of things have inspired your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pat Brassington. 'Sensors' 2010

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Pat Brassington
Sensors
2010

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Pat Brassington. ‘Radar’ 2009

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Pat Brassington
Radar
2009

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Pat Brassington. 'By the Way' 2010

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Pat Brassington
By the Way
2010

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Weekends & Public Holidays 11am – 6pm
Monday by appointment
Open all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art 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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