Posts Tagged ‘performative photography

18
Aug
17

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

Exhibition dates: 3rd – 25th August 2017

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Joel-Peter Witkin

 

 

Magical momenti mori

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

What ever happened to morality, courage and integrity?”

Joel-Peter Witkin

 

Installation photographs

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Ars Moriendi

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

Ars moriendi consists of six chapters:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 4pm

William Mora Galleries website

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16
Jul
13

Review: ‘Anne Ferran: Box of Birds’ at Stills Gallery, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 27th July 2013

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tar·ant·ism [tar-uhn-tiz-uhm]
noun
a mania characterized by an uncontrollable impulse to dance, especially as prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century, popularly attributed to the bite of the tarantula.

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I have never been a great fan of Anne Ferran’s exhumations. Her digging into the ground of history and restoring, reviving (after neglect or a period of forgetting) traces of life and bringing them into light (through photography) – bringing them back to light – has resulted in images that are paradoxically pretty, lifeless. For example, photographs of patches of grass in Lost to Worlds (2008) are given great import as contemporary evidence of the site of a female convict prison, near the small village of Ross, Tasmania as Ferran, “continues to play with the invisibility of this specific history, using large-scale photographs to show what little remains today, and to collectively reflect on the difficulty of grasping a ruined and fragmented past.”

And… so… what else?

These photographs really mean very little, another example of an artist picking at the scab of history to what end, what purpose, other than to dig up deleted histories that are past their use by date. Move on, move on, nothing to see here!

And there is literally nothing to see, except patches of grass that are given import by the contextualisation of the artist, the “look at this, I think it is important because I have seen it, because I have researched it, because I am an artist, because I am aware” – when the interrogation actually means very little. It is like the prevalence of contemporary photographs of empty, abandoned spaces – abandoned petrol stations, hospitals, insane asylums – that are supposed to impart great poetry and narrative to the spaces. Ruin porn as Dan Rule termed it recently.

Thankfully, these latest photographs are of a different taxonomic order – they are vital, alive, full of swirling tarantism that beautifully expresses the trapped energy that Ferran saw in a 1940s photographic archive of 38 unidentified women who were patients of a Sydney psychiatric hospital. In their formalist abstraction the artist has perfectly captured the unquiet spirit of the women and – here is the crux of the matter for me – these photographs allow me to go further into the subject, they take me to a different place and don’t just leave me on the surface of the image/history. They speak to me, they n/trance in multiple ways like little of Ferran’s work has done before for I feel this work, this hidden narrative, in the artist’s performative shaping of reality. Suddenly these women, trapped in a space (of the photograph, of the archive) and place (of the hospital), can spread their wings and anonymously shake their feathers (their spirit) with declamatory enthusiasm. As an artist friend of mine Julie Clarke observed, “I was captured by the amount of folds in the fabric Ferran has used. Her emphasis on ‘felt’ as felt emotion and the feeling associated with those almost absent bodies is intriguing.” And how that felt emotion relates to the work of Joseph Beuys and his use of felt as insulation, warmth and a kind of comfort, here represented in institutional form (I am reminded by the markings on the felt of the arrows of prison garments).

As the text for the exhibition states, “This new series marks a significant shift in approach, as Ferran harnesses photography and performance in an endeavour to manifest the archive’s continuing power in the present. Ferran’s performers conceal their identities behind lengths and swathes of painted felt, in some cases creating strange and outlandish figures in a disorder of material, bodies and space.”

It is a welcome shift in approach. Ferran’s mental, material dis/order produces significantly more memorable images than what has “passed” before, imaging as they do a conflation of past, present and future rather than relying on the death of the historical archive evidenced in the deathly photograph.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Stills 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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Anne Ferran. 'Agitated thrush' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Agitated thrush
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Clamorous shrike' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Clamorous shrike
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Conspicuous kite' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Conspicuous kite
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Night whistler' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Night whistler
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Pale-headed flycatcher' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Pale-headed flycatcher
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Slender-throated warbler' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Slender-throated warbler
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Stonebird' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Stonebird
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Tricoloured sylph' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Tricoloured sylph
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
72 x 48 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Feathered Emissary' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Feathered Emissary
2013
from Box of Birds series
Pigment print
60 x 80 cm
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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“Over the past 20 years Anne Ferran has worked with the residues of Australia and New Zealand’s colonial histories, probing them for gaps and silences. She has been especially drawn to the lives of anonymous women and children, seeking to shed light on their presence, and absence, in museum collections, photographic archives and historic sites. It is characteristic of Ferran’s images that the subject is not what is seen but rather what haunts it, something only partially visible. Intellectually and emotionally engaging, her photographs have explored episodes of incarceration in prisons, asylums, hospitals and nurseries, giving voice to the spectres of the lost and unseen.

Box of Birds returns to the subject matter of her previous works INSULA and 1-38: 1940s photographs of 38 unidentified women who were patients of a Sydney psychiatric hospital. In a significant shift of approach, rather than exhuming traces of the past, Ferran harnesses photography and performance in an endeavour to manifest its continuing power in the present.

Ferran’s process alternated between the considered and the uncontrollable. Female performers were instructed to hold pieces of felt up to her camera, the 38 lengths of dyed and painted fabric recalling the crumpled clothes worn by the women in the original photographic archive. Other images were wholly improvised, the performers creating strange and outlandish figures out of a disorder of material, bodies and space.

In a deliberate departure from the 1940s archive, Ferran’s performers conceal their identities behind lengths and swathes of fabric, raising ethical questions about photography’s role in recognition, representation and expression.

All the work in Box of Birds aims to elicit the energy Ferran saw trapped in those 1940s photographs, their unquiet spirit.”

Press release from the Stills Gallery website

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.1' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.1
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.2' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.2
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.3' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.3
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.4' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.4
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Anne Ferran. 'Chorus No.5' 2013

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Anne Ferran
Chorus No.5
2013
from Box of Birds series
38 Pigment prints
60 x 42 cm each
Editions of 5 + 2AP

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Stills Gallery
36 Gosbell Street
Paddington NSW 2021
Australia
T: 61 2 9331 7775

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

Stills Gallery website

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02
Jul
13

Review: Polixeni Papapetrou ‘A Performative Paradox’ and Daniel von Sturmer 
’After Images’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th July 2013

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Two solid if not overly memorable exhibitions are presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. While it is wonderful to see early work by this artist – work that features Marilyn and Elvis impersonators, circus people, body builders and drag queens – too many bodies of work are crammed into too small a space with too few images. Some of the later series are represented by just one image giving a hotch potch feel to the whole exhibition ensemble. Perhaps it would have been better to concentrate solely on the early black-and-white images and colour images, work that is rarely seen and informs the staged work that followed. Having said that the black-and-white photographs are a joy to behold, documenting as they do performative identities. The photographs have an intangible presence. There are strong elements of the frontality of Diane Arbus in the photographs of circus performers and drag queens, coupled with a intrinsic understanding of light and texture. The photographs of drag queens are the highlight of both exhibitions and Drag queen wearing cut out dress (1993, below) reminded me of an early black-and-white photograph by Fiona Hall (Leura, New South Wales1974) in its use of patterned wallpaper. Let us hope there is a large retrospective of Polixeni’s work (at NGV or Heide for example) in the future, one that can do justice to the depth and complexity of her vision as an artist.

Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images is an interesting conceptual experiment, one that investigates the splitting of the image (shadow) from its referent (object). “The images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.” In their black-and-white fuzziness the work looks impressive when viewed in the gallery space (see installation views below) but upon close inspection the individual photographs fail to hold the viewers attention. Personally, I found it difficult to impart any great meaning to any of these works and the investigation certainly does not produce memorable images, ones that will stay with the viewer months and years later. For me the exhibition became an exercise in guessing what shadows were which objects, a game that grew quickly tiresome. The work then became an exercise in the importance of captioning an image, as I constantly looked around the room trying to match the titles of the works with the images themselves. As abstract images they imparted little metaphysical poetry as ghost images (an afterimage or ghost image is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased). As images that investigate the link between text, object, shadow and language they started to become what the artist sought to enunciate: shadow objects bound to the realm of signification in some amorphous play, shadows that have the potential to become ‘Other’.

PS. As an analogy you could see these images as the equivalent of Jung’s human “shadow aspect” where, according to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection (as these shadows are projected by their objects). The shadow represents the entirety of the unconscious, ie. everything of which a person is not fully conscious, and is the seat of creativity. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” (Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131). Hence the potential halo/cination of these images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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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.

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Miss-Alternative-World-Ball-1993-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Papapetrou_Suzie,-Elvis-fan-at-home,-Melbourne,-1989-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Suzie, Elvis fan at home, Melbourne
1989
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Indian_Brave_2002-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Indian Brave
2002
Pigment ink print
85 x 85 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Three-young-men-paying-homage-to-Elvis-on-the-13th-anniversary-of-Elvis'-death,-Elvis-Memorial,-Melbourne,-1990-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne
1990
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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“This exhibition focuses on the performative in the work of Polixeni Papapetrou, from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children since 2002, regarded internationally as some of the most powerful and provocative works in the field of perfomative photography. Papapetrou’s enduring interest is in how the ‘other’ is represented and how the ‘other’ performs in reinforcing our own identity.

Polixeni Papapetrou is one of Australia’s leading contemporary photomedia artists. She has been exploring relationships between history, contemporary culture, landscape, identity and childhood through her photographic practice since the mid-eighties. In this exhibition, selected by Professor Anne Marsh in consultation with the artist, a particular thread has been selected across Papapetrou’s practice – that of the performative – from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children from 2002 to the present.

Her images are informed by her own experience as ‘other’, growing up as a Greek immigrant in a white, Anglo-Saxon, male-dominated culture in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. Marilyn Monroe impersonators, Elvis Presley fans, body builders, circus performers and drag queens have all taken their turn in front of Papapetrou’s camera. All of these people are, one way or another, performing i dentities.

In 2002 Papapetrou turned her focus to the experience of childhood, using her children as the performers in her pictures. There is a challenging confusion between fantasy, mythology, archetype, animism and theatricality present in these works, ranging from the playful to the transgressive, wrangling with the question of identity and stressing the embodied nature of experience.”

Text from the CCP website

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Polixi-Circus-detail-b-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Fortune teller (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Levitation, Silvers Circus' (detail) 1989

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Levitation, Silvers Circus (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni. 'Papapetrou Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus' series (installation view) 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus series (installation view)
1989-1990

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Daniel von Sturmer 'Production Still for After Images'

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Daniel von Sturmer
Production Still for After Images
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney

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“In After Images the shadows of a set of subjectively ‘important artefacts’ (a business card, a phone, a letter…) are presented alongside generic objects from the studio, for example: a bin, some tape, a ruler… Presented at 1:1 scale, the images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.

Photographed using a specially constructed ‘set’ to enable the separation of an object from its shadow, the resulting image stands alone, separated from its object yet inextricably bound to the realm of signification from which it has been cast.”

Text from the CCP website

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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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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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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