Posts Tagged ‘Salpetriere hospital


Exhibition: ‘Art Nouveau. The Great Utopia’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2015 – 7th February 2016

Among the artists exhibited are: Emile Bernard, Edward Burne-Jones, Peter Behrens, Carlo Bugatti, Mariano For-tuny, Loïe Fuller, Emile Gallé, Paul Gauguin, Karl Gräser, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, Fernand Khnopff, René Lalique, Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Charles R. Mackintosh, Madame D’Ora, Louis Majorelle, Paula Modersohn-Becker,  William Morris, Alfons Mucha, Richard Riemerschmid, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Louis C. Tiffany, Henry van de Velde.



Sports at the beach in Wyk on the island of Föhr c. 1912


Anonymous photographer
Sports at the beach in Wyk on the island of Föhr
Sanatorium Carl Gmelin, c. 1912
Collection The Ingwersen Family
© Fotoarchiv Ingwersen Wyk



What a memorable exhibition!

The presentation of the work is excellent, just what one would hope for, and the works themselves are magnificent – objects that you would hope existed, but didn’t know for sure that they did.

Particularly interesting are the use of large historical photographs of the objects in use in situ, behind the actual object itself; the presence of large three-dimensional structures (such as the Erkerzimmer for the Hotel Gallia in Nice, 1894-1900) built in the gallery; and the welcome lack of “wallpaper noise” (as I call it) that has dogged recent exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria (eg. the ongoing Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei exhibition). It is so nice to be able to contemplate these objects without the additional and unnecessary “noise” of competing wallpaper behind each object.

The work itself reflects the time from which it emanates – visual, disruptive, psychological, technical, natural, beautiful and sensual – locating “Art Nouveau in its historical context of ideas as a reform movement with all its manifold facets and extremes. Adopting a particular focus on the relationship between nature and technology, [the exhibition] illuminates the most varied disciplines, ranging far beyond the movement of arts and crafts and reaching as far as the history of medicine and the technology of film-making… The ideal of superior craft in contrast to industrial articles collides with the commercial idea of competition and the marketing strategies at that time. Therefore the exhibition project manoeuvres at the intersection of utopia and capitalism.”

One of the most vital periods of creativity in all fields in recent history.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) 'Manao Tupapau (The Ghost of the Dead awakens)' 1894


Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)
Manao Tupapau (The Ghost of the Dead awakens)
Manao Tupapau (Der Geist der Toten wacht) | Manao Tupapau (The Spirit Watches Over Her)

Lithograph on zinc sheet
Sheet: 30.6 x 46cm
© Kunsthalle Bremen – Der Kunstverein in Bremen


Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) 'Lying Female Nude' Vienna, 1914-15


Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918)
Lying Female Nude
Vienna, 1914-1915
37.6 x  57.1cm
© Wien Museum


Anne Brigman (1869–1950) 'The Wondrous Globe' 1912


Anne Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Wondrous Globe
Photogravure (from Camera Work)
21.1 x 19.9cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


George Méliès (1861-1938) (Regie) 'Voyage to the Moon' 1902


George Méliès (French, 1861-1938) (Regie)
Le Voyage dans la Lune | Die Reise zum Mond | Voyage to the Moon
France, 1902
16 Min.
© BFI National Archive




A Trip to the Moon – the 1902 Science Fiction Film by Georges Méliès

A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès. It’s considered one of the first science fiction film.

A Trip to the Moon ( Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a 1902 French adventure film directed by Georges Méliès. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne’s novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, explore the Moon’s surface, escape from an underground group of Selenites (lunar inhabitants), and return to Earth with a captive Selenite. It features an ensemble cast of French theatrical performers, led by Méliès himself in the main role of Professor Barbenfouillis, and is filmed in the overtly theatrical style for which Méliès became famous.A Trip to the Moon was named one of the 100 greatest films of the 20th century by The Village Voice, ranked 84th. The film remains the best-known of the hundreds of films made by Méliès, and the moment in which the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye remains one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema. It is widely regarded as the earliest example of the science fiction film genre and, more generally, as one of the most influential films in cinema history.


Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) 'Mask' c. 1897


Fernand Khnopff (Belgian, 1858-1921)
c. 1897
Gypsum, mounted
18.5 x 28 x 6.5cm
© bpk, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Elke Walford


Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Installation photographs of the exhibition Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Damon & Colin (Maison Krieger). Erkerzimmer for the Hotel Gallia in Nice, 1894-1900

Damon & Colin (Maison Krieger). Erkerzimmer for the Hotel Gallia in Nice, 1894-1900 (detail)


Damon & Colin (Maison Krieger)
Erkerzimmer for the Hotel Gallia in Nice
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision' at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Installation photographs of the exhibition Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Peter Behrens (1868-1940) 'Salon grand from house Behrens' c. 1901


Peter Behrens (German, 1868-1940)
Salonflügel aus dem Haus Behrens | Salon grand from house Behrens, Darmstadt
c. 1901
Execution: J. P. Schiedmayer Pianofortefabrik, Stuttgart; Intarsienwerkstatt G. Wölfel & Kiessling
Palisander, mahagony, maple, cherry and walnut, burl birch, partly coloured red, lapis lazuli and mother of peral inlay
H. 99cm x B. 150cm x 192cm
Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Köln
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln



The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) would like to dare a quite new approach to the epoch of the Art Nouveau in its exhibition project Art Nouveau. The Great Utopia. In contrast to the period about a century ago, when Art Nouveau was le dernier cri, it can be seen today not just as a mere historical stylistic era, but can open up parallels to complex phenomena familiar to visitors from their own experience: scarcity of resources and issues of what materials to use, precarious working conditions and consumer behaviour, the trade-off between ecological and aesthetic considerations in manufacturing processes or the desire for stylishly elegant, prestigious interior furnishings. These are just a few of the aspects which emerge as central motives common to both the reform movement of the years around 1900 and for the decisions facing today’s consumers. The exhibition has therefore been chosen in order to bring out as clearly as possible in this new setting the roots of the ideas and motives which informed Art Nouveau. The new presentation still revolves, for instance, around the World Exhibition of 1900 as an international platform of modern design. Furthermore the flight away from European industrialisation and the march of technology to imagined places of yearning such as the Middle Ages or nature is highlighted.

A further aspect is the change in the way people experienced their bodies in the fashion of the rational dress reform movement and modern dance. The exhibition project will attempt to locate Art Nouveau in its historical context of ideas as a reform movement with all its manifold facets and extremes. Adopting a particular focus on the relationship between nature and technology, it illuminates the most varied disciplines, ranging far beyond the movement of arts and crafts and reaching as far as the history of medicine and the technology of film-making. The exhibits can be read as artistic positions that address technological innovation as well as theories from Karl Marx (1818-1883) to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). The ideal of superior craft in contrast to industrial articles collides with the commercial idea of competition and the marketing strategies at that time. Therefore the exhibition project manoeuvres at the intersection of utopia and capitalism. Visitors will be able to see paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, posters, books, tapestries, reform dresses, photo-graphs and films as well as scientific and historical medical apparatus and models.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website


Rudolf Dührkoop. 'Head with Halo' 1908


Rudolph Dührkoop (German, 1848-1918)
Kopf mit Heiligenschein | Head with Halo
21 x 16cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Gabriel Charles Rossetti (1828-1882) 'Helen of Troy' 1863


Gabriel Charles Rossetti (English, 1828-1882)
Helena von Troja | Helen of Troy
Oil on mahogany
32.8 x 27.7cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle
© bpk, Hamburger Kunsthalle
Photo: Elke Walford


Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) 'Kneeling nude girl against blue curtain, Worpswede' 1906/07


Paula Modersohn-Becker (German, 1876-1907)
Kniender Mädchenakt vor blauem Vorhang | Kneeling Nude Girl
Worpswede, 1906/07
Oil on canvas
72 x 60cm
© Landesmuseum Oldenburg, H. R. Wacker – ARTOTHEK


Naked archer, member of a nudists' community in Zurich, Switzerland 1910


Unknown photographer
Ein Bogenschütze “Naturmenschenkolonie” bei Zürich | Archer “Naturmenschenkolonie” near Zurich
Naked archer, member of a nudists’ community in Zurich, Switzerland
From Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Nr. 34, 1910
© Ullstein Bild


Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) 'Childhood' c. 1894


Ferdinand Hodler (Swiss, 1853-1918)
Die Kindheit | Childhood
c. 1894
Oil on canvas
50 x 31cm
© Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK


Elena Luksch-Makowsky (1878-1967) 'Adolescentia' 1903


Elena Luksch-Makowsky (Russian, 1878-1967)
Oil on canvas
172 x 79cm
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Wien
© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Wien


Atelier d'Ora. 'Red Hair' 1911


Atelier d’Ora (Dora Philippine Kallmus) (1881-1963)
Rotes Haar | Red Hair
38 x 28.2cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) 'Salon des Cent' Paris 1896


Alfons Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939)
Salon des Cent
Paris, 1896
63.5 x 46cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Alfons Mucha. 'Salon des Cent' Exhibition, Paris, 1897


Alfons Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939)
Salon des Cent
Paris, 1897
63.5 x 46cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Eugène Grasset. 'Exhibition poster for an exhibition at the Salon des Cent' 1894


Eugène Grasset (Swiss, 1845-1917)
Print: G. de Malherbe, Zinkätzung
Ausstellungsplakat für eine eigene Ausstellung im Salon des Cent | exhibition poster for his own exhibition at Salon des Cents
60 x 40cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Verm. Albert Londe (1858-1917) 'Hysterics' Nd


Verm. Albert Londe (French, 1858-1917)
Hysterischer Anfall (Bâillement hystérique) | Hysterics
Silver print
9 x 12cm
Bibliothèque de Toulouse
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse



Albert Londe (1858-1917) was an influential French photographer, medical researcher and chronophotographer. He is remembered for his work as a medical photographer at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, funded by the Parisian authorities, as well as being a pioneer in X-ray photography. During his two decades at the Salpêtrière, Albert Londe developed into arguably the most outstanding scientific photographer of his time.

In 1878 neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot hired Londe as a medical photographer at the Salpêtrière. In 1882 Londe devised a system to photograph the physical and muscular movements of patients (including individuals experiencing epileptic seizures). This he accomplished by using a camera with nine lenses that were triggered by electromagnetic energy, and with the use of a metronome he was able to sequentially time the release of the shutters, therefore taking photos onto glass plates in quick succession. A few years later Londe developed a camera with twelve lenses for photographing movement. In 1893 Londe published the first book on medical photography, titled La photographie médicale: Application aux sciences médicales et physiologiques. In 1898 he published Traité pratique de radiographie et de radioscope: technique et applications médicales.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) 'Vase with self-portrait' 1889


Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)
Vase mit Selbstbildnis | Vase with self-portrait
Stoneware, engobe, copper and oxblood glaze
19.5 x 12cm
Designmuseum Danmark, Kopenhagen
Photo: Pernille Klemp


Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) 'Scyphozoans' 1904


Ernst Haeckel (German, 1834-1919)
Discomedusae – Scheibenquallen | Scyphozoans
Table 8 from Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur, Leipzig und Wien
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Eugène Feuillâtre (1870-1916) Vase "La Mer" c. 1900


Eugène Feuillâtre (French, 1870-1916)
Vase “La Mer”
c. 1900
Cloisonné enamel, gilded copper
Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
© Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris



The goldsmiths and jewellers of the second half of the nineteenth century constantly strove to perfect and develop the techniques of enamelling for artistic purposes. Eugène Feuillâtre, who headed the Lalique enamelling workshop before opening his own workshop in 1897, specialised in enamel on silver. The dilatation of the metal and its reactions with the colouring agents made this technique difficult. But it allowed Feuillâtre to obtain the blurred, milky, pearly tones that are so characteristic of his work. Feuillâtre’s use of colours illustrates his ability to choose materials to suit the effect he wanted. He is one of the craftsmen whose talent swept artistic enamelling to a veritable apotheosis about 1900.


Daum Frères (Manufacturer), 'vase formed like a pumpkin' Nancy, around 1909


Daum Frères (Hersteller | Manufacturer)
Vase in Kürbisform | Vase formed like a pumpkin
Nancy c. 1909
Cameo glass, mould blown, etched and cut
29.2 x 11.7cm
Düsseldorf, Museum Kunstpalast
© Museum Kunstpalast – Horst Kolberg – ARTOTHEK


Louis C. Tiffany. 'Pont Lily-lamp' New York, 1900, execution around 1910


Louis C. Tiffany (American, 1848-1933)
Pond Lily-Lampe | Pont Lily-lamp
New York, 1900, execution around 1910
Favrile glass, Bronze
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Albert Klein (1971-1926) 'Irisvase' 1900


Albert Klein (German, 1871-1926)
Execution: Königliche Porzellanmanufaktur, Berlin
Porcelain with glaze and sculptural decoration
© Bröhan-Museum
Photo: Martin Adam, Berlin


William Morris. decoration fabric Strawberry Thief, London, 1883


William Morris (British, 1834-1896)
Decoration fabric Strawberry Thief
London, 1883
Execution: Morris & Co., Merton Abbey/Surrey, 1883
Cotton, indigo discharge print, block print, 3-coloured
518 x 98cm, Rapport 51 x 45cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


William Morris. decoration fabric Strawberry Thief, London, 1883 (detail)


William Morris (British, 1834-1896)
Decoration fabric Strawberry Thief (detail)
London, 1883
Execution: Morris & Co., Merton Abbey/Surrey, 1883
Cotton, indigo discharge print, block print, 3-coloured
518 x 98cm, Rapport 51 x 45cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


René Lalique (1860-1945) 'Hair comb' 1898-1899


René Lalique (French, 1860-1945)
Haarkamm | Hair comb
Horn, gold, enamel
Designmuseum Danmark, Kopenhagen
Photo: Pernille Klemp


Day dress of a suffragette sympathizer, England, 1905-1909


Unknown maker
Tageskleid einer Suffragetten-Sympathisantin | Day dress of a sufragette sympathiser
England, 1905-1909
Studio work or self-made, cotton, canvas lining, machine-made lace
L. 143cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Lady's dress Delphos, Venice, 1911-1913


Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (designer) (Spanish, 1871-1949)
Damenkleid Delphos | Lady’s dress Delphos
Venice, 1911-1913
Label: Mariano Fortuny Venise
Pleated silk satin, silk cord, Murano glass beads
L. 148cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) 'Chair' Milan 1902


Carlo Bugatti (Italian, 1856-1940)
Stuhl | Chair
Milan, 1902
Oak, parchment, brass
98 x 48 x 48cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Karl Gräser (1849-1899) 'Chair in the style of his room furnishings on Monte Verita' Museum Casa Anatta, Monte Verita, Ascona, 1910


Karl Gräser (Austro-Hungarian, 1849-1899)
Sessel im Stil seiner Zimmereinrichtung auf dem Monte Verità | Chair in the style of his room furnishings on Monte Verità
Museum Casa Anatta, Monte Verità, Ascona, um Verità 1910
Unhandeled branches, wooden panel
84 x 66 x 60cm
Photo: Elena Mastrandrea
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg



In the nineteenth century, Europe is shaken by the arrival of industrialisation which upsets the social organisation. This crisis is particularly felt in Germany where signs of rejection of the industrial world appear as early as 1870. Thus, in response to the urbanisation generated by a new organisation of work, Naturism appears. Attempting to flee the pollution of the cities, to create communities and “garden city” to live in harmony with nature. Those who share this view soon gather around the movement of Reform of the life (Lebensreform, 1892). The movement attracts followers of vegetarianism, naturism, spiritism, natural medicines, the Hygienism, the Theosophical Society, as well as artists.

In 1889, Franz Hartmann, German astrologer and Alfredo Pioda, a local man into progressive politics, both loving theosophical theories under strong Hindu influence, launched the idea of ​​a “secular monastery” bringing together individuals “regardless of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. ” But nothing came of it. Eleven years later, he resurfaced with seven young men from good families, born in Germany, Holland, Slovenia and Montenegro, who landed in Ascona (Switzerland), attracted by the beauty of the place, its climate and possible telluric forces which the place would wear. The clan consists of Henri Oedenkoven (son of wealthy industrialists Antwerp), Karl Gräser (former officer of the Imperial Army, founder of the peace group Ohne Zwang, Unconstrained), his brother, the painter Gustav Gräser, Ida Hoffman (a feminist intellectual) Jeny and her sister, Lotte Hattemer (a beautiful young girl with anarchist ideas, breaking with a father who nonetheless supports herself needs) and Ferdinand Brune.

Spiritualist sects, pharmacists, nudists, philosophical circles, feminist movements, pacifists, socialists, libertarians, gurus, Theosophists, come together to form a nebula of more or less related interest, a band that will unite in a place that combines lifestyle and utopian effervescence. The hill is named Monte Verità, the Mountain of the truth. The group advocated free love, equality between men and women, they gardening scantily clad (or bare), alcohol was banned, meals consist of raw vegetables and fruits. As often, the ideal was overtaken by reality: after several months of reciprocity disagreement appears, especially between Henry Oedenkoven, who plans to open a place of cure, and the brothers Gräser. They who dedicate themselves to self-sufficiency and barter reject this conversion to money. Monte Verita knowns immediately two trends: the bourgeois dream paradise enjoying the modern comfort (water, electricity) and potentially profitable; and aspiration of returning to a liberated state of nature.

L.M.L.M. “Karl Gräser,” text translated from the La Maud La Maud website January 23, 2014 [Online] Cited 30/01/2016


Unknown photographer. 'Monte Verita' c. 1900


Unknown photographer
Monte Verita
c. 1900


Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 'Chair for the Argyle Tea Room' Glasgow 1897


Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928)
Stuhl für den Argyle Tea Room | Chair for the Argyle Tea Room
Glasgow, 1897
Oak, stained
81cm x 60cm x 45cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg



Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website


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Text: ‘Facile, Facies, Facticity’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan; Exhibition: ‘About Face: Contemporary Portraiture’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 9th August 2013 – 19th January 2014


Rachel Herman, American 'Hannah and Tim' 2007


Rachel Herman (American)
Hannah and Tim
Inkjet print (printed 2012)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation



Facile, Facies, Facticity


“The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’). More than any other textual system, the photograph presents itself as ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.”

Victor Burgin 1


Facies simultaneously signifies the singular air of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the genre or species under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of representation, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

Georges Didi-Huberman 2


How shallow contemporary portrait photography has become when compared to the sensual portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, the grittiness of Gordon Parks or the in your face style of Diane Arbus. I think the word facile (from Latin facilis ‘easy’, from facers ‘do, make’) with its link to the etymologically similar word ‘face’ (Old Latin facies) is a good way to describe most of the photographs in this posting. These simplistic, nihilistic portraits, with their contextless backgrounds and head on frontally (also the name of an insipid Australian portrait photography prize), are all too common in contemporary portraiture. People with dead pan expressions stare at the camera, stare off camera. The photographs offer little insight and small engagement for the viewer. If these photographs are representative of the current ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’ vis a vis the construction of identity then the human race is in deep shit indeed. As we accept an offer that we can’t refuse – the reflexivity of selfies, an idealised or passive image of ourselves reflected back through the camera lens º we uncritically accept the mirror image, substituting passive receptivity for active (critical) reading. We no longer define and engage critically with something we might call ‘photographic discourse’:

“A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense the notion of discourse is a notion of limits. That is, the overall discourse relation could be regarded as a limiting function, one that establishes a bounded arena of shared expectations as to meaning. It is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning. To raise the issue of limits, of the closure affected from within any given discourse situation, is to situate oneself outside, in a fundamentally metacritical relation, to the criticism sanctioned by the logic of the discourse…

A discourse, then, can be defined in rather formal terms as the set of relations governing the rhetoric of related utterances. The discourse is, in the most general sense, the context of the utterance, the conditions that constrain and support its meaning, that determine its semantic target.”3

These photographs have few conditions that support their meaning. The context of their utterances is constrained by their own efficacy and passivity. Paul Virilio, speaking of contemporary images, describes them as ‘viral’. He suggests that they communicate by contamination, by infection. In our ‘media’ or ‘information’ society we now have a ‘pure seeing’; a seeing without knowing.4 A seeing without knowing… quite appropriate for these faceless images, images that contaminate how we observe humans living in the world. Of course, one can be involved in logical criticism of the discourse from within but that still gives the discourse power. By situating yourself outside the conditions that constrain the discourse, you can criticise from a different perspective, “seeing something new” as an active, temporal protension of seeing. “Such is the fundamental instability of the pleasure of seeing, of Schaulust, between memory and threat.”5 We may glance, instead of staring (as the subject of these portraits blankly stare back) – the glance becoming a blow of the eye, the acting-out of seeing.6

Here is a possible way forward for contemporary photographic portraiture: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces, an inquiry that always seeks depth – conceptual depth – in the filmy fabric or stratum of the cameras imaging of the constructed subject. In other words an inquiry into the source, the etiology and logic of the subjects own being – through the glance, not the passive gaze. Even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity, that knowledge can slip away from itself into what Georges Didi-Huberman calls the paradox of photographic resemblance.7

“Thus photography is ultimately an uncertain technique (see Barthes. Camera Lucida. p. 18), changeable and ill-famed, too. Photography stages bodies: changeability. And at one moment or another, subtly, it belies them (invents them), submitting them instead to figurative extortion. As figuration, photography always poses the enigma of the “recumbence of the intelligible body,” even as it lends itself to some understanding of this enigma, and even as this understanding is suffocated…

And when one comes to pose oneself, before a photograph, paradoxical questions: whom does this photographed face resemble? Exactly whose face is being photographed? In the end, doesn’t a photograph resemble just anyone? Well, one cannot, for all that, simply push resemblance aside like a poorly posed problem. Rather, one points a finger at Resembling as an unstable, vain, and phantasmatic temporal motion. One interrogates the drama of imaginary evidence.

For “to resemble,” or Resembling, is the name for a major concern about time in the visible. This is precisely what exposes all photographic evidence to anxiety, and beyond it, to staging, compromises, twisted meanings, and simulacra. And this is how photography circumvents itself – in its own sacrilege. It blasphemes it own evidence because evidence is diabolical. It ruins evidence, from a theater.”8

Only through slippage may we stumble upon the uncertainty of the soul in the uncertainty of the photographic technique. Only through the facticity of the face, the “thrownness” – Heidegger’s Geworfen, which denotes the arbitrary or inscrutable nature of Dasein, being there or presence, that connects the past with the present, just as photographs do – of the individual rendered in the lines of the human face can we engage with the intractable conditions of human existence. Not a bland resemblance-filled anxiety (the hair covering the face, the face in suburban ephemera, the compressed face pressed up against the condensation-filled window), but an unstable signification that has been passionately re(as)sembled in the anxiety of photographic evidence. Only then can contemporary portrait photography make visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.

“Into this world we’re thrown /
Like a dog without a bone”
(Jim Morrison, Riders on the Storm, 1971)


Dr Marcus Bunyan



  1. Burgin, Victor (ed.,). Thinking Photography. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982, p. 146
  2. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49
  3. Burgin, pp. 84-85
  4. Virilio, Paul. “The Work of Art in the Electronic Age,” in Block No. 14, Autumn, 1988, pp. 4-7 quoted in McGrath, Roberta. “Medical Police,” in Ten.8 No. 14, 1984 quoted in Watney, Simon and Gupta, Sunil. “The Rhetoric of AIDS,” in Boffin, Tessa and Gupta, Sunil (eds.,). Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1990, p. 143
  5. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., pp. 27-28
  6. Ibid., “Coup d’oeil, signifying “glance,” literally means the “blow of an eye.” Here as elsewhere, Didi-Huberman draws on the notion of the glance as a blow. He also works with the various meanings of trait, including trait, line, draught, and shaft of an arrow” – Translator
  7. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 59
  8. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 65

Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977) 'City of Destiny (Covered)' 2007


Anna Shteynshleyger, (Russian, b. 1977)
City of Destiny (Covered)
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958) 'Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.' 2012


Lise Sarfati (French, b. 1958)
Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation




Alec Soth (American, b. 1969)
Mother and daughter, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1999


LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982) 'Momme' 2008


LaToya Ruby Frazier (American, b. 1982)
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation



This exhibition will explore the breadth and global diversity of contemporary photographic portraiture since 2000, highlighting recent acquisitions to the museum’s permanent collection.

About Face will include works by twenty-nine artists from the United States, England, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Iran and South Africa. Though each of these photographers approaches portrait-making differently, certain thematic threads resonate throughout the show, including questions of racial, cultural, ethnic, class and gender identity; the relationship between individuals and typologies; the way photographic processes themselves inform meaning; the relevance of historical precedents to contemporary practice; and the impact of media stereotypes on self-presentation. Considered collectively, the works in About Face offer a provocative and engaging forum for considering the question: how do we define portraiture today?

The project will present two distinct, simultaneous exhibitions: About Face, our in-gallery exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins, and Making Pictures of People, a digital exhibition presented online for web-based audiences worldwide. Visitors will be able to access the Flak Photo exhibition via touch screens in the gallery and on mobile devices outside the museum. The goal of our collaboration is twofold: to celebrate the complementary experiences of engaging with photographs as objects and as images, and to connect museum visitors in Kansas City with an international community deeply engaged in thinking about portraiture and contemporary photographic practice.

“Contemporary photographers approach portraiture from multiple perspectives, and this show reflects that diversity,” said April M. Watson, who co-curated this exhibition with Jane L. Aspinwall (both are Associate Curators of Photography). “Some portraits emphasise the construction of identity through race, gender and class, while others question the relationship between individuality and typology, or the impact of the media on self-presentation. At the core is the relationship between the photographer and his or her subject, and how that interaction translates in the final portrait.” Adds Aspinwall: “Some of these photographers use antiquated processes such as the daguerreotype and tintype to make portraits of contemporary subjects. These historical resonances add an interesting dimension to the show.

Press release from the  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website


Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966) 'Erika' 2007


Richard Learoyd (English, b. 1966)
Ilfachrome print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation in honour of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962) 'Untitled (Julia and Greenery)' 2005


Jocelyn Lee (American, b. Italy 1962)
Untitled (Julia and Greenery)
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953) 'Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo' 2008


Jim Goldberg (American, b.1953)
Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation




Vanessa Winship (British, b. 1960)
Hakkari 8
Inkjet print (printed 2008)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976) 'Annebelle Schreuders (1)' 2012


Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Annebelle Schreuders (1)
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954) '12-Year Old Boy with His Father' 2009


Sage Sohier (American, b. 1954)
12-Year Old Boy with His Father
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954) 'Tokyo Compression #18' 2010


Michael Wolf (American, b. 1954)
Tokyo Compression #18
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation


Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977) 'Recruit/BLACK' 2006


Tomoko Sawada (Japanese, b. 1977)
Chromogenic print
Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Photography Society



The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Thursday – Monday 10am – 5pm
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website


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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
Photos: Marcus Bunyan



Pat Brassington: Á Rebours, interview at ACCA 2012

Pat Brassington Speaks about her practice, Beauty, her use of source material and colour, and her show Á Rebours at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.



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 perceived importance of Brassington’s mature style. The work might have seemed fresh when it was originally produced but it now seems rather 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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from Cumulus Analysis
18 silver gelatin photographs
Photos: Marcus Bunyan



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

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

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

Press release from ACCA


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

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled (triptych)' 1989


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from Untitled (triptych)
3 silver gelatin photographs
Photos: Marcus Bunyan



The Secret: The Photo Worlds of Pat Brassington

Juliana Engberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juliana Engberg


Installation view of Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986

Pat Brassington. 'The Gift' 1986


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
Installation and individual photographs from The Gift
11 silver gelatin photographs
Photos: Marcus Bunyan



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.

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….

Can you explain the processes and techniques in your work?

They vary but I often recycle a lot of material from my own photographic archive, something I continue to accumulate. As a work develops a specific requirement may arise so I will hunt around, or create the elements to produce a result I’m after. Clarification about the shape of new work emerges during the making process. It’s important to entertain possibilities and not shut them off unexplored: it can be like being in an extended state of uncertainty. But decisions are made.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Does the digital permit a freedom from reality?

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



Pat Brassington. 'Sensors' 2010


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)


Pat Brassington. ‘Radar’ 2009


Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)


Pat Brassington. 'By the Way' 2010


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



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

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Saturday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
Monday by appointment
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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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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