Posts Tagged ‘video

01
Jul
17

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

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

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

 

 

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

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

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

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

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Christian Thompson

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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

 

 

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

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

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

 

 

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

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Thompson

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Christian Thompson

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from MUMA

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

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

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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Saturday 12 – 5pm

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25
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Lorna Simpson’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th May – 1st September 2013

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Fascinating practice!

Identity, memory, gender, representation, the body, the subject, felt, text, images, video, gesture, reenactment, concept and performance, all woven together seamlessly like a good wig made of human hair…

Marcus

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Many thankx to Jeu de Paume 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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Lorna Simpson. 'Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Five Day Forecast [Prévisions à cinq jours]
1988
5 gelatin silver prints in a frame, 15 plates engraved plastic
24 ½ x 97 in (62.2 x 246.4 cm) overall
Lillian and Billy Mauer Collection
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]' 1988

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Lorna Simpson
Stereo Styles [Styles stéréo]
1988
10 dye-diffusion black-and-white Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques
57 ¾ x 125 ¼ x 1 3/8 in (146.7 x 318.1 x 3.5 cm) overall
Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Wigs II' 1994-2006

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Lorna Simpson
Wigs II
1994-2006
Serigraph on 71 felt panels (images and text)
98 x 265 in (248.9 x 673.1 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson surprised her audiences in 1994 when she began to print her photographs on felt, inspired by its materiality after seeing an exhibition of the sculpture of Joseph Beuys in Paris “where the piano and walls were covered for a beautiful installation.” Simpson questioned whether the medium might be appropriate in a far different way for her work given the perspective afforded her by the passage of time. With the felt pieces, Simpson turned away from photography’s traditional paper support, magnified the already larger-than-life-size of the images within her large photo-text pieces to extremely large-scale multi-part works, and, most critically, absented the figure, in particular, the black woman in a white shift facing away from the camera for which she had received critical acclaim.

Ever-present, nevertheless, were her thematic concerns. The first felts offered surrogates for the body in  a taxonomy of her own photographs of Wigs, with voicings “in and around gender,” and expanded upon the investigation of the role of coiffure in the construction of identity in Simpson’s photo-texts (such as Stereo Styles, Gallery 1). In the mid-1990s, such felts were succeeded by a series of photographs of interior and exterior scenes that were accompanied by long text passages printed on separate small felts. In these works the figure was replaced, as Okwui Enwezor wrote, “by the rumor of the body.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'Please remind me of who I am' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
Please remind me of who I am (detail)
2009
50 found photo booth portraits, 50 ink drawings on paper, 100 bronze elements
Overall installation dimensions variable
Collection of Isabelle and Charles Berkovic
© Lorna Simpson

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For each multi-part photo-booth piece, Simpson sets in bronze frames these small inexpensive shots as well as her drawings of selected details of the photographs. Self-styled and performed, these photographs were used for a variety of purposes by their now anonymous sitters, ranging from sober, formal ID photos to glamorous, often theatrically playful mementos. Encompassing photo booth shots of different sizes from the 1920s to the 1970s (a few in color), Simpson’s constellations of many images for each work offer a collective portrait of self-portraiture (Gather, 2009) and continue her ongoing explorations of identity and memory, explicitly phrased in the title of one of them: Please remind me of who I am (2009).

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Lorna Simpson. 'Waterbearer [Porteuse d'eau]' 1986

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Lorna Simpson
Waterbearer [Porteuse d’eau]
1986
Gelatin silver print, vinyl letters
59 x 80 x 2 ½ in (149.9 x 203.2 x 5.7 cm) overall
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris / Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Waterbearer shows a woman from the back, pouring water from an elegant silvery metallic pitcher in one hand and from an inexpensive plastic jug in the other, echoing art historical renderings of women at wells or in the domestic settings of Dutch still-life paintings. As if balancing the scales of justice, this figure also symbolically offers disjunctions of means and class. In the accompanying text, Simpson explicitly addresses memory and the agency of speakers: “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.”

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For her first European retrospective, the Jeu de Paume presents thirty years of Lorna Simpson’s work. For this Afro-American artist, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1960, the synthesis between image and text is profound and intimate. If one were to consider Lorna Simpson as a writer, the textual element of her works could have an autonomous life as prose poems, very short stories or fragments of scripts. And yet, her texts are inseparable from her images; there is a dynamic between the two that is both fragile and energising, which links them unfailingly. Lorna Simpson became known in the 1980s and 90s for her photographs and films that shook up the conventions of gender, identity, culture and memory.

Throughout her work, the artist tackles the complicated representation of the black body, using different media, while her texts add a significance that always remains open to the spectator’s imagination. In her recent work, Lorna Simpson has integrated archive images, which she reinvents by positioning herself in them as subject. As the artist underlines: “The theme I turn to most often is memory. But beyond this subject, the underlying thread is my relationship to text and ideas about representation.” (Lorna Simpson)

This retrospective reveals the continuity in her conceptual and performative research. In her works linking photography and text, as well as in her video installations, she integrates – while continually shaking them up – the genres of fixed and moving images, using them to ask questions about identity, history, reality and fiction. She introduces complexity through her use of photography and film, in her exploitation of found objects, in the processes she develops to take on the challenges she sets herself and to spectators.

The exhibition gathers her large format photo-texts of the mid 1980s, which brought her to the attention of the critics (Gestures / Reenactments, Waterbearer, Stereo Styles), her work in screenprints on felt panels since the 1990s (Wigs, The Car, The Staircase, Day Time, Day Time (gold), Chandelier), a group of drawings (Gold Headed, 2013), and also her “Photo Booths,” ensembles of found photos and drawings (Gather, Please remind me of who I am…). The exhibition is also an opportunity to discover her video installations: multivalent narratives that question the way in which experience is created and perceived more or less falsely (Cloudscape, 2004, Momentum, 2010), among them, Playing Chess, a new video installation made especially for the occasion.

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About the exhibition

by Joan Simon

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In her critically acclaimed body of work spanning more than thirty years, Lorna Simpson questions identity and memory, gender and history, fact and fiction, playing eye and ear in tandem if not in synchrony to prompt consideration of how meaning is constructed. That she has often described herself as an observer and a listener informs an understanding of both her approach and her subjects. In her earliest black-and-white documentary street photographs (1978-80), Simpson isolated gestures that bespoke an intimacy between those framed in her viewfinder, recording what was less a decisive moment than one of coming into relation. Some of these photographs seem to capture crossed glances, pauses in an ongoing conversation. Others are glimpses of occasions, transitional events identifiable by a white confirmation or wedding dress, which convey a sense of palpable silence in exchanges between people just out of earshot.

When Simpson began to stage her own photographs in 1985 and to write accompanying texts, she came in closer. She allowed us to see a carefully framed black body, abstracted in gesture and in white clothing, yet also permitted us to read seemingly overheard comments that redirected and recomplicated the view. While her images captured gestures, her narratives imbued these images frozen in a never-changing present with memory, a past. The title of her first photo-text work, made in 1985, and of the exhibition of that year in which it was first exhibited was Gestures / Reenactments, and one can argue that all Simpson’s work is built on the juxtaposition of gestures and reenactments, creating meaning in the resonant gap between the two. It is a gap that invites the viewer / reader to enter, all the while requiring an active reckoning with some inalienable truths: seeing is not necessarily believing, and what we might see is altered not only by our individual experiences and assumptions but also, critically, by what we might hear.

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The exhibition

Whether for still or moving picture productions, Lorna Simpson (b. 1960) uses her camera as catalyst to question identity and gender, genres and history, race and class, fact and fiction, memory and meanings. Assumptions of photographic “truth” are challenged and qualified – indeed redirected – by the images she creates that are inseparable from the texts she writes to accompany them, by the soundings she chooses  for videos, or by her pairings of vintage photographs with newly made renderings. The Jeu de Paume presents lorna Simpson’s first large-scale exhibition in europe beginning with her earliest photo-text pieces of the 1980s through her newest video installation, Chess, 2013, which makes its debut in Paris.

Works in the exhibition show the artist drawing on traditional photo techniques such as gelatin silver prints in an intimate synthesis with speakerly texts (Gallery 1). They also show Simpson’s creation of new combines, among them serigraphs on felt with writings and images invoking film noir (Gallery 2), a video installation of three projections based on historic photographs and her own prior still photos (Gallery 3), constellations of recuperated photo-booth photos with her drawings isolating details from them as well as vintage photographs together with those re-staged by the artist (Gallery 4), and a video focusing on performance as well as time itself and its reversal (Gallery 5).

The exhibition’s parcours reveals turning points in Simpson’s oeuvre as well as thematic continuities. The earliest pieces in the show are Simpson’s performative proto-cinematic photo-texts, beginning with the 1985 Gestures/ Reeactments, a title literally evocative of the work’s visual/verbal aspect while also paradigmatically descriptive of what would be her conceptual practice for the next three decades. Simpson herself makes a rare appearance in her work in two related pieces in the show: the 2009 epic still photo work 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), for which the artist re-enacted scenes from vintage photos, and Chess, 2013, (Gallery 3), which features re-enactments of some of the same photos.

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Gallery 1 introduces the artist’s signature, indeed iconic early images of the 1980s – a black figure in white clothing, face turned away from the camera or cropped out of the frame – accompanied by precisely crafted, allusive texts that recomplicate what is seen by what is heard in these voicings. The intention to deny a view of a face, as Simpson says, “was related to the idea that the one thing that people gravitate to in photography is the face and reading the expression and what that says about the person pictured, an emotional state, who they are, what they look like, deciphering and measuring. Who is being pictured, what is actually the subject? Photographing from the back was a way to get viewers’ attention as well as to consciously withdraw what they might expect to see.”

The performative photo-text works in Gallery 1 are Gestures/Reenactments, 1985 (created as part of her thesis project for her MFA at the University of California, San Diego), Waterbearer and Twenty Questions (A Sampler) (the first works that Simpson made when she moved to New York in 1986), as well as Five Day Forecast, 1988, and Stereo Styles, 1988. Beginning with Waterbearer, all of these except Gestures/Reenactments (which features a black male) show a black female in a white shift played by artist Alva Rogers, who was often mistaken for Simpson herself.

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Gallery 2 marks important changes the artist made during the ’90s, most notably Simpson’s surprising shift to printing her photographs on felt and absenting the human figure. At first she used surrogates for the body, seen in the many and various wigs she photographed and which she accompanied with texts that continued to address ideas of identity and gender (Wigs, 1994-2006). She used photographs taken during her travels for the next series of felt works, which were interior and exterior scenes (The Car, 1995, The Rock, 1995, The Staircase, 1998) that in both imagery and texts invoked film noir. These works led almost inevitably to the start of Simpson’s film and video work in 1997. (Her earliest photo-texts will be recognized by the viewer as proto-cinematic with their multiple frames and conversational voices.)

This gallery also reveals how Simpson continues to use her felt medium and returns to her own archive of images   as well as found objects. Three related works, though no longer using text, nevertheless “comment” on each other:  a video of a performance (Momentum, 2010) inspired by an early 1970s performance at Lincoln Center generated felt works based on vintage photographs of this famous New York theater – Chandelier, 2011, Daytime, 2011, and Daytime (gold), 2011- as well as the Gold Headed (2013) drawings, based on the dancers costumed head to foot in gold. Drawings are perhaps the least known medium in Simpson’s practice, and while they reveal the fluid gestures of her hand, visitors will recognize in these gold heads turned from the viewer an echo of the position of the figures  in Gallery 1.

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Gallery 3 is devoted to Simpson’s newest video, Chess, 2013, which is based on historic photos as well as her own earlier photographic piece, 1957-2009 (Gallery 4), in which she restaged found vintage photographs. Chess and 1957-2009 mark the rare instances in which Simpson has herself appeared in her work.

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Gallery 4 presents reenactments that use quotidian photographic genres to explore constructions of identity   and that offer a collective portrait of photographic portraiture over time. All of the works in this gallery are based on found photographs Simpson purchased on eBay and each depicts anonymous subjects performing for the camera. 1957-2009 is based on photographs in a vintage album; Gather and Please remind me of who I am are constellations of bronze-framed found photo-booth images (from the 1920s to the 1970s) accompanied by Simpson’s similarly framed drawings of details from the photographs.

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Gallery 5 offers Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape, 2004, which focuses on performance itself and the soundings of a body, that of artist Terry Adkins whistling a hymn. Embodying memory (and the distortions of it) as she did in her earliest photo-works but playing also with the particularities of video, Simpson loops the video to play forward and backward. In this process a new melody is created even as the stationary figure appears same but different.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'Chess [Échecs]' 2013

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Lorna Simpson
Chess [Échecs]
2013
HD video installation with three projections, black & white, sound
10:25 minutes (loop)
Score and performance by Jason Moran
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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“Gestures” and “reenactments” could both be described as the underlying methods of Simpson’s practice for the decades to follow. Whether working with photographs she herself staged, found photographs, or archival film footage, her images captured gestures (as in her earliest documentary photographs of 1978-1980) while her series of multiple images, accompanied by texts, proposed simultaneous (if not synchronous) reenactments. This method also applied to works in which she replicated found images, whether turning images from her films into drawings, or using herself to re-play roles depicted by anonymous figures she had discovered in vintage photographs, either for staged still photographs (as in 1957-2009, 2009), or for moving pictures (as in the video Chess, 2013).

Chess, 2013, Simpson’s video installation made expressly for this exhibition, draws on images from 1957- 2009, her still photograph ensemble of 2009 (on view in Gallery 4). For both, in a departure from her earlier videos and prior staged photographs, Simpson herself performs. In 1957-2009, by reenacting scenes from found vintage prints with which they are shown, Simpson is “mirroring both the male and  the female character, in dress, pose, expression, and setting. When I would mention the idea of working with mirrors [for the Chess video] people would often mention the famous portraits of Picasso and  Picabia taken at a photo studio in New York by an anonymous photographer who placed the subject   at a table in front of two mirrored panels at seventy-degree angles. The result is a five-way portrait that includes views that are not symmetrical and that offer slightly different angles: a surrealist trope of trick photography.”

Though the artist first rejected the idea of working with the mirror device used in these historic portraits, which she had seen many times, she decided to take it on fully and reconstruct it in her studio for this new video project after  art historian and sociologist Sarah Thornton sent her “a beautiful image of an unknown man of African descent in a white straw hat, which had been in an exhibition at MoMA [catalogue page 61]. It was a five-way portrait probably taken by the same photographer who had taken the portraits of Picasso and Picabia. I could no longer resist or dis- miss this idea. I felt that it was demanding my attention.”

Shot in Simpson’s studio over the weekend of December 8, 2012, Chess is comprised of three video projections. For two of them Simpson again plays both female and male chess-players, and with the help of makeup and hair assistants, she now allows her characters to age. The third projection shows pianist Jason Moran performing his improvised score for this project, which was inspired by discussions between artist and composer about “mirroring in music,” especially “in the work of musician Cecil Taylor, who employs mirroring in his compositions.”

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. 'The Car' (detail) 1995

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Lorna Simpson
The Car (detail)
1995
Serigraph on 12 felt panels with felt text panel
102 x 104 in (259.1 x 264.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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Lorna Simpson. '1957-2009' (detail) 2009

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Lorna Simpson
1957-2009 (detail)
2009
299 gelatin silver prints, framed
5 x 5 in. (12.7 x 12.7 cm) each (image size)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Lorna Simpson

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While collecting photo booth images on eBay, Simpson found the first of the vintage photographs – a woman in a tight sweater-dress leaning on a car – that would generate 19572009 (2009). The artist subsequently bought the entire album and in 2009 restaged these photographs of an anonymous black woman and sometimes a man performing for their camera between June and August 1957 in Los Angeles, which they may have done in the hope of gaining movie work in Hollywood or as an independent project of self-invention. For 1957-2009, Simpson reenacted both female and male roles, and the 299 images are comprised of both the 1957 originals and Simpson’s 2009 remakes. Simpson again reenacted a selection of these vignettes for her video installation Chess, 2013.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]' 2004

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Lorna Simpson
Cloudscape [Paysage nuageux]
2004
Video projection, black & white, sound
3:00 minutes (loop)
Centre national des arts plastiques, purchase in 2005
Photo courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson/Centre national des arts plastiques

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Lorna Simpson’s video installation Cloudscape (2004) isolates one man, Simpson’s friend, the artist and musician Terry Adkins, in a dark room, spotlighted as he whistles a hymn and is enveloped in fog. Focusing on the ephemerality of performance, the artist employs a technique afforded by her medium to play with time as well. Simpson runs the video forward and then also backward in a continuous loop, creating new visual and oral/aural permutations of gesture and reenactment. In the reversal of the time sequence, the image remains somewhat familiar while the tune turns into something else, a different melody.

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Lorna Simpson. 'Momentum' 2010

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Lorna Simpson
Momentum
2010
HD video, color, sound
6:56 minutes
Courtesy the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Lorna Simpson

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As Simpson explored new mediums, such as film and video starting in 1997 or found photographs in  the late 1990s, she continued to work in parallel with her felt serigraphs. In this gallery are three related sets of works that, unlike her earlier photo-text pieces, are all based on a personal memory: performing as a youngster, age 12, in gold costume, wig, and body paint in a ballet recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. Simpson re-staged such a performance for her video Momentum (2010).

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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18
Aug
13

Video: Installation of Erika Diettes ‘Sudarios (Shrouds) at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2013

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

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“Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia (Colombia) to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones. Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another.”

From the catalogue essay Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes by Dr Marcus Bunyan.

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Installation video of Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2013
© Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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30
Oct
12

Video: ‘Cottees: There’s a lot to celebrate’ (2012) by GPYR-Melbourne / insidious racism?

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insidious
adj.
Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects

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There is a lot to celebrate living in Australia, the lucky country, especially if you are a white kid growing up in the perfect world of Cottees advertising. I have been viewing these TV commercials since 1986 and have yet to see an Indian, Asian, Aboriginal or child from a Muslim family in any of them. As far as I can see it is only white children of middle class suburban families that can “seize the day” in Cottee’s vision of contemporary Australia.

I ask my readers, do they think that these adverts promulgate a form of insidious racism? Are these adverts a form of racism by exclusion, rather than one by outright declamation?
Is this exclusion a form of societal system of oppression?

I leave the answer for you to decide.

Perhaps they should have said, “No matter how many white kids end up in your backyard, there’s always enough Cottee’s to go around…”

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“We’re all responsible for naming, and saying no to, racism. We must call it when we see it… Race hate, racism, careless words – can harm entire populations. They can change the way that we live together… Racism can only be resisted, and eradicated, through solidarity, and cooperation. There are no exceptions. History has no bystanders – only participants.”

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Graeme Innes AM, Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, August 2011

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Cottees There’s a lot to celebrate (2012)

“This Sunday will see the launch of a new campaign for Cottee’s cordial. Created by George Patterson Y&R Melbourne, the commercial aims to take the brand back to its roots by celebrating the simple goodness of childhood – and the fact that no matter how many kids end up in your back yard at the end of the day, there’s always enough Cottee’s to go around.

Says Troy McKinna, advertising manager at Cottee’s: “We’re hoping the generation of Australians who grew up with classic ‘My dad picks the fruit’‚ ad will share this new Cottee’s classic with the next one.””

CLIENT:
Advertising Manger: Troy McKinna
Brand Manager: Karen Elsbury

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Cottee’s Cordial – Australian TV Commercial (1998)

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Cottee’s cordial ad from mid 90’s

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Cottees Cordial Australian Commercial 1980s

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Cottees Country Blend Cordial (nd)

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Cottees Cordial – Classic TV Commercial (nd)

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17
Jun
12

Video: ‘Disturbing Visions: the photography of Roger Ballen’ – Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers

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A very interesting video from Lens Culture where Roger Ballen explains his working methodology.
Inspiration comes from inside yourself, always!

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Roger Ballen: Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers from Jim Casper on Vimeo.

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Roger Ballen website

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11
Jun
09

Exhibition photographs: ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Melbourne Winter Masterpieces at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 13th June – 4th October 2009

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You saw it first on Art Blart!

Installation photographs from the latest Winter Masterpieces blockbuster from the media preview on the day the exhibition opened at NGV International, Melbourne. Thank you to Jemma Altmeier, Media and Public Affairs Administrator at the NGV for the invitation. Photographs were taken using a digital camera, tripod and available light. There is a posting on the Melbourne Jeweller blog about this exhibition, complete with interesting drawings of the jewellery – well worth a look.

Fantastic to see my friend and curator of the exhibition, Dr Ted Gott, at the opening. Congratulations on a wonderful show!

Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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© All photographs copyright Marcus Bunyan 2009 and the National Gallery of Victoria. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be reproduced without permission.

Do you need a photographer for your exhibition, opening or installation in Melbourne?
Please contact
Marcus Bunyan for more information.

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Photographs proceed from the beginning to the end of the exhibition in chronological order.

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Entrance to the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Entrance to the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside around where Salvador Dali lived

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3 panel video installation of the Catalan countryside where Salvador Dali lived. 13 minutes duration.

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Early work from the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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To the left ‘View of the Cadaques from the Creus Tower’ 1923; to the right ‘Table in front of the Sea. Homage to Eric Satie’ 1926

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Early work from the 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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In the centre ‘The First Days of Spring’ 1929; to the right ‘Surrealist composition’ 1928

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dali-installation-j

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Installation view with The Age art critic Associate Professor Robert Nelson at centre right

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dali-installation-l

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Installation view with ‘Memory of the child-woman’ 1932 at right

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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‘Lobster Telephone’ 1936

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Jewellery Gallery at the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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Television with film installation at 'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Televisions with film installation at ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Installation of black and white photography with Dr Ted Gott, curator of the exhibition, with back to camera at centre

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Reproduction of ‘Gala foot. Stereoscopic paintings’ 1975 – 76 in an installation using mirrors that would have been originally used to obtain the stereoscopic effect

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Final exhibition space at ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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'Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire' Winter Masterpieces exhibition at NGV International, Melbourne

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Final gallery space at the ‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ Winter Masterpieces exhibition featuring ‘The Ecumenical Council’ 1960

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National Gallery of Victoria (International)
180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

Opening hours: ‘Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire’ is open 7 days a week and until 9pm every Wednesday from 17 June

Tickets
Adult: $23
Concession: $18
Child: $11 (ages 5-15)
Family (2 adults + 3 children): $60
NGV Member Adult: $16
NGV Member Family: $40

Unlimited entry tickets
Adult: $55
Concession: $45
NGV Member Adult: $40

National Gallery of Victoria Dali website

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29
May
09

Review: ‘Desire’ paintings and video by Judith Wright at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 19th May – 13th June 2009

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Judith Wright. Installation of 'Desire' exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

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Judith Wright. Installation of 'Desire' exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

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Judith Wright
Installation of ‘Desire’ exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

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On a beautiful sunny Autumn afternoon in Melbourne I made a visit to Space Furniture on Church Street to ogle at the wondrous designs and then to the galleries of Albert Street in Richmond for three outstanding painting exhibitions: John Beard at John Buckley Gallery, McLean Edwards at Karen Woodbury Gallery and Judith Wright at Sophie Gannon Gallery. First cab off the rank is Judith Wright but reviews of the other two shows will follow.

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There is a part in Jim Jarmusch’s film ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ (1999) where the anti-hero stares into the eyes of a dog and Jarmusch just holds the scene for what seems like an eternity. The camera observes the infinite bond between human and animal, an almost palpable connection across time and space, with an unflinching eye. The same can be said of Judith Wright’s encaustic paintings but here she pushes the relationship further – into an investigation of the animal in the human and vice versa, and their erotic charge when placed together. Here is the ‘carnivalesque’ at it most daring, most paired back, revealing in quiet Zen like compositions the dissolution of boundaries between both states of being.

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Judith Wright video installation

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Nominally based on the symbology of characters presented in two videos in the exhibition (masked figures playing with each other, a comical goats head with horns being one figure) the paintings are much more interesting than the videos. Painted on Japanese paper in wax and acrylic the biomorphic forms of babies heads, torsos and sculpted free forms and designs suggestive of living organisms address the title of the exhibition: desire!

Wright plays with scale and form, using earth tones and a luminous palette of oranges, yellows and pinks. Her shape-shifting paintings work to unhinge stagnant systems of thought that surround identity and the body. The waxed Japanese paper adds to the sensuality of the skin-like work. A baby seems to feed on a double nipple but the nipple has missed the mouth and is invading the eye. Forms intersect and the sensual shapes slip over each other: as in the Zen idea of ‘satori’ or enlightenment attained when two circles intersect here we have the intersection of an erotic enlightenment.

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Judith Wright. 'Desire [14]' 2009

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Judith Wright
‘Desire [14]’
2009

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Judith Wright. 'Desire [5]' 2009

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Judith Wright
‘Desire [5]’
2009

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Judith Wright. 'Desire [7]' 2009

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Judith Wright
‘Desire [7]’
2009

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As Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin notes the carnivalesque is the contravention of normal laws of behaviour, “and he proposes that the carnivalesque is also the home of the grotesque, where otherwise antithetical properties or characteristics are matched together in the same being: beast with human, youth with age, male with female.”1

“The carnival offers the chance to have a new outlook on the world, to realize the relative nature of all that exists, and to enter a completely new order of things.”2

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This is what these paintings propose: a new order of things, a chance for desires formed of new pleasures.

As Michel Foucault has observed,

“The possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures is something that is very important. For instance, if you look at the traditional construction of pleasure, you see that bodily pleasure, or pleasures of the flesh, are always drinking, eating and fucking. And that seems to be the limit of the understanding of our bodies, our pleasures …. It is very interesting to note, for instance, that for centuries people generally, as well as doctors, psychiatrists, and even liberation movements, have always spoken about desire, and never about pleasure. “We have to liberate our desire,” they say. No! We have to create new pleasure. And then maybe desire will follow.”3

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In their luminosity, in their skin-like textures, in their balance between the colour of the paper, the dark voids and the brown of babies heads we feel the sharp intake of the cold breathe of winter on the nostrils – we feel an evocation of new pleasure, of possible desires within us and the loosening of the grip of conformity. Like the perfect placement of rocks in a Japanese garden and the ripples of the gravel, of a reality that swirls around them these paintings open hearts and minds to inner states of being unexperienced before. And yes, I did enjoy the ride.

Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart blog

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Judith Wright. Desire [16]' 2009

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Judith Wright
‘Desire [16]’
2009

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Judith Wright. 'The Gift [2]' 2009

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Judith Wright
‘The Gift [2]’
2008

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Judith Wright. 'The Gift [7]' 2008

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Judith Wright
‘The Gift [7]’
2008

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Sophie Gannon Gallery

2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne
Opening hours: Tues – Saturday 11 – 5pm

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1. Buchbinder, David. Masculinities and Identities. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994, p.53. For a discussion of carnivalesque see Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World (trans. Hélène Iswolsky). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, pp.196-277, 303-367.

2. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and his World (trans. Hélène Iswolsky). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, p.34.

3. Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, p.31.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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