Reviews

Don’t be fooled by the faces I wear, Split, Exploded View

Photography Exhibition Review

Split | Chris Bowes

Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear | Ben Rak

Exploded View | Catherine Evans

Photo Access | Until 14 August 2021

Each of these exhibitions expands on what would, by many, be deemed photography. Distortion, caricature, masking, disruption – these are the key elements across the three shows.

Artist Chris Bowes is showing Split. It brought to mind those fun and interesting images in distorting convex and concave mirrors giving repetitive reflections, optical illusions in sideshow funhouses. This installation is a sort of high-tech version of them. Screens and webcams watch and distort viewers, taunting them into questioning data capture and use. These mirrored surfaces create caricatures that can be equal parts captivating and disturbing. This installation originally was scheduled to exhibit in the Huw Davies Gallery in mid-2020. Sadly, it was locked down in Melbourne. Furthermore, the same issue prevented the artist from traveling to Canberra to instal it himself this year. His other intended exhibit is, unfortunately missing from the show.

Chris Bowes, Monitor (detail), 2020, webcams, screens, computers, code and cables

Bowes says, “It is unsettling to think that while we watch screens, they quietly watch back at us. Our interactions feed data to hungry tech giants, whose targeted advertising and helpful suggestions seem harmless enough.….We are often passive to these exchanges, ignoring the consequences that come with sacrificing privacy….”

In Don’t Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear, artist Ben Rak examines the phenomenon of “passing” as a condition in both social life and art practice. It also employs methods of screens, this time for masking hidden identities. He attempts to shed light on how we conceal or reveal ourselves in order to gain visibility, avoid marginalisation, and enjoy the privileges afforded to dominant groups.

Rak uses the print process as a metaphor for otherness, drawing parallels between art practice and social interaction. His prints seek to examine changeable identities, investigating how the technical and material language of the print can be combined to mask or reveal its artistic identity.

The exhibited works are diverse; they include large acrylics and silkscreen works on un-stretched canvas, laser-cut dye-sublimation prints on aluminium and papier-mâché masks, inkjet prints on fibre-based paper, and a single channel video. If only we could purchase masks like these each time our current fetish for wearing them is made mandatory. They and the prints are wonderful. Looking at my own reflection in two of the prints, I saw my identity masked.

Ben Rak, The Masks I Wear to Pass, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas
Ben Rak, Unhinged, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas

Exploded View is new work that takes artist Catherine Evan’s recollections of the 1997 Royal Canberra Hospital implosion as a starting point to examine how digital media distorts our perception of time, relation to place, and memory. It takes memory and screen culture head on in a distorted representation of the artist’s personal memories.

When her son was born, Evans looked online for images of the hospital she had been born in, the hospital she watched blasted into the ground some nineteen years earlier. She discovered a home video someone had uploaded to YouTube – two minutes and thirty-one seconds of VHS footage. She took screenshots of the video then, using a flatbed scanner to distort them, introduced a disruption of memory. The result is fascinating images of a scene etched in so many Canberrans minds – shown here as silver gelatin prints made from her digital negatives by putting them directly into contact photosensitive paper.

Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121ii, 2021
Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121i, 2021

Also displayed and available for purchase, in the gallery shop, is an intimate companion to Evans’ prints. Her fictiōnella Copper (2020), commissioned for the slow-publishing artwork, Lost Rocks (2017–21) investigates the linked events emanating from the Acton Peninsula, currently the site of the National Museum of Australia and previously the Royal Canberra Hospital and over 20,000 years of Aboriginal history.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

The Sweet Forever, and A line of best fit

Photography, Photomedia, Mixed Media – Review

Tina Fiveash | The Sweet Forever

Deirdre Pearce | A line of best fit

ANU School of Art & Design Gallery | Until 8 April 2021, Tue-Fri 10.30AM–3.00PM

These two exhibitions are each part of Higher Degree by Research programs being undertaken by the artists.

Tina Fiveash engages in multiple forms of contemporary photomedia including still and moving-image photography, anaglyptic (3D) and lenticular photography.

In The Sweet Forever, Fiveash has explored how photography might inform a re-imagining of death. Promotional material for this exhibition reveals that her personal investigation of death and dying through photography is paralleled with a text-based investigation of wider understandings of death in our society through the personal letters of a diverse range of people in her community.

What is death? What happens when we die? Fiveash invited fifty Australians to write a letter responding to those two questions. Digitised forms of their letters are on a website. The exhibition includes a large print, being a grid of portraits of contributors, with a QR code link to the website. Taken together, both Fiveash’s creative visual practice and her work with people’s letters, form a contribution to the field of death studies. Quotes from some letters included in the exhibition notes are very moving.

Equally moving is a series of large images printed with pigment inks on cotton rag. I saw powerful stories about love in each image. Twin Spirit, 2013  was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture.

Tina Fiveash, ‘Twin Spirit, 2013’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist

There are two fine triptychs. One reveals a wonderful story about the Hereafter; another gives us delicious blue views of water and sky.

Tina Fiveash, Wide Blue Yonder II, 2014-16. Pigment ink on cotton rag mounted on gataboard, Courtesy the artist

Fiveash told me that discoveries have emerged through scientific and technological innovation in resuscitation, blurring boundaries between life and death. Through creative practice she has explored how photography in the wake of digital transformation might inform a contemporary re-imagining of death and dying. Her constructed images using words from songs and poetry on ‘billboards’ against carefully chosen backgrounds are both beautiful and thought-provoking. One quotes a well-known gospel song There’s a land beyond the river, the lyrics of which include the words ‘the sweet forever’ – the title of the exhibition.

Tina Fiveash, ‘See you on the other side, 2014’, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘We Are Stardust, We Are Golden’ 2014, digital photograph, Pigment ink on cotton rag, Courtesy the artist
Tina Fiveash, ‘there is a light that never goes out, 2016-19’, Flip-lenticular photograph, Courtesy the artist

Dierdre Pearce works with drawing, photography, sculpture and installation. In A line of best fit there are three excellent mixed media works.

Pearce is interested in how people interact with the various space types we inhabit, and how we map the boundaries between interior and exterior worlds. She enjoys exploring how technologies influence her experiences and sense of self, focusing on developing visual metaphors for the relationship between the physical self and its growing digital presence.

Her research starting point was the growth of global human-machine networks and the significance humans place on participation in them. This practice-led project investigates how negative space might be used as an analogy for non-machine interactions, which are data-silent yet influence global networks in which humans and machines operate.

Experiments took place through a series of site-responsive installations assembled from everyday materials. Different approaches to describing personal experience were tested, including unusual forms of data visualisation and development of digital and physical ‘windows’ through which audiences could engage with the work.

One work here re-imagines Pearce’s study during the pandemic. It contains a wonderfully vibrant and diverse collection of found and acquired objects that visitors could wander amongst for a long time – irrigation pipe, cable ties, shopping dockets and photographic documentation.

‘A line of best fit’ (installation view) 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Brenton McGeachie

Another work includes yarn, polyester, video documentation and found objects.

‘I am here, I am here, I am here’, 2020, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph Dierdre Pearce

The third is a video; both it and the yarns feature ‘dots’ – we see them on screen as when locating a place via maps, and in very colourful woven forms of varying sizes determined by how long Pearce spent at particular locations.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 5/4/21 here. It is published also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

Otherwise Arbitrary Moments, Passing Time 2020, & Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Photography & Photomedia Exhibition Review

David Ryrie | Otherwise Arbitrary Moments

Tamara Dean | Passing Time, 2020

Katthy Cavaliere, Henri Mallard, Jackie Ranken, Cathy Laudenbach, Jon Lewis | Works from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery | Until 3 April 2021

David Ryrie’s Otherwise Arbitrary Moments is the ‘main feature’. This new work is his first major solo at the Gallery. In it, he pairs seemingly ordinary encounters with the question of human scale.

Ryrie considers a photograph to be ‘a document which, like any other, can be objective, flawed, loved, hated – a translation of sorts by the photographer, open to interpretation by the viewer, evidence of a moment in time, real or imagined.’

The titles are sometimes obvious and other times enigmatic. An image which includes a sign saying ‘Town Water’ was clearly simple to title. Another showing inflatables at a swimming pool has the title ‘Empathy, No.1’ The look on the face of one inflatable in the pool seems to be conveying empathy for another inflatable stranded upside down and out of the water. An illuminated globe-shaped lightshade is more mysteriously titled ‘Cacophony’.

David Ryrie, Ball Games 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Drowning No.4, 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Empathy No.1 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Interruption 2018 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
David Ryrie, Perfect 2019 – Pigment ink on archival art paper, 101cm x 150 cm
Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

In the catalogue we read ‘these works offer new details and revelations at each viewing’. They certainly have something to say. It was great to explore and personally interpret them. Thinking about the titles added to my enjoyment.

A much smaller Gallery 2 is where you stand and, for just over 12 minutes, immerse yourself in Tamara Dean’s single channel video work entitled ‘Passing Time, 2020’. Dean’s practice explores our connection to nature and rites of passage in contemporary life. Her unique understanding of light and landscape reveals sensual pieces that invite contemplation.

This video work references Dean’s experience of self-isolation on her property during the pandemic last year. It starts with an image of the sun seen through leaves suspended from trees. And, because it repeats itself backwards on a loop, it concludes with the same sun.

Between the start and finish of the video, we see many aspects of nature. I noticed reflections of the sky on the surface of water, with occasional birds flying or circling in that sky, whilst unknown things landed on the water’s surface creating circular ripples. I saw fast flowing water, blurred and also clearly focussed. I saw a spider, a lily, wind blown trees and grasses, and either mist or smoke floating by. Part of me longed to hear the sounds accompanying this mesmerising imagery.

Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Still from Tamara Dean, Passing Time, 2020, single channel moving image work, 12’ 2”. Editing by Jonnie Leahy. Tamara Dean is represented by Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin. Photo by Silversalt. Courtesy the artist and Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

Last, but not least, there is The Window – literally “a window” into the Gallery’s permanent collection, showcasing works selected by a Guest Curator – this time Stephen Hartup, a photographer based in Tarago, working across large format film and producing silver gelatin prints. He considers photography to be ‘at its best when it is an intense visual language which does not require a dense, complex shield of written language to explain or justify it.’ He has some of his own works in the Gallery’s permanent collection but here presents material by other photographers.

The Window, curated by Stephen Hartup

Hartup has selected five interesting works. The first (top left) is Katthy Cavaliere’s Gaze of the Masked Philosopher, 2004 – showing the view out across the wool stores and sale yards through the eyes of Goulburn’s Big Merino when it was in its original location.

Then (top centre) there is an untitled print (2011) from original stereo half negative made by Henri Mallard. It depicts a worker during construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jackie Ranken (top right) is represented with her intriguing Aerial Abstract #4 – of the Millennium drought-damaged landscape.

Cathy Laudenbach’s Girl Running (bottom left), a pigment print on archival bamboo paper, successfully causes us to think about the potential scariness of a forest, particularly the Belanglo State Forest.

Finally (bottom right), The Window contains Jon Lewis’s Aussie Soldier in Ainaro Hospital Ruins, 2012, which shows a locally painted Jesus Christ, surprisingly not destroyed by the rampage of the militias.

A version of this review was published in the Canberra Times of 6/3/21 here. The review is also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard
Uncategorized

State of Change, & Found

Photography Review

David Flanagan | Found

Emilio Cresciani |State of Change
Photo Access | Until 7 November 2020

These exhibitions present the outcome of work undertaken by 2019 and 2020 PhotoAccess Dark Matter Residents, David Flanagan and Emilio Cresciani. These residencies provide a supported opportunity for artists to produce new photo-media work that incorporates darkroom-based or other alternative photographic processes.

Opening the exhibition, Virginia Rigney, Senior Visual Arts Curator at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, noted that the residents have access to one of a shrinking number of open access darkrooms left in Australia, drawing attention to the fact that what is made in those darkrooms allows us to see the materiality of bodies of work.

Flanagan was the 2019 Resident, but his work – Found – was delayed by restrictions on his movements during the pandemic. He is interested in the role of the object in contemporary photographic practice, where the majority of images are not seen as anything beyond pixels on a screen.

Various found – natural, recycled, and discarded – objects were carefully coated in Liquid Light. Images were then exposed onto those surfaces underneath an enlarger, giving new life to each item. This intricate technique liberates images from their usual 2D environment.

The surfaces Flanagan used include a trowel, an iron, a nautilus shell, and souvenir spoons. Rigney made the guests smile when she referred to an alternative Canberra museum called The Green Shed that yields up things allowing us to connect with the past in ways not possible at other museums. Now with images on them, the intriguing objects selected by Flanagan speak to us in new ways. Transformed into mementos, they assuredly will become keepsakes – especially the spoons now featuring the eyes of his wife and daughters.

Souvenir, 2020, liquid emulsion on souvenir spoons © David Flanagan
Bonsai, 2020, Silver emulsion on stone © David Flanagan

Flanagan comments, “There is an absurdity about the process which takes up to a week to prepare an object for printing, only to then to see it fail in the darkroom, which is both alluring and frustrating in equal parts. Repetition and experimentation have been the key to resolving issues with each of the materials I have chosen for this project. The element of unpredictability adds something magic to the process and a uniqueness to every object.”

Still life triptych, 2020, Silver emulsion on broken fishtank © David Flanagan

In State of Change, the 2020 Resident, Cresciani, explored the phenomenon of climate change through integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes. Drawing links between these states of change, his show examines, literally, figuratively, and abstractly, human impact on Earth.

Cresciani explains, “Our ice caps are melting. As the ice melts new landscapes, new landforms are created. And scientists say that more light is absorbed onto the earth’s surface as part of this process, further accelerating global warming.”

His work documents a dialogue between massive chunks of ice and light sensitive papers in the darkroom, a reflection on climate change and all its implications. He has made photograms, recording on photographic paper what happened as his blocks of ice melted. As the viewers we can each interpret the results. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, Anne Ferran speaks of maps, islets in a dark sea, and clusters of rocky outcrops fringed by beaches. You might see something completely different.

Breaking of Ice #7, 2020, Duratran, 42 [h] x 30cm [w], Edition of 3 + AP © Emilio Cresciani

Regardless of what we each see, the images are spectacular, particularly those presented on Duraclear. The Duratrans in light boxes are also dramatic.

On Ice #1, 2020, gelatin silver photogram, 35 x 28cm © Emilio Cresciani

PhotoAccess Director Kirsten Wehner rightly says, “Emilio and David have produced two cutting edge exhibitions showcasing what the program aims to foster; a challenged perception of what contemporary darkroom photography can offer.”

This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 2.11.20 and on its Website here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

Standard