The last six weeks I have been focussing on the strengths in my work and consolidating my practice in and around these. This, in order to build a practice that has a specific focus and direction around key materials, strategies, qualities and values. It has been time and energy well spent. Focussing on what is strong and where the work has lift off has helped me let go of everything extraneous and establish a direction for the work towards the final show and beyond.
I have written about the two pivotal works for me over the course of study so far The Stand In and Pond-Life.
Pond-Life is an installation work with no central protagonist. The viewer is encouraged to walk through the work and navigate around several staged scenarios. Recognizable found objects, materials (glasses, mirror, feathers) and images are combined and re-presented to act as catalyst for new open-ended meanings. Studio lighting and improvised staging set the scene for the photography studio as space of display. The viewer, in this context, becomes the photographer and is asked to make connections and meaning for themselves within the work. In this work the construction of the image and it’s reception or apprehension as an image as content, is being addressed.
There are different moments in the encounter where we see tableau-like staging’s, for example, feathers piled on the floor and broken crystal glasses arranged on a mirror table. Tableau is used as a means to expand pictorial space into the space of installation. These reference the languages of both still-life painting and commercial photography product. The white feather pile with variegated colour of white, cream and grey, and the crystal brightness of light on glass creates depths and space and surface reflection. Black appears as a pause between light moments and as a structural framed surface.
Artificial construction is an important content and strategy, which includes paying attention and then responding to the existing conditions of architecture and natural light as well as staging setups. Shards of glass are brightly lit and white gloss paint mimics natural light as a reflection on the wall. Surface and light, both enable or enact shifts of perception between what is real and what is simultaneously or conversely artificial or allusive.
Pond-Life, 2015 Installation View
Pond-Life, 2015 Installation View
The Stand In
The Stand In is a baked lamb cake, a traditional Easter food originally from Europe, common and customary especially in Poland and Czechoslovakia. At origin, symbolically, it is directly related to the Jewish Passover festival as the paschal (sacrificial or Passover) lamb. The Passover festival commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from their 400 years of bondage in Egypt (1998BC – 1598BC). For Protestant christians and Catholics the ancient tradition of the Pasch lamb also references Jesus Christ, who died in AD 33 (Humphreys C. J. & Waddington W.G. p.335). In the 10th century, either whole or pieces of spit roast lamb were included in the basket of food that was blessed by the priest on Easter Sunday. This became out of reach of much of the population so lamb meat was substituted by lamb made out of pastry and then butter or marzipan. Later iterations were made of sugar as treats for children.
This Easter tradition became a mass-produced cultural item in some parts of America, for example Chicago, where there is a large community of European immigrants. Through multiple iterations, the roast lamb meat in the basket (in traditional European religious practices) has become, in it’s American form, most commonly, a cake covered with sugar frosting and coconut sitting on a bed of artificial paper grass or coloured coconut, sweet – a skew-whiff of the original.
The work Duck Character and Mouse Character, 1999, by New Zealand artist Ronnie van Hout is an example of how a cultural icon, in this case Walt Disney’s most famous inventions Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, through translation find form as a wonky iteration (distorted but well intended) of the original. The original source for these works is the sculptures of Mickey and Donald characters, by unknown maker, in the playground on the waterfront at Picton, South Island, New Zealand. Van Hout manages to convey a funny tenderness that honours the naïve and well-intentioned efforts of the maker of Picton’s version of the famous Disney characters.
The Stand In speaks of the language of representation and a contemporary iconography of the divine. There are multiple contexts represented by the image that is both grounded and not grounded. For example, in a literal sense grounded by a reflection and not grounded in a black void. In a metaphorical sense, it is disconnected from context. The void and the reflection also enable both a photographic and sculptural apprehension of the image.
The key quality of the surface of the lamb is the icing sugar because, in the context of this image, it facilitates an equivocal reading i.e. is it frost or icing sugar, or dust? Is it sweet fresh or decaying relic? It is a representation, a poor approximation of a lamb, sculpted via loving labour. Sweet and endearing, it contains pathos and humour but is also reverent and still. The artisan mould maker is referenced, one who has had to efficiently design form for multiple production with something (cake batter) that is expanding. Therefore the finished product, the baked lamb cake, becomes something that is open to distortion and approximation. The dichotomy of the commercially and heavily reproduced in relation to the sacred comes into play, the idea of the mass-produced sacred.
The Stand In, 2014
[C-Type print on photo-rag paper 83 x 83cm]
- J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse, and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43 : 331–51, esp. 335).