Around the galleries – October 2009

October 3, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, October 3, 2009.

Around the galleries Dan Rule

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WHAT Roger Ballen: Brutal, Tender, Human, Animal
WHERE Monash Gallery of Art, 860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill, 9562 1569, mga.org.au

Roger Ballen’s stark portraiture and documentary photographs from the poverty-stricken fringes of South Africa are nothing if not confronting. This major survey of the New York-born artist’s work takes in more than 70 gelatin silver prints spanning from 1983 until 2007, and will provoke strong reactions, no matter their orientation. His early ‘documentary’ portraits of the sick, intellectually disabled and, in some cases, inbred inhabitants of poor rural areas are eerily orchestrated and pose huge questions of motive and the transaction between artist and subject. His most immediately confronting works, however, are his performative post-2000 photographs, which see children, adults and pets at play against gnarled, nonetheless composed domestic backdrops. His subjects willingly and smilingly contort themselves, wrangle kittens down the front of their pants and roam about on all fours. Whilst Ballen describes the works as ‘collaborative’, it seems all too unlikely that he has at any point allowed his own control of the situation to slip. No matter his subjects’ shenanigans, he is still the privileged outsider, pulling the strings of the vulnerable subject. Or is this merely the critique we’re conditioned to make? Ballen is unequivocal in maintaining that he develops close personal and working relationships with each of his subjects. While the accusation of exploitation is pertinent, so is the inverse. In one light these photographs are troubling, shocking and brutal, but just why can’t they also be playful, funny and tender? Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat to Sun noon–5pm, until November 1.

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WHAT Nathan Gray: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release
WHERE Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Lane, city, 9650 7775, craftvic.asn.au

Stretching across all three gallery spaces at Craft Victoria, Nathan Gray’s new sculptural, painting and sound installation creates an intriguing tension between signifier and referent. From a distance, his modular polystyrene, paper, wire and string sculptures invoke landscape, floral and architectural resonances, but with proximity, their figuration dissipates. Gray’s work is much more about practice. Inspired by synthesiser processes, each of these works has been constructed utilising the exact same chain of events, though with strikingly different configurations and results. We’re left with a series of propositions that are equally fragile and vivid, organic and unnatural. The rest is up to us. Mon noon–5pm, Tues to Sat 10am–5pm, until October 17.

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WHAT Photographer Unknown
WHERE Monash University Museum of Art, Building 55, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, 9905 4217, monash.edu.au/muma

If there’s a trace of nostalgia to the found photographs, reworked videos and photo-collages that form Photographer Unknown, it’s tempered and complicated by their anonymity to the artists themselves. What this fascinating new group show at MUMA – which includes Marco Fusinato, Donna Ong, Fiona Pardington, Jacky Redgate, Fiona Tan and others – reveals more than anything is a cultural and aesthetic investigation of the form. Patrick Pound’s The photographers, features a collection of found photographs in which the photographer’s shadow can be seen entering the frame, while his Empty album comprises the empty pages (save some typed captions)of a photo album, the actual photographs long gone. Susan Fereday’s compilation of American road trip photographs from the 50s and 60s creates a striking narrative, while Elvis Richardson’s suite of YouTube works, which feature young girls and lonesome grown men singing to the camera, make for a telling study of behaviour in front of the lens. It’s a notion that the majority of these works explore. Photographer Unknown distances both the subject and photographer to leave us with a myriad of aesthetic and behavioural archetypes. We’re left only with the form – the way in which we evidence our lives. Tues to Fri 10am–5pm, Sat 2pm–5pm, until November 28.

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WHAT Eugenia Lim: Nowhereland – The Paris Human Flesh Incident
WHERE Blindside, Room 14, Level 7, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, city, 9650 0093, blindside.org.au

Eugenia Lim’s new installation at Blindside recreates one of recent history’s most notorious and mythologised crime scenes – the tiny Paris apartment in which Issei Sagawa murdered and cannibalised Renee Hartevelt in 1981. But Nowhereland is as much a study of myth-making  and the self-perpetuating media cycle as of the event itself. While Lim has remodelled the Sagawa’s apartment in meticulous detail, her choice of lurid, pink lighting challenges the room’s authenticity. Meanwhile, various monitors interpose Lim’s own video recreation of the murder (she plays both Sagawa and Hartevelt) with live footage of the audience recorded via several hidden cameras. The effect is both sinister and self-reflective. Lim seems to be exploring our own unwillingness to engage with questions of morality and humanity. Nearly three decades after the event, we know Sagawa only as a media-rendered ‘monster’, though we’re reluctant to really consider what leads a fellow human to such an act. Thurs to Sat, noon–6pm, until October 10.

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