Exploring Materiality and the Multivalence of Photography
Media Hype brings together the work of six artists who critically engage with materiality by using one medium to explore another. The exhibition spans painting, drawing, textiles, photography, ceramics, film and installation. The works are hybrid by design, compounding different media in a way that disrupts the conventional relationship between medium, form and content.
Photography is a binding theme within the exhibition and is integral to all of the artists’ practice, as a point of departure or reference, a source of inspiration, a mode of investigation, and as a practical tool. The exhibition is testament to the ongoing impact of the photographic medium, and an exploration of its limitations and possibilities.
The artworks included in Media Hype demonstrate a strategic employment of media. These works subvert and reinvent the traditional associations that underpin, but potentially restrict, the way that artworks are viewed and understood. These works seek to undermine the expected aesthetic qualities associated with their media, in a way that encourages a reassessment of such ideologies.
Devika Bilimoria’s work The moving Image (2017), is an interactive installation that explores the visual mechanism by which we experience film. The focus of this work is a skein of photographic emulsion, which is suspended in water within a light-emitting jar. Viewers enter a dark room and must activate the work by spinning the planar glass vessel, which causes the skein to flicker in a way that emulates the kind of movement seen in early films.
The Moving Image makes subtle references both to the physical process of developing film, where the paper must sit in various liquids in order for the image to emerge, and also to the fundamental importance of light in the photographic process. Bilimoria extends the two-dimensional experience of photography whilst also drawing attention to photography’s genetic connection to film.
Sean Whittaker’s installation, Half Full Extent (2015), also explores the inherent qualities of film. The work comprises a film showing paint being rolled repeatedly onto a small surface, and a strip of paint rolled directly onto the gallery wall. The quality of motion in film usually presumes a certain boundlessness, but here this medium takes on an enclosed almost frustrated presence, which sits in contrast to the reaching extension of the painted line. The painted line is however also limited by the physical reach of the artist and the sense of constraint is palpable. Conversely, the repetitive painting motion seen in Whittaker’s film sits in contrast with the entirely static and permanent nature of the painted line. The work therefore poses the question as to which medium is actually the more flexible or dynamic.
Furthermore, this work has a performance component in its installation as Whittaker imposes certain restrictive circumstances around the painting of the line on the wall; it must be completed from a fixed position. The painted line is imbued with the artist’s presence, both in the traditional sense and also because Whittaker’s arm-span dictates the length of the work. Whittaker’s interest lies in the physical limits of his own body in manifesting the painted surface, but this work also demonstrates the limits of the two intersecting media. A common limitation of both painting and film is their two-dimensional presentation, but Half Full Extent pushes both into the three-dimensional realm by extending their scope into the field of site-specific installation.
Michelle Hamer’s hand-stitched photorealist textile works, Detour 2 and Detour 3 (2015), play with the traditional expectations relating to the form and content of photography and textiles. Hamer photographs urban scenes, intuitively capturing the ambiguous or coincidental juxtapositions that occur in the image and text laden city environment. These images are then reproduced as textile works through an intricate and labour intensive process of transposition and hand stitching.
The hard-edged subject matter and the photographic appearance of Hamer’s works are both unexpected in the field of handmade textiles, and these works are compelling in their liberation from the traditions of form and content. They also break down the usual delineation between two and three-dimensional formats by encompassing both. Despite being photographic in appearance, on closer inspection the works are highly textured. Likewise, Hamer’s hand-drawn ink works, which are also based on photographs, have the appearance of digitally created images. The time invested by the artist and the minute attention to detail can only be fully appreciated through a closer viewing.
Jackson Slattery’s series of watercolours are similarly misleading at first glance. They reference a common stock image and also a standard task for photography students; to capture dice entering water at speed. This task was designed to test the students’ ability to capture motion, with the added difficulty of the reflections and distortions of the water. Slattery is a master of photorealism, and his practice is made unusual by the use of watercolour. The process of replicating a photograph is intensified by the use of a stock image as it further imbues the experience of looking at these works with the expectations associated with a photograph. In a sense, he is challenging photography on its home ground. Slattery’s works encourage an assessment of the two media on the level of practical skill and execution, and they offer an ironic nod to the perennial question as to the role of painting in the wake of photography.
Amanda Marburg’s paintings, 16, 17 and 18 (2013) also offer a complex and satirical exploration of the relationship between painting and photography. In the face of the common postulation that “Photography has not killed painting, but it remains its definitive opposite, the form against which painting defines itself.”, Marburg brings modeling-clay in as a third player, to disrupt this traditional opposition. Marburg’s practice involves the creation of modeling-clay sculptures, which she photographs, and then replicates in oil. The works are humourous and self-referential, providing a continuous oscillation between the ever-present dichotomy of representation and reality, which equally haunts the history and theory of photography and painting.
Alan Constable’s poignant and highly tactile ceramic cameras show off the malleability of clay to maximum effect, bringing the notions of substance and physicality into sharp relief. They provide the perfect counterpoint to Marburg’s visual conundrums, as their materiality is manifest. These works are made especially powerful by the fact that this artist is legally blind. Constable replicates the world through touch instead of sight, and by choosing cameras as his subject matter his work undermines and transcends photography’s emphasis on the seen.
Media Hype focuses on media and materiality as a response to the flattened or virtual world of screen culture, and serves as a reminder of the importance of unmediated experience. The medium chosen by an artist is a fundamental component of their practice, and the vitality of a material can be lost when viewed on a screen. Photography and digital reproduction are key factors in the proliferation of such images. Though artworks are more accessible than ever within screen culture, this format potentially robs viewers of the magic that can be experienced in a work’s physical presence.
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