fortresses and frontiers: anne zahalka; high anxiety: anne wallace

pyjama girl: maryanne lynch; blush: annette bezor
Insitute of Modern Art, Brisbane
31st January - 9th March 2002

Annette Bezor's powerful contributions to this expansive group show are a series of paintings entitled Lookers, in which she continues her consideration of Tretchikoff and porn imagery, and Blush- two paintings exploring new territory. Tretchikoff prints, popular 1950s suburban decoration, epitomise Western culture 's objectification of the Asian 'other'. Electronically manipulating the images before rendering them on canvas, Bezor changes the character in the women's faces, subverting the original construction of gender, race and power. Lookers also includes images of the faces of women in pornography, again electronically manipulated, but excluding the body, the prime site of the pornographic gaze. Hung together, the porn and Tretchikoff faces muse provocatively on traditional depictions of women. Appropriation is a typically postmodern strategy, but the manipulation and replication of images is not new- the originals were visually manipulated and printed in numbers. In effect, they're re-appropriated. Bezor has produced several versions of each image, commenting on the concepts of authenticity, commodification, and the transmissibility of electronic imagery. Blush comprises two paintings of nudes, one an overwhelming 2.7 x 4.8 metres, the other a more domestically sized 67.5 x 120 cm. The model, reclining full-length, gazes at the viewer, in a manner similar to Manet's Olympia, but without the lush interior, servant with flowers, bedding, shoes, jewellery or cat-the props Manet used to characterise the subject and set the scene. Bezor's model is devoid of signifying apparel. There is no background- the white ground is marked only by shadows under the hands suggesting she lies on white cloth. Blush contrasts with Bezor's earlier work The Snake is Dead (1981), for example, where the naked model is posed in a lush picnic scene, full of clues. The deliberately sterile, clinical setting of the Blush paintings prevents our projecting ourselves imaginatively into the scene. The model in them is unnamed, so they are not portraits (though we know this woman models regularly for Bezor). In the absence of other signs, we notice the size of the works, the naturalistic representation, the poses, and the woman's expressionless yet strong features. Perhaps this anonymous woman is simply a 'normal' person, sexual but neither objectivised nor idealised, her tableau huge and emblematic. Both Lookers and Blush address but defy stereotypical eroticisation. In Lookers, Bezor invades the territory occupied by the men who created the original images. In Blush (as in The Snake is Dead), there is a happier and more equal relationship between artist and model. In the absorbing series High Anxiety, whose title is from a film, painter Anne Wallace continues her use of the unsettling movie fragment. In Home Late, for example, we see a young woman (actor Lee Remick) looking through a front door towards a figure that might be her father. Outside, a young man waits by his pick-up truck. The impossibility of the woman satisfying both her own desires and the presumably conflicting wishes of the men evokes a brooding tension. Wallace's borrowed texts are strewn with ambiguous signs, opening them to re imagination and alternative conclusions. She raises moral questions but without answering them. She supports her themes with a somewhat naive, objective, illustrational style of painting rather than through expressive technique. Where classical painting might employ mythological references, Wallace uses mid-twentieth century Hollywood drama to allegorise the misguided values and unfulfillable desires of our inescapable lives. A surrealistic flavor has entered some of Wallace's new work. In Seersucker, her response to a Sylvia Plath poem, an octopus tentacle emerges from a telephone sitting on a seersucker tablecloth. In Writer's Block, a vulture appears in a suburban interior. In Entrance Uncovered, a woman peers under a cabinet, her face reflected in the polished floor-but it is a different face in the reflection, a ghostly mask. In Lotus Eaters, two men in a party scene appear painted from the same model, recalling the Pre-Raphaelites' repetition of faces, as in Burne-Jones's Perseus and Andromeda. In their different ways, Wallace and Bezor remind us of our preoccupation with ideal types, of the illusory nature of the image, and of the disjunction between identity and actuality. Both artists continue to mine painting's rich potential.

 

Maryanne Lynch's haunting video Pyjama Girl (2001) depicts the infamous 1934 murder case of that name, where the victim's body lay on display for ten years in a bath of formalin, so that she might be identified. We see the victim's view from within her formalin bath, interspersed with episodic flashbacks of her life with her husband/murderer-to-be. We become voyeurs of the grotesque, but from inside the persona of the victim, experiencing the sensations she experienced. Lynch makes clever use of the mirror and of close-up photography to blur the boundary between (the victim's) self and the world, between imagination and reality. Her work sits neatly with Wallace's melodramas, and provides another spin on cinematic horror and alienation. Anne Zahalka's 1993 photographic series Fortresses and Frontiers comprises five images mounted on light boxes, showing a magnificent but inaccessible city-scape that dwarfs the few isolated humans visible in it- a tramp, an office worker, a mother and children. Here, we empathise with the subjects in the photographs, frozen in their predictable trajectories, and contemplate our own future in our vast and alienating cities. These artists' eloquent work muses in various ways on the gap between (photographic) perception and reality. They address the tension between individuals' assigned or imagined roles and their personas, and highlight the issue of women, and society, as victims.