kim demuth

second hand pose: portraits of the unknown
Jan Manton Art, Brisbane
4 - 28 August 2010

Kim Demuth’s latest exhibition, Second Hand Pose: Portraits of the Unknown, is as much about the processes of representation as it is about the subjects of his works. Demuth takes lost and found photographs of unknown people and remodels these images to create an illusion of three-dimensional presence. Using an optical device, he box-mounts these images and the effect is an illusory image which hovers between two and three dimensions.

Demuth does not use lenticular printing, but rather a technique which induces a sfumato effect, intensifying the images’ relation to memory, dreams and the subconscious. Mediating between the antinomies of reality and illusion is therefore key to Demuth’s practice. His portraits remind the viewer that images, especially the perceptions they incite, are part of how we understand the world around us. More crucially, Demuth seeks to interrupt the viewer’s spontaneous responses to his artworks, which leads us to question more widely the manipulating impact of images on our perception of our environments. The fact that Demuth uses emotionally evocative images, and in particular portraits which reveal human vulnerabilities, further provokes the viewer to question their impulsive responses to the images around them. By intervening in the mimetic qualities of portrait photography with illusory techniques, Demuth subtly reminds us to question the automatic process of seeing and believing.

As we walk into the exhibition space, we are confronted by a wall dedicated to portraits of children, with many of them possessing an antique quality. Adding to the unearthly sense of these images, all nine found photographs have been digitally manipulated to give the children an ethereal quality. Contradictorily, Demuth has named the children, giving the impression that each child pictured is not a digitally generated image but a person who existed. Furthermore, as the viewer approaches each portrait, they gradually become aware that the two-dimensionality of the image has been distorted so that the figure appears to float just above the surface. These interventions have occurred in all the portraits in the exhibition, which leads us to question what Demuth’s motives are in luring us to perceive a human presence in the portraits, only to reveal their status as illusion.

Demuth’s works explore the morality of the human consciousness. They present both a window of reality and illusion, of faith and scrutiny. They simultaneously entice and deter the viewer and in doing so remind us that seeing is a process of judgement. Seeing is not a neutral act but a complex layering, of cultural, social and ethical construction. Demuth remarks he ‘celebrate[s] the outer world/s by pulling it/them apart and reconstructing it in a distorted reflection of itself, that hopefully is a way of romantically dealing with the harshness of its falsehood’.

The portraits of Clive and Joe further allude to the artist’s desire to expose the prejudice of sight. Clive, standing alone in the woods dressed in 1920’s attire, complete with suspenders and slicked back hair, appears truly sinister. As unnerving as his appearance is, nothing is known of him—every judgement the viewer makes of him is speculative. However, while Clive invites speculation, Joe shuns it. All the viewer sees of Joe is his back—there is nothing about Joe which reveals his personality. Joe personifies the artist’s intentions to fracture our impulsive response to images.

When confronted by these images of the unknown in Second Hand Pose, we gradually reflect upon our responses to the images, which range from compassion, to unease and to the realisation that what we are seeing is a disconnected object, an image decontextualised from its original use. These images therefore contain a fusion of paradoxes, existing dually as self-reflexive objects and as reflections of externality. This compound of opposites is repeated in the hybrid nature of the images as both real, found portraits of people who existed and digitally manipulated objects, reflections of our processes of judgement.