“My work is all my personal history… I can’t separate my art from my life.” Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work deals with issues relating to life, gender, sexuality and death. All these things happen to the body but no bodies as such appear in his work. In Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) 1990, the artist uses the body of his lover Ross as a metaphor, which is signified in the “ideal” weight of candy used for the work. Untitled (Bed) 1991-92, appeared in several locations on billboards in the New York area. The body is absent yet alluded to in the unmade bed. Audience participation is an integral element to Gonzalez-Torres’ work. The artist’s choice of displaying such intimate imagery in a public form relates to his resistance of separating private and public domains. The Word Portraits further establish Gonzalez-Torres’ ability to create the historical meaning of an individual beyond representation of the body.

161459_2809251Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled (Ross in L.A.) 1990

Felix Gonzalez-Torres avoids representation. Candy in this case becomes “saturated with personal association, memories and emotions.” (1) The body of Ross, his lover, is the subject of the work. Ross’s body is represented in the “ideal” weight of the candy, this is 175 pounds, which is stipulated in the certificate of authenticity. The candy is either piled in a corner or spread out in “carpet like landscapes.” (2) “The spills appear as parodies of abstract, geometric sculpture.” Gonzalez-Torres described them as subverting the neutrality of minimal sculpture by annexing issues that derive from his biography.” (3)

As a metaphor the candy is consumed, the viewer sucks on someone else’s body. Felix Gonzalez-Torres said, “my work becomes part of so many other people’s bodies…” (4) It is at this point, when the candy is consumed, that the work is complete. Charles Merewether writes that the candy represents, “not only an eating away of the body, but a sign of regeneration, as in the symbolic eating of Christ’s body and the miraculous giving of life.” (5)

Apart from addressing consumption and challenging galleries, the political ramifications of this work are more pertinent because Ross was a homosexual man dying of AIDS. Thus the work, “… confronts visitors with the issue of homophobia and their fear of contact with HIV carriers.” (6)

Felix Gonzalez-Torres said, “in a way, this letting go of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favour of a disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross disappear day by day right in front of my eyes…” (7) Freud wrote that we rehearse our fears in order to lessen them. By relinquishing his control over the work and allowing audiences to touch, eat and possess his work, Gonzalez-Torres rehearsed the imminent loss of Ross. “Memory offers a path back to the other side of the line between life and death: it is all that remains after the disappearance of the body.” (8) The replenishment of the candy memorializes the subject.

FGT_Manhattan_sized-643x428Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Bed) 1991-92

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ billboard, Untitled (Bed) 1991, is a black and white image in soft focus of the artist’s unmade bed. The impressions of bodies are left behind in the indented pillows and rumpled sheets. The absence of any accompanying text offers no explanation for the image by the artist. Yet, this vacant space openly invites the viewer to enter the work based on their own memories of loss, absence, leaving and grief. (9)

For Gonzalez-Torres, “it is a wrenching, intimate depiction of his loss.” (10) The unmade bed becomes a metaphor for the love and loss of his lover Ross to AIDS. Most viewers were unaware of the artist’s biographical information and would therefore construct meaning based on what was personally relevant to them. The unmade bed a place of pleasure and intimacy, or of absence and loss. “Inviting audiences to remember moments of closeness and separation, this image is a passage linking the particular losses we experience with a culture of collective grief… Although the bodies are gone, memories sustain the experience, allow the feelings these bodies generated- the warmth and passion- to be revealed, recalled, recorded.” (11)

The audience participates to in the meaning of the work. (12) Gonzalez-Torres measured his work against the same questions, “I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without a public these works are nothing, nothing… I need the public to complete the work…” (13) Gonzalez-Torres felt that collaboration with the viewer was the force behind the work giving it meaning and emotion. Hence, Duchamp’s 1957 speech on the creative act is fully embraced by Gonzalez-Torres. Duchamp claimed that there were two poles in the creation of a work of art: the artist and the spectator. (14) Another repercussion to the artist’s method is Roland Barthes’ notion of the death of the author “… and [the] fundamentally emancipatory idea of the birth of the reader into the structure.” (15) Although Gonzalez-Torres adapts devices from the Minimalist vocabulary, his work is distinguished from it because his personal experience is transcended to become universally valid. (16)

Gonzalez-Torres said, “my work is all my personal history… I can’t separate my art from my life.” (17) The work was first displayed simultaneously at the Museum of Modern Art and twenty-four billboards around New York. By displaying such intimate and private experiences in a public form that typically promotes consumer products, Gonzalez-Torres dissolved the boundaries between public and private space.

George Chauncey states that, “there’s no queer space; there are only spaces used by queers or put to queer use. Space has no natural character… no intrinsic status as public or private.” (18) For a homosexual man, the ramifications of whether there can be a separation between private and public space are enormous in light of restrictive and repressive legislation ruled by the U.S Supreme Court in 1986, “which denies same-sex couples rights to a private sphere.” (19) By displaying such a deeply personal and emotional image on billboards around New York, Gonzales-Torres perpetuated what George Chauncey argues is a tactic used by gay men, “… to claim space for themselves in the face of a battery of laws… designed to exclude them from urban space altogether.” (20) This reciprocal relationship quantifies Gonzalez-Torres choices. The artist said his choice for the billboard was an easy one. He wanted to distance himself from his bed. With Ross’s death, his bed has become a source of pain and grief, especially at night.

Ann Goldstein clearly states:
(…) the nature of his work in general (…) subtly yet emphatically intensifies one’s own self awareness, subjectivity, and sense of personal history. In effect, his work insists upon the inclusion of the complexities of those areas most preciously protected or deeply repressed – it sets up a conflation of public and private, and the personal with the professional. (21)

The artist insisted that an individual could not be isolated from the socio-political structure that governs our world. Conversely, politics has always had ramification upon every individual. As a homosexual man, Gonzalez-Torres was directly effected by public policy as it impacted on his private life. His choice to present his unmade bed in public domains affirms his works ability to provocatively comment on socio-political issues.

Gonzalez-T_portrait_2011-repl_colorFelix Gonzalez-Torres, Word Portrait.

Gonzales-Torres’ amalgamation of public and private life is evident in his Word Portraits. They are also examples of the use of text as a metaphor for more than just the body, but for a life lived. Gonzalez-Torres would collaborate on commissions with the prospective owner asking them for their formative experiences and the concurrent dates. (22) Gonzalez-Torres intercepted this information with important public events that he believed undoubtedly contributed to their personal history. Thus, the portraits positioned the owner within a personal and a collective history. Gonzalez-Torres changed the order of the events, which coincides with the nature of memory as fragmented. He also included events before birth and places never visited by the owner. He felt that the portraits were more than a life, they were a history, “to sense our connectedness with the rest of the world.” (23)

The following Word Portrait is Gonzalez-Torres’ from the Brooklyn Museum commission of 1989. The intention of the museum’s curator was to blur the line between public and exhibition space. This Word (Self) Portrait was installed in a small annex near the elevators. It was painted in light blue and ran along the top of the wall in a single line. (24)

Red Canoe 1987 Paris 1985 Blue Flowers 1984 Harry the Dog 1983 Blue Lake 1986 Interferon 1989 Ross 1983

In Untitled (Ross in L.A) 1990, Gonzales-Torres uses candy to signify the loss of his lover Ross to AIDS. By avoiding representation in Untitled (Bed) 1991-92, the artist adopts devices from Minimalism. Yet, he subverts them and imbues them with personal significance. The universality of the signs invites the viewer to participate, to complete the work of art. Gonzales-Torres transfers the private into the public domain in a calculated response to the restrictive legislation imposed upon the homosexual body. In his Word Portraits, Gonzalez-Torres’ combines the personal and collective history of an individual based not on physical characteristics but on lived experiences.

References

1. D. Elger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cantz Verlag, 1997, p. 107.

2. ibid., p. 44.

3. L. Weintraub, Art on the Edge and Over, Art Insights, In., 1996, p. 115.

4. Elger, op. cit., p. 92.

5. C. Merewether, ‘The Spirit of the Gift’ in Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Russell Ferguson ed., 1994, p. 70.

6. Weintraub, op. cit., p. 115.

7. ibid.

8. R. Ferguson, ‘The Past Recaptured’ in Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Russell Ferguson ed., 1994, p. 32.

9. B. Hooks, ‘Subversive Beauty: New Modes of Contestation’ in Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Russell Ferguson ed., 1994, p. 47.

10. Weintraub, op. cit., p. 116.

11. Hooks, op. cit., p. 47-48.

12. Merewether, op. cit., p. 61.

13. Elger, op. cit., p. 44.

14. ibid., p. 106.

15. ibid.

16. ibid., p. 81.

17. Weintraub, op. cit., p. 110.

18. G. Chauncey, ‘Privacy Could Only Be Had in Public: Gay Uses of the Streets,’ in Stud; Architecture of Masculinity, Joel Sanders ed., Princeton Architectural Press, 1996, p. 224.

19. Elger, op. cit., p. 18.

21. Chauncey, op. cit., p. 224.

21. Elger, op. cit., p. 18.

22. Elger, op. cit., p. 51.

23. ibid.

24. ibid., p. 50.

Images

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Ross in L.A.) 1990 http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/152961

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Bed) 1991-92 http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/04/04/printout-felix-gonzalez-torres

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Word Portrait http://edu.moca.org/education/teachers/curric/themes/artandtext/looking/discussion-7

Susan Norrie – Our World Precariously Oscillating Between Beauty & Exploitation.

Susan Norrie’s installation Undertow (2002) combines six projections of varying sizes depicting provocative imagery of natural and man-made disasters which are compellingly accompanied by a haunting and mesmerising soundtrack composed by Robert Hindley. Norrie’s shift in practice to installation is interestingly characterised by Lynn who writes of “the artist’s resolution to distinguish herself within the male dominated history of art.” (1)

Norrie’s practice has developed significantly from her early years as a painter. Over the past decade Norrie’s ambitious installations incorporate painting with still imagery and video projections, sound and sculpture. This shift in the artist’s practice also coincides with a change in focusing on cramped interior spaces to vast exteriors. (2)

Norrie’s keen interest in history, especially that relating to women, the differences between appearances and reality and her Surrealist experiments with form accompany her explorations. Looking at things in different ways creates multiple perspectives enabling “parallels and resonances [to] emerge.” (3)

Norrie’s use of video alludes to cinema & its opposing elements of reality & appearances. in the darkened space of her installations the images projected are at once disturbing and uncanny for the viewer, are these scenes real or constructed? “Norrie’s depiction and implementation of the uncanny is there partly to create a specific emotional effect in the viewer but also to stimulate the viewer into thinking differently and thinking politically about the terrible problems that beset the planet in the twenty-first century.” (4) Creed suggests that even though Norrie’s vision is bleak, she still offers us the conciliation that history can be changed. (5)

The following excerpt from Rachel Kent’s essay ‘Susan Norrie: Painter of Darkness and Light’ is perhaps the artist’s incessant mantra;

We must convince each generation that they are transient passengers on this Earth. It does not belong to them. They are not free to doom generations yet unborn. They are not at liberty to erase humanity’s past nor dim its future. (6)

(Element 1)

266.2003#still01#S

Film Still from ‘Undertow.’

Norrie offers a sense of blind faith in Element 1. A child carried on her father’s shoulders walking through archways of cherry blossoms in Japan. Yet the blossoms bloom earlier each year due to the devastating effects of global warming. Tunnicliffe writes, “In Undertow the damage wrought by human error and the destructive power of nature echo each other, each feeding from the others potential for catastrophe.” (7)

(Element 2)

The imbalance between the economic gains of mining natural resources & the repercussions upon nature are devastating in Element 2. A bird struggles, saturated in a sea of oil, eventually dying with a lethal injection. (8)

(Element 3)

266.2003#still03#S

Film Still from ‘Undertow.’

http://vimeo.com/47810310

Video clip from ‘Undertow.’

The engrossing Element 3, begins with a somewhat bucolic landscape that pans across a forest scene that begins to fill with fire and chemical fumes as trees burn in a rage. Tunnicliffe writes that Element 3 is the most painterly, drawing from the history of painting and its effects on film directors. (9) “The terrible beauty of these images is of a degraded and literally polluted sublime, of the vision of the Romantics blasted apart into a wasteland of ruined nature rather than the ruins and remnants of human endeavour in a awe-inspiring and timeless landscape.” (10)

In another sequence, haunting images of the dust storm that enshrouded Melbourne in 1983. Over two million tonnes of eroded soil, due to poor land management, was gathered up in a wind storm and choked the streets of Melbourne blocking out the sun. (11) Norrie’s footage is ominous as the dust surges turning day to darkness.

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William Turner, Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812

Tunnicliffe suggests the tumultuous Melbourne sky is reminiscent of William Turner’s Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812 and the hazy forest alludes to Caspar David Friedrich’s, The Cross and the Cathedral in the Mountains, 1812. (12) But unlike these eighteenth century examples of nature & the sublime, Norrie’s work reminds us that we have neglected nature in favour of the economic gains such degradation costs.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_The_Cross_in_the_Mountains_-_Google_Art_Project

Caspar David Friedrich’s, The Cross and the Cathedral in the Mountains, 1812.

(Element 4)

In Element 4 scientists in protective clothing release a balloon into the atmosphere to measure gases that are destroying the ozone. (13) Science has broadened our knowledge of the issues but it seems futile considering no tangible objectives will ever be implemented to create stability between economics and environmental protection.

(Element 5)

266.2003#still04#S

Installation shot of Rotorua mud pools.

The scale of Element 5 is intimately smaller. The bubbling mud pools of Rotorua, New Zealand are at once therapeutic in nature & ominous considering such geothermal activity occurs near the Earth’s fault lines. The thick, oozing mud & sulphurous vapour that emanates sits heavy in the air and the geysers that erupt from the earth’s core create an other worldliness.

Kent writes, “The image of uncontrolled nature refers back to humanity- this time impelled by the desire to harness and exploit nature’s resources, yet powerless against its raw force. As the artist observes: ‘I have always been fascinated by the contradictory forces of nature, its illusive beauty and potential violence.” (14)

(Element 6)

The development of Norrie’s practice is apparent in the final element in Undertow. Norrie cites Orson Welles’ adaptation of Kafka’s, The Trial, 1962 as an example of the hopeless efforts individuals face when dealing with bureaucracy. (15)

TheTrial1_1348424188_crop_550x431

Film Still from ‘The Trial.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_7weUR0oMY#action=share

Film trailer for ‘The Trail.’

In Undertow, video projections & sound represent a world that oscillates between beauty & exploitation. Disturbing natural & unnatural events overwhelm the viewer. Images of cherry blossom blooming early due to global warming, festering & erupting mud pools, billowing dust storms and scientists conduct experiments that seem futile in the face of such events. Within a darkened exhibition space, lit only by the six screens, Norrie slows the footage down. This, and Hindley’s accompanying soundtrack creates a strangely meditative, dreamy atmosphere.

References

1. V Lynn, ‘Laminae,’ in Susan Norrie, Exhibition Catalogue AGNSW, Sydney, 1994-1995, p. 9.

2. R Kent, ‘Susan Norrie: Painter of Darkness and Light,’ in Susan Norrie: Notes from the Underground Exhibition Catalogue MCA, Sydney, 2003, p. 6.

3. ibid.

4. B Creed, ‘Susan Norrie,’ in Biennale of Sydney 2004 Exhibition Catalogue, p. 158.

5. ibid.

6. Kent, op. cit., p. 4.

7. W Tunnicliffe, Susan Norrie, Undertow Exhibition Catalogue, 2003, p. 3.

8. ibid., p. 2.

9. ibid., p. 1.

10. ibid.

11. ibid.

12. ibid.

13. ibid., p. 2.

14. Kent, op. cit., p. 5.

15. T Smith, ‘Selective Memory,’ in Archives and the Everyday Exhibition Catalogue, p. 3.

Images

Cherry Blossom film still http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

Burning Forest film still  http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

‘Undertow,’ (Element 3) film clip http://vimeo.com/47810310

William Turner http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_081.jpg

Casper David Friedrich http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_The_Cross_in_the_Mountains_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Installation shot of Rotorua mud pools http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/266.2003/

‘The Trial’ film still http://thequietus.com/articles/10132-the-trial-orson-welles-50-years-on

Kiki Smith – “Uncommon Beauty.”

4076600

Kiki Smith, Born, 2002, Bronze.

Kiki Smith investigates the human experience and draws from a variety of artistic expressions. “Since she emerged in the early 1980s, Smith has been a fascinating and inventive presence. Her provocative meditations on the human body and the realms of myth, spirituality, nature, and narrative have resulted in works of extraordinary power and uncommon beauty.” (1) Smith’s practice also references her extensive knowledge of art history but instead of using the female form as the subject of her art, she uses the feminine as the object. The body is a “receptacle for knowledge, belief, and storytelling.” (2) In the 1990s Smith began engaging with feminine archetypes, from the biblical through to cultural mythology and fairy tales. (3) Unlike her predecessors, Smith weaves these stories together and invites new narratives & interpretations. (4)

3794754588_b85364358b

Kiki Smith, Lilith, 1994, Bronze with glass eyes, 80 cm x 68 cm x 44 cm

6613911795_4f2007f542_zAt The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Smith’s bronze sculpture, Lilith 1994, was cast from a live model that crouched on the floor. Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but she infamously abandoned him and ran away to the Garden of Eden. Lilith refused to submit to a subordinate role and is therefore considered a symbol of feminine strength. (5) But according to Hebrew lore, Lilith is depicted as a night demon. Smith converges these narratives and displays the sculpture upside down clinging to the wall, her glass eyes eerily peer down at the viewer. (6)

2445591969_952ec4974a

Glass Eyes.

images-1Kiki Smith, Pietà, 1999, Printer’s ink, ink and graphite on joined paper, 140 cm × 77 cm

Smith’s Pieta drawings depict the grieving artist cradling her dead cat. The intimate self-portraits mimic the history and traditions of the Pieta in both title and composition. (7) The drawings further explore Smith’s resounding themes of human experience: death and the fragility of life.

pieta4

Michelangelo, Pietà, 1498–1499, Marble, 174 cm X 195 cm

Smith uses fairy tales like, Little Red Riding Hood, as a metaphor to express her perturbed feelings about the feminist experience in patriarchal culture. (8) Smith’s monumental sculpture, Rapture 2001 depicts the macabre scene when the woodcutter saves the grandmother and the young girl from the wolf. Yet, a life-sized woman steps out of the stomach of a dead wolf that is lying on its back in Smith’s bronze sculpture. Smith explores the idea that the tale is inherently violent and that critics have interpreted it as a symbolic parable of rape. (9) On Smith’s work Langer writes, “The challenge here is not to make bad literary picture but rather to create counter-narratives that are dramatic, sometimes reckless, many times vulgar, and above all strange. These images are self-consciously primitive with their swelling contours, violent, intensely personal touches of color, and successive layers of strokes and lines cutting into the surface.” (10)

tumblr_ly9a5fTvxW1qbo39mo1_1280

Kiki Smith, Rapture, 2001, Bronze,

References

1. Walker Art Center, Collections > Kiki Smith, accessed 15 March 2013 <http://www.walkerart.org/collections/artists/kiki-smith>

2. PBS, Art in the Twenty-First Century, accessed 15 March 2013, <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/smith/index.html>

3. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., 2005, Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, accessed 15 March 2013, <http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/6aa/6aa177.htm>

4. ibid., p. 8.

5. ibid., p. 4 & 7.

6. ibid., p. 7.

7. ibid., p. 9.

8. C Langer, review of W Weitzman’s ‘Kiki Smith: Prints, Books & Things’, Woman Art Journal Vol. 26, No.2 (Autumn, 2005 – Winter, 2006)

9. Bonner S, Visualising Little Red Riding Hood, London’s Global University, 2009.

10. Langer, op. cit., p. 56.

Images

Born <http://art160sxu.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/kiki-smiths-born.html>

Lilith <http://blog.sfmoma.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/lilithone.jpg>

Lilith <http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7156/6613911795_4f2007f542_z.jpg>

Lilith <http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2176/2445591969_952ec4974a.jpg>

Pieta <http://whitney.org/image_columns/0004/8838/2001.151_smith_imageprimacy_compressed_600.jpg>

Rapture <http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ly9a5fTvxW1qbo39mo1_1280.jpg>

Jean-Martin Charcot – Capturing the Mind.

EPSON MFP image

Régnard, “Lethargy. Contraction of the stern-mastoidian frontal muscles,” Iconographie, vol. III.

There were approximately four thousand women patients hospitalised at The Salpetriere when Jean-Martin Charcot began working there in 1863. The patients were, “female paupers, vagabonds, beggars, ‘decrepit women,’ ‘old maids,’ epileptics, ‘women in second childhood,’ ‘mishappen and malformed innocents,’ incorrigible women-madwomen.” (1)

francis-galton-2Composites Male Portraits of Criminals Convicted of Murder, Manslaughter or Crimes of Violence.

During the late Nineteenth century, photography was synomonous with authenticity. The body was institutionalized by Francis Galton in 1882, who produced composites of criminal and ethnic types. Alphonse Bertillion also devised a scheme in 1879 of measuring and auditing the body. Charcot was the leading neurologist of the time and Freud’s mentor. (2) He described The Salpetriere as, “a living museum of pathology.” (3)

iii_c_138Alphonse Bertillion, Poster of Physical Features, Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police

Charcot desired to capture what cannot be seen; the inner workings of the mind. Charcot systematically employed photography to capture the experience of hysteria, “thus demiystify it- for science, for fame, and for the “hysterics” themselves.” (4) He “used photography to visually represent a disease that defied anatomy and, thus, physical examination.” (5)

Charcot’s standardized images of the women are, “like phosphorescent specimens pinned in velvet boxes.” (6) The women are subjected, made subject and alienated through visual representation. They are forced to participate in constructing the image. Didi writes of the contrived staging and repetition of certain poses that represented different psychological illnesses. Charcot and his assistants were accused of coaching patients to perform, so he began focusing on symptoms that couldn’t be rehearsed. When a new symptom was discovered it was reproduced in the hospital’s photo studio for the scrutiny of Charcot’s gaze. (7)

In Lethargy, the woman is in the lethargic phase where the phenomenon of neuromuscular hyper-excitability is at its peak. (8) She is being touched by an instrument in order to trigger a response from the muscle; the muscle basically contracts. The reaching into the “dark chamber,” (9) the supposed “hand of God,” is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s imagery in La Jatee, where scientists perform experiments upon the male protagonist which will either result in insanity or death.

jetee

La Jetee Film Still, Directed by Chris Maker.

References

1. G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 13.

2. U Baer, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002, p. 26.

3. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 13.

4. U Baer, op.cit., p. 14.

5. ibid., p. 30.

6.  ibid., p. 16.

7.  ibid., p. 31.

8. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 96.

9. U Baer, op.cit., p. 35.

Images

Lethargy G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 201.

Francis Galton http://tejiendoelmundo.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/francis-galton-2.jpg

La Jetee film still http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/feature-articles/jetee/

C19th Mortuary Photography – The Illusion of Sleep.

Postmortem Photograph of a Child

Postmortem photograph of unidentified child. Harrison, Lock Heaven, Pa., ca. 1890-1910. Tinted gelatin silver print on cardboard mount, carte de visite. Courtesy, Center for Visual Communication, Mifflintown, Pa.

The enduring tradition of painted mortuary portraits precedes Nineteenth century mortuary photography. Jay Ruby writes, “The association of death and sleep is as old as Western culture itself. In classical Greece, the sons of the night were Hypnos, god of sleep, and his twin, Thanatos, god of death.” (1)

The denial of death was a pictorial convention that prevailed during the Nineteenth century. “People did not die. They went to sleep.” (2) The “last sleep” was a popular theme in mortuary photography because it beautified death by creating the illusion of sleep. With the high infant mortality rates during this time, mourning was a normal part of life. Memorialising the deceased was common and mortuary photographs were often displayed in the home.

A photograph retained the memory of the deceased and was also a lasting reminder that we have no power over death, a memento mori. The young boy (pictured above) is dressed in his Sunday best and it was probably the first and last time he was photographed. The photographer has adhered to the prevailing ideology of the day, and the boy appears to be sleeping. The photograph is a carte de visite, a small photograph that was relatively inexpensive to produce. The carte de visite was hugely popular and people would collect, trade or send them to loved ones. I cannot help asking whether his mother still carried him, even after his death, in her pocket.

References

1. J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 63.

2. ibid.

Image

J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 66.

Eadweard Muybridge – Inventor, Photographer, Traveller, Murderer..

The Magic Image describes Eadweard Muybridge as an, “Inventor, traveller, photographer, murderer…” he shot and killed his wife’s lover. (1)

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Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, The Epsom Derby, 1821, Oil on canvas, 92cm X 122cm

A former governor of California, Leland Stanford, commissioned Muybridge to settle the dispute over whether a trotting horse, ever had all four of its feet off the ground. The artist at the time believed it was an impossible task. (2) With the support of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Muybridge produced over 100,000 images of humans and animals in motion. Muybridge arranged twelve cameras beside the track, “Strings attached to electric switches were stretched across the track; the horse, rushing past, breasted the strings and broke them, one after the other; the shutters were released by an electromagnetic control, and a series of negatives made.” (3)

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Eadweard Muybridge, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.

Muybridge_horse_gallop_animated_2

Horse galloping animated.

Animal_locomotion._Plate_766_(Boston_Public_Library)

Eadweard Muybridge, Plate 766, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.

The results were astounding and proved that a galloping horse did at some point have all four feet off the ground. But not in the way that Jean Louis Théodore Géricault’s, The Epsom Derby had depicted. Muybridge had captured what the eye alone could not distinguish. The compilations of his studies greatly influenced artists and the advancement of industrial and scientific photography.

His inventiveness “nearly led to the invention, not just of the ‘movies’, but of the ‘talking picture’ itself. (4) The pictures in strips could be viewed in a zoetrope, which twirled the images, merging them so quickly that it produced the illusion of motion. In 1880 he projected his pictures onto a screen at the California School of Fine Arts, using a device he invented called a zoogyroscope. 

Zoetrope-1

Zoetrope advertisement.

References

1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 76.

2. B Newhall, The History of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 119.

3. ibid.

4. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 141.

Images

Vultures flying http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Animal_locomotion._Plate_766_(Boston_Public_Library).jpg

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault file:///Users/skontos/Desktop/File:Théodore%20Géricault%20-%20The%20Epsom%20Derby%20-%20WGA08637.jpg%20-%20Wikipedia,%20the%20free%20encyclopedia.webarchive

Horse jumping http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muybridge_horse_jumping_1.jpg

Horse galloping animated http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muybridge_horse_gallop_animated.gif

Zoetrope advertisement http://www.thebigcamera.com.au/Zoetrope.html

 

 

Fredrick Holland Day – Seven Words in Seven Days in Seven Photographs.

Fredrick Holland Day

Fredrick Holland Day, The Seven Words, 1898Platinum print, each image 13.3 X 10.8 cm.

Born in Massachusetts, Fredrick Holland Day, was considered an eccentric of wealthy means. He was the first to recognize the work of John Keats. Before he died in 1933, Day donated his immense “collection of Keat’s letters, manuscripts and first editions that [was] the finest harvest of Keatsiana in existence,” to the poet’s museum in Hampstead. (1)

Day recognized the efforts of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession group in its fight for photography to be recognized as an art form. In order to prove that photography could compete with painting, Day decided to portray the last seven days of Christ’s life.

Fredrick Holland Day  Fredrick Holland Day

Every detail was taken into consideration. Clothing and sandals were meticulously made. Day starved himself for a year and let his hair and beard grow so that he could pose as Christ. He photographed for three months during the summer and made hundreds of platinum negatives.

“When the results- printed on terracotta-coloured paper… were secretly shown to a few privileged friends, the response was enthusiastic. Steichen even wrote: ‘Few paintings contain as much that is spiritual and sacred in them.'” (2)  Day was also concerned with the presentation of the work and designed the frame for The Seven Words. (3)

Bernini  teresa ecstasy bernini saint st theresa  Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–1652, Marble, 150 cm.

The images are haunting. This was partially achieved by the uncorrected lens Day used which was made by the Boston firm, Pinkham and Smith. It “produced a sharp image with a halo around the highlights.” (4)  Day’s expression is reminiscent of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, (1647-52). It is a dichotomous awe-inspiring agony and painful ecstasy. Scholars now see the work as a coupling of religious subject matter with an eroticism of the male body. This sexualization of the body of Christ is also imbued with homoerotic themes.

In 1904 a fire destroyed Day’s great collection of negatives and prints. After the fire Day ceased making photographs. In 1917, he retreated to his bed, remaining there until his death some sixteen years later.

References

1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 97.

2. ibid., p. 96.

3. R Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, Secker & Warburg, London, 1988, p. 12.

4. Beaton, Buckland, op.cit., p. 93.

Images

Fredrick Holland Day http://www.artnet.com/galleries/artwork_detail.asp?gid=423818140&cid=237234&aid=673995&wid=426148344&source=exhibitions

detail http://www.geh.org/taschen/htmlsrc6/m197300270004_ful.html

detail http://www.geh.org/taschen/m197300270003.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini http://www.google.com.au/imgres?imgurl=http://www.students.sbc.edu/oneal08/Images/Close%2520on%2520angel%2520and%2520her.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.students.sbc.edu/oneal08/St.%2520Theresa%2520in%2520Ecstasy.html&h=815&w=565&sz=87&tbnid=q0-4ytZaaf-tIM:&tbnh=105&tbnw=73&zoom=1&usg=__J0FVAPtAPP8ecQ9BX4mq7zMyJTQ=&docid=0RHHX-YHyE45BM&sa=X&ei=ICcUUYe9EYSaiAePioGgCw&ved=0CDUQ9QEwAQ&dur=420

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail) http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_36fIdp8zWiQ/S44VPLXY3YI/AAAAAAAABGs/QPuKlzyb8SM/s800/teresa+ecstasy+bernini+saint+st+theresa.jpg

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail) http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-kMMfBHH4Sho/TbnXjsIk7VI/AAAAAAAAESE/gBzMt7ee7_8/s1600/bernini-ecstasy-of-st-teresa-s.jpg