Review: Self Imag(in)ing

Afternoon Fountain Routine / 2016 / Marisa Georgiou / installation view

Words by Meg Slater

Historically, photographic self-portraits were considered a symbol of one’s status and wealth. Rich and powerful people would commission commercial photographers to create an image that captured their superior social standing. In the digital age, the photographer is no longer a professional at the service of a client. The medium has been democratised by the rise of the amateur photographer and the proliferation of the ‘selfie’. With development and celebration of this new art form, the role of photography has shifted. It is now widely recognised as an informal, conversational medium that can be used to denote authenticity and individuality.

Self Imag(in)ing critiques the notions of authenticity and individuality associated with photography in contemporary society. The exhibition features the work of three emerging Brisbane-based artists who expose the construction inherent in the self-produced image. Marisa Georgiou, Chloe Waters and Kristian Fracchia offer refreshingly candid and raw examples of self-portraits that question the use of the medium to curate and construct identity. By drawing the viewer’s attention to the reality beneath the glossy façade of the auto-image, they highlight the pressures faced by artists and social media users alike, to represent themselves as individuals in the 21st century. This is facilitated by each artist’s clever use of relatable subject matter. Georgiou, Waters and Fracchia address the exhibition's overarching theme by referencing recognisable and widely accepted signifiers of the Queensland ‘way of life’, which, like the ‘selfie’, are treated as distinctive markers of identity.

In Afternoon Fountain Routine (2016), a slow motion video work, Georgiou sits cross-legged on the balcony of her apartment, repeatedly drenching her body and filling her mouth with water from the spout of a garden hose. She is surrounded by pot plants, which, like the hose she has wrapped around her body, are used by Queenslanders to cultivate a connection with nature in a suburban setting, a relationship often idealised and used to market a particular mode of living. On a broader level, the work illustrates the way in which individuals attempt to construct their identity via social media by fetishising and romanticising their relationship with certain objects and environments.

Across from Georgiou’s work is Water’s mesmerising installation, Untitled (Cecelia) (2016), a constructed bedroom scene into which Waters has projected an eerie video of herself lying on her bed onto a mass of canvas on top of a mattress. As you approach the work, you are immediately guided to the appropriate viewing point – an old window frame propped up on stilts. The frame, which was presumably once a part of the larger structure of an old Queenslander, adds elements of comfort and domesticity to the work. These values are tied to the home, which is central to the Queensland way of life. Waters has used this common signifier of living in the Sunshine State to encourage viewers to consider the voyeurism associated with social media and new forms of self-expression in the age of technology.

Untitled (Cecelia) is complemented by a second work by Waters - Collarbone (2015), a creased, print release image of her collarbone, which features in the first room of the exhibition, alongside Fracchia’s Channel series (2016). The three painted portraits by Fracchia are based on photographs of the artist, in which he stands against a white background, wearing a swimming cap and a pair of goggles. By referencing the popular Australian pastime of swimming, Fracchia critiques the rigid character type of the ‘bloke’, a butch Aussie man with a killer sense of humour and a love of sports. In each image, Fracchia has his eyes closed. By disengaging from his audience, he peacefully resists the imposition of a particular kind of masculinity that is widely accepted in Queensland and throughout Australia. He has therefore used the construct of the ‘bloke’ to challenge the simplistic notion promoted in the digital age that one’s identity is fixed and one-dimensional, and can therefore be adequately represented in a single image.

By utilising humble and unintimidating artistic methods of production and display, and subtly referencing various components of the Queensland lifestyle, Georgiou, Waters and Fracchia address broader themes pertaining to the construction of identity and authenticity in the 21st century.

If you have the opportunity in the coming weeks, I highly recommend that you pay Self Imag(in)ing a visit. It is on display at the Queensland College of Art’s Project Gallery until July 9, 2016.