We see ourselves differently from how we are seen; we want to be seen in a certain way; we understand the world through other people.
These are the ideas broached by four Canberra artists in their exhibition SMOKE AND MIRRORS, an upcoming show at the ANCA Gallery about representations of the human figure in contemporary art. The group each work with different mediums: Daniel Edwards with textiles, Alexander Boynes with a combination of spray paint, etching techniques and light installation, and Annika Harding and Kate Barker with traditional paint mediums but unorthodox styles. Their common desire is to bring figurative art back into the forefront of the Canberra art scene.
“At this point in time, like we've never had in the past, we've got a real opportunity to present ourselves in the way that we want to be seen,” Boyne says. “We all have friends on Facebook that constantly put up ridiculous photos of themselves as proof, ‘My life is awesome’. It's all smoke and mirrors; it's all about how you want to represent yourself.”
Edwards uses social networking-sourced imagery in concert with nostalgic materials – flannel shirts and woollen blankets sourced from op shops. For Edwards, these fabrics are intrinsically masculine and he uses them to create portraits and silhouettes of bearded men who post their likenesses on the gay social networking site, Scruff. “It's like how they see themselves, as a portrait, not how I view them.”
“We've all had images to work with through the internet at some stage,” Harding says. “The photograph is a complete entity and it shows everything exactly as it was.” She indicates Barker's painting Sandwiches: two ‘50s-era figures in beach attire, a large empty space cut out of their legs where a sandwich tray would have rested in the original photograph. “By leaving things out, you're left with a more accurate representation of the memory, that moment in time which is now incomplete because of its distance.”
“I think figurative representation has a great deal to do with memory – whether you like it or not. There's always a strange sense of nostalgia,” says Boynes. His illuminated figures are bodies captured mid-movement, working with contemporary dancers and imagery from the London riots in 2011 as his models. “I've always been interested in capturing that movement and dynamism in the body.” The figures in Harding's work are much smaller and static; a point of focus in a vast landscape. Harding sums up the basic appeal of figurative work. “People instinctively want to associate with other people to share experiences.”
Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic exhibition about the way in which we see ourselves, how this shifts and changes with time and, in our modern lives, with an audience.
Smoke and Mirrors is showing from Wed-Sun July 18-29 at ANCA Gallery, Dickson. The exhibition is open Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm. Free.