In 2015 I finished my Professional Doctorate in Fine Art at the University of East London. It culminated in a final exhibition: Intimacy, Distance and Touch
Bringing two bodies of work together
My Witnessing Woman and Touched – Up series have been transformed through both my research and exhibiting over the course of this Doctorate. Witnessing Woman is now a body of photographic work exposing the everyday complexities within a heterosexual relationship. The gaze slips between lover, friend and vulnerable other. The images expose the problems of intimacy: is there romance after marriage? The viewer is confronted with the moment where desire meets embarrassment, shame and awkwardness. Man is seen as vulnerable, sexual and animal. The images reveal and question the physical and psychological distance between the artist and the subject, image and viewer. The photographs are glossy, acrylic mounted and seductive yet difficult to look at without seeing one’s own reflection: a reminder of the distance between the viewer and the viewed, emphasising the difficulty of looking. I chose the photographs for their use of light in the composition and they are moments that reveal more than they should. The light illuminates the point of interest (touché). I had experimented with the scale of the images in previous exhibitions and now realised the scale is linked to my position as the photographer to the subject. The ear photograph, for example, is taken close up so the scale printed is larger than life. The legs running away had been printed at a large scale of 150cms in height but had felt too large and too remote from the experience of my gaze. Perhaps the scale relates to Irigaray’s quote: “Seeing it all the better for remembering the density of remaining in between.” (Irigaray, 1982, p.104) I hung the photographs in a traditional gallery manner with white walls and provided a bench to encourage the viewer to sit and spend time looking.
Touched-Up has been transformed to reveal the contradicting emotions of ageing. The joys of finding a partner bring the anxiety of loss and death. The empowerment of gained knowledge and understanding of the self conflicts with the irritations of the maturing body. The resulting images of exquisite, dying flowers, hand gestures and darkness invite the viewer to be consumed with western culture’s complex response to age. I chose the colour of the walls to evoke a Tyrian purple – an ancient dye which was rare and expensive due to its method of production from seashells. It is a colour linked to power and wealth “symbolic of both the heavenly world and the best of the human world” (Finlay, 2002, p.398) Finlay writes that the purple is also likened to a blood clot and a bruise. This complex colour therefore appeared perfect to represent the complexities of both ageing and mourning given its association with the body. By putting the images directly on the wall and the floor, it would help create a space where immersion and distance could be explored. I also experimented with ways of showing the fabric-printed images of flowers and gesturing hands, now presented as cushion-like objects. I had tried displaying them on the wall but this seemed too fixed. I wanted to find a way of lifting them off the ground using a visually light plinth. I therefore presented them as tripods using bamboo cane for the guard with a light green garden twine. This links the flower images with the garden and also gives them a precarious domesticity. I deliberately made the cushions lie on top of the canes in an uneven and seemingly perilous manner. This whimsical manner of display reflects the paradoxical emotions I have towards ageing. The installation was lit to keep the edges dark and to provide conflicting and obvious shadows that help play with the viewers’ sense of distance and scale.
This is a link to my thesis: The Male Muse: Intimacy, Distance and Touch.