It’s been a weekend of ideas. Firstly, the Archibalds at the NSW Gallery of Art generally failed to connect with me this year. A few highlights, of course, but not really stuff that inspired a lot of reaction from me. That’s what I look for in art: the ability to invoke reaction. Some people argue this is what’s meant by ‘the sublime’.
But that’s a whole ‘nother post.
In the end, I voted for Deborah Trusson’s huge self-portrait, Naked, in which she does, indeed, pose naked. And not ‘I’m just naked & standing here, rigid & haughty, like a monolith’. Trusson’s Naked is very suggestively masturbatory, reclining with one hand wrapping a breast, one hand dug into her thigh. It could be argued she’s not *quite* masturbating, but that argument might be a bit of a, *ahem*, wank. I mean, an unsustainability. I know my gallery-visiting-buddy, T., found Trusson’s portrait a bit too confronting & anxiety-provoking, but I thought it was lustful & gorgeous, & an impressive technical achievement to boot. The realism of the skin tones (& Trusson does say it was an exercise in skin tones) is remarkable. How glorious to see the marks, the discolourations, the puffs of flesh where her bright red nails dig into her leg, the veins in the roll of breast caught by her elbow. Also, that damn painting is _remarkably_ huge! Something you just can’t get a real sense of online.
Also I liked the way it’s a painting of a reclining woman, and yet it’s powerful, and yet — & this is important — it’s not aggressive. I’ve often found the kind of ‘re-claimings’ exercised by a number of artists (like, say, Madonna, if we’re to think about her reclamations in video & book volume) are not so much ‘this is mine’ but ‘this is not yours, so fuck you!’. So this new ability to be powerful-not-aggressive, & to assert that ‘my comment is about what I have, my comment is not about what you _don’t_ have, or what you think I’m taking away from you’ — this is exciting.
T.’s favourite painting was James Guppy’s Chagrin. Another self-portrait, & another naked self-portrait, as it happens, but Guppy’s painting, sez T. ‘makes me giggle’. And there certainly is an absence of self-importance in the work. The artist reports he painted it with the head oversized for the body, giving it a comical & distorted aspect which makes the painting awkward & embarrassing — which is exactly what being naked in front of strangers is really like, he says. Guppy also comments that self-portraits are blatant exhibitionism. An interesting insight, given just how many Archibald entries are self-portraits.
There certainly is a ‘type’ of Archibald that gets hung, despite, I’m sure, judges’ efforts to diversify the entries. Henceforth I will never worry about the insularity of the writing world, or the genre writing world in particular, because I am now fully cognisant of how many Archibalds are self-portraits, & how many other Archibalds (namely, almost all of them) are of fellow _artists_.
As usual, I wondered what did NOT make it into the Archibalds. I think I heard once there was a counter-Archibalds exhibition for the rejected paintings. I must ask around & see if that’s true.
I found more to love in the Australian Photographic Portrait Prize, though unfortunately it seems the pictures aren’t up online. In particular, John Kiely’s Tameka (Terminal), a picture of a girl with a terminal illness that has sent her blind as one of its more minor symptoms (I apologise for not noting what it was afflicting her) was an affecting piece. Says Kiely, he erased part of the photo to bring out her facial features & give the sense of those blind eyes staring into despair. By the time we see this photo in the exhibition, Tameka has already died. She has been wholly erased. But the artist’s choices in what he will & won’t erase lead, somehow, to a stronger ‘truth’ (it *is* despair on her face), despite the dishonesty of his method (ie. choosing what makes it into his photographic presentation … the camera never lies? I think not).
In other news: I’m keeping up with the happenings over in Madison at The Happiest Feminist Genre Con in the World: Wiscon. You, too, can find all the news & insights fit to blog over at: http://www.technorati.com/tag/wiscon.
I’m mad keen to make it to Wiscon in 2006. Wiscon has the hugest amount of positive press of any con I’ve come across (thank-you, larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, Ellen Klages, & others). Naturally, it’s not an event to suit everyone, but I’ve got a strong suspicion it might suit me. Fingers crossed I get to find out next year.