Friday 25 May 2012

Review of 'I Love You' at Tenderpixel

'I Love You'
11 May – 16 June 2012

What does it mean to say “I love you”? And what qualifies someone to say it? When do they know for sure that it is actually love that they are feeling, and not just strong affection, attraction, or lust?

The current group photography show at Tenderpixel, curated by Richard Ansett, explores just this question, taking the work of five artists, who each approach the subject from their own unique perspective, but whose responses, nevertheless, share common traits, reinforcing the fact that love, whatever it may be, is something of a universal phenomenon.

19-year-old Grace Brown’s Gillian Wearing-esque photograph of a girl holding up a sign saying “I love you” is, superficially, the simplest. The only one-piece work in the show, it greets the visitor as he enters the gallery. Dig a little deeper, however, and all is not as it might seem. The work comes from a series called Project Unbreakable, in which Brown asked victims of sexual abuse to write a quote from their attacker on to a poster and hold it up. She claims to be using photography as a means to “help heal.” As Ansett explains, with regards to his choice of photography as the medium for tackling this theme: “The power – indeed, the danger – of photography is in its closeness to depriving us of reality. Simple acceptance of what we see only masks the deep issues that direct its core subject matter.”

Uttering “I love you” as part of a ritual of hate and hurt is something which is usually resonant in Natasha Caruana’s works as well, where she focuses on betrayal and deception within marriage. For this exhibition, however, she has produced a set of small wedding photographs, Fairytale For Sale, where the faces are scribbled or blotted out, and the purpose is to advertise the dress for sale. This might either be interpreted as a melancholy reflection of the temporal nature of any earthly union, of which the white dress, so costly, yet worn for just one short day, is a symbol of this transience, or, conversely, it might be seen as a sign of lifelong commitment, for better or worse, with the dress rendered redundant, since the marriage bond will last for eternity. Perhaps it’s a case of your glass being either half empty or half full when you look at the pictures?

Certainly there is cause to be feeling a little low whilst perusing the photographs on display here, since the remaining works all centre on the theme of loss, either of oneself, or of the person to whom the title statement is addressed. Andre Penteado’s two poignant works – a series of 36 “portraits” of clothes hangers, and an hour-long film documentary with relatives talking about their loss and the process of grief following the suicide of a loved one – are part of a larger body of work called Dad’s Suicide, and stem from his personal experience of the trauma. The visual of the film focuses on the clasped hands of the various narrators, wringing together and fidgeting, fingers tightly interlocked, a clear sign of the pent up emotions and pain behind the brave face they are putting on as they speak of acceptance and trying to remember only the good times. Is this what love is? Grief and loss? Something which is only truly recognised too late in the day?

A realisation of one’s own mortality is reflected in EJ Major’s 12 part mug shot series, Marie Claire RIP, in which the artist restages the NYPD photographs of an unnamed woman, over a 14 year period, as she succumbed to her heroin addiction, and ultimately died. The original images, which appeared in an article in Marie Claire in 2002, formed part of an anti heroin campaign. Major’s version, in which she herself takes on the triple role of model, photographer, and retoucher, grew out of a desire to memorialise an unnamed person, as well as out of her own fear of death. The sad demise and lonely anonymity of this woman are a harsh reflection of the emptiness which one can experience in the absence of love, but, at the same time, Major’s wish to remember her is perhaps suggestive of a type of agape love, or love of one’s fellow human being.

Lastly, Pete McGovern’s Trespass consists of a small selection of six photographs, from a series of thousands, of building site images he has taken over the past couple of years. McGovern, who describes himself as “male to female gender dysphoric,” reflects, in the broken concrete, dug up and churned ground, and piles of rubble, the remains of a previous existence, a grave, and a birth site for a new life – a life filled with love for and acceptance of oneself – for in the words of the song, perhaps that truly is the greatest love of all.


Grace Brown
'I LOVE YOU' from Project Unbreakable (2011-)

Andre Penteado
Dad's Hangers (2007-11) 

EJ Major
Marie Claire RIP (2007)

Pete McGovern
Trespass (2011–)

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