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by Andy Miah, PhD

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Liminal Body

An exhibition that brings together a range of my interests - posthuman, Olympic, body modification. Seems it was from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games



The Liminal Body
8 September - 15 October, 2000

Tue - Sun: 11.00am - 6.00pm
Galleries One and Two

Jon Baturin
Farrell & Parkin
Sue Fox
Dieter Huber
Bill Jacobson
Diana Thorneycroft

Curated by Alasdair Foster

At a time when the eyes of the world is glued to images of the body pressed to its athletic extreme, the Australian Centre for Photography presents an exhibition that explores other corporeal limits through the provocative and uncompromising work of seven photo-artists from Australia, Austria, Canada, UK and USA.

The Olympic Games play out the apollonian tradition of a healthy mind/spirit housed within, and finding physical representation through the fit healthy functioning body. As a political event the Olympics take this tradition and applies it to the state - the healthy body, striving for supremacy in the sporting arena becomes an emblem of state identity and a metaphor for spiritual (and political) wellbeing (if not ascendancy).

The Liminal Body explores the bacchic obverse of the apollonian Olympic paradigm - looking to other equally (perhaps more) human limits. The body on the brink of life/death; the dysfunctional body; the visceral reality of flesh and blood; the corporal as it shades into the spiritual; the sensate as it merges into the virtua

From medieval medical machinery to virtual 'genital modification'; from the cadaver to the spiritual; from the catharsis of nightmare to the control of meaning: The Liminal Body presents challenging work that imaginatively explores the limits of human bodily experience.

The Symposium Death Dysfunction and the Olympic Ideal further explored these issues.

One-Day Symposium
Death Dysfunction and The Olympic Ideal

A Symposium complementing the exhibition The Liminal Body presented by the Australian Centre for Photography and the University of New South Wales at the College of Fine Arts 9th September 2000
Venue

Lecture Theatre E block
University of New South Wales at the College of Fine Arts, Paddington
Enter off Selwyn Street

Program

Set against the background of the Sydney Olympics and taking a radical and provocative alternative approach to physical extremity, this one-day symposium will explore the challenging issues raised by the work of the seven artists showing in the ACP exhibition The Liminal Body. With an international, cross-disciplinary panel of speakers, subjects addressed will range from Rabelais's Gargantua to postmodern health neuroses; from the mortician's slab to the priest's alter; from the visceral to the virtual.

Following the keynote presentation the day will be divided into three sessions:

* Malady and Viscerality
* Dissolution and Spirituality
* Phantasm and Virtuality

Abstracts

Keynote

Dr. Kit Messham-Muir (Australia)
No Gold for Gargantua

My presentation will begin with a brief excerpt from the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald about a race involving Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim. The story reads like a piece of erotic fiction - it's very funny. Then I'll briefly talk about the way in which the City of Sydney itself is being promoted to the world as a classically ideal 'body' - which is efficient, pushed to its capacity, times and homogeneous - physically and psychologically. From that I'll lead into the classical tradition of this body and compare it with the more heterogeneous notions of the body in medieval culture as seen through the novels of François Rabelais. While the Western Enlightenment philosophy that followed reimposed a notion of the body more aligned with that of Classicism, this model of a problematised 'Rabelaisian' body has made something of resurgence with this faltering of grand narratives of modernity. I'll finish by looking briefly at the ways in which this notion of the body has been dealt with in recent art such as that of Andres Serrano, Patricia Piccinini, Adam Cullen (in his pre-Archibald career) and the artists showing in The Liminal Body.

Kit Messham-Muir is a lecturer in Art History and Theory at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW. He has a PhD in Art History and Theory from the University of NSW and a Bachelor of Visual Arts first class from Sydney College of the Arts. He lectures on a wide range of cultural subjects including pornography, grunge and the loser aesthetic.

Session One: Malady and Viscerality

Jon Baturin (Canada)
Myths about Ends

Hope and the 'ideology of care' define my philosophic position. The ideas behind the works I produce arise from observations of a world in turmoil. We see the breakdown of systems or ideas (the body / philosophical ideologies / societal justice) through processes of corruption, negligence, or decay. There is also a dominant reference to bodily dysfunction throughout the work. Life sometimes deals us some cruel blows. In some cases we cease to be healthy. In others we cease to be idealistic. Most difficult of all - we (or those whom we love) live and die tragically. "Enemies Within" uses chaos and flesh. "The Myths cycle" acknowledges chaos, fear & flesh. The resulting combination of portraits, figures and medical imagery produces discomforting juxtapositions. However neither the subjects nor the anatomical representations are themselves unaesthetic. There is an unsettling kind of beauty. There is dignity. And there is hope.

Jon Baturin is an artist and Associate Professor and Program Director Photography & Explorations at York University, Canada. He has a Master of Fines Arts from Glasgow School of Art (Scotland), an advance diploma in photography and print media from the Emily Carr College of Art, Vancouver and a BA in psychology and sociology from the University of Victoria, Canada. He has exhibited widely overseas and curated a number of exhibitions in Canada and Europe. His critical writings have been published in North America and Europe.

Victoria Ryan (Australia)
The Art of Living Well: A Hypochondriac's Guide


In recent years the Olympic ideal of eternal youth has been given scientific credibility by futurists who argue that we will soon see the last mortal generation. In keeping with such predictions, utopian medical narratives no longer represent aging and death as inevitable, but as diseases to be cured, through technological intervention and the erasure of visible signs of degeneration. Thus, the 'art of living well' emerges in popular health advice as a series of (im)possible, strategies for cheating death and staying young.

Victoria Ryan is currently completing a PhD at the School of Art History and Theory, University of NSW at the College of Fines Arts (COFA) entitled The Anatomy Lesson: Photography, Eugenics and Physical Culture in Australia 1900-1950. She has worked as a lecturer and tutor at COFA since 1996. Her research interests include public health photography, medical illustration, popular health advice, organ transplants and aesthetic surgery.

Michael Wardell (Australia)
Ailment, argot, and artifice in the work of Farrell & Parkin

This talk will give a very brief outline of the development of Farrell & Parkin's work from Film Noir 1985 to Traces of the Flood 1999/2000. It will concentrate on the two themes that have dominated the work of the 1990's; that of secret language and that of sickness. It will discuss their extensive use of fiction and artifice to explore notions of strength/weakness, beauty/horror, sickness/health, benefaction/torture etc.

Curatorial Services Coordinator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales since 1998. Previously Director of Michael Wardell Gallery (13 Verity Street), 1986-97, a curator at The Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1978-1986 and at Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1976-1978. Farrell & Parkin were represented in Victoria by Michael Wardell Gallery 1994-97.

He has curated numerous exhibitions including Photography: The Last Ten Years. Australian National Gallery at Australian National University, 1980, Iskustvo: Recent Soviet Paintings, Linden Gallery & 13 Verity Street (followed by Regional tour) 1990 and (with Tony Bond) Ken Unsworth, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998. He also curated the photography exhibition My City of Sydney, which is currently showing at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He has written numerous articles and catalogue essays including Farrell & Parkin: Black Room. Encontros Da Imagem. 10 Anos. Associação Cultural de Fotografia e Cinema de Braga. Portugal, 1996, and has lectured extensively throughout Australia.

Session Two: Dissolution and Spirituality

Rebecca Scott Bray (Australia)
Sensing Death: The chiaroscuro of touch in the mortuary photography of Sue Fox

This talk engages with the mortuary photography of British artist Sue Fox. Fox's images melt flashes of death and fragments of texture into a language for viewing death that is resonant with the artist's meditation and Buddhist faith. How long is our dying, how deep is our life? What questions are posed by the flesh: of the viewer, of the dead body? Moving these bodies into gallery spaces, and therefore public consideration, Sue Fox presents the viewer with an accumulation of decompositions. Here, photography releases the image as a chant, as the artist states "of what is, what was ... a song".

Rebecca Scott Bray is completing a PhD in the Department of Criminology at the University of Melbourne. She has a Master of Criminology from the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney and a BA with honours from the Australian National University. She has presented a number of papers on law, culture and the imagination at conferences in Australia, USA and UK.

Kirk Huffman (UK/USA)
Malakula and Kaggaba: The 'Living Dead' and the 'Dead Living'

This illustrated presentation will contrast the attitudes to death in two specific and far spread cultures: the people of southern Malakula Island in Vanuatu and the "last surviving pre-Colombian civilisation", the Kaggaba (also known as the Kogi) of Colombia. Based upon his research in Vanuatu from 1973 - 2000 and his trip to Colombia in 1992, Kirk Huffman will outline the attitudes to the body and to death in these two cultures, setting them against their individual cosmologies. The southern Malakulans believe that the dead live among them as 'travelling spirits'. They smoke the bodies of deceased males shortly after death and eventually over-model the skulls to honour the likenesses of the departed as a way of representing that closeness. The Kaggaba live high on a vast mountain in northern Colombia which they believe to be the heart of the world. Their whole social order is focused upon supporting their Sun Priests in their spiritual rites, which they believe sustain all life throughout the world. The Kaggaba believe that what we call 'life' is a form of death and that it is only when one passes from this world that one truly lives. Consequently when their priests reach the age of 90 years and their work is considered to be over, they can ask to be buried alive and so move into the new and more real life to which they aspire.

Kirk Huffman is an anthropologist/ethnologist and currently Visiting Fellow in the Anthropology Division of the Australian Museum. He was Curator at the National Museum of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu from 1977-89 and continues to hold that position in an honorary capacity. He studied Social Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistoric Archaeology at the Universities of Newcastle, Oxford and Cambridge in England from 1966-77 receiving a BA Hons in Anthropology and a Postgraduate Diploma in Ethnology. He has advised on the making of 36 anthropological television documentaries including David Attenborough's 'Man blong kastom' [BBC2/PBS 1975]. He was one of the authors and editors of Arts of Vanuatu [Crawford House Press 1996]. Mr Huffman will be leaving again for Vanuatu and Southern Malakula shortly after this lecture.

Alasdair Foster (Australia)
Songs of Sentient Beings

This presentation will trace the development of Bill Jacobson's work during the 90s, from the earlier works addressing his intense sense of loss as AIDS and HIV began to take friends and community from him [Interim Portraits] to the more resigned images of his later work [Thought Series]. I will go on to explore his attempt to create a visual equivalent for the fading of substance and the more hopeful evoking of a notion of the 'trace'.

Alasdair Foster is the director of the Australian Centre for Photography and the curator of The Liminal Body. He has a BSc in physics, history of science and modern theatre from the University of Edinburgh. He was the founding director of Fotofeis, the international biennale of photo-based arts in Scotland and curator of the seminal exhibition, Behold the Man that toured Europe and North America. He has a background in film, commercial and art photography, art criticism and publishing.

Session Three: Phantasm and Virtuality

Diana Thorneycroft (Canada)
The Body: Its Lesson and Camouflage

I work in total darkness. I lock the aperture of my camera open and using only a torch I illuminate my body, the props and environment I have prepared for each private performance. What is recorded on film is always a surprise as my body has a language of its own, a language that my conscious mind does not always speak let alone fully comprehend. My discussion will focus on the body, its expression of suffering and the darker aspects of the unconscious mind that have been fundamental to my work for many years.

Diana Thorneycroft is an artist and Adjunct Professor at the University of Manitoba, Canada. She has an MA in Art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA Hons in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba. She has exhibited widely internationally and her work has featured in a number of documentaries on CBC TV.

Maurice Whelan (Australia)
Psychoanalysis and The Creative Imagination

This paper explores the need for self-representation through play, dreams, art and through emotional contact with fellow human beings. It will address the place of the creative imagination as a transformative agent within the practice of psychoanalysis. In exploring these ideas I will demonstrate how my thinking draws inspiration both from the psychoanalytic body of knowledge and from literature.

Maurice Whelan studied philosophy, theology and sociology in Ireland. He trained as a social worker in England and worked as a field social worker and as a psychiatric social worker in Child Guidance. He has an MA in Criminology and Social Policy. He trained as a psychoanalyst in London and is member of the British and Australian Psychoanalytic Societies. Since 1992 he has lived and worked in Sydney. His book Mistress of Her Own Thoughts was published in July by Rebus press.

Dieter Huber (Austria)
Body Unlimited

In his cycle KLONES (1994-1999) Dieter Huber worked on options for genetic engineering and questions of manipulation in general. In connection with social context, gender, political statement, technology and art history he developed metaphorical computer-aided images. In selected works the artist will illustrate his operating method and question the future of the human being in time of 'life sciences'.

Dieter Huber is an artist living and working in Salzburg, Austria. He studied stage and costume design at the Mozarteum University, Salzburg. He has exhibited regularly in Europe in over 25 solo and 40 group exhibitions and his work is the subject of several monographs.

Live Internet links to artist Sue Fox in the UK and Farrell & Parkin in China will further extend the discussion.

The Symposium will be formally launched by Little Johnny (formerly Pauline Pantsdown, aka Simon Hunt) taking time from his gruelling millennial Olympic program to bestow a prime ministerial blessing on the event "and perhaps a small apology".

Symposium coordinated by Alasdair Foster (ACP) and Lynne Roberts Goodwin and Peter McNeil (UNSW at COFA) Internet coordinator Ricky Cox

Image Credits:

• Dieter Huber, Klone #31, 1994-95
• Sue Fox, Untitled, 1997
• Diana Thorneycroft, Untitled (bridle), 1998
• Farrell & Parkin, After the Flood, 2000
• Jon Baturin, Enemies Within #2, 1992
• Bill Jacobson, Song of Sentient Beings #1612, 1995 Courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery, New York

link to site

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