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Fresh Work IV: Actualities

by Dr. James Murphy

Excerpted from Fresh Work IV: Actualities - New Photographic Art Engaging the Themes of Representation, Reality and Illusion, Southeast Museum of Photography, May 18 - Sept 3 2004.

"As we entered the post-structuralist period, the signifier no longer had any archaic obligation to refer to the signified, much less to the referent. Meaning was dispersed, decentered, present and to some degree absent. Truth or reality was called into question, as were the modes of representing it, and the individual artist was seen less as a producer than as a product of systems. The work of art itself was less an expression of originality and artistic intention than the result of appropriation, re-contexturalization and deconstruction, words we have come to recognize as part of the post-modern mantra.

These are some of the basic ground rules to keep in mind when viewing the photographs of Lorna Bieber and Kathryn Dunlevie, who take the post-modern image to a dramatic stage..."

"…I began by stating that several of the artists in past fresh Work shows have attempted to crate a new way of perceiving and expressing the experience of contemporary life. This seems to be the concern of Kathryn Dunlevie in the current show. In her own words she records the 'ceaseless bombardment' of shifting images caught in the maelstrom of urban life. Her work has been compared to Cubism, especially (it seems to me) Leger's mechanized abstractions of the industrial city. More appropriate ancestral roots are the constructivist montages of El Lissitsky and Alexander Rodchenko, or even the Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn.

John Szarkowski, in his book, Photography Until Now, listed linear perspective among the intellectual tools contributing to the modern world's system of rational space, and to the progressive invention of photography. This collective effort of western civilization towards depicting a heightened sense of reality eventually allowed us to grid the world and to fix ourselves within the grid. The camera, which so faithfully indexed the world, eventually transformed the manner by which we understand and relate to the world. In an age of electronic and digital communication, mediated experiences and simulacra have supplanted reality itself. In contrast to the 'undivided, indivisible visual field'* bequeathed to us from the Renaissance, Dunlevie's painted photocollages express a perfect universe of hyperreality and multilocality, devoid of authenticity or pictorial logic, a labyrinth of colliding signifiers without referents.

One may argue that the modern metropolis has long been presented in critical thought as the realm of 'flux, hyperstimulation, phantasmagoria, and alienation.'** In recent decades photographers have devised various strategies to document the urban environment, from the conceptualists Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari, to the new topographers, such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore and Lewis Baltz. The more recent work of Andreas Gursky, moreover, raises the possibility that the commoditized environment he captures is itself staged, that, "one cannot make a clear distinction between the representation between a staged reality and an image that is independent of reality.***

The work of both Dunlevie and Gursky may be compared to the Carceri d'Invenzione (Prisons of the Imagination) of Piranesi, those fantastic, visionary dungeons filled with mysterious towers, bridges leading nowhere, and an irrational spatial perspective. Like these, Dunlevie's paintings are works of the imagination, even though they retain certain aspects of depicted reality…they continue to question the relationship of image to reality in contemporary photography."

*John Szarkowski, Photography Until Now, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1989, p. 19.

**Steven Jacobs, Andreas Gursky: Photographer of the Generic City, Exposure, Vol. 37:1, 2004, p. 25.

***Ibid., p 27.

KATHRYN  DUNLEVIE                                                                  CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLAGE

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