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July 20, 2014 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Julia Holden’s Remains

Julia Holden’s Remains
30 Upstairs, until 2 August

It took me a long time to warm to David Hockney’s photomontages. It may be that before I met Hockney, I met the fervid, but ultimately piddling, attempt of some 16-year-old to emulate him to meet NCEA Level 2 course requirements. Or perhaps because I associate my first meeting with Hockney with an age of full-body acne and chronic masturbation. They were messy, I thought. Something juvenile, something about their pasting together, something resembling a scrapbook.

In a 1984 interview with Lawrence Weschler, Hockney recalls his ambivalent relationship with the camera. Upon learning that the photograph didn’t necessarily demand a rectangular frame, nor did it demand a single moment frozen, Hockney remembers a sense of exhilaration. “It takes time to see these pictures… these pictures came closer to how we actually see.” There’s a sense of motion to Hockney’s images. There’s no discernable focal point; the eye moves up, and down, and across, and is allowed time to make sense of things.

Julia Holden’s paintings take a while.

The promotional image for her current exhibition is taken from a series called The Philosopher. A pale woman against a brown background smokes a cigarette. Holden’s lines are hazy, her figures somehow cartoonish, and, upon first glance, bear something pubescent, like Hockney’s grasping at profundity, a solid Merit at best.

Holden’s Philosopher, though, in some way offers a response to Rodin’s Thinker, and, more generally, a tradition in art of indulging the figure of male ‘savant’. Her pose is open, the positioning of her hand indicative of a deliberate femininity; her gaze is restless, but never meets the viewer’s. On the wall opposite the series of four paintings is a washed-out cream canvas, with an impression of the woman burned into it – like rayograph, or an LCD screen.

Holden’s practice is one of building up. The paintings that make up each series are the remains of between 500 and 1000 oil paint frames that together constitute three-to-four-minute silent films. Viewed in sequence, Holden’s paintings become an examination of the painting as an autonomous object, a meditation on the creative process, of formation as destruction.

In the room beside The Philosopher is The Muse, a single portrait adjacent to a screen playing a three-minute film of its composition. Holden’s subversion of art historical narratives is perhaps obvious, but it’s effective. The Muse paints herself. Using the frame as a mirror, the viewer enters into an uneasy relationship with her formation. She layers and re-layers herself, adorns herself in lipstick and eye shadow, adjusts her jawline. The result is something almost discomfiting. Tonally, The Muse is a slightly sickly green.

There’s a violence to Holden’s work. But it’s not the masculine violence of abstract expressionism, in which the product is an excavation of process. Holden is more calculated. The paintings on show, even in the language used to refer to them – as remainders – suggest the artist takes on a role of curator, allowing the viewer to freeze particular moments of a moving whole. This violence manifests itself most evidently in Holden’s depiction of men. Two male portraits are featured in the exhibition; one, titled The Painter, complements The Muse, presented as its opposite, with a single oil painting adjacent to a film. The other, 38 Days, is larger in scope, with oil stills taking up three walls of one of the rooms, leading to a monitor in the bottom corner. Both men are pictured in a similar ritual of adornment as The Muse. The difference, however, is that the male ritual is one of violence. Shaving, or the disfiguration of the body, takes a central role in these works. Both men engage in an act of removal in order to best present themselves. In the top corner of 38 Days is a burnt impression similar to the one featured in The Philosopher. This image is repeated in the corresponding film, appearing at the end. The subject surveys his work, using the frame as a mirror, reaches out and wipes himself away. Holden seems to suggest that representation itself is an act of violence against the subject.

Hockney’s photomontages disrupt the perspective of the image, allowing for an examination of the subject that seems dynamic. They seem to invite us in, to allow for a consideration that mirrors the way we examine three-dimensional works. We bend down, we circulate, we try to consume as much as we can. In a way, Holden reverses this. The viewer is locked in position, but the subject is able to move in and around the pictorial space. The inclusion of remainders allows for an extended consideration of a single moment – for the possibility of scrutiny, of an understanding – but their lack, the understanding that what is on show constitutes only a fraction of what has been produced, renders apparent the presence of someone controlling what can be seen.

 

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