Friday, February 24, 2012

The French Connection is traveling across Virginia to a number of noted galleries and public spaces, most recently at the Linden Row Inn, a 1708 Gallery Satellite Exhibition and at Artspace, a non-profit gallery @ Plant Zero in Richmond, VA

Please visit this link to read a brief, but positive review of the Artspace show and this link to see installation photos of the exhibition.

The French Connection consists of a group of artists from the United States and abroad who’ve established studio practice for an extended period of time at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, France.  These extraordinary residencies function as a cultural and creative bridge between the known and the unknown in a place, which transcends politics, where the most common language is art.   Artists interact on a global stage in Paris where the history is tangible.  It is a physical time portal:  a grand promenade of the past, present and future for anyone with the curiosity and incentive to look in all directions.  The work created by each artist in this exhibition filled their atelier in Paris like a dreamlike vacuum.  This exhibition, like a portal, transports us from the Seine, which runs along the Cite Internationale des Artes, from the distant past to our present.

Participating Artists for the FC II:  Mark Baldridge (Virginia) / Irene Barberis (Australia) / Hafis Bertschinger (Switzerland) / Ruth Bolduan (Virginia) / Lia Cook (California) / Dean Dass (Virginia) / Marinda Du Toit (South Africa) / Elisabeth Flynn-Chapman (Virginia) / Sandra Gil (Portugal) / Reni Gower (Virginia) / Brian Kreydatus (Virginia) / Maria Miranda (Australia) / Norie Neumark (Australia) / Amie Oliver (Virginia) /Michael Pinsky / (Great Britain) / Niloofar Rahnama (Iran) / Sally Rees (Tasmania) / Chuck Scalin (Virginia) / Diana Seeholzer (Switzerland) / Lisa Tubach (Virginia) / Lester Van WInkle (Virginia) / Yvette Watt (Tasmania) and more!

For a birds eye view of artists working in Paris at the Cite Internationale des Arts visit this link.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sally Rees (Tasmania)

Listen to Harry Kollatz read one of Sally Rees' A PACK OF LIES: Lie 11

The primary purpose of my arrival in Paris seven and a half years ago was to collaborate with Canadian filmmaker and fellow lapsed Catholic, Toni-Lynn Frederick.  We had met and become fast friends in Vancouver, Canada 4 years earlier.  TL was working on a PhD in the UK at the time and it we managed to orchestrate this meeting, somewhere between our two homes (I live in Tasmania, Australia) quite successfully.

She joined me in Paris and we travelled together to Lourdes (in it’s off season), shot black and white reversal super-8 film, ate at the same mixed-asian restaurant every night, drank, argued about the Catholic church and discussed our experiences growing up within it and tried to record as much of this as possible. We collected 2 large 4 litre jugs of the famous Lourdes water and carried them with us back to Paris where TL taught me to hand-process reversal movie film in chemistry we mixed up with the water we had transported. The film when processed, turned out to be a divine blue-on-blue rather than black and white, like the blue of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s robe.  TL assured me that this sometimes happened in hand-processing, but I prefer to think of it as our personal Lourdes miracle. We planned to call whatever we made with what we had done,The Pilgrims.

I have tried many times in the years since to turn what we have, the film and recordings, into SOMETHING.  I edited together a short video piece soon after but it left me unsatisfied. I have screened short loops of the film (the crown on the Basilica, the ring of stone lambs just a few hundred metres away) for a couple of exhibitions but nothing seemed an appropriate use of this material.

Even prior to being invited to exhibit here, I had made a resolution for 2012 to resolve this work. This exhibition and it’s collision in timing with a local symposium on socially engaged and relational artworks at which I was speaker, exhibitor and audience suddenly made something clear to me - The Pilgrims WAS the trip.  I couldn’t make the work because we had already made it.

I now plan to create a blog to document The Pilgrims, pulling together letters, diary entries, film, video and photographs to act as coda to the project but this has not yet happened so I offer up instead, two small film stills from the project, that I have, rather unimaginatively. titled Two Nuns and Three Nuns respectively (lets date them 2004 - 12) each blessed by me with some of what remains of the Lourdes water. I kept some in a Mary-shaped bottle. As well as ‘rebirthing’ the images, this kind of treatment/abuse of prints has since become somewhat of a signature for me.

The Pilgrims took up one month of a four month residency and while there were brief visits from my husband, some other family and from Europe based friends, for much of the time I was lonely. I suffer periodically from both agora and social phobias and I was gripped by both while resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts. I also drank very heavily.

The video Encore was shot in my studio over an afternoon and night, as I sang along repeatedly to an aria from  Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers that had continually brought me some comfort while simultaneously breaking my heart, Je Croix Entende Encore.  The first take was performed sober, and subsequent takes performed as I consumed a sequence of martinis. The drunken take used was after about 9, but in actuality I continued to drink until I collapsed and had a little blackout on the  marble floor of my studio. I had hoped that some great truth might be revealed in the comparison.  You know that old furphy that you always tell the truth when you are drunk?  This video suggests it is a lie. While sober me is reserved but open, drunk me is a game-playing showoff. She looks like a liar to me.

I’m glad now that when I met our curator Amie Oliver at the Cité I was sober.  She and another Australian artist, Eugenia Raskopoulos ambushed and commandeered me as a fellow body to storm the Australian embassy and crash an exhibition opening there in protest of the fact that we were not invited. These two women tore me from my solitude and ensured that my last month there was not so lonely, nor wasted. We three linked arms and together crashed more events, drank hot chocolate, walked in the snow and adored Paris together. I will always be grateful for their friendship.

From the distant to the recent, A Pack of Lies is my first artwork made for podcast and incorporates the voices of both our curator, Amie and her partner Harry Kollatz Jr. (who I was lucky to meet in Paris also) who volunteered as two of the sixteen readers of alternate biographies of my life. Biographies borrowed from film-stars, musicians and sportspeople. It was always important to me that the lies were openly declared as such and so I assembled a selection of readers who knew me personally.  I am not a good liar or a happy one and can only tell lies if I also confess immediately. How very Catholic, I imagine you thinking. Someone told me recently of this work They know it’s not true. I can hear the smiles in their voices. I think I’m happiest when friends give in to my vision and join me in a quest for the ridiculous. This was just such a project.

My time in Paris tore me down and filled me up again and was entirely instrumental to my continuing body of work that has continued as an an investigation of identity and the self.  It was a time where I learnt new skills in both craft and diplomacy and was given the opportunity not only to meet with friends and collaborators old and new but to also be truly with myself in a completely messy and exploratory but ultimately constructive way. And all surrounded by the greatest beauty I could ever imagine.

January 2012

Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda (Australia)

Searching for rue Simon-Crubellier is a video/sound installation, which is part of a cross media project that also includes the Internet site The 4th Floor. The project was begun in Paris in 2004 while doing a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. The work takes as a point of departure the experience of being Australians in Paris and reading George Perec’s book Life a User’s Manual. In this book Perec creates a puzzle of a novel set in a building located in the 17th arrondissement of Paris at number 11 rue Simon-Crubellier.

Searching for rue Simon-Crubellier is a process-based, interdisciplinary and conceptual work. It is an actual search for an imaginary place -- exploring actual and imagined relations to place. In searching for rue Simon-Crubellier, the work poses the question: is it possible to bring something that does not exist into existence by searching for it?

In the first part of the work we ‘performed’ the encounters of Australian travellers in a foreign place looking for a particular street. We set out from the Cité and began our search in the 17th arrondissement by stopping strangers in the street to ask directions. “Excuse me, we’re looking for rue Simon-Crubellier.” Like most searches there was a mixed response, especially as our search entailed a microphone and small video camera. We were directed to one official location after another – the local council, the national archives, the library of maps, the planning department etc, until a month later, we ended up at Sully Morland, one block from the Cité, at the department in charge of map-making for all of Paris. Even more uncanny than the physical full circle of this search journey was discovering that the person in charge of that office had been a neighbour of Perec’s, who ate lunch with him regularly.

To help us with our search we asked Marcel Bénabou the Permanent Provisional Secretary ofOuLiPo for help and advice. Our search also raised some interest with French radio –two Australians, coming from so far away to look for an imaginary street in Paris. The French internet radio station ArteRadiointerviewed us and even followed us around the 17th one evening.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Cité Internationale des Arts and The MacDowell Colony.

Sandra Gil / Portugal

Drawing and spatial gesture are the principal points in my artwork. It is is an attitude of balance. I find myself working between two and three dimensions - lines within space - where I research rhythm and pattern and exploit their primordial possibilities. 

These interests are explored and developed in various media and locations. My work utilizes installation, drawing, photography and video for exhibitions in Switzerland, Ireland, France and Portugal. During January of 2011 I was awarded a fellowship via the Institut Français  to continue my research at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris.

Chuck Scalin (Virginia, USA)

As a photographer, my focus is on documenting the visual landscape of our urban environment. While in Paris I was inspired by the surface textures and colors that provided the creative impetus  for a new series of images. Scanning walls and the pavement around me, I documented details that are often just a few inches of concrete or painted surface. After these details are enlarged to a substantial size, they are dramatically transformed into an abstract composition that transcends their ordinary origins.

In the series, Unsung Views of Paris, I captured scavenged details in my camera that would have probably gone unnoticed or have been ignored by the casual passerby.  In 2008, a suite of 15 images from this series were exhibited at Ghostprint Gallery in Richmond and in 2009, the entire series of 30 (24"x36") images were exhibited at Gallery Sandoz + Weill at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. Four photos from an earlier series of images are represented in the collection of Capitol One.

Lia Cook / California, USA

I work in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology. My current practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth. Working in collaboration with neuroscientists, I am investigating the nature of the emotional response to woven faces by mapping in the brain these responses.  I use the laboratory experience with both process and tools to stimulate new work in reaction to these investigations. I am interested in both the scientific study as well as my artistic response to these unexpected sources, exploring the territory between scientific investigation and artistic interpretation. 

In one response, I have included in a current traveling exhibition of my work a participatory behavioral study (voluntary). I will be collecting data for scientific analysis at the same time as my audience is engaging directly with the work. I will be looking at the nature of the emotional response to a woven face when compared to the original photograph.
My residency in Paris was a number of years ago (early 90's) although I have traveled and exhibited in France over the years. At the time of the residency I was working with similar concepts that I am today, that of touch, cloth and sensuality of the woven image. Much of my time was spent in Museums looking at the history of painting. I used details from paintings of different historical periods that show the touch of the hand on cloth or touch of cloth on the body. Several series of works growing from that research were "Point of Touch" and "Material Pleasures". A further series of draped cloths with images of hands touching cloth drawn from video stills titled "Presence-Absence" followed. Gradually I moved from parts of the body to faces.  The integration of a face or part of the face with the tactile woven translation brought a more intense emotional experience and it is the nature of that experience that I am currently exploring in the field of neuroscience.

As I continue to work with neuroscientists, I expect to find new ways to collaborate and new connections in our work.

Recently I began using DSI, Diffusion Spectrum Imaging of the brain and TrackVis software from Harvard to look at the fiber connections of communication between different parts of my brain and to integrate these fiber tracks with the actual fiber connections that make up the woven translation of an image.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brian Kreydatus / Virginia, USA

I have had two, two- month residencies at “La Cite” (2008, 2011).  The residencies have had a major impact on my work.

Paris’s museum and cultural holdings funcioned in much the same way one might use a library- to inspire and inform. Of particular importance to me during both residencies were the French and Dutch collections at the Louvre. I spent nearly every day drawing and from these paintings. In addition, the Courbet retrospective at the Grand Palais during my first residency had an enormous impact on me. His ability to paint both the specific and universal without losing the power of either expression- is a constant source of inspiration and challenge to my own pursuits. “Opening day night” was certainly influenced by my time with Courbet’s hunting pictures.

While I usually paint in oil, during both residencies I experimented with water-based media. During my last residency I painted solely with acrylic paint. There is a vast difference between oil and acrylic paint. The uninterrupted period of time allowed me to fully explore this non-toxic medium in a way that would have been very difficult at home. Acrylic is now a major part of my painting practice and has allowed me to explore painting domestic scenes at home which I hadn’t done before because of toxicity. “Last night” is from my experiments in Paris.

Elisabeth Flynn-Chapman / Virginia, USA

Staying in the Cite with no distractions or obligations gave me the freedom to think and compose.  This was the first time I was in Europe in the winter and had the chance to capture the winter light.  Each day as I went out with my camera I was able to channel the atmosphere of Paris into compositions that are both specific and abstract.   This opportunity became the axis of my work not only in Paris but in Moscow and London, Nimes and Berlin.     

Paris inspired me to look at old and familiar places with a new vision.  Modern Paris was new to me and places like La Defense thrilled me with its many compositional possibilities. My stay at the Cite was an experience which will continue to inspire me.

Dean Dass (Virginia, USA)

In March and April of 2007 I spent two months at the Virginia Atelier in the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. The atelier is on the banks of the Seine across from Île Saint Louis in the Marais. Quite nearby is the Musée Nationale Picasso. Inspired by many Picasso drawings on exhibition there, from the period late 1890s-1905, I drew incessantly for two months. My drawings are often small, delicate figurative drawings from Picasso’s Rose Period.; in many cases I have retained Picasso’s exact titles. These drawings have formed the basis of a number of my subsequent exhibitions; the period is Paris was so productive that I have had 10 solo exhibitions since the spring of 2007. In addition I was greatly inspired by the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder that I also saw in Paris. Picasso has likewise worked through Cranach’s influence. 

A number of my portrait drawings are free studies after Cranach. The tension in Cranach’s paintings of working in a genre something like “official court painting” is something I thought a lot about. How might that dilemma apply today, or really to any era? I question how much freedom an artist, any artist, working at any time, might really have. These kinds of questions allowed me to think in new ways about tradition and innovation. Somehow I needed to give myself special permission in order to be able to draw after an earlier master. Not that my drawings look particularly like the work of those masters. Perhaps it was just being in Europe, in Paris - where streets, buildings, museums, paintings – where everything is many centuries old, that provoked in me a different awareness of tradition. Also nearby in the Marais was the Musée Carnavalet where I spent a lot of time considering the history of Paris. Musée Carnavalet was full of engravings, lithographs and many other types of populist prints about events in the history of Paris. 

This was all an interesting new perspective on questions of High and Low in art, and on perspectives in printmaking that might be called on the one hand ‘the democratic multiple’ and on the other ‘the commodity fetish’. That conceptual space is where I work and teach, and this experience added a lot of nuance and depth to my thinking.
In these drawings the cloud fulfills a variety of tropes. It is ominous, threatening, falling; it functions as Nature’s reproach to mankind.  But clouds also soar, protect us and envelop us.

Mark Baldridge / Virginia, USA

Unable to write or speak French, and unable to use the telephone, while in Paris Baldridge had to rely on his crude junior high Latin skills, sign language and lots of exploration. Most days began with a walk in different directions, as he sought basic necessities, food, drink, art materials and technical services. It’s a very humbling experience to be in a grocery store looking at a cooler of dairy products and wondering whether a product was the desired coffee cream, or whether it was yogurt, low calorie yogurt, artificial yogurt, skim milk, 1% milk, 2% milk, soy milk, artificial cream, or half & half, etc. Thus, an example of almost everything for which he searched. Buying art materials was easier, but they were two to three times more expensive than in the U.S. In anticipation of his residency Baldridge brought a large case of acrylic paints and a sketchbook of designs, realizing he couldn’t possibly bring all the tools and materials to create jewelry or stained glass, let alone transport home the finished products. So, he concentrated on several acrylic paintings, something he hadn’t done in thirty years.

However, his residency in Paris, was a real “art vacation”, a concentrated period of time with few distractions. Paris is a fabulous city so full of light, space, grandeur, history and energy. Baldridge tried to capture this energy and light in his paintings which fused right into his design philosophy, and continues to have a major impact on his work. He titled his favorite painting “Paris 2002” full of energy and color. Like everyone else who has been to Paris, he vows to return.

Mark Baldridge has a B.S. degree in art education from State University College at Buffalo and a M.F.A. degree in metalsmithing and jewelry from Cranbrook Academy of Art, with a minor in design. He taught two years at the University of Evansville before coming to Longwood University in 1972, where he continues to teach jewelry, two and three dimensional design, wood, jewelry and stained glass classes. He has a strong focus on design and states all media is simply used to create designs, whether it be in paint and canvas, wood and glass or gold and precious stones. He says his biggest work of art is his house and surrounding land, which continues to evolve through the years.

Baldridge has participated in over 150 local, national and international exhibitions including at the Virginia Museum, the Mint Museum of Art, the Cite’ Internationale des Arts (in Paris) and the Vatican Museum (in Rome). He has received numerous awards such as Merit Award, “Goldsmiths '77”, Phoenix, AZ and University of Seattle;

First Prize, “3rd Biennial Lake Superior International Crafts Exhibition”, Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, Minnesota; and Most Creative Functional Design in any Media, “Tenth Biennial Crafts Exhibition”, Creative Crafts Council, Washington, DC. In addition, he has conducted 26 workshops in 14 states on jewelry or design at prestigious places like Arrowmont School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, Brookfield School of Crafts, Peters Valley Craftsmen and for organizations like Washington Goldsmiths Guild, Pennsylvania Society of Goldsmiths, Michigan silversmiths Guild, Southeast Region of the American Crafts Council and Florida Craftsmen. Also, he has organized and coordinated four American Crafts Council, Southeast Region conferences including coordinating the most recent one at Arrowmont School of Crafts in 2007.

In 1975 he created the first newsletter for the Society of North American Goldsmiths and served as its editor for five years as he quickly expanded it into a pamphlet (Golddust), then Goldsmiths Journal, and finally Metalsmith magazine. He continued to assist with Metalsmith for an additional five years as co-editor, associate editor and editorial advisory board as well as serving two four year terms on the society’s board of directors. Because of this, the society which had been floundering with a membership of less than a hundred, is now thousands of members strong and has continued to publish Metalsmith as a full color magazine for the past twenty years representing the society’s artistic achievements to the world. In 1982 he initiated and co-organized the "Founding Fathers of the U.S. Metalsmithing Movement" conference at Smithsonian Institution. For fourteen years, he also served as a book reviewer for Jewelers Circular Keystone, the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) largest commercial jewelry magazine. In 1999 he presented the keynote address at the Association of Virginia Artisans’ conference in Fredericksburg. Currently he serves as the Virginia representative and treasurer for American Crafts Council-Southeast and the coordinator of the Virginia atelier at the Cite’ Internationale des Arts in Paris.

For the past several years, all his art projects have revolved around his house. It has involved building three towers, benches, fences, decks, pools and more, using wood, stained glass, glass blocks, stained glass windows, light panels, mirrors and aluminum in dynamic and creative ways to play with the element of light. Baldridge has personally designed and built at least half of this house. The most recent stained glass panel (created with the assistance of two former students) is more than ten feet high and two feet wide, and mounted on one side of an exterior chimney. His background in jewelry and love of color and light, can be seen throughout the house and grounds. He is now designing and creating two more stained glass windows, which will serve as transitional caps sitting atop vertical strips of glass blocks. When the house is finally completed, it will represent his abilities as a craftsmen, and a dynamic example of his teaching and design philosophies, a true work of art.

Niloofar Rahnama (Iran)

I was born in an old district of Tehran in the winter of 1976. Having two working parents, my childhood was mostly spent on solitary games and daydreaming, creating an imaginary picture of my mother, to whom I felt an endless love, and roaming around my little sister. Love, light, and labor have been the main pillars of my family beliefs. I was yet three when the streets of Tehran were heaped by the clenched fists of the revolutionists, and soon arrived the freedom my father's generation were longing for. By the age of 11 and under the nightly terrifying bombardments we struggled to survive in the pitch black basement. The lights and shadows reflected on my mother's agitated face. While at school, covering my femininity and hiding the feeling of being a woman was always among the most indispensable principles. Meanwhile, my parents were trying their best to create an opening to the outer world and its hidden realities since beyond the closed school gates in Iran we were not able to realize them on our own. One of these realities was art. I heard my dad say how music had been silenced and mother did everything in her power to open the windows of art of front for me.   After graduating from university and stepping into professional world of art, my mother gradually left us suffering from an illness. My sister left Iran never accepting the local tensions over freedom of thought. In the meantime, painting became the only lever for me to dominate my surrounding world as well as an excuse by which I could wipe the dust of loneliness from the face of time.
I was experiencing the denial of what I had passed through my life in my works. Initially, the forms in my works were all fragmented and suspended in the space in a sort of perplexity and oblivion. In my recent works a major part of such dispersion was removed and covered underneath diluted layers of paint. 
I am interested in creating form without representing a particular color, just like weightless rocks which have been polished by time. Parts of my paintings are influenced by music which, in my opinion, is more terrestrial than painting. Through music, I try to find an opening toward the unknown, differences which I cannot find in the real world. Music helps me imagine and contemplate life.

Reni Gower / Virginia, USA

Using the language of abstraction, I create complex images that counter visual skimming.  Through intricate patterning, I combine references to decorative textiles, American piece quilts, ornamental mosaics, and stained glass windows.  While addressing issues of beauty, my art becomes an intimate vehicle for reflection or reprieve.

During my stay at the International Cite for the Arts, my drawings and paintings were derived from circular motifs contained in the stained glass windows and mosaics of French cathedrals and municipal buildings.  Upon my return to the United States, these motifs were enlarged and embedded in the painted components of my mixed media works. 

Diana Seeholzer / Switzerland

I spent a very intense six months working at the Cite Internationale des Arts, (January - through June 2011) via a scholarship from VISARTE Central Switzerland. During my residency I met many interesting artists, visited many museums and galleries and spent time getting to know the great tourist traps of Paris. I bought an old bicycle and with it I loved to explore the city. It was on one of these tours, along the edge of the city, that I photographed the burned motorcycle.

I balanced my research of Paris with time in my atelier where I made small india ink paintings that echoed memories and daily experiences. It occured to me later that these three paintings and the photograph have a similar energy, with a connection that is tangible and apparent on different levels. Something happend there or will happen soon, but we dont`t exactly know what. It is a thin line between here and there...

Lisa Tubach / Virginia, USA

My current creative process investigates the precarious balance between the beauty of our natural world and hidden threats to our existence. Specifically, the content of my paintings includes references to unchecked chemical use, endangered species, environmental mismanagement and various related pathogens. They contain a deliberate visual density that is symbolic of the profound persistence of nature, as well as a confusion of how to protect it from harm.

The threats are represented through molecular formulae of pesticides, herbicides and problematic treatments for disease; aggressive non-native vegetation; and ultimately, disease itself. Because these dangers are in themselves very beautiful, they provide a strange, duplicitous seduction. The paintings additionally represent a personal investment with issues of illness and wellbeing. Ultimately, the recent work is about the health of self, as well as the health of our ecological existence—an undeniable, yet often under-recognized, symbiosis.

This group of works on paper, created in Paris at La Cite Internationale des Arts, became a very poignant example of this symbiosis. They were, unfortunately, the result of being violently mugged at the entrance of the residency, two weeks into my stay. Determined to continue to work, I initially began with an effort to draw my largest bruise, which had a very angular shape on my skin. After drawing this almost obsessively, I realized I was creating images that were akin to strip mining. I found that making images about the scarring of the earth was a helpful metaphor for healing from my own wounds.

Hafis Bertschinger / Switzerland

I picked out a paper scroll I had started working on while we were both staying at the cité des arts. Unused to living close to noisy highways days and nights as we did in the center of Paris, near the Seine-autoroute, I was often woken up during long hours. To pass the time I would sketch or paint the subject of my unrest: modern trafic, a nightmare.

As you well remember, I liked to work on scrolls or leporellos, like writing a diary. To link with our common Paris-experience, I picked up an unfinished 6-meter paper - scroll with trafic noise as a theme. Meaning a night-marish lamentation of movements, accidents and explosions. I started working on this first scroll and the more I added to it, the more it irritated me. As you and other artists friends know: we sometimes kill our work by overdoing it. That is what happened to my first sketch, while continuing to add to it once I was back in Switzerland. Disgusted, I prepared a new scroll made of vlies the same size as the first one and began painting using the same elements all over again. I repeated this rigmarole five times over during the last few weeks...

Yvette Watt / Tasmania

I arrived in Paris on a cold, winter’s morning in 2006. It was just after 8am by the time I had made it to the nearest train station to the Cité and the sun would not come up for another half hour. I bundled myself and my bags into the first open café I could find to have some breakfast, keep warm and pass some time until the Cité would be open. On arrival at the Cité I was shown to the lovely warm studio. I quickly settled myself in and headed out to buy some food supplies. Over the next couple of weeks I started reading, thinking, making notes and sketches. I braved the cold of Paris in winter, walking a lot, visiting galleries and museums and generally orienting myself and trying to get a feel for the place.

High on my ‘to do’ list was to view a series of comparative physiognomic studies between human and animal faces by 17th century French painter, Charles Le Brun. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure an appointment at the Department of Graphic Arts at the Louvre in order the view two large volumes held there which comprise the bulk of this extensive body of work. This was an extraordinary experience. I was taken into a large, ornate, high ceilinged study room in the Louvre, where I joined another three scholars, all of us seated at one of a number of reading tables. Here I was delivered two enormous volumes, bound in 1803 for Napoleon, which contained virtually the entire series of these works. The volumes contained engravings taken from Le Brun’s final pen and ink drawings, as well as the original pen and ink drawings and numerous studies by Le Brun in ink, in pencil and in black chalk, from raw initial sketches to the finished drawing in ink and wash. These drawings were clearly pages taken from sketchbooks, and it was an extraordinary experience to be able to turn the sketchbook pages, which were glued down one side only, to see other sketches on the backs of the pages. I was there four hours, carefully turning the old pages to reveal more and more of this amazing body of work.
While better known as a painter of substantial stature in the French Academy, Le Brun produced numerous drawings exploring the physical congruities between human and animal faces, and suggesting consequential emotional and/or behavioural human ‘types’ based on an individual’s physical similarities to certain animals. It was with these works of Le Brun’s in mind, with their morphing of human and animal, that I began working through ideas that resulted in two series of self-portraits in gouache, watercolour and ink on paper. In four of these works, the heads of ‘farm’ animals replaced my eyes, while in the second set of four paintings my eyes were replaced by the eyes of ‘farm’ animals. 

I was not particularly satisfied with the first four self-portraits (those with animal heads replacing my eyes), as I felt found the incorporation of the entire animal head into my face was not particularly successful in engaging the viewer with the animal’s gaze, as was my intention for these works. Fortunately, however, at the time I was working on these images, I became aware of the annual agricultural expo that was being held in one of the outer suburbs of Paris. This provided me with a perfectly timed and highly fortuitous opportunity to photograph ‘farm’ animals at close quarters, and in particular, to be able to photograph their eyes, which I was then able to incorporate into the second series of four self-portraits where my eyes were replaced by those of a pig, a chicken, a cow and a sheep. These images were much more successful as the use of animals’ eyes to replace my own meant that the viewer was simultaneously met by the gaze of a human and an animal they might normally eat. 

On my return to Hobart I made a decision to produce larger scale, more resolved versions of the Alternative Points of View series of self-portraits with animal eyes and to compliment these with a companion series of works depicting ‘farm’ animals with their mouths replaced by my mouth.

In those images where my eyes are replaced by those of an animal there is the implied notion of seeing the world through the eyes of another, that ‘other’ being a ‘farm’ animal, and thus giving consideration to the animal’s perception and hence experience of the world. In the other images, where the animal’s mouth is replaced by my mouth the viewer is prompted to consider what the animal’s point of view would be in a verbal rather than a visual sense of the phrase. The mouth in each of these four images is shown open, as if at the point of enunciating a word. Through the depiction of a talking animal the issue of animals being ‘dumb’ or mute is raised and the idea of animal advocates/activists describing themselves as a ‘voice for the animals’# is addressed. 

The front-on format of these portraits intentionally subverts the idea of the animal as a passive receiver of actions by humans. In all cases, the viewer’s gaze is met by that of the animal/human who looks directly back at them. This recognition of the animal looking back – having its point of view – profoundly affected Derrida, who writes about how ‘… it [the animal] can look at me. It has its point of view regarding me.’# This is a key concern of the Alternative Points of View series, as the viewer is prompted to put themselves in the animals’ place – to consider an alternative point of view from that which places humans as dominant and superior and the animals as commodified, oppressed, objects of that domination.

While digitally altering the image to crop and reverse the animal eyes for the images in Alternative Points of View I noticed something strange: When the two animal eyes were pushed together after one had been flipped, the resulting image was uncannily primate (and thus human) like. What’s more, when the resulting pairs of animals’ eyes were scaled correctly and placed over my eyes on a photograph of my face, there was a surprising and unanticipated congruity – a lining up of features – between the brow-line and nose, without any need for adjustment other than scale. This prompted the construction of the Second Sight series, which exploited this uncanny anatomical conformity. 

It was never my intention that there would be a seamless morphing of the eyes into my face, in fact quite the contrary. I specifically wanted there to be a shift between the anatomical congruity and hence believability of the image against the somewhat crude mask-like quality of the animal eyes on my face. This visual shift reflects a metaphorical shift between human and non-human animals – a recognition of both similarity and difference that is behind the numerous tensions and incongruities in our attitudes and actions in dealing with various non-human animals, and which is particularly evident in the way we think about and exploit ‘farm’ animals.

Without any doubt, the time I spent in Paris was of great influence on my work and was instrumental in the successful completion of my PhD (I was part way into my PhD at the timer of the Residency). The timing of this trip couldn’t have been better, and returned reinvigorated and with a renewed sense of clarity about the direction of my research project. The opportunity to focus exclusively on one’s work in such a stimulating environment and without many of the prosaic distractions of day-to-day life cannot be underestimated in its importance.