Life Hits a 'Fever Pitch' For Things Real and ImaginedAustralian artist Tracey Moffatt takes photography beyond its function of showing reality by artificially fabricating the images in her work. By carefully "staging" the subjects in an artist's studio with artificial sets, Moffatt challenges the usual purpose of photography as the casual recorder of reality. Her photographs complicate the viewer's perception by blurring lines between polarities such as fiction and reality and humor and gravitas. The images are engaging and often compelling because sometimes the artist appears in front of the camera and becomes part of the narrative. Her provocative body of work has been made available to the public through international exhibitions, including Kwangju in 1995 and Venice in 1997 and numerous other exhibitions worldwide.
"Fever Pitch," an exhibition on an ambitious scale, featuring the work of the filmmaker and photographer is opening on Friday at the Artsonje Center in Seoul. Organized by Asialink, an artist's network in Asia, this traveling exhibit puts together 10 years of work by the artist, ranging from black and white photography to film. Like many contemporary artists, Moffatt's works are semi-autobiographical. She refers to it as "an exaggerated version of her reality," and says her ideas are based on things she has seen and experienced, or perhaps "things she thinks she has seen and experienced."
Born in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, and adopted by a white working class family, Moffatt is heavily influenced by television culture, which pervaded the artist's childhood, and the post-colonial tradition, which underlies these images. Though the artist points at some very serious socio-political issues such as representational politics and racial hierarchies, her works are not entirely political. She is poetic and makes a diverse range of references from mythology to classic films from Hollywood and Europe, making her work very accessible.
Moffatt raises concerns about her work being interpreted purely from a political perspective. In a recent interview, she said, "I just get a little exasperated, because this reading (political) usually comes from the 'left' and they are most of the time ignoring how I strive for poetry and make statements about the human condition- they can't see that I am trying to play with form and be inventive."
Such "inventiveness" is probably what gives Moffatt's work such universal appeal. By keeping a distance from social-specificity, which can most easily be traced to her race, Moffatt's work allows people of any background to enter into her work and wander.
In "Laudanum" for example, a recent series of photo prints on paper, the artist takes images from erotic texts and mixes them with teen romance fiction and Victorian-style set. As a result, Moffatt has created what she calls the "landscape of imagination," a surreality based on the artist's subconscious.
"Scarred for Life," the series of offset prints presented with text, the most intriguing visuals in the artist's work, raise questions about domestic violence in homes. One of the most powerful images in this series is of a teenage girl rebelliously staring at a camera with the text explaining that her dad called her "useless." The series successfully portrays the family home as a place of alienation and fear.
Moffatt, also a filmmaker, has made several video clips, documentaries and dramas. The latter include "beDevil" and "Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy," which were screened at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. Moffatt's film projects are also featured in the upcoming exhibit.
The exhibition runs through April 15, after which it will travel to Taipei. As part of the show, Michael Snelling, the director of the Contemporary Museum of Brisbane, will deliver a lecture about the artist's works on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. The title of the talk will be "Tracey Moffatt - Looking and Seeing."
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