Exhibition: Shadow Catchers – Art Gallery of NSW

Exhibition: Shadow Catchers – Art Gallery of NSW

It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases – but the association, and the sense of nearness involved in the thing … the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever! – Poet Emily Barrett Browning describing a daguerreotype in 1843

Shadow catchers at the Art Gallery of NSW is an exhibition that explores the way shadows, body doubles and mirrors haunt our understanding of photography and the moving image.

Drawing on the Gallery’s collection, including the work of more than 57 artists and recent acquisitions on display for the first time, Shadow catchers is the fifth exhibition in the Art Gallery of NSW Contemporary Collection Project series.

The exhibition’s thematic approach develops across four rooms, each with a key focus: mirrors, echoes, ‘split selves’ and ‘twinned time’. In the first room, dedicated to the topic of mirrors, works by artists such as Eugenia RaskopoulosCoen YoungJacky Redgate and Ilse Bing explore the parameters and meaning of reflections, and enlist the mirror as a means of distortion.

In the second room, Patrick Pound‘s major work The image pool 2016, along with the new commission A world and its moon 2020, turn the echo into an optical effect and demonstrate how visual coincidence can upend interpretation. Sophie Calle also examines the pliability of perception in Romance in Granada 1986, from the series The blind, in which she asked people who were born blind to describe their idea of beauty and then photographed the scenes and objects referenced, attempting to translate their imagined images.

In the room dedicated to ‘split selves’, the boundaries of bodies, identity and multiplicity are investigated. Subjects are conjoined, cloned and spliced in the works of artists, such as Julie RrapJohn Stezaker and Zanele Muholi, as they play with the conventions of pictorial representation and plot the unfixed experience of being in the world.

The exhibition’s thematic approach develops across four rooms, each with a key focus: mirrors, echoes, ‘split selves’ and ‘twinned time’. In the first room, dedicated to the topic of mirrors, works by artists such as Eugenia RaskopoulosCoen YoungJacky Redgate and Ilse Bing explore the parameters and meaning of reflections, and enlist the mirror as a means of distortion.

In the second room, Patrick Pound‘s major work The image pool 2016, along with the new commission A world and its moon 2020, turn the echo into an optical effect and demonstrate how visual coincidence can upend interpretation. Sophie Calle also examines the pliability of perception in Romance in Granada 1986, from the series The blind, in which she asked people who were born blind to describe their idea of beauty and then photographed the scenes and objects referenced, attempting to translate their imagined images.

In the room dedicated to ‘split selves’, the boundaries of bodies, identity and multiplicity are investigated. Subjects are conjoined, cloned and spliced in the works of artists, such as Julie RrapJohn Stezaker and Zanele Muholi, as they play with the conventions of pictorial representation and plot the unfixed experience of being in the world.

The exhibition’s thematic approach develops across four rooms, each with a key focus: mirrors, echoes, ‘split selves’ and ‘twinned time’. In the first room, dedicated to the topic of mirrors, works by artists such as Eugenia RaskopoulosCoen YoungJacky Redgate and Ilse Bing explore the parameters and meaning of reflections, and enlist the mirror as a means of distortion.

Self Portrait with camera 1931. Ilse Bing. AGNSW collection.

In the second room, Patrick Pound‘s major work The image pool 2016, along with the new commission A world and its moon 2020, turn the echo into an optical effect and demonstrate how visual coincidence can upend interpretation. Sophie Calle also examines the pliability of perception in Romance in Granada 1986, from the series The blind, in which she asked people who were born blind to describe their idea of beauty and then photographed the scenes and objects referenced, attempting to translate their imagined images.

In the room dedicated to ‘split selves’, the boundaries of bodies, identity and multiplicity are investigated. Subjects are conjoined, cloned and spliced in the works of artists, such as Julie RrapJohn Stezaker and Zanele Muholi, as they play with the conventions of pictorial representation and plot the unfixed experience of being in the world.

Photographs and films capture moments in time for eternity, providing the ability to rewind, pause and replay the past. The final room of Shadow catchers, titled ‘twinned time’, considers how the past converges with the present through the elasticity of these mediums. Soda_Jerk‘s video installation After the rainbow 2009 reimagines the plot of the 1939 film The wizard of Oz, so that child star Judy Garland encounters herself as an adult actress, thereby disrupting a pop-cultural mythology and casting ideas of doppelgangers and body doubles across time.

“Those attempting to make sense of photography’s revolutionary ability to record the real have often invoked the shadow as a metaphor, drawing parallels between the imprint left in photographic emulsions and the spectral silhouette that trails behind all of us. This impulse makes sense, since both are trace recordings cast by light.

Shadow catchers considers how the shadow, along with the mirror and the body double, have been employed and examined by photographers since the invention of the medium. Photographs can provide doubles and emotional surrogates on which to affix our attachment – but what kind of doubles and what kind of intimacy?” Isobel Parker Philip, senior curator of contemporary Australian art.

Main photograph above: Olive Cotton, The photographer’s shadow. AGNSW collection.

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney until 2021.

From Art Gallery of NSW media release.

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This article was written by
David Tatnall

David Tatnall is a Melbourne based fine art photographer.

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