Women watching women: in DREAMLANDS at Edinburgh's Portfolio Gallery, the female gaze is all powerful. Words: Susanna Beaumont
A deep frozen moment — a freeze-frame of domestic life. Three young girls are arranged in an appropriately chilled-blue painted room and goodness knows what they are up to. The moment is definitely fractured. awkward . . . or is it? Sarah Jones’s photograph. The Dining Room (I). throws up a thousand questions but few answers. A narrative on the road to nowhere — or somewhere?
Dream/ands at Portfolio excavates that moody. often silent territory of interior life and closed-off moments. Three artists — Jones is accompanied by Frances Kearney and Hannah Starkey — show photographs in which dreams and anxieties seem to be silently shuffled. Kearney’s figures have all turned their backs on the camera. whereas the inhabitants of Starkey‘s work are frequently spectating on their fellow sitter‘s state — a drunken sleep or moment in a cafe. For Sophie Allen. who has curated the show. which marks the culmination of her year-long internship at Portfolio. Dream/ands is a subtle portrayal of everyday life of women by women.
lmportantly for Sarah Jones. the girls she photographs are real-life people. ‘lt’s the friction. the uncomfortable line between the artifice and “the real".‘ says Jones. The dining-room setting is also a
'It is not simply an attempt to picture adolecence. It is more loaded than that.’ Sarah Jones
Table manners: Sarah Jones‘s The Dining Room (I)
weighty aspect of the photograph; here it is starched in middle-class formality. A lengthy polished table. silver candlesticks. a sideboard filled with glass decanters: it all smacks of ritual and stylish class- consciousness. But what are the three young girls doing? Adolescent and seemingly ignoring each other. is this a picture of dislocated teenage angst?
‘lt is not simply an attempt to picture adolescence.‘ says Jones. ‘It is more loaded than that. but it’s interesting working with girls of this age. They are ready to portray something of themselves whereas maybe boys tend to hide to make themselves less attractive. which perhaps relates to the Oedipus complex.‘
Jones is interested in the belief that on seeing photographic portraits. we often feel that we know the sitters better. Lulled into a sense of visual familiarity. we imagine we have gained character knowledge. It is a dangerous assumption — no wonder in the early days of photography unconsenting subjects felt their soul had been taken by the photographer. The tension in Jones‘s photographs lies in the taut choreography of the female figures. Like 18th century portraits of young aristocratic women painted as ‘publicity shots‘ for prospective husbands — bank balance and breeding permitting — Jones’s girls could be seen as women in the making. Slowly and surely. they are being gently ‘cultivated’ in the dining- rooms of Middle England.
But that is just a guess. and that is exactly what Jones expects: assumptions and misconceptions as she toys and teases her viewers’ gaze. Likening her work to film stills. Jones has since gone on to photograph ‘spare rooms‘. those frequently silent vacant spaces that witness the occasional visitor and the appearance of a guest towel. ‘I am setting the stage for the viewer.’ says Jones. it is quite a stage.
Dreamlands is at Portfolio Gallery. Edinburgh, Sat 20 Feb-Sat 27 Mar. -
Art views and news
A YEAR AFTER taking on Glasgow‘s buses, Bulkhead is forging into new territory. Under the helm of artist Nicola Atkinson-Griffith, the organisation which is headquartered at a bus depot, where it spearheaded a year-long programme of on-the-buses exhibitions, has initiated the £3000 Bulkhead Prize. Glasgow-based artists are invited to propose a project in any form or medium to be sited anywhere within the city; proposals must be submitted by 9 April. For details, call Fairway Forklifts Limited. one of the sponsors, on 0141 882 6242.
ART CONTINUES TO get around. Edinburgh's new Festival Centre. due to open in July in the former Highland Tolbooth on the Royal Mile and christened The Hub, has involved a number of artists. Former Glasgow School Of Art tutor David Ward is creating a light piece, while Edinburgh-based Keiko Mukaide is making glass tiles. Squigee, the Glasgow design company, have designed textiles while Jacqui Poncelet has taken on the cafe, working with the terrazzo tiles.
TALKING OF PONCELET, she is doubtless working on a hectic schedule. One of the selectors for the British Art Show, which kicks off in Edinburgh in April 2000, she - along with curator Pippa Coles and artist/writer Matthew Higgs - is currently in the throes of selecting artists. The announcement of the line- up is expected this April.
STILL NO SOUND from the Scottish Office on whether they propose to commission artists to work on the new parliament. Are we going to miss a brilliant opportunity to shout clearly about Scotland's artists? Perhaps the news that the Scottish Office Inquiry Reporter's Unit has only partially approved Edinburgh Fruitmarket Gallery‘s proposed Northern Lights project bodes badly. Peter Fink’s interactive pavement is to go ahead, but not the rooftop light sculpture which would apparently not fit In with the Old Town. The belief was that the new Museum of Scotland marked a turning point for Edinburgh, looking forward when it came to architecture and planning. Maybe not.
Heading on: Bulkhead brings art to unexpected places
13 Feb—4 Mar 1999 I'll! U87”