The Canadian Art Database

Ihor Holubizky

Barbara Astman
Jane Corkin Gallery, Toronto, 11 September - 11 October 1997

art/text, #60, February-April, 1998 [ 575 words ]

Barbara Astman's career has spanned more than 23 years of photo-based media innovations, but has always been more than the lure of new technology. Astman's staged and sequential co-dependent image work — models and self-portraits, often played against innermost thought cutlines — suggest issues of identity, systems of representation, gender perspectives, and the anti-narrative of popular irony (and being aware of the possibility that irony sucks). The current series, titled Scenes from a Movie for One, while process intensive, is her most stripped-down work to date.

The eight self portraits were self-shot SX-70 Polaroids, re-photographed as 35 mm black and white negatives, and then enlarged to 8 x 10 prints. A Polaroid close-up box was used to shoot colour details of the prints which converted the black and white to tones. The Polaroid backing was peeled off and Astman began scratching the image surface — a reduction rather than an additive process. These images were re-photographed in 35mm and enlarged to 20" x 24" Ektacolour prints. The second reading of the 'scenes' were multiple image works, 32 'scenes' assembled in a grid of four by eight, and produced as colour and black and white Xerox 'scripts' as a heat transfer on paper. The laborious aspect is not complexity for its own sake, but a multi-levelled manipulation and examination — a gradual disintegration of the photograph-as-document, but also re-investing a photographic process at each stage of the metamorphosis. The means to the end is a way of literally and figuratively scratching out a personal correspondence from the edge.

Unlike her earlier image-text work, this is a silent film, yet shares one of the characteristics of all film, to record and suspend in a temporal vitrine. The finale — a chiaroscuro effect — is about the presence of the body rather than portraiture as character study. It brings to mind Eugene Carrière's turn of the century sepia-toned paintings, as well as evoking the early 'static' films of Andy Warhol and the Cinerama-scaled blinking eye of Keir Dullea during his Jupiter entry in Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey ('hypnotic and immensely boring'); trying to see and being blinded.

A dilemma for the artist-as-photographer is the ravenous appetite of advertising glamour. One of Astman's 1979-80 Untitled, I was thinking about you ... series — a punkish self-portrait, slouched-with-cigarette, and diaristic notation typed over — was used for the cover of a mainstream Canadian rock album in 1980 (seemingly record companies can never get their irony straight). For some, the parasitic traffic between art and promotion is a healthy road of relevance, and Astman's 'scenes' could just as easily be co-opted for some other purpose. It's just the way things are and not the fault of the artist or an unbearable lightness of being. But in the free market, Astman's 'scenes' can be linked to Man Ray's seminal surrealist object The Object to be Destroyed: the eye of a former lover cut out and pinned to a metronome. Re-made 35 years later, Man Ray titled it Indestructible Object. At the end of the 'movie', Astman's 'object to be destroyed' — the first Polaroid stage — is an indestructible object. Her etched lines are telling — a sense of beauty rather than the vanity of self-obsession and bonfires — fragile and elegiac in the touch.

art/text, #60, February-April, 1998

Text: © Ihor Holubizky. All rights reserved.

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