If Deborah Paauwe's silky portraits and Mark Kimber's vast panoramas have anything in common it is their reconstructed fascination with childhood experiences, and the implausibility of this. As Mark Kimber writes in the artist's statement for this series;
the gap between memory and experience is unbridgeable…but that doesn't stop us from trying.
And try Kimber does in his reconfigured Fictive Landscapes. Taking bits and pieces from different iconic landscapes that held his fascination as a child and merging them with landscape photographs of his own, Kimber has attempted time travel and the assimilation of phenomenal experience. What is derived from this exercise is a melting of two beings - one built on perceived childhood memories, those which we think we have built our-selves, and the other a being conceived of direct influence, but paradoxically reliant on the first.
Landscape has long had a tradition of moving the viewer through the image. In Kimber's Fictive Landscapes we are moved through a person's own making, a combination of environmental influences and emotive response to surroundings, one built on the other. His landscapes are places of knowing, or getting to know, of imagining, or remembered imaginings and of destruction, of pulling apart of the history of visual etymology. This last place is an important one not only for Kimber's work but for the idea of knowing ourselves through our place in landscape.
In essence we are products of our visual being, continuously engaged in a visual culture. That same culture has built a history of specific ways of seeing, of which we are reminded by Bergerˆ, but because of our reliance on visual stimuli as memory, this history is paramount to the way we conceive ourselves and our place on the planet. Kimber's landscapes may be fictive but they are no less so then our own assimilations of place and of our sometimes over concrete fascination with identity and our own stories.
Paauwe gives us a different take on memory and that illusive bridge between experience and recall. Also influenced by historical imagery and our assimilation into it, Paauwe transgresses the softer echoing of childhood play and gives it a sense of self discovery and a burgeoning sense of self knowledge.
In Paauwe's formalised photographs adolescent females pose in various positions of comfort, support and socialisation. Their poses generate emotive memory response through the use of party dresses, soft pink hues and the role playing of dress ups and exploration of identity. The images are beautifully constructed memoirs of a time when we all left childhood and entered adulthood with hope and excitement but also with regret and sadness that maybe it was too early to go there.
Like Cinderella or Alice the implied romantic notion of Paauwe's photography is of entering adulthood with a wonderful naivety, bringing much needed purity to the world as much through the act of storytelling as through its enactment. But again, like Kimber, Paauwe's images of a world of dress-ups and secretive camaraderie are a perceived memory, a poetic attempt at bridging the gap between fantasy and realisation. The voyeuristic element of Paauwe's photography perhaps knowingly and innocently plays with the reality of the awkwardness of sexual maturing.
© Ric Spencer 2007
ˆSee Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin: London, 1972. A book from the television series of the same name.
Dr. Ric Spencer is an artist, lecturer and writer based in Fremantle. He currently writes art criticism for the West Australian newspaper.