Work, Endeavour, Desire:
Julie Davies, Composite Portraits of Sandra Bridie

ocular lab, 9–24 february 2008

Julie Davies’ Composite Portraits defer to the long history of artists’ portraits by imparting a pride in commitment to creative work, a pride that involves seriousness as well as playful pragmatism. Together these portraits offer a chronicle of projects undertaken by Sandra Bridie over sixteen years; that is, images of archival materials that refer to the projects in a chronological order. The materials include video stills, publications, and texts composed for gallery walls; however, they are mostly photographic snapshots relating to the theme of ‘the artist at work’.

Evidently, these ‘documents’ have become images of images, each made visible and enlarged through a data projector, producing, in most cases, a vibrant background for the figure of Sandra Bridie. The resultant landscapes (and the height of the prints is smaller than the width) give a conceptual latitude to the theme of ‘the artist at work’. Whether blurred as a spectral form, or positioned as a quiescent observer, Sandra Bridie has been interpolated as a corporeal presence before the projections. And by this figure of the artist-subject, the chronicle acquires a narrative—even an epic—scope.

Composite Portraits shows Julie Davies and Sandra Bridie taking pleasure in the camera’s promise to reveal and authenticate the photographic subject; taking equal pleasure in its provocative power to stage the human self.Of course, Sandra Bridie’s lasting practice of documenting artists both actual and fictional relies on the same play of associations. With this in mind, the photographic storyboard that comprises Composite Portraits might be interpreted as a joint statement concerning Sandra Bridie’s view of the activities pertaining to the artist—a view capable of providing, perhaps, a ‘conceptual portrait’ of the artist’s endeavour.

Work
According to the images from Sandra Bridie’s archive, the artist’s tasks are demonstrably practical, sober and rather studious. Chiefly they consist of watching and listening; reading and writing. Such pursuits are implied by the recurrence of a certain type of conventional equipment: audio-recording and playback devices, a laptop, televisions; books, catalogues, index cards, papers and written screeds.

All of this is found in settings that bear no resemblance to the messy clutter often expected of an artist’s studio-retreat. Where they can be identified, the locations are predominantly indoors, orderly and quite plain: white-walled gallery spaces (that of Ocular Lab in particular), and a comfortable lounge room—spaces conducive to a feeling of equable composure, to deliberation, and to a kind of withdrawal into the self that can follow. Therefore, in the single group snapshot [7], Sandra Bridie turns aside from the attending circle, solemnly addressing the camera instead. The superimposed figure of Sandra Bridie echoes this expression of reserve, and heightens the atmosphere of detachment in her formal stance. Overall, if the projected images point to the variety of Sandra Bridie’s interests, and her diligence as a curator, more broadly they suggest sustained activity of analytical reflection.

Endeavour
Witness the blue-toned, grainy introspection of the grieving Seona Hope, magnified in silhouette, at once performed and dispassionately acknowledged by Sandra Bridie [6].
Analytical reflection, or contemplation, might best describe the attitude adopted by Sandra Bridie as she poses before the archival images. Consequently, somewhat surprisingly, the Composite Portraits invoke a view of the artist connected with the Romantic tradition: an ideal of the artist as a solitary searcher, no less, for whom the ‘self’ is the prism through which to discover an imaginative continuum.

Against aspects of the same Romantic tradition, here the depicted artist returns (and returns the viewer) to herself—not himself—as the resilient focus for enquiry and creative transformation. ‘Resilient’ because the standing form of Sandra Bridie recognisably persists: her presence is flattened out, at times exaggerated by dramatic shadows, yet its contours and appearance are undisguised, and call to mind a figurative classicism of sorts. ‘Resilient’ because as Julie Davies and Sandra Bridie know so well, the technology of the photograph will never convert such a haunting into substantial information, or revelation about the artist-subject.

Desire

Insistently posing the question ‘who is Sandra Bridie?’, Julie Davies’ Composite Portraits promote desire for the ineffable richness of a biographical narrative, a coherent ‘artist’s biography’. The image with which the exhibition culminates highlights this effect, while lending the project a much wider, epic scope. In ‘S. B. casts a shadow on an image from “Ten Walking Meditations …” ’ [17], the background that holds Sandra Bridie’s reflective gaze is no longer the close-up, indoors, but a shimmering horizon above a stretch of sea. This literal turn to a landscape, with its anonymous motifs of a distant boat on moving water, recollects to the viewer—Sandra Bridie included—a notion of the self inexorably in process, unfolding into time undocumented

Cynthia Troup
January 2008

Cynthia Troup is a Melbourne-based writer and historian, and a founding member of the arts company Aphids.