What does Sandra Bridie do?

Future generations may well look back at the history of Art (after it’s all done and dusted) and characterise it as an epic struggle between creativity and commodification. At every stage of this history we find art being championed as a vehicle for experimental processes and fantastic possibilities. But, at the same time, we find forces that seek to contain these possibilities and take possession of these processes, regulating creativity within the limits of a commercial market or an individualistic career.

If the history of Art does come to be remembered within the parameters of this compromised economy, then Sandra Bridie will probably be completely forgotten, because her practice eludes this struggle and allows itself to be carried away on the unbridled flows of the imagination.

Julie Davies has set herself the challenging task of creating a portrait of this whimsical artist, whose ‘career’ has been elaborated through a succession of personae and collaborative projects that obscure any clear picture of the individual. Over a period of two years, Bridie and Davies have worked together on this task, producing a series of photographs that show Bridie posing or performing in front of projected documentation of her eccentric oeuvre.

The formal qualities of these photographic compositions resonate beautifully with the sombre nature of Bridie’s own aesthetic, and pay tribute to the underlying ethic of her post-object practice. It has to be said that this type of simpatico is quite rare in photographic portraits of artists. Most photographers who turn their attention to portraying other artists tend to impose their own aesthetic on their sitters, relying on symbolic references or studio settings to evoke their subject’s signature style. Davies, however, allows Bridie’s sensibility to infuse the photographs. The subtle layering of Bridie’s self-documentation and her subsequent responses to this archival material within the cast of the digital projector, effectively give Davies’ photographs an inner luminosity that threatens to dissolve the pictorial space of representational portraiture.

In fact, it is probably misleading to think of these photographs in terms of traditional portraiture because they don’t attempt to capture the essence of Bridie’s being at all. Davies doesn’t pose the question: Who is Sandra Bridie? Instead, she asks: What does Sandra Bridie do? Under what circumstances has she made her presence felt? When, where and why has she been seen? Consequently, the artist is presented to us as a mercurial effect, appearing and disappearing like an atmospheric phenomenon within the luminous layers of these  ‘composite portraits’.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this project is that Davies not only allows Bridie to maintain a fugitive status within her own portraits, but that she encourages us to be intrigued by an artist who deserves to be remembered, despite her own self-effacement. And, in the final instance, Davies lets the most artistic of all questions hang in the air around these portraits: What will happen next?

Stephen Zagala is Stephen O’Connell