CAN 3 Exercise 1.1

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

My attitude towards autobiographical self-portraiture has tended in the past to be ambivalent… while I love Francesca Woodman’s work (which I personally would define as being an investigation into the nature of the world around her rather than autobiographical), I often find the more confessional kind of work self-indulgent and occasionally toe-curling – as was my response, for example, to Mark Power’s 2017 Home series in which he explores his feelings about his teenage daughter leaving the family home to go to university. Elina Brotherus’s Anunciation verges on the brink of self-indulgence for me at times, but is rescued by the style of the images, which have enough cool detachment to enable them to represent more than just her own personal story. The presence of the camera’s remote control in some of the images – in which her outfit is also carefully colour-coordinated with the sofa and cushions – for example, tells us that she is illustrating a state of mind – it is explicitly a performance. By contrast, Power’s series has no such detachment and asks us to accept the image of himself crying as an unmediated representation of his personal pain, even though we can see him in our mind’s eye carefully placing the camera to capture his brimming eyes and rolling tears. It therefore comes over as self-indulgent and ultimately narcissistic, in that it defines an empowering step in his daughter’s life as being all about him.

At first I thought the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness in the Anunciation series was a reference to the primalness of the subject of fertility (or non-fertility), but looking at her other work I see it is a motif that recurs throughout many different subject areas and I now think its significance is that she is concerned with issues such as the representation of the 3D world in a 2D plane, distance and proportion, light and shade – and the naked figure is a traditional vehicle for these concerns in painting. I think it also stands as a signal of her desire to strip each scene down to basics, which is what gives her images the sense that everything in them resonates with meaning.

Can such images work for an outsider without accompanying text? Certainly they can, and as I am increasingly learning as I progress through this module, the more the artist’s intent is defined by text, the less scope there is for viewers to interpret the images in whatever way they choose. The debate over whether or not Francesca Woodman’s images, which are rarely accompanied by text, reveal her to have a depressive and potentially suicidal personality (which I have reflected upon in my learning log) illustrates the potential pitfalls of allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions unaided, but also reminds us that (as my tutor framed it so usefully in my last tutorial), the role of fine art is to raise questions (or look for the questions that need to be raised), not to offer answers or solutions.

References and resources

Brotherus, E. (2018) Elina Brotherus. Available at http://www.elinabrotherus.com [accessed 10.06.18]
Clifford, E. (2018) Magnum Photos’ Home: Mark Power. Available at http://www.bjp-online.com/2018/05/magnum-photos-home-mark-power [accessed 10.06.18]