Saturday, 23 February 2013

In Conversation | Georgia Metaxas

Georgia Metaxas, Mourners #6

In the lead up to our second show of the year, Wallflower is thrilled to present a conversation between curator Kristian Haggblom and Georgia Metaxas.

Georgia the last time you were in Mildura you gave a wonderful talk at La Trobe University Art Forum Lecture series and Louis had an exhibition that included scanned found notes. We had an amazing few days of photography talk until 14: 46 (Japanese time) on the 3/11. What are your memories of that weekend? 

A heat wave followed by floods, treacherous roads and swarms of locusts. Family albums with images of husbands in coffins, many many cups of tea and talk of loss, memories, grief and sadness and the sound of locusts being swept away from front doors. Then, came the terrifying crescendo of the events in Japan.  Our trip to Mildura in 2011, and the events that occurred around us were nothing short of biblical !

Your photography often teeters along the line of documentary and staged methodologies. This is certainly not a new way of working but is very much “in vogue”, who interests you at the moment that is working in a similar manner?

You are quite right, there are a lot of photographers with similar methods and areas of interest. Staged methodologies within the ‘real world,’ bringing it into the framework of ‘documentary.’  Some photographers whose work interests me include, Trihn Sondergaard, Broomburg & Chanarin, Clare Strand. I was fortunate to see Katie Grananans work at Saatchi gallery when in London last year. Her series Boulevard, successfully achieves the tension that I look for in making work.

I often encourage students to engage further with their subjects/subject matter rather than constantly photographing their everyday surroundings and friends. How important is your engagement with community throughout this project? And perhaps also the sustained working technique?

My work stems from the people around me, weather that be my family, friends or people I am working with at a particular time. It is important to the work however, that this remain a launching pad for a broader conversation, one that does not just focus on an isolated individual, story or event. It is a privilege to work alongside communities and organisations I enjoy the fact that this means that I am constantly challenging myself and accommodating outside factors in the work. I feel this definitely helps drive the work into a broader domain.

Entering churches, homes, nursing homes, etc with your “portable studio” you must have had fascinating experiences, care to share one with us?

One of the women who agreed to sit for me was an Italian lady, for whom wearing black every day was only one of the ways that she demonstrated her level of devotion to her deceased husband and to his memory. Photography played a significant role in aiding to illustrate this dedication too.
In the portrait I have made of her she wears a portrait of him around her neck, it has been etched onto a gold plaque and resembles a hologram, only visible from certain angles, very difficult to photograph. There are portraits of him dotted all around their family home they been made using various methods. The same portrait re-appears on the wall, framed conventionally, and also on the dinning room table where it accrues a certain status. I imagine that this image may also appear on the headstone of his tomb. There is also a photograph of the couple on the mantle, etched into resin, it lights up like a rainbow in a multi-coloured kind of fashion.
My interest in the photos around the house did not go unnoticed and lead to a conversation that revealed that they had met vicariously through photography. On migrating to Melbourne his family had suggested that she might be a good bride. As she was still living in Italy, they decided to both visit photographic studios and have their portraits taken. He sent his portrait to Italy; she approved and so sent her portrait to him in Australia. He wrote to her and asked for her hand in marriage, she agreed and migrated to Australia where although betrothed to one another they met in person for the first time.
She showed me the original two original photographs. I like that the project is a constant reminder of photography.

There is a constant emergence of photography and especially portraiture prizes nationally/internationally, I think a lot of these are dubious, what are your thoughts? 

Competitions are a complicated beast. I have had work selected and shown in numerous award shows, so am aware of the benefits of being selected as a finalist. The work gets seen in good company and in a professional manner. I was thrilled to have been voted peoples choice at last years Bowness, there is something very humbling about being the recipient of a democratic vote.

I do however select and submit to competitions very carefully. There are some (generally overseas) that attempt a grab at usage rights, others that may sound like they have good causes or initiatives but on closer inspection have political or social persuasions that do not necessarily align with me or my work.

Then of course there is the cost involved. It is a given that it costs to produce the work, but then to submit, frame and freight the work to a gallery is costly. After some quick math you realise that if the prize money were divvied up between each finalist each artist would receive an adequate artist fee!

It is understandable that galleries need to raise revenue, however it would be great to see galleries putting the art and the artists interests first, and be seen to be encouraging discourse on photography rather than encouraging a competitive field, which in itself, is questionable.

Black and blackness plays an important role in photography, literally and theoretically, can I bother you to elaborate on this quote; “The Mourners are absorbed by the void that is black, living mementoes – vessels for mourning, fixed by a photograph, which in turn alludes to a double death”?

Black encourages multiple readings and allows for several entry points into the project. I enjoyed revelling in this for three years, and should probably mention that it did take the entire thesis to cover this ground! However I’ll attempt to get it down to a couple of kernels here to help clarify the quote above.

Black reminds us of the photographic process as well as a photograph’s inherent connection to memory, death and to the representation of these rather immense themes.  Black is also integral to the act of mourning, the fact that this act is perpetual in The Mourners is also an important consideration.

The quote you mention above refers to the symbolic notions that come from this act of mourning and what it points to photographically. The question I asked was, what happens when a living memento is photographed? If the theorists are right (and we know who they are!) and all photographs are “memento mori” is this not then a doubling up of death?

A sitter’s presence in the series immediately indicates an absence; that of the deceased for whom is mourned. In fact her presence is governed by this absence.

The photograph envelops both the mourner and the mourned. Therefor a mourner appears but also disappears, hovering somewhere in-between, her own identity comes into question. A mourner then, whose “life” has been erased by the ritual of perpetual mourning must now die again at the hands of the camera. In this way she becomes, arguably, a symbol of a double death.

Has the mourners project now been completed? I know it was your Masters project that was recently given the thumbs-up? What’s next? Want to hint at new project/s?

Having never before studied at university, I was pretty thrilled to have been awarded the Masters with only minimal changes, mostly grammatical. It feels like quite an achievement.

I have finished making portraits for the series, however, seeing as I’ve only ever shown a fraction of the work it also feels incomplete. I’m looking forward to the right opportunity to be able to do that.

It is a hard project to move on from, however I am enjoying having a newfound perspective and understanding of my work, which has come might I add from three years of navel gazing! I’m not entirely sure ‘what’s next’ but am very excited at the prospect. My projects have never come quickly and have always taken time, so this is far from a pickle, quite the opposite.

Throughout our Wallflower interviews we have been asking people to recommend what music you would listen to or encourage people to while viewing the work – any ideas?

This question is a very difficult one to answer, as music instantly re-contextualises the work, it feels weird! Anyhow, initially I was going to suggest Mozart’s Requiem, or perhaps Mogwai’s I know you are but what am I? Both pigeonhole the work so I thought the only alternative is complete silence, at the expense of sounding precious I was then going to suggest John Cage's 4'33. I then chatted to Louis about it my conundrum. He suggested, actually he requested, a tune that he’d like his brother (a pianist) to play at his funeral, Eric Satie’s Gnossiennes No.1 . Perfect, so there it is.

'The Mourners' will open Friday March 8th from 5-7pm and run until April 6th.

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