The mysterious intertwining of cats and humans holds
significance within our collective imagination, yet the
relationship is perhaps most prominently featured in the
privacy of our domestic sphere. Our furry companions keep us
warm at night, entertained in the day and generally free from
vermin. Yet for those who are drawn to the domestic tabby the
relationship is far more complex, intimate and enmeshed than
the lovers of other domestic companions may at first perceive.
That bond, which archaeologists attest to being with us for over
9,500 years, has been a subject of interest for artists ever since.
In the Italian context the earliest depiction of cats can be seen
in Etruscan art, notably a stemmed Bucchero Ware bowl from
Chiusi, dating from the 6th Century BCE. The four stylised
faces, marking the cardinal points of the rim are capped by
pointed ears and the distinct almond-shaped eyes peer directly
towards us. That all too familiar gaze emanates also from a
recent series of photographs taken by Melbourne based artist
Bernadette Keys. The photographs, which are presented in
the solo exhibition Catgirl, focus on a young girl playing with
one and sometimes two Burmese cats. She is surrounded by
crystal lamps, which bring to mind an ancient circle of stones.
Is there mystery here or simply a whimsical mode of play?
The question attends the work and draws our attention. Again
the association between the feline and the feminine has a
venerable history. For example, for the ancient Egyptians the
cat was the earthly manifestation of the Goddess Bastet. As
the deity of the home, of women’s secrets and childbirth, Bastet
was a popular figure; the death of a cat would often result in
careful mummification and ritual. But by the early 2nd Century
CE ‘girl with cat’ was a feature of Roman sculpture. In 1831
excavations of the Roman ramparts in Bordeaux in France
revealed Funerary stele of a little girl, now in the collection of
Le Musée d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux. The child awkwardly clutches
her cat, which in turn submits to the hands of the youth in a
way that we can easily recognise today. This is the ungainly
encounter of childhood, the desire to possess and control. In
contrast, in the photographs taken by Keys the interaction is
more attuned to the independent personality of the cat. The girl
is deep in reverie, immersed in the company of her familiars
which in turn seem equally curious about their blue-eyed
As with previous bodies of work, Keys exhibits a cinematic
sensibility. The title of her exhibition Catgirl alludes to popculture
figures such as ‘cat woman’, ‘bat girl’ and so on, which
hail from the well-known Marvel comics and films. However,
the overly sensational aesthetic of this genre is less apparent
in Keys’ work than perhaps the dream-like ambience of classic
Australian cinema. The film Picnic at Hanging Rock, (1975),
with its exploration of the feminine uncanny and the natural
come initially to mind. Yet so too do photographers such
as Cindy Sherman whose theatrically staged compositions
critique representations of women in popular culture. Keys’
compositions evoke a similar close-quarters encounter. She
presents the viewer with the entangled and jutting forms of
cat, child, salt-lamps and curtains in a way that requires
unpacking – abstraction giving way to intimate figuration.
Yet where Sherman is a fixated on cinema Keys steers her
critique towards internet culture. For instance, the titles of her
works are routinely prefixed by a ‘hash-tag’, linking them
to various media platforms. Concerning this device Keys
explains, “All my work references communication technology,
pop culture, film, TV and media platforms conceptually. [Yet]
Formally, its not like that…”. That distinction between on-line
and screen-based culture as opposed to ‘lived experience’
is a significant feature of Keys’ practice, a subtle articulation
of the conditions that saturate our experience and impact the
imaginary lives of our children. At least in this instance there is
a semblance of untroubled youth.
DAMIAN SMITH is a curator and PhD candidate at the Centre for Art,
Society and Transformation (CAST) RMIT University, Melbourne. He is the
Director of Words For Art and a curator for the Bienal de la Habana,
Cuba. The Damian Smith Archive of art criticism is held in the Rare Books
and Manuscripts Department, State Library of Victoria.
1 #untitled type c photograph 50cm x 50cm 500 Edition of 5 + 1 A/P
2 #Untitled type c photograph 100cm x 100cm 1200 Edition of 5 + 1 A/P
3 #untitled type c photograph 50cm x 50cm 500 Edition of 5 + 1 A/P
4 #repose type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 + 1 A/P
5 #catgirl type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 + 1 A/P
6 #stare type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 + 1A/P
7 #flourish type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 +1A/P
8 #visitors type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 +1A/P
9 #scratch type c photograph 75cm x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 +!A/P
10 #jewell type c photograph 75cm x75cm 700 Edition of 5 +!A/P
11 #now go type c photograph 85cm x 85 cm 900 Edition of 5 +1A/P
12 #moondream type c photograph 85cm x 85cm 900 Edition of 5 + !A/P
13 #pink reverie type c photograph 75 x 75cm 700 Edition of 5 + 1A/P
‘I’ve always loved glamour. As a young girl I gazed in awe at cheesecake photographs my mother and her girlfriends made when they were at art school. They looked so free and seemed to be having so much fun.‘
Vital Statistics explores and contrasts representations of contemporary 'digital' pin-ups with the classic genre. Abstract images alongside figurative re-contextualise the classic pin-upas a multi-faceted genre communicating a richer femininity than mere objectification. The work was installed in the style of a typical 1950's ‘slide night’ referencing a simpler pre-digital era.
The title Vital Statistics refers to traditional techniques of measuring the female body based on individual proportions (eg.36-24-36) rather than standardised dress sizes (eg. 8, 10) or body weight. In Australia during wartime it was a great honour to represent one's country by being a pin-up girl and freely proclaim one's vital statistics. Mass-reproduction print technology and world war created the pop culture phenomena which was the golden pin-up era of the 40's and 50's. The classic pin-up continued throughout the 60's until its abrupt demise at the commencement of the Vietnam War. Sexualization of advertising post world war, the rise of more explicit, violent and freely available pornography post-vietnam and subsequent information technology explosion through the internet alongside changing social mores has reconfigured the classic pin-up genre and indeed mediated and propagated reductive ideas of femininity.
The women viewed in Vital Statistics (some of Australia's well-known actresses, artists and local it-girls) subvert 21st century trends for homogenous features, perfectly enhanced curves and bone-thin bodies for their own means. They are of varying ages and proportions yet all convey femininity, individuality, strength and sexuality. They enjoy the spotlight, safety, expression and freedom the classic pin-up genre offers. First-wave feminism viewed pin-ups as active disempowerment of women. Vital Statistics posits a post-feminist stance where women are the inventors of their own mythologies through whichever vehicle they choose.
1. Holding the Ace
14. Pretty Blue
17. Beach ball
All works projected in slide format
C3 art space
The bed as screen is a potent metaphor. At least one third of our lives is spent in bed (Myers, D, G. 'States of Consciousness' Worth, New York, 2007). It
is the site for birth, death, sex, dreams, rest, insomnia, nightmares, thought, conversation, infirmary, intimacy and peace. In Western society we are constantly interfacing with two dimensional images of people through ubiquitous screen technology. There are screens in many rooms in our homes, in the workplace, in our cars, sports and leisure centres, in shopping centres, institutions, street profiles and city skylines. We carry mobile phones and laptops everywhere and constantly look at screens to work and perform many daily tasks. How does total immersion with this communication technology affect us? Is Donna Harraway’svision of the human being as Cyborg becoming a reality (Harraway, D. ‘Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ New York; Routledge, 1991)?
In 'Odalisque' we see the female body as a physical projection swimming beneath the surface of the bed rather than a physical body reclining on the surface of abed and therefore a more complex spectral entity. This piece suggests a floating figure seen in a way different to the tradition of physical reclining nudes (odalisques) in art. The constantly morphing imagery is inspired by femininity's multiple, natural, diffuse and abstract elements. Water signifies emotion and the unconscious. ‘Odalisque’ suggests a floating figure seen in the tradition of screen goddess, pop diva andTV celebrity – electronically cropped, dissolved and re-composed. This imagery transposes the female body into a mass media entity in light and sound. The sound track creates mood and is a point of departure for the protagonist's experience. The bed is now a screen and our protagonist an ephemeral vision - she has no physical presence. She has become a multi-media construction yet ironically her natural femininity continues to emanate and transcend this construction.
CLICK ON LINK BELOW TO READ PHOTOFILE MAGAZINE REVIEW OF ODALISQUE:
LISTEN TO BERNADETTE KEYS IN CONVERSATION ABOUT THE MAKING OF ODALISQUE BY CLICKING > ON THIS PAGE
Images are stills from Odalisque video/sound installation
C3 art space
Listen to Bernadette Keys in conversation about Odalisque on 3mbs radio Melbourne, 2009.
OVA U explores pathos and paradox within the masculine and feminine. Through this work I have explored the schisms and disjunctions in intimate relationships men and women form. I am also interested in how much men and women in relationships communicate through technology and how this may inform and mold a broader culture of male/female relationships mediated by technology. Is communication more frequent? more honest? less authentic? Are we truly connecting as human beings through technology? Images titled by pseudo sms messages are reflective of society's obsession with mobile phone culture and its immersion in contemporary relationships. Yet how do we reconcile 21st century technology with primordial human forces? Our essential human needs have not changed with the increasing uptake of technology in our daily lives- yet there is a direct correlation between the uptake of technology and the rise in mental illness in western culture. So how does this statistic affect our relationships? Juxtaposition of figurative with abstract works are inspired by John Cage’s atonal music theory. A theory that I feel resonates so beautifully with the human condition. We as humans are perfect in our imperfection. We are complex yet simple, we are present and we are other. We are noisy and yet silent and there is noise in our silence too.
Research into mythology, contemporary psychology, relationships, symbolism, and communication technology inform the work. All images were created in domestic spaces (because that’s where relationships are lived) and I enjoy the comfort, simplicity and intimacy of working within domestic spaces.
1. thank U hades
2. Ova U
3. 4 U
4. U fig
5. which of U?
6. U doll
7. U & I
8. dream of U
10. U cunt
11. U can't
All works Chromera Prints
Images below artworks are installation views of the exhibition
Gertrude St Fitzroy
Murder is the most extreme form of interpersonal violence and for this reason the offence is observed as an indicator of the general level of violence in any given society. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, from 1994-2002, 1905 murders occurred in Australia, 513 of these in Victoria. Yet, what happens to the families of murder victims in its aftermath?
The participants in the NO TRACE project have all experienced the murder of a close family member within two years of participating in this project. Their identities remain anonymous as a direct critique of tabloid media penchant for ‘death knock’ sensationalist images of those affected by murder.
Most of the participants in NO TRACE have faced a complexity of issues from the moment they were notified about the murder and for some, these are ongoing. Some of the cases remain open, some closed and for some, the killer has been released and now resides nearby.
For some of the participants, under resourced police investigations led to incorrect or no charges being laid and in some instances the offenders were released with light sentencing. In others, the media published misleading information regarding the murdered person’s character.
Some of the victim's families had to make statements and attend hearings whilst in a state of shock and intense grief. Some families were not notified of hearings regarding their cases. Concurrent with these flaws in the justice system, family members experienced intense personal grief and for some there were far reaching effects on their physical and emotional wellbeing, relationships, family and community. For a small number of participants the murder has had little or no impact on their lives.
Death is still taboo in the 21st century, western society. When death occurs in a violent or unexpected manner, many people are simply unable to cope or offer support to those affected. It is our underlying denial of death and inherent loss of community, in this self-oriented society that can contribute to the isolation of those affected by murder, even by their own communities.
LISTEN TO THE NO TRACE SOUNDTRACK TO FULLY EXPERIENCE THIS ARTWORK BY CLICKING > ON THIS THIS PAGE
2. Don't wait till I die to send me flowers
4. She does my hair
14. Family Photos
22. The Bill
All works handprinted Type C Photographs
Further image from No Trace installation view
RMIT University Melbourne
Throughout recorded history, women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, or elevate their breasts. Bra or bikini-like garments are depicted on some female athletes in the 14th century BC during the Minoan civilisation era. Garments more closely resembling contemporary bras emerged by the early 20th century, although large-scale commercial production did not occur until the 1930s. By the time the World War two ended, most fashion-conscious women in Europe and North America were wearing bras. In the ensuing decades bras have become a multi-billion dollar industry with the emphasis on manufacture largely shifting from functionality to fashion.
For this exhibition I photographed women of varying body types with ages ranging from their twenties to their seventies. The participants were very happy to be photographed in their favorite bra and through the images it became evident that underwear is indeed more revelatory of personality than nudity. The images are cropped and the women's identity remains mysterious as a playful nod to Alexandros' famous sculpture of Aphrodite. In this manner the women photographed are transposed into a post-modern Venus de Milo.
MY FAVORITE BRA
list of works
1. BLACK STRETCH
All works Lambda Photographic Prints
All works NFS
I am photographing long-term partners for a forthcoming project titled #everythingisconnected. Through this work I am continuing my research into male/female energies,dynamics and relationships and how these elements relate with nature and with the cosmos...