and Mirth by
This series of cibachromes explores terrain informed
as much by Christianity and an interest in quotational
art as it is by the inner workings of the mind. Through
imitating art forms of the past – borrowing poses
and symbolic objects from the Old Masters – Webster
seeks to situate her work within tradition but recontextualisies
its frame of reference through the concerns of the present.
The allusions to religious iconography are implicit
throughout these deeply disturbing images. Her revisionist
stance towards the treatment of the male nude, as portrayed
for instance in Italian Renaissance paintings and sculpture,
is matched by the evocation of myth, illusion and fantasy.
The conflation of the secular runs as a leit motif
throughout this series. The Apollo-like nude in ‘Poison’,
indolent in his reclining posture, toys with the lush
fruit of the poisonous elderberry while above him disembodied
hands hold Christ’s crown of thorns. Elsewhere
in this series, a flying figure with wings refers to
the legend of Icarus and his inevitable collapse, symbolising
the extremes of idealism, striving and defeat. ‘Cross’
reminds one of Michelangelo’s Struggling captive
in the Louvre, or depictions of martyrdom such as St.
Sabastian tied and bound. Cruelty and violent death,
the process of healing and transcendence (as shown in
‘Rags’), operate simultaneously in these
emotively charged tableaux.
Possession & Mirth is a provocative and disquieting
sequence of images. At once a critique of Christianity
and the patriarch, a commentary on humankind’s
struggle with destiny and the futility of heroic action,
Christine Webster’s series of cibachromes nevertheless
leavens pathos with a sense of the absurd. She excavates
the classical male nude from the past, photographing
him disguised with props, and sets into motion a narrative/spectacle
which continually shifts in meaning and resonance.
© Anne Kirker 1992,
Curator of International Art, Queensland Art Gallery,
Brisbane. Excerpts from catalogue for Possession &
Mirth exhibition, Artspace, Auckland