Possession and Mirth by Anne Kirker

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