24 July - 9 August 2008
Using the found imagery of archived police photos of crime scenes, Cue will re-interpret the images with free hand embroidery, entertaining the transformation of an archetypal image through a repetitive process.
”Flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react. Compassion, stretched to its limits, is going numb.”1
For those who live in the safety of the Western world, our grasp of violence, particularly that which is provoked by war, is shaped primarily by photography. In her writings, Susan Sontag questioned the moral implications of a medium which enables us to regard – at a safe distance – horrors taking place throughout the world. The depictions of cruelty found in journalism and entertainment enable us a view into the severity of war and violence in a ‘culture of spectatorship’. However taking a photo immediately means to interpret, frame and displace an event from its original context. Photography creates an “ecology of images”2in which fragments of the world are torn from their context and history and mixed together like surrealist collages. Sontag concedes that “…to photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude”3. The eye of the camera is not a clear view of the world, as we are often lead to believe, but a process of selecting and discarding details of an event. Behind every photograph lie a thousand other rejected angles which may have revealed an entire new facet. Can then a photograph of violence, misplaced from its context, convey any significant meaning?
Photographs on our televisions and in our magazines are so detached from the actual event they are portraying, we run the risk of becoming passive spectators to acts of cruelty. Does viewing Nick Ut’s Napalm bombed child incite empathy or apathy? Sontag cautioned that an overflow of morally empty images will cause a depersonalized relationship with the world. An image of unspeakable violence can still be meaningless if it is completely anonymous to the person viewing it. Particularly if it is shown after a sequence of similarly violent and unrelated photographs. For Sontag photojournalism in magazines, placed next to glossy advertisements, can never be more than a shallow anaesthetizing of experience. Nonetheless photography plays an intrinsic part in viewing what others suffer on a global scale, as it can show what words cannot. “The knowledge gained through still photographs will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist. It will be knowledge at bargain prices – a semblance of knowledge, a semblance of wisdom.”4A nameless image of violence is pure sensation to the viewer. However Nick Ut’s Napalm Child had the influence to provoke a revolt.
My embroideries attempt to explore Sontag’s suggestion that photography discards any personal identification or meaning with violence through its highly constructed and distancing nature. At first glance, a child lies in a sunny meadow, his bike abandoned. A man reclines on a fence, eyes shut and grasping a rifle. The bodies of two lovers lie twisted and contorted around one another. Each of these scenes suggests a prefacing menace, however they are actually capturing the moments just after a malicious crime. Using archival police imagery, I wove these scenes of calamity and murder. However, by isolating images from their series, I was able to divorce the image from context which might reveal the nature and details of the crime. My process of then thickly weaving the image further eliminates visual cues or information provoking only pure sensation in the viewer. He or she may attempt to decipher the scenario but will inevitably struggle to find any storyline beyond the melodrama and tactility of the work. The repetitive and painstaking gesture of weaving, and it’s affect of softening the image can offer as a meditation on the gravity of the scene, and remove for it’s long forgotten inhabitants, any trace of malevolence.
The act of sewing and weaving photographs images the intensely mediated and constructed nature of all image making, wile also softening, and removing elements. Whether using the pixels of photography or the threads of embroidery, both processes create the Illusion of replicating a moment in time. However, with its immaculate clarity and depth, a photograph has the ability to deceive us into overlooking this Illusion and regarding it as a tangible piece of reality. For embroidery, the process can never be hidden. A woven Image can never deceive you into believing It Is anything other than a woven Image because the threads remain visible, whereas pixels are always hidden. This presents an entirely different approach to image making, where the personal interpretation involved in replicating and documenting an event – which exists In all forms of Image making – is exposed to the viewer.
This personalized approach is explicitly present in the delicate rendering of each embroidery, where I have used this process to honour and respect death in a way that photography often fails to do. There is endless imaging in all cultures of thread as life, in representing it’s preciousness and precariousness. The Fates of Greek mythology were three sisters; Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who were responsible for the creation and ending of all life through the spinning, measuring and cutting of thread. The precision in a photograph of death will more often shock us than draw us into a contemplative state. The softening of death in embroidery, like the metaphorical Fates, gives the opportunity to become engaged with the situation in a more respectful and personal way rather than facing a brutal depiction of its severity.
Georgina Cue - 2008