Rebecca Beardmore creates an ambiguous and elusive presence in her subtle and layered pictorial spaces. Her images challenge recognition and play on the limitations of visual experience, setting up a subtle interaction between image and text and the distinction between what is real and what is reflection.
The evocative images of landscapes (long grass series) and interiors (hotel series) are sites for her continuing investigation into perception and ways of seeing. She seeks to bring attention to the complacency of the act of seeing; to aspects of visual literacy, with its possibilities for seeing amiss or misreading and connections to concepts of awareness, comprehension, perception and discernment in the act of looking. Her focus is not only with the making of an image but also its material qualities. The artist pushes the boundaries of conventional printmaking techniques.
The works in the in_sight series combine flatbed printing onto dense mirrored and sandblasted glass with an overlaid screen-printed descriptive text written by the artist as an extension and another form of documenting the site. She writes the description unemotionally and without sentimentality to locate the reader in the scene and nothing more. The sense and neutrality of the words and the visual texture that the scarcely legible text gives to the surface are equally significant considerations for both the image and the material quality of the work of art.
Although she uses a camera to take the departure images of grasslands and hotel interiors for her prints, Rebecca Beardmore does not consider herself a photographer. The lens isn’t aimed directly at a site, a person or object, but records their images indirectly or tangentially as they appear reflected and sometimes disquietingly distorted on the shimmering surface of a metal sheet that the artist takes to the location. For the image capture stage of the ‘borrowed sceneries’ of the in_sight series she plays with both polishing the metal to create areas of high reflectivity and erasure for areas of softer reflectivity.
The intervention of the metal surface acts as a filter and vehicle for enabling the work to read not as a photograph but as a painting or drawing or print (with all the material qualities that are embedded within those mediums). She prints the images onto panels of glass that are treated with reflective metallic films and inks, and with areas eroded by sandblasting to create further transitions of translucence and reflectivity that shift according to lighting, setting and movement. The finished works are not presented as conventionally hung wall works but as three dimensional objects, set into fixed steel brackets allowing them to lean angled against the wall, intensifying the opportunities for reflections and textural refractions.
The philosophy that informs the in_sight series is expressed by Rebecca Beardmore in her following statement: The interplay of image, text and material has been at the core of my practice for several years. This project, in_sight, continues to develop my exploration into our everyday, lived perception of urban and other spaces. Melding text and image, the works unearth the habitual modes of perception while also uncovering deeper residues of expectation and awareness. The works are both highly tactile and philosophically speculative, seeking to express the gaps between first, seeing and understanding, and second, technologically mediated habit and subjective desire.
The panels have a subtle printed photographic element – empty, anonymous, sparsely furnished interiors and details of exterior elements that serve only to suspend the viewer in an imagined scene. Overlaid with a descriptive field of small-scale type, the two create an optical oscillation between the different modes of reading (text or image). What is crucial is that the various reflective qualities of the work challenge conventional patterns of seeing. The work will engender a self-reflexive experience that suspends contemplation to the act of looking itself.
Rebecca Beardmore won Australia’s most prestigious print prize, The Freemantle Print Award, in 2010 and her works are in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, international institutional collections including Guangdong Museum of Art, China, Rhode Island School of Art and Design, USA, University of Alberta, Canada and University of Texas Collection, USA.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.