Russian-born, New York based artist Svetlana Bailey presents Without Kisses and Hugs, a series of never before exhibited large scale, ambitious and experimental photographic works exploring the transformative nature of the human lifecycle and its connection to fruit. With compelling imagery of lush and decaying fruit evoked as more than just a metaphor for humankind’s eternal cycles of birth, growth and death, Bailey also draws our attention to the fragile nature of many familiar fruit species, revealing a little known truth that the continued future existence of many fruits are just as threatened by disease and disaster as we have found ourselves to be in 2020.
We share more than sixty-six percent of our DNA with bananas and we have seventy-five percent of DNA that is responsible for disease in common with fruit flies.
These are facts Svetlana Bailey found as background to the fraught imbalances, personal, philosophical and political, between humans and our fragile global ecology – with fruit a natural bridge for exposing that increasingly uneasy rupture.
Installation shots by Zan Wimberley.
The sexual nature of fruits and their associations with male and female body parts and carriage of cultural meanings fascinate the artist: “Fruit’s short life points to human cycles sped up; the mystery of seeding, the beauty of flowering, the patience of ripening, the rapture of a pinnacle, the ever- changing…”
In Memory of Big Mike is a large-scale photo-homage to the world’s most consumed and popular fruit. The Big Mike banana was the most commercially produced variety in the world until supplanted in the sixties by the less flavourful Cavendish when fungal infections felled Big Mike.
Edible bananas are a genetic accident, seedless and sterile and dependant on cloning; hence the fragility through lack of diversity and the ongoing frantic research to ‘save the banana’.
In Memory of Big Mike, is a simulation created from a mix of natural ingredients cast from a banana peel mould. A fruit that is perishable by nature, it lies sluggish on a slab of marble, the material of mortuaries and memorials. The artist’s image is sectioned. In Victorian times bananas were sold and served cut-up as when whole were deemed unsuitable for Victorian ladies’ sensibilities. Panel #1 is a full-blown flower, an integral part of the life cycle of fruit and plants and art-historically favoured in Vanitas still-life paintings for reminding us that in life is death. That sentiment is repeated in a later panel.
A moth, an insect species known for its very short-lived adult life- span forebodes our precarious ecological future.
To birth is to fruit. Female sexuality and reproduction is intimated in the photo-artist’s “66% bananas” series where woman and fruit are recurring themes. Passion Berry suggests the intimate coupling of lush ripe red strawberries as they juicily conjoin. After Birth reveals berries bearded with a past- their-use-by-date fungal fuzz. They leach and leak a post birth or menstrual stain that seeps across virginal white absorbent paper towels coned beneath and behind approximating the breasts and buttocks of a birthing body.
We are social beings but we are in the throes of a global viral pandemic that has brought the fragile dance between life and death and our ecological interdependence into global consciousness. Currently twenty million are infected with Covid19 and half a million are dead worldwide. The angst, the fear and loneliness of lockdown with enforced social distancing and withdrawal, both psychological and physical, is captured in Svetlana Bailey’s haunting response, Without Kisses and Hugs.
Fighting for breath, arching her spine, coiling her limbs she contorts her sealed, constrained bag-enmeshed body. Is she struggling for release from the constricting white sac or pulling in, cocooning, reaching round, craving the embraces and touch we are denied? Faint figments from her poignant performance are traced onto pale silk panels. They hang suspended and separated, as we all are at this time from our lives and from our loved ones.
Svetlana Bailey’s practice searches for new ways of inhabiting our world and examines personal, political and philosophical relationships between humans and the natural environment. The artist places combinations of fruit and her own body in this picture as she explores the interdependence between human and habitat and the subject/object dynamic that misinterprets the underlying nature of these relations. Her work opens to questions on the role for humans within global ecology and speculates on the weirdness of the future.
Bailey is currently an artist-in-residence at the ISCP in New York, and she has previously been in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, the Marble House Vermont, the Mountain School in Los Angeles, the Vermont Studio Center, the NARS Foundation in New York and the Three Shadows Photography Arts Center in Beijing. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Australia and in China, including at Elizabeth Houston Gallery NYC, Clamp Art NYC and Blue Sky in Portland. She is the recipient of national and international grants by the Australia Council for the Arts, Copyright Agency Sydney, Joseph Robert Foundation Pennsylvania and the American-Australian Association in New York, and was recently profiled in Vault Magazine and PDN Magazine.
Bailey’s work is held in the Australian Government’s Artbank collection and the Library of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and for two years running was awarded the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward prize. She received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and lives with her family in New York City.
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