Boris, Porcupine

The two factors in species longevity and endurance are reproduction and predation (the preying of one animal on another). As far as both characteristics are concerned, porcupines are tremendously successful. Considering this, Wilson envisaged that in millennia to come, porcupines may be one of the very few species to survive. An interstellar celestial background was created for Boris to evoke a future world. The music is from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, conjoined with the tune from the 1892 popular song ‘A bicycle built for two’, a tune that the artificial intelligence character HAL sang as he was losing his ‘mind’ in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Boris, Porcupine is paired with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lightning Fields 227. In this series, Sugimoto, a leading Japanese photographer, architect and sculptor, employed a radical and innovative process of camera-less photography. In 1752 Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm to prove his theory of electrical charges. In the 1830s, William Fox Talbot discovered the photosensitive properties of silver alloys, which led to calotype photography. Both these discoveries and a fascination for elemental forces inspired Sugimoto’s Lightning Fields series, in which he uses electrical discharges directly onto photographic dry plates to create these startling images.

Princess Caroline, Princess of Monaco

The dramatic silhouette of Princess Caroline of Monaco purposefully draws a connection between the subject and her mother, the actor Grace Kelly. Wilson has staged the video portrait to quote Kelly’s role of Lisa Fremont in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear window, 1954. In a pivotal scene from the film, Kelly is filmed from behind, gesturing to a ring on her wedding finger. Here, Princess Caroline repeats this gesture, with her dress and dramatic lighting creating a mesmerising slit in her dress, an opening that underscores the erotic charge of the portrait. The portrait is accompanied with music by Bernard Herrmann, a composer who worked with Alfred Hitchcock (although not specifically on Rear Window).

Hoda Afshar’s Portrait #7 from the series Agonisties, 2020 utilises the cultural associations of authority ascribed to classical sculpture to present a portrait of a whistleblower from contemporary Australia. This photograph is twice removed and is based on a 3-D printed model of the subject sourced from hundreds of individual reference photographs the artist has taken of the sitter. Allusions to the past are brought starkly to the present with an explanation of the whistleblower’s actions.

In this never-displayed glass plate negative of a young woman in a floor length tiered dress from the early twentieth century, the (possibly South Australian) photographer has similarly framed their sitter, with restraint. Their portrait creates a sense of mystery and allure through the use of distance and the artifice of the painted backdrop, placing the figure ‘floating’ in the middle-ground with a striking use of black and white tones.

Salma Hayek, Actor

Wilson’s video portrait of the actor Salma Hayek presents her styled as a glamourous movie star of Hollywood’s film noir era, of the 1940s. Dramatically lit and emerging from a field of darkness, Hayek appears to pose for her ‘close-up’. As she breathes, the feather boa moves tremulously against her flawless skin, an effect that underscores her erotic power.

The ability of light to frame a figure and our meaning of a scene is exploited in the works on display here. Photographers Olive Cotton and Max Dupain both crop the figure in their black-and-white photographs to exaggerate certain features and to hide their gaze: Olive Cotton depicts the body of her lover (Max Dupain) in such deep shadow that his head is not visible. This compositional device makes the body appear as if a fragment of a classical marble statue, a male figure in peak physical condition. Similarly, Dupain’s erotic photograph of Jean with wire mesh seeks to seduce the viewer through its close crop of the young woman, her youthful beauty altered and enhanced by the patterning and texture of the shadows. The possibilities of patterning and abstraction in photography are similarly brilliantly explored in Harold Cazneaux’s photograph of a confident, beautifully dressed young woman in The ermine coat, 1931.

The Japanese colour woodblock print by Kunisada Utagawa II of the actor Segawa Kikunojo as the nun cat from The dog storybook, the tale of eight dog heroes is from 1852. These dynamic prints of actors (always male) are seen as precursors to the visual language of contemporary manga.