Contemporary Australian artist Georgina Cue and Bendigo Art Gallery Curator Clare Needham discuss Cue’s work Three Musicians recently acquired by the gallery through the generosity of the Baring family in memory of Wynne Baring.
CN: Your work is rich with historical references. How does historical material inform your practice?
GC: I’ve always been interested in learning about how things have been made in the past. I source a lot of my material from art history as well as from film, music, literature and science. I’ve found that being an artist allows me to build a working relationship with history and research in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do in other vocations.
CN: What are key values in contemporary artist’s revisiting, remixing and reinterpreting history?
GC: I think one of the key values in artists reinterpreting history is that it enables us to question how events have been framed. By revisiting historical events, you can learn that certain details have been overlooked or misinterpreted. The more I research about a certain subject or artist, the more I begin to understand how this could be interpreted from many different points of view. It’s important that artists continue to do this, otherwise subjective accounts will be accepted as an empirical version of events. I enjoy learning those things. Artists can create new perspectives of history by combining different details together that haven’t been juxtaposed before.
CN: Is there a code to crack in your works? Do the sequence of symbols and historical appropriations form specific meaning or are your references more loose? What are the access points for viewers not versed in Western Art History?
GC: That’s a great question. To me, it’s important that the meaning of these references remain loosely symbolic. I try to use my sets as a way of creating new narratives that are not literal but can provide different readings. Art that interests me the most can be interpreted through multiple access points. Visual tools like colour, form and scale can provide an entry point for viewers not versed in Western Art History. Beyond that, an artwork can also contain more coded references that require a certain literacy. I don’t see these references as a code to be cracked, but something that helps to give a richer experience of the work. My favourite works by other artists are ones that combine these two qualities, like Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés. This is a visually generous work, but it’s also coded in a sophisticated way. He nods to Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting L’Origine du monde and the 1940s crime photographs of Black Dahlia but you don’t need to know this to enjoy the work.
CN: Why specifically Picasso’s c1921 painting Three Musicians?
GC: I was particularly drawn to the colours Picasso used in this painting – the warm browns and cool blues. At the time I wanted to push how I used colour in my own work so I adopted Picasso’s colour scheme for this specific work as an experiment in colour. I was also drawn to how I could use loosely figurative elements in the painting, such as the mandolin, to create a flat plane and build this up sculpturally using ceramic props. The challenge of this work was to avoid making something that was too derivative of the original. I tried to solve this by incorporating other components such as ceramics which brought the work further into the realm of sculpture and set design.
CN: In the past you have made sculptural installations, which have protruded into and occupied physical space in the gallery only more recently working with photography. I am interested in this shift in your approach to representation and medium.
GC: At the time, moving from textile-based work into photography felt like a dramatic shift. Looking back however it makes a lot of sense, and I can see the continuity of my research. I’ve always had an interest in exploring how light operates in physical space, photography and in film. Previously I used sculptural installations to explore this, however after some time I began to feel stylistically trapped. I’d pushed the materials as far as I could and felt that I needed a new way to explore my interests. I began playing around using my iphone to create short films of myself dressed up as different femme fatale actresses from German Expressionist films. From there I began to build sets and take photographs of myself in front of them. I found this to be a great way for me to combine my interest in sculpture, narrative and theatrical staging in a quick and idiosyncratic way.
CN: Three Musicians is part of a series titled Scenes first shown at Neon Parc Gallery, Melbourne in 2018. In this series and your earlier series Stages, you pose in constructed tableaux as femme fatal tapping into the feminist tradition of performance and self-portraiture. How important is performance and the female body in your work?
GC: Even in photographs where I’m not physically present, such as Three Musicians, I want there to be a performative element. My aim is to create photographs that serve as documentations of scenes and tableaux created through my sculptural practice. I take a lot of inspiration from John Divola’s Zuma series, where he photographed wall paintings he created in abandoned houses on Zuma beach. I enjoy the way his work slips between different categories of painting, performance and photography. In a similar way I try to incorporate a performative element in my work, either by using myself physically in the work or through sculptural play. I hope my photographs can be read more as documentations of events rather than as a formal photograph.
Artwork: Georgina Cue, Three Musicians, 2018. Inkjet print. Purchased in memory of Wynne Baring 2020. Collection Bendigo Art Gallery, 2020.138. Image courtesy and © the artist.