Lisa Garland - Contemporary Art Tasmania

We see things not as they are,
but as we are
Woolnorth Dude, 2013
Lisa Garland has been making photographic portraits of her family, friends and
acquaintances in Tasmania’s northwest since the mid 1990s. She makes formal portraits
and still-lifes that are stark and unglamorous. Garland takes us away from the current
obsession with the public image, a time where we are meme-ed beyond belief. In these
works there is a completely different, more confronting self-consciousness to the
ubiquity of the Selfie, Facebook, Photoshop, Instagram and Kik.
A patched and bound cactus struggles to gain supremacy in a garden of filled with
oppositional species.
Surrounded by talismans - the blanket, an alarm clock, tanning lotion, transistor radio
and thongs, an older man steals sunlight in a protected part of the beach.
A waterfall of synthetic fabrics, pictures of Saint Anthony and loved ones protectively
frame a woman in foetal position who looks directly at us through the lens. Similarly
ceramic dogs and birds soften the husband and wife photographed in their spacious
lounge room. One subject sports much loved runners, the other wears socks.
In a surprisingly barren domestic environment a young man in a hoody captivates with
his steely gaze - here’s trouble…maybe.
Wounded Cactus, 2015
In the late 14th century portraits were devised as memento-moris, reminders of
fleeting nature and the vanities of life. Over time the portrait became an exercise in
elegant fiction glamorized and idealized representations of mostly rich people for
future audiences. The invention of photography and the infinite detail the lens
provides shifted the genre entirely, throwing in to high relief the relations inherent in
the creation of the image. While Garland’s work draws on a number of key
antecedents in the photographic portrait genre from Jacob Riis to Katy Grannan,
the specific locus of her practice distinguishes these works from those more wellknown figures. She combines the traditions of environmental and ethnographic
documentary photography to great effect. Garland employs the continuing almost
primal frisson of black and white, of tones, highlights and shadows to reveal and to
frame a little known scion of Australian culture, the northwest of Tasmania. Still
relatively isolated this is a tough, terrible and beautiful part of the island. An insider,
her work gives a functional coherence to people and place.
Auntie Lettie, 2013
It is in the family home that our world and our personalities begin and play out.
With Garland we are given permission to enter various domestic environments some
are fortresses, some are in decay, all have tinges of the ideal. We see again just what
accumulative and incremental creatures humans are. With Garland we are regaled
by the importance of objects and spaces to the individual and the constructions of
personality. The home is the space of habituation, the vast powerhouse generator of
memories we cannot let go.
Patrick, Pistol, Gerry, Reg, 2010
Formally, memory is described by science as the reactivation of electrical signals
from previously encoded data across networks of nerve cells that reside in specific
areas of the brain; the hippocampus for long term memories while in the prefrontal
cortex are active or more immediate memories and tasks before being filtered for
storage. The acts of remembering are our identity. Our sense of our selves is solely
dependent on the particular bundle of stories we choose tell to ourselves at any
moment in time. Every act of memory is conjuring. So the site of the domestic home
is the magician’s hat from which we all draw.
Moved by his mother’s enduring Alzheimer’s disease, Luis Buñuel wrote, “Life
without memory is no life at all, just as intelligence without the possibility of
expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason,
our feeling, even our action. Without it we are nothing.” For Andre Breton humans
were memory’s playthings. “Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret
society. It will glove your hand, burying there the profound M with which the word
Memory begins.” There is definitely a certain bleakness to the world that Garland
However it is the level of intimacy in the work that is both fascinating and
disquieting. In many ways the work in this exhibition is not only a testament to the
artist’s eye but also to Garlands unique social skills. In the production of any
successful photographic portrait there is always an element of a mise-en-scene in
as in Hollywood Western, the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. More politely it is a
meeting similar to the first encounter of the psychoanalyst and the patient.
Whereas many contemporary photographers spectacularize prurient or culturally
problematic states of living and being Garland clearly admires and has an empathic
engagement with her often very different, perhaps eccentric subjects.
We cannot be more aware of the patient processes of negotiation between the artist
and subjects as to site/location and pose. As Gaston Bachelard another Surrealist
presciently explains in The Poetics of Space, “A creature that hides and withdraws into
it’s shell is preparing a way out… by staying in the motionlessness of it’s shell, the
creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds of being”. In an
uncanny way these extraordinary images are as revelatory as they are empowering.
Craig Judd
Kim’s Shack, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Wounded Cactus, 2015
Archival digital print
595 x 740mm
Marlene, 2013
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Shane and Taz, 2014
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Duck Plot, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Auntie Lettie, 2013
Archival digital print
245 x 305mm
Mr Atkins’ Garden, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Inglis Palms, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Peter’s Phonebook, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Jesse’s Fireplace, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Reg, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Woolnorth Dude, 2013
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Patrick, Pistol, Gerry, Reg, 2010
Archival digital print
245 x 305mm
Peter’s Dining Room, 2015
Archival digital print
1300 x 1050mm
Paste-up: Wally’s Garden, 2005
Lisa Garland holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Tasmanian School of Art (1992) and a Diploma
of Education. She currently teaches photography at Hellyer College in Burnie, Tasmania. She has
been shortlisted for the National Photographic Portrait Prize, the Hobart City Art Prize and the City
of Devonport Art Award. In 2007 she was awarded the Moorilla Prize (now the MONA Scholarship).
Her work is held in public and private collections, including the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery,
the University of Tasmania, Burnie Regional Art Gallery, Devonport Regional Art Gallery and MONA.
Garland is represented by Despard Gallery, Hobart.
Contemporary Art Tasmania
27 Tasma Street, North Hobart, Tasmania 7000
03 6231 0445
[email protected]
Contemporary Art Tasmania is supported by the
Australian Government through the Australia
Council, its principal arts funding body, and
by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an
initiative of the Australian, State and Territory
Governments, and is assisted through Arts
Tasmania by the Minister for the Arts.
© Contemporary Art Tasmania, the artists and authors, 2015