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In/Visible Truths
The Photographic Work of Clara Gutsche, Adrian Piper and Allyson Clay

Allyson Clay: My Sense of Place
Allyson Clay: My Sense of Place

Allyson Clay, Untitled I (My Sense of Place) detail, 1997.
Immediately obvious is the glowing colour emanating from the smooth surface of the light boxes, which directly contrasts the textured surface of paintings. This format brings to mind an expensive advertising campaign. The images though, contradict any advertiser’s usual seduction methods. Rather, the viewer becomes conscious of art historical referencesthe ornate sofa in Manet’s Olympia1, rich colour and pattern of Matisse’s Orientalism2, and the reclining figure objectified throughout painting’s history, the odalisque.3

But it is the robed figure of Clay that captures the viewer’s attention. In one light box image, she is curled up comfortably on the sofa with her back to the viewer; the next sees her leaving the frame; and the third finds her gone. Ostensibly, she ignores, dismisses and rejects whoever is watching. Is such behaviour rude or is it a proactive stance to counter the objectifying gaze?

Allyson Clay: previously swallowed
Allyson Clay: previously swallowed

Allyson Clay, Untitled II (previously swallowed small artifacts)detail, 1997.
The wall text offers some clues. The words seem like an internal monologue, perhaps the thoughts of Manet’s mute bartender in A Bar at the Folies-Bergères4 (1881-82), or her contemporary equivalent. The text also refers in an oblique way to the details of the photographs. For example, the image of the hand with a sharp object begins to resonate when linked to the text, “She said with a slight exhalation of breath she can produce previously swallowed small artefacts in perfect condition.” As does the sumptuously robed departing woman, who drops her book and states, “I have the feeling I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” Do these couplings refer to the mundane tasks and responsibilities of “kept” women? Does her admission, “The daydreams I’m having infect my sense of place,” hint at a desired emancipation or does the vacated room state its occurrence? Clay offers no definitive answer, but her work requires us to ask the questions.

Allyson Clay: self portrait
Allyson Clay: self portrait

Allyson Clay, Untitled III (self portrait) detail, 1995-1998.
In an age of digital media and media savvy, we know that nothing is as it seems; yet the prevalence of simplified, sexualized, and idealized female imagery in our contemporary media continues to shape our attitudes and undermine the lived experience of women. Gutsche, Piper and Clay critically engage this disconnect between what we as women know, and what we are encouraged to believe. Attending to issues of identity, visibility, and choice, along axis of gender, race, and age, these artists’ representations of their subjects validate lived experience over collective myth. Over the last three decades, with an astute awareness of image-making’s power to propagate ideology, Gutsche, Piper and Clay have provided answers as to how it is possible to respectfully represent the diversity of women and their experiences.

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1. Edouard Manet's Olympia (http://www.jssgallery.org/Other_Artists/Manet/Olympia.htm). Last verified: 15 October 2005.

2. oberlin.edu on Henri Matisse (http://www.oberlin.edu/allenart/collection/matisse_henri.html). Last verified: 15 October 2005.

3. Titian’s Venus d’Urbano (http://www.jssgallery.org/Other_Artists/Manet/Olympia_in_Juxtaposition.htm). Last verified: 15 October 2005.

4. Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergères (1881-82) (http://www.ski.org/CWTyler_lab/CWTyler/Art Investigations/Manet.FoliesBergeres/Manet.FoliesBergeres.html). Last verified: 15 October 2005.

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