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Holly Birtles photography exhibition opens at Doomed Gallery

PUBLISHED: 18:00 26 October 2016

Michael, I keep my expression in my nose, 2016. Picture: Holly Birtles

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The artist critiques the assumption that photography is a true recording of reality. Touching on the medium’s failed promise and sensorial shortcoming. Birtles work pre-existed the numerous dialogues on image manipulation.

Self Portraitl, I keep my expression in my nose, 2016. Picture: Holly BirtlesSelf Portraitl, I keep my expression in my nose, 2016. Picture: Holly Birtles

Birtles creates a visual itch, by putting in tension photography’s flatness with a visceral punch.

The artist critiques the assumption that photography is a true recording of reality. Touching on the medium’s failed promise and sensorial shortcoming. Birtles work pre-existed the numerous dialogues on image manipulation.

Sculptural props are created from clay and inflatables and the photographs are covered in expressionistic gloopy paint or dense all over graffiti asserting highly tactile qualities. These images then undergo a series of flattening techniques via multiple re-photographing of these sculptural props.

Through these props Birtles engages in the language of abstract expressionists, yet critically takes a detached sidestep from the intense romantic drives of the Americans artists.

Picture: Holly BirtlesPicture: Holly Birtles

In a marked contrast to Abstract Expressionism, Birtles concentrates on the uncanny and the awkward sensory experiences that are distinctly difficult to categorise. Sensory overload and cross associations are examples of an experience overflowing language that are focus of the artist.

The photography contains qualities of both the visceral incitement of Francis Bacon and Pop-art’s appropriation of images from popular culture and public discourse.

In material and subject Birtles underscores a comedy of matter and of an undoing. In this the work is resonant with Richard Prince and Paul McCarthy.

Birtles presents video portraits of artists, musicians, performers, friends, acquaintances that resonate with the psychic flow of Arnulf Rainer’s applications of paint on to photo portraits.

Justine. Picture: Holly BirtlesJustine. Picture: Holly Birtles

They probe emotions and fictionalise them through the process of manipulation, lighting and composition.

Tricks such as repetition and making the sitters choose specific lines suggest “free will”, giving a shot that is seemingly uncontrolled yet staged.

These “personal” contributions are placed in a montage of stop frame animation, where invited members of the public are performing – the clay and inflated sculptures morph into each other.

An opera singer chants the poem ‘Ye Slapstick Daisy’ poem by writer DJ Pangburn, accompanied by a montage of saxophonist Terry Edwards album ‘FIT 014CD’

Mitchell. Picture: Holly BirtlesMitchell. Picture: Holly Birtles

There is an interrogation throughout the work, poking at the powerful unmediated effect of these images in newspapers, advertising and television soap operas.

Splotches invade scenes looking like paint and ink jammed in the printing press.

It is in this way that Birtles’ photography seeks “to unlock the valves of sensation” as Francis Bacon put it. This is borne out of the material tactile pleasures and displeasures, sculptural relief v flatness, distance v proximity, which is out of reach, repellent and desires to reproduce these sensorial effects.

Holly Birtles is a photography lecturer at the University Centre Farnborough. She received her Masters from The Slade School of Art, and graduated from Westminster University’s Photography BA.

Swan Song III. Picture: Holly BirtlesSwan Song III. Picture: Holly Birtles

I Keep my expression in my nose by Holly Birtles runs October 27 to 30 at Doomed Gallery.

65 Ridley Rd, London E8 2NP


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