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What is it like to be stuck in a photograph?

We are fascinated by the magician, only because we do not understand his tricks. As soon as the truth comes to the surface, we, the spectators are no longer interested or capable of believing. Not knowing attracts us more than knowing, as mystery draws our attention more than comprehension.

The Painted Screen by Francis Bacon is an example of this obsessively attractive mystery. The large-scale triptych with figures melting into each other is capable of transporting the viewer to a world of obscurities, fictions and veracities.

In 2015, Victoria Doyle – a current RCA postgraduate student had her first encounter with the Painted Screen in the 1930’s room of Tate Britain. Gazing at the piece with enthusiasm and deep adoration, this happened to be the start of her most recent project The Photograph. Not knowing what dragged her to this screen, except the unknown and unexplainable which lays within. Returning multiple times to the gallery to simply water her eyes, made her think about ways of negotiating space.

Francis Bacon, Painted Screen c.1929

 

Spending the last two years going out of the studio and searching for already-made sites and objects, Doyle began simultaneously to describe the difference between space and place. As she explains to me over a coffee on a cold Sunday in Streatham: “Places – exist as a result of space and time, they are locatable whilst spaces aren’t, they are untethered.” Abandoning the weight of the camera accompanied by the weight of the photograph and simply using her phone, Victoria photographed many gallery and museum spaces to create a fairy-tale of her own. The Photograph is influenced as well by The Witches of Roald Dhal, a book for children which she remembers listening to on tape, completely terrified while the shadows of the nearby trees danced on her bedroom window. The novel includes the story of a little girl who gets stuck in an oil painting – she changes her place but no one ever sees her move. Alongside she grows older in the painting, becoming a woman from a young girl and later completely disappearing.

On the other hand, The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde another major influence – narrates a similar story, but instead the opposite. Dorian Gray remains charming, while his portrait adopts all his vices, growing older and horrific.

1- The Photograph, 2- A Curved Wooden Screen Opens To Reveal Two Seats, Annie Ratti), 3- Painted Screen, Francis Bacon

 

Victoria wonders not only what is it like to be stuck in a painting but also what is it like to be conserved in a photograph. She questions the mortality of an image – as it is often regarded as immortal, untouchable by time since it captures and steals a split second from it. Alternatively, the physicality of a photograph decays through time and at some point, vanishes along with the eternal imprint on it. In Poetry and Photography, Yves Bonnefoy refers to the idea of the ‘’inwardly collapsed outside of the inside of here’’ linking back to photography and its major quality of being completely unexplainable and cryptic.

Continuing her studies on the way artworks impact each other, not only by photographing and appropriating other artists’ works but also through her own recreation of Bacon’s screen. Building a similar piece but replacing the painting with matte black paint absorbing the surrounding space and adding a reflective surface on the other side, so the viewer becomes a part of the sculpture and simultaneously moves to a foreign space. And since both Bacon’s screen and Doyle’s replica have vanished and remain solely in Doyle’s photographs – they have adopted the role of the little girl in the oil painting from The Witches.

Through her practice she also questions the gap between the opening and the closing of the shutter, and in particular the fact that this is a moment of absolute loss of control. An instant when neither light, space nor time are in the hands of the photographer, as Victoria narrated: “You may think you have taken the image, but it has actually taken you”.

Doyle also tends to speculate about the unobserved photograph. She questions what happens when you put a photograph in a drawer and shut the door. In such a moment, she proposes that the whole world is being sucked into the photograph, questioning the relation and affect photographs not only have upon each other but upon other objects too. These and many other questions are spilled through Victoria’s beautiful black and white triptychs which are currently on show along with the work of the photographer Jonathan Liu at Carmel by Green, Bethnal Green, London. The exhibition is organised and curated by Wave Collective and open until the 1st of April 2019, Monday to Friday from 07:30 to 17:00 and on Saturday from 09:30 to 15:00.

Written by: Krasimira Butseva

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