Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
30 Aug 2007 to 28 Jan 2008
For over twenty-five years, the Sydney-based artist Julie Rrap has sought to disclose and unravel the ways in which the human body has been defined throughout western history and culture. She does so with a seductive wit, an outward display of pleasure and a determination to match the gaze of her audiences. Deeply based in the story of the body, Rrap’s art is always a surprise, resulting from an individual ingenuity that aligns with a feminist strategy to continuously seek and present the unpredictable and unanticipated. This exhibition surveyed Rrap’s work over three decades and focused on three key themes in her work: the trickster, the body double and the ways in which her work represents the body as a fragmented entity.
Often playing the role of thief, vixen or mischievous impostor, Rrap has worked as a kind of ‘trickster’, literally ‘occupying’ the work of some of western art’s most famous paintings or pop-cultural images. During the 1980s, artists such as Edvard Munch provided vehicles for Rrap’s exploration of the ways in which the female nude had been represented through the history of art, as in her 1984 series Persona and Shadow. ‘The historical paintings’, she explains, ‘were really stepping-off points for me to do a performance’. By mobilising these well-known images, Rrap unravels the condition of woman as ‘other’ and this strategy has persisted in her work through to the A-R-MOUR series (2000).
Throughout the 1990s until 2007, Rrap used her own body in various postures through shadow play, masquerade, mirror and mime. She performed as a ‘body double’ for the still and moving camera. Drawing on the notion that gender is in itself a performance, Rrap forged the theme of the stand-in, a prosthetic body double, and her works often invited viewers to imagine themselves in such a role. This is evident in sculptural installations such as Vital Statistics (1997) and Hard Core/Soft Core (2006) through to the most recent work included in this exhibition, Body Double (2007). She comments: ‘I see myself as talking from the third person, not as a self-portrait … I use my self-image in a more disembodied way. I am having a conversation with the female body: I am in two positions at once as model and author. The use of the self is almost like a ruse.’
Increasingly, Rrap represented a body in pieces, inevitably raising ethical and aesthetic issues in relation to how we depict, interpret and understand the human form. Such issues have been discussed both in broad social terms (for example in relation to the Abu Ghraib photographs or in connection with genetic engineering), as well as in the field of art. For Rrap, the body and its representation is porous, excessive and oozing with a sense of tease and trickery. In works such as Hairline Crack (1992), Porous Bodies (1999) and Overstepping (2001) this body overstepped the margins of comfort, taking us into the zone of transgression. It was however, always in the company of a foil that more often than not, allowed us to laugh out loud with the artist.