Deborah Paauwe’s photography explores the vulnerability, memory and friendships of female adolescence in finely calibrated form.
Viewer vs artwork is never an even contest. Artwork wins every time because it dictates the terms and context in which the viewer has to operate. Nowhere is this more evident than in figuration — where replications and imitations of human figures and faces demand a response. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of dolls, in the broadest sense.
Deborah Paauwe’s photographic art is not primarily about the doll. But for those familiar with the central themes of her work, it occupies zones of uncertainty and unease in common with the evolution of contemporary doll culture. Be it Paauwe’s images of adolescent girls cast as dreamers in a meta world defined by gesture and languorous poses or cute as pie Bratz dolls freshly minted by MGA, the response dynamic is one of projection. Children, and some adults for that matter, invest their dolls with an emotional life and co-opt them into their games.
Paauwe’s figures also invite projections of meaning. But, as demonstrated in this current exhibition, the ground keeps shifting. A remarkable feature of the artist’s practice is her ability to creatively work the tropes of female adolescence within a visual context of close focus encounters and finely calibrated codes of gesture and materiality.
The Summer of ’83 series encourages shifts in viewer projection towards an identification with that enchanted zone, the iconic summer of dreams shared by pre-teens, of innocence, group joy and fantasised possibilities — before the realities and demands of adulthood start to weigh in. Complementing trademark close-ups and cropped figures, cosseted and enfolded in crepe, tulle, buttons and bows are girls clustered in a groups, with heads bowed in a common communion and their nucleus accumbens regions in overdrive. Their long tresses mass together in a topography of common identity — analogous perhaps to the crackling synapses of social media.
We all know how this ends up. The sacred, protective circles of juvenile friendship and group protection will become a cherished memory of that magic summer — and callisthenics princesses will morph into Talky Tinas and Bratz Jades. But right now, the images seem to say ‘live for and explore the moment because no amount of hair play is going to bring it back’.
Curator Annabelle has assembled an enterprising line-up of talents in The Doll Redefined. It’s a field day for feverish imaginations excited by the idea of the doll as some kind of atavistic corrective to contemporary existence. Many participants are riffing off popular perceptions of dolls as creepy if not downright scary. An example is Maggie Moy’s half dolls with inner sanctum revealed as a prison for severed legs. And did I see a Chucky Bilby? There are lots more puppy dog’s tails than sugar and spice in this show. Pediophobics be on your guard.
Deborah Paauwe: Summer of ‘83
Greenaway Art Gallery
Until Sunday, May 13
The Doll Redefined
Gallery 1855, Tea Tree Gully
Until Saturday, May 26
Header image: Deborah Paauwe, Summer of ’83 #1, 2018, Giclée print, 75 x 100cm, Image courtesy of GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide