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  • DESIRE DESIRE
  • TEMPTATION TEMPTATION
  • OBSESSION OBSESSION
  • ILLUSION ILLUSION
  • GAME FISH GAME FISH
  • POOR COW POOR COW
  • WHITE PLASTIC WHITE PLASTIC
  • CABBAGES & LILLIES CABBAGES & LILLIES
  • LILLIES OF THE FIELD - DAY LILLIES OF THE FIELD - DAY
  • LILLIES OF THE FIELD - NIGHT LILLIES OF THE FIELD - NIGHT
  • FISH CAN SWIM FISH CAN SWIM
  • POOR FISH POOR FISH
  • LEOPARD SKIN LEOPARD SKIN
  • BAG FISH BAG FISH
  • RED SEA RED SEA
  • RED SILK RED SILK
     

CONSUMMING PASSIONS 1996 

The rendering of living objects, often fruit, game, vegetables or flowers, as a still painted image, has long seduced the indulgent gaze of the viewer. The still life genre emerged in Europe in the 1600ʼs. Juan Sanchez Cotan, a Spanish monk, working at that time, created hyper real paintings of the ordinary food of peasants. Unlike his European counterparts, who usually focused on luxury food and drink, Cotanʼs attention was drawn to simple everyday sustenance that was hung by strings or stacked for the air to circulate, mimicking the practical considerations of the times. Nevertheless, true to still life conventions, Contan arranged every object with deliberation and a meticulous eye for composition, light, colour and surface.

Cotanʼs work was in my mind when I made Consuming Passions. But there were many other triggers. It grew partly from memories of a visit to Hong Kong but draws also on the Western obsession with consumerism. The images reflect ideas of the “shop ʻtil you drop” mentality of contemporary society and the commodification of things derived from nature. Hong Kong is the epitome of the fashionable commercial conurbation. Vast shopping malls with glass lift shafts, manicured plants and toy trees beckon one to paradise. Merchandise denotes luxury, transformation, fantasy. The “now factor” is the consumerʼs preoccupation. The yearning for the “new look”, the trendy thing, the “in “ hue. Should we throw out our chintz and buy a tiger print or cut bamboo? The “natural” product is perfectly sized and shaped, bound neatly, sealed for “hygene” and “freshness.” Fish swim, colour coded in tanks, to add ambience to the decor or stare glassily out beside menus, under tawdry lights, to be selected as fresh cooked “sweet and sour”.

My aim was to work within the constraints of the picture frame and use the bag motif or glass vessel to symbolise acquisition. I worked at home on a table top, assembling fragile stage sets supported with tape and canes and wires. Occasionally, I made forays out to obtain some perfect fish or tidy flowers or gaudy fabric. The summer sales that year were a useful source for the most eccentric bags. (I am indeed guilty of acts of desire and acquisition!)

The images are constructed like miniature stage sets; fabrics and papers are used to suggest landscape or interiors. Lighting emphasises the seductive gloss and gleam that is the mark of both advertising and early still life oil painting. Artifice and the synthetic rub shoulders with the natural and commonplace. The viewerʼs expectations of perspective are displaced by subverting the use of the frame. The images are purposely garish, tacky, tasteless, seemingly superficial and playful though there is a seam of dark comedy. There is paradox between kitsch bags and bleeding flowers, fresh lilies and printed grass  or cow print bag on butcherʼs slab. Fish appear to swim underwater but are dead and suspended on wires. Titles such as Poor Cow, Lilies of the Field, Fish Can Swim, Lemon Fish add the twist of parody.

The series of 12 images, C type photographic prints, are set in box frames which allow the images to float beneath the glass. Frames are rounded, limed wood to suggest the domestic or commonplace. (framed size measuring  23” x 27”). 

A series of four smaller images, (16” X 20” with similar frames) titled Desire, Fantasy, Obsession and Illusion,  depict the process of buying. The bag, here, is plastic, transparent and alluring. In the first and last image the bag contains an apple that has long been a weighty symbol of desire, temptation and eventual downfall. It is set as spectacle on an altar-like, silver plinth enticing reverence and idolatry.  “The commodity is a religion, shopping is a ritual and consecration”.    from the introduction of Trade. Commodities, Communication and Consciousness. Scalo 2001.