We are all constantly looking and constantly being looked at.
In a world continuously bombarding us with visual content, few gazes are more critical and judgemental than our own. Barbara Bezina’s moving image The Ages of Women and Death captures this often-obsessive fixation on self-image in our epoch. With Bezina interested in experimenting with forms of photography, the lo-fi quality of her image is reminiscent of 19th-Century hand-painted photos, but the digitalised motion of the ageing face in the mirror simultaneously situates this very much in the present period. It seems then that the coldness of the self-critical gaze is not novel or specific to our own day and age.
This melancholic depiction of the passage of time reminds us all of our position on a treadmill ultimately carrying us towards death. The round circular form of the mirror acts as a portal, perhaps similar to a profile picture icon on social media. Indeed, many of us parade our whole lives on these platforms; a carefully curated display of the highs. But Bezina’s work is situated outside of this tradition, in the way that the portal offers a view of the figure’s vulnerability. As the viewer, we intrude on this moment of intimacy. Our own gaze seems to pry within this work, almost as a voyeur to this uncovering of vulnerability and flaws. The colours of the rest of the iconography melt and fade, the warm earthy tonal palette suggesting none of the frostiness of the searching gaze. In contrast to the dynamism of the ageing face, the rest of the GIF is static. Nothing else morphs or changes. The self-critical gaze endures.
Bold colours and eye-catching graphics entice the viewer into Forlenza’s Tune in Next Week!. Yet this suggested light-heartedness is somewhat undermined by the surreal iconography capturing our obsession with looking. Perhaps one’s first thought is of the adage ‘Your eyes will go square!’, with the heads of the figures adopting the shape of enlarged, distorted television sets. The bold retro shapes and colours offer little indication of the perils of this addiction, instead indulging in these spirited colours.
We are driven by our hunger for entertainment; our insatiable appetite spurs this onwards. The constant stream of visual stimuli available at our fingertips has fuelled this obsession. The blur in the background of this work suggests the pace of this motion, of us flicking from one thing to another, our greedy eyes always searching for something more, propelled on by our short attention spans. Amidst the all-encompassing power that this spectacle of entertainment has over us, we are depersonalised, stripped of our individual identities. We become nothing more than a television on a body, nor more than a viewing statistic.
Watching a television which watches us back, the expected dynamics of viewing are disrupted. With a chaotic composition, there is no obvious place to rest our gaze, leaving our eyes to dart around, searching for a steady solace. Television networks capitalise on obsessive looking by using tactics of control to lure us in, capturing our attention, fuelling our addictive habits. The promise of escapism and the potential to leave our own world behind means we lose ourselves in these alternate realities and universes, losing sight of the impact of this on our own reality and world. And in doing so, we lose sight of ourselves.
It is impossible to tear your eyes away from Luqman Ashaari’s Judgement which is utterly beguiling and unsettling, in equal measure. Unable to return our gaze directly, the figure’s face contorts; the eyes rolling at the same pace as she blinks. The overall effect is one of confusion; where do we look? We are drawn to the figure’s face, but equally, distracted by the eyes. In a situation in which our usual conventions of looking are upturned, the working of the gaze is complicated. Even without eyes, the overall intensity of the experience is almost hypnotic, transfixing the viewer. Yet, the isolated motion of the eyes and the empty sockets within the composition is unnerving and jarring. The collection of identical eyes in her head perhaps suggests the way that things we see are etched into our memory. We carry memories with us day in, day out; a compilation of the things that have shaped our outlook on the world.
The eyes whir like cogs in the brain, suggesting cognitive motion, presenting vision as the force of thinking and computation. But the repeating loop of the moving digitalisation lacks narrative progression, instead propels the viewer into a dizzy, mesmerising trance as they watch the eyes spin again and again. With no discernible development over time, the work instead forces us to look directly at the figure. Ashaari’s work often employs mannequins to present slightly unnerving depictions of the human body, suggesting a lack of thoughts and emotional capacity. The figure is anonymous, with no clear identity, thoughts or feelings. Reduced in this way to a hollow head, is Ashaari proposing that, contrary to what we might think, the human gaze is empty and powerless?
The gaze has a deep-rooted tradition within the history of art, so often synonymous with the projection of power of the white, male, privileged viewer. Employing digital media, these three artists subvert this tradition, investigating the potential nuances of the gaze in new ways, rooting such explorations within our modern society.
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