Photographer Polly Borland made a name for herself in the ’90s contributing to publications like The New Yorker, Dazed and Confused and The New York Times. Best-known for her portraits, she has worked with the likes of Kingsley Amis, Nick Cave and the Queen. However the sitters that appear in Smudge (her recent exhibition at Murray White Room, Melbourne) are virtually anonymous, their features obscured by an array of unusual DIY appendages.
The show contains over 30 photographs of modestly posed individuals. Their humble, sometimes dunce-like posturing makes their get-ups all the more perverse. Most sitters are stuffed into body stockings – often flesh coloured – that inhibit easy identification of gender. Borland jams costumes full of balls that strain wart-like against the skin. She crowns heads with cheap wigs through which sickly protusions (phallic pinocchio noses, tufts of hair, ruddy pink nostrils) emerge. Contorted faces are disfigured by obscene smears of make-up. The photographs are delightfully, sickeningly, wrong.
While the handiwork of the prison inmates who made them is admirable, the 5 tapestries that accompany the photographs don’t pack the same punch. Leached of the rich colour found in her prints, they fall flat installed next to their glossy counterparts. Had they been allowed their own space, one might have been more inclined to reflect on their peculiar relationship with the digital image, the ordered repetition of stitches echoing the pixellation of a digital print.
Smudge closed on Saturday, but these works will be included in a publication produced by Actar, Madrid, due for release in late 2010.