Under the Influence of the Divine is a collaborative project between photographer Michelle Tran and multi-disciplinary artist Sarah Berners. Sarah talks about the experience, the “sweltering androgynous model” and the resulting exhibition, which explores the shifting role of the muse within art and the ambiguous allure that inspires the artist to seek aesthetic beauty.
Matt Hurst: How would you describe the works in this show to a friend?
Sarah Berners: Photographs of sweltering androgynous model making sense of soft sculptural appendages.
How would you describe the works in this show to your nan?
As above. My nan’s a very open minded lady.
The show is billed as being by yourself and Michelle Tran. What was your role? What was her role?
Michelle & I developed the concept for the shoot together. I created the series of soft sculptures, we directed the shoot collectively, and Michelle captured the images.
You guys are friends right? Is this the first time you’ve worked together? Will it be the last?
Ha ha! Yes, Michelle & I have been good friends since we meet in 2007 during our Honours year at the Victorian College of the Arts. We had been talking about collaborating for years as we have quite similar interests and ideas about art. We definitely had some rigorous discussions during the editing process but overall it was a ludicrously fun and satisfying collaboration… and I think that comes through in the work.
Is the model/muse also a friend? She’s quite unique.
Jane is a good friend of Michelle’s. I had high expectations for the shoot after seeing Jane’s book but on the day we both got to see what an amazing model she really is. She exudes a kind of effortless confidence and sexuality, not like so much photography that you see where the model’s artificial expressions are so poorly disguised. It quickly went from trying to engineer a “muse” to being genuinely seduced and inspired to capture her unique and unconventional beauty.
Is the role of the muse within art shifting?
I suppose the role of the muse is always shifting and of course, the muse can be anything really. In this instance we decided to explore the more conventional notion of the nude female muse. I suppose we were both noticing a kind of predilection for debauched images of the female body, in fashion photography in particular, and were thinking about the muse as provoking creativity, contemplation, lust, desire and fear.
The location for the shots is very masculine. The viewer can see trucks, machinery, roadsigns and concrete. What is the thinking behind this?
Michelle & I were looking for an industrial location for the shoot. We wanted to move out of our comfort zones and look beyond the photographic studio and the domestic interior, which we feel we have explored fully between ourselves. We also enjoyed the juxtaposition between the vulnerability of the soft sculptures and the severity of concrete surfaces.
The images are Polly Borlandesque in a way, carrying a playful perversiveness. Has Borland been an influence on this series?
I wouldn’t say that Borland has influenced this series specifically although I do recognise and enjoy her work very much. I have been influenced by a range of artists who work this idea of the corporeal/grotesque, specifically Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager, Sarah Lucas etc. There is a definitely a sense of playfulness and humour within the work, which we openly embraced.
Your artist statement discusses the role of the female nude, yet in some of your shots the model is wearing underwear?! Was nude too far?
Oh goodnes no! I suppose we used the term loosely to describe overt exposure and sexualisation of the female body within contemporary art and media. She also wears shoes and sheer stockings in some of the pictures. Perhaps this then begins the grand debate regarding nudity vs nakedness?… But perhaps that’s one best left for another interview…!
Michelle & I are both working on various projects. I have my solo exhibition ‘Play Pen’ opening next month at Area Gallery in Fitzroy.
Under the Influence of the Divine
409 – 429 Gore Street, Fitzroy
Until June 1st, 2013
By Matt Hurst