Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
02 Mar 2006 to 21 May 2006
Mike Parr’s solo exhibition formed part of a wider season of exhibitions at the MCA exploring self-portraiture by selected Australian and international artists. Mike Parr is a leading Australian artist who has worked across diverse media since the late 1960s. Embracing performance, photography, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and installation, Parr’s extensive practice has examined a range of social concerns from personal identity and the ‘self portrait’ to politically charged actions and gestures that comment on the role of the individual in wider society.
In this exhibition a selection of key print works were brought together for the first time in Sydney. Although Parr produced his first print in 1987, the exhibition contextualised his printmaking practice through text and ‘instruction’ pieces from the early 1970s, and presented preliminary drawings or ‘story boards’ alongside printing plates as a way of revealing the mental and physical processes through which the prints evolved.
This exhibition, as its title Volte Face (or ‘about face’) indicates, focused on the self portrait as a pivotal theme in Parr’s practice over the last 35 years. Traditionally based on the physical semblance of the artist – and typically, the face reflected back at the artist via a mirror, or drawn from memory – the self portrait was here presented as an unstable, ambiguous psychic terrain. Lines were scratched into the pictorial surface with a combination of lyricism and ferocity, while human traces appeared one minute and receded or fragmented the next under a mass of layers and visual distortions.
Parr’s 'Self Portrait Project’ developed out of his live performances of the 1970s and their photographic (or filmed) documentation. It took the form of drawings based on the photographs in the early 1980s, then printmaking, as well as sculpture and more recent performance works. Scale was significant for Parr’s prints, which varied from single-sheet works of considerable intimacy to large-scale works encompassing multiple sheets. Often pinned direct to the wall, rather than framed behind glass, there was an immediacy to these works in which the minute, irregular detail of wood-grain was revealed before the viewer along with the scratches, burrs and furrows of metal-plate printing processes.
The exhibition included a range of material drawn from the MCA’s Contemporary Art Archive and from private and public collections around Australia. Also included were the filmed performances House of Cards 2004 and One Hundred Breaths 2003. In the latter the artist inhaled one hundred self portrait prints to his face in the form of temporary masks. In House of Cards the artist created a sculptural construction out of the prints, which slowly slide and fall during the course of its display – only to be rebuilt once again.