Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and the latest update in my photography diary. The aim of this particular task is to gain, through research, an understanding of Contemporary/Abstract Art genre in photography that will hopefully continue to inform and support a personal project entitled The Object as Cipher – Interpretation, meaning and the Development of Narrative. Today’s topic is a discussion about work by American artist Barbara Kruger.
The interest, for me in BK.‘s work is the way in which she employs photograph-based images to explore and examine the representation of power via mass-media images, appropriating their iconography and slogans and deconstructing them visually and verbally. It is the juxtaposition of these words and images that I find so exciting.
BK’s trademark style: large-scale photographic works that appropriate anonymous cultural images and text and juxtapose them in unexpected ways.
In this image she has employed an oversized image of a model’s face and divided it into sections.
Placed across the image is the phrase “Your body is a battleground”, by which she called into question the objectification of women and raised the issue of women’s reproductive rights.
Such work embodied the deconstructivist concerns of much feminist art from the 1980s and ’90s. This is achieved through manipulating and recontextualizing imagery.
BK sought to question the way accepted sources of power, in this case the mass media, presented female identity. Her grounding in the theoretical connects her with contemporary developments in conceptual art.
The appeal is how she exploits an economy of image and text to articulate and undermine the power-based relations established in stereotypical situations of everyday life as portrayed in mass media images.
BK addresses media and politics in their native tongue: tabloid, sensational, authoritative, and direct. BK’s words and images merge the commercial and art worlds; their critical resonance eviscerates cultural hierarchies — everyone and everything is for sale.
To fully comprehend the tensions contained within the image one has to understand its context in time. 1989 was marked by numerous demonstrations protesting a new wave of antiabortion laws and the significant concerns feminists had with regard to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and the right of female freedoms.
The woman’s face, disembodied, split in positive and negative exposures, and obscured by text, marks a stark divide. This image is simultaneously art and protest. Though its origin is tied to a specific moment, the power of the work lies in the timelessness of its declaration.
BK’s visual language is distinct and combines eplicated black and white photographs from the 1950s with stark white Futura Bold lettering on red panels in public spaces like buildings and billboards, Kruger produced endless prints and public art pieces which examined the issue of inequality.
When asked about her juxtaposition of phrases and photography she stated
“… there is an accessibility to pictures and words that we have learned to read very fluently through advertising and through the technological development of photography and film and video.”
In adopting the language and medium of advertising, BK disrupts the recognizable language of mass media. She delivers meaningful messages directly to the viewer as in, Untitled (We Dont Need Another Hero, 1986) and Untitled (You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece) 1982.
In an interview she highlighted the fact that,
“… what the media have done today is make a thing meaningless through its accessibility. And what I’m interested in is taking that accessibility and making meaning. I’m interested in dealing with complexity, yes. But not necessarily to the end of any romance with the obscure.”
My concerns with regard to this project are not related to conveying any particular political agenda but rather with the way that BK combines text within an image to create a narrative for the viewer to explore and interpret.
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© Barbara Kruger