justin kramer

passage 3-0-5
Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts, Townsville
June 2001

"They formerly told of an oracle, 'Know Thyself which though filled with warning, signals this aspiration, namely that we should examine all that is admirable within ourselves and that constitutes the source of many of our actions."1 Justin Kramer would reflect upon these words with a maturity known only to those who have experienced a severe medical condition. Passage 3-0-5, a solo exhibition by Kramer at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts, forged a comprehensive space for itself through strength of content and media. The works reconstruct a childhood and adulthood spent confronting the body in bits and pieces. The exhibition resonates with the journey of negotiating the artist's own fragmented image.

Meticulous fragile hand-drawn lines, arcs, arrows and graphs are scratched onto the acetate boxes attached to the wall. The images are projected via the warm gallery light onto the clean, white wall behind. The work is entitled Shadow of a Doubt and the image reasserts itself in its projected shadow. The perfectly symmetrical acetate forms, the etched lines, arrows, arcs and graphs and their corresponding projected shadows demand observation. The viewer is reduced to an insignificant observer in the presence of the medical signifier, the patient witnessing the diagnosis. These crisp, fragile, though precise, images speak the language of medical authority. Four ceramic, cranium-like domes are presented at waist height as if for inspection. It is the waist height placement of the work Grey Matter that forces the viewer to negotiate the artwork as if it is a supermarket product. In Grey Matter: Obiter Dictum, seemingly nonsensical numbers and words have been pierced into the clay cranium. The words could be medical notes, abbreviations, measurements and symbols, indecipherable to patient and viewer. The words successfully convey a sense of something significant, but scrambled. In one cranium there is an electrical socket and in another a monumental hinge. lt could be argued that, by definition, an exhibition of work spanning years from an 'emerging' artist's oeuvre would be prone to an uneven presentation. Remarkably the strength of this show is that the works have been constructed over a period of years. Earlier photographic works, dating back five years, are exhibited alongside ceramic and installation work constructed this year with the exhibition in mind. In the photographic works the artist's initial investigation of Gestalt theory is evident. Having photographed himself, the artist's figure appears life size and the image, at one hundred by one hundred and thirty centimetres, is quite imposing. The print is twisted, scrunched and significantly damaged. Kramer's recaptured body in bits is violated via a concealed performance whereby the artist has abused the photographic surface prior to its exposure. Kramer states 'the aggressiveness is tied to my experiences of fragmentation'.2 There are parallels between the disintegration of Kramer's photographs and the concept of the fragmented body prior to the integrated body image, as described in Lacan's 'Mirror Stage'.3 In the installation entitled Notes on the Line: Gnaw, ethereal miniature clay brains burgeon from rows of dolomite. The detail of the coloured veins of the brains reverberates against a seductive black gloss floor. Contextualised by an exhibition teeming with visual puns and word plays this work appears as if it is an agricultural field of undulating rows.

'Reaping the seeds that you sow' is one of many possible word and visual associations. In its usual state, dolomite eats clay and these clay brains reference a point when their surface was being gnawed. However a state of change has occurred with these miniatures and they can no longer be wasted by their surrounds. Passage 3-0-5 conveys a conceptual depth revisited by the artist from a multitude of angles and which has benefited by its accumulation over time. This depth is bolstered by the three seemingly disparate media of photography, ceramics and installation. Indeed each conveys a multitude of readings through its own specific attributes and histories.

notes: 

I. Written by Philip Mellanchthon, a reforming humanist and friend of Albrecht Durer, reprinted

in Kemp, M & Wallace, M, Spectacular Bodies, ex. cat, p.l4, Hayward Galleries, London,

2001.

2. Correspondence with the artist.

3. jacques Lacan identified the Mirror Stage as the moment when the infant views him/herself

in the mirror and, though just a refiection, is confused into thinking that the image is their

identity, or a least represents a 'wholeness' or 'stability'. Lacan proposes the Mirror Stage as

the moment when the infant takes on a totalised cohesive 'shape'.