sarah ryan

i luv you
CAST Gallery, Hobart; Rex Livingston & Corlette Fine Art Gallery, Sydney
5 May - 3 June 2001; 10 August - 2 September 2001

Sarah Ryan has made the technique of lenticular photography her trademark. Coating her images with finely ridged plasticised layers she sets up a kind of illusionary three dimensional effect, not unlike a holograph, along with a subtly shifting, sometimes disorienting perspective and a sense of animation which viewers experience as they move in front of the works. Engaging with the lenticular photograph becomes, in fact, something of a physical experience.

Ryan came to particular prominence in Tasmania earlier this year when her large image The Real Escape won the City of Hobart Art Prize, which was staged within the state's first truly international arts festival, Ten Days on the Island. The work features an emptied-out modernist space, eerily unreadable as interior or exterior and given an unsettling significance by the use of the lenticular technology.

Ryan works with a determinedly 'cool ' aesthetic and a pared-down, strangely neutral subject matter. She acknowledges and plays with the pop culture appeal of glossy magazine photography (which she unerringly replicates) and the fashionable minimalism of contemporary design. Her images thus intentionally exploit the familiar visual style of the fashion magazine, at once celebrating and reworking the genre, recognising its frequent vacuousness and making a virtue of it. In her exhibition I Luv You, Ryan has produced a body of work that is not only disturbing, as she subverts and distorts the 'glossy' aesthetic, but is witty, well resolved and original.

In What to Give and Take, a young couple, in a sunlit room, sprawl on bentwood chairs on a pristine white carpet. But for a white door, half-open behind them-and creating a slight sense of edginess- the room is empty. The pair's clothing and leggy postures are the essence of casual chic, but the image is cropped so that their heads do not appear; a surreal effect that mocks the otherwise stylish, idealised magazine aesthetic of the image. Here, a familiar subject is re-presented in a manner both wryly amusing and thought-provoking.

People Used to Dream also plays with style-magazine symbolism. A young man sits on a chrome and leather chair; the upper body of a well dressed second man dominates the foreground. Again, we do not see his face; Ryan has cropped it, creating a sense of anonymity and unknowability. Light floods the room- as in so much of this work- and seems to bleach out any further hints and clues to the context or content of the photograph. A deliberate ambiguity prevails-there is an implication of some kind of discord, or sexual tension, perhaps; it is not possible to know. The shimmering lenticular effect enhances the intangibility of the scene. Never Stop takes the Hobart urban skyline as the unlikely embodiment of architectural panache and sophistication. Here Ryan continues to play with ideas of visual 'cool', but this time she investigates urban design and contemporary architecture. In a view over the Hobart rooftops, whitened roofing blends into a white, cloudy sky, an apparently miniaturized logo (the word 'Trust') atop a recently defunct bank bringing a poignant gravitas to the work. Using an unusual perspective she is able to bring a quirkiness to the studied ordinariness of her subject matter. Indeed, this is one of her great skills; through Ryan's singular sensibility and her use of the possibilities of the lenticular image, resoundingly prosaic subjects are turned into engaging, haunting symbols of our era.