deborah paauwe: double dutch

Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
22 May - 16 June 2002

Good-looking images of supine young girls, a distinctive use of delicious colour and detailed texture-Double Dutch is recognisably Paauwe. Notable additions include the pervasive draping of the girls' bodies with candy-coloured gauze as well as the use of paired models rather than Paauwe's more usual single figure. These devices make more complex what previously, in series such as Sugar Nights (2000), was essentially a straightforward relationship between model and viewer.

The veiling of the girls' bodies renders them blurred and indistinct and gives the scenes a soft-focus seduction. Washing the tableaux with hazy colour, the predominant reds, oranges and pinks impart a girlish sweetness to the sensual images. While Paauwe's previous work often has aroused connotations with its pliable female models, such a sensual overlaying makes the sexual nature of the images more explicit. Under the netting shroud the posed pairs nestle seductively, in beds both private and accessible. Where they previously lay passive, arranged for the viewer only, they now have a focus of their own and a function beyond mere appearance. Their identity is no longer constructed through clothing: they are now clad in gauzy ambiguity.

Interestingly, while the scenes are literally denser for this additional material, they also have become more homogeneous and perhaps Jess visually satisfying. Works such as Red Dots, with its close-up of exposed, delicately veined wrists, or Full Bloom's spikily haired bare legs are ultimately more rewarding than those in which the viewer searches for the substance under the gauze, only for the images to disintegrate, impressionist-like, on close examination. Yet this very dissolution highlights the ambiguity of the various relationships depicted. The sleepy scenes hint at that half-consciousness between sleeping and waking, or the gradual understanding of the body as a discrete entity, ultimately separate from the rest of the physical world. Thus it is not only the relationship between the figures and the viewer, or between the figures themselves, that is explored, but also the relationship they have to their own bodies and their own physical existence.

Any discussion of Deborah Paauwe's imagery necessarily entails entering into the enduring debate surrounding the representation of women. Her work does not present itself as a critique of such representations, but rather seems situated firmly within the lineage. Anne Marsh's accompanying catalogue essay comments that society is 'not comfortable with female sexuality'. but the real discomfort comes from the way this sexuality is represented rather than its existence. Here the obvious posing and pairing of the girls-the young girls-is disquieting, suggesting that it is not their own sexuality that is represented but one that has been imposed. Juxtaposed with Enrique Marty's video (also showing at Greenaway Art Gallery) of a prepubescent girl, clad in bathers and posing mock-erotically, the subtlety of Paauwe's engagement with such issues is highlighted. Her girls are neither the caught-in-the-act targets of the voyeur nor the perfect creatures of pure fantasy. No air-brushed beauties, their bodies are unavoidably lived-in with their bruises, scratches, veins, hairs and blemishes. They dominate the fantasy and make it flesh, even if their bodies cannot measure up to its perfection.

However posed they obviously may be, it seems evident that the girls are also engaged in their own play, ensconced in a world of their own pleasure and of their own making. The viewer, seduced by the pretty dreaminess of the scene and the girls' sleepy caresses, is encouraged to enter into and enjoy its delights. They are allowed, encouraged, to play make-believe, exculpated by the knowledge that the scene exists independently of themselves. Paauwe's work assumes such an exoneration to justify the viewer who need not seek nor even express their predilections, who need do nothing but watch, secure, knowing that the scene played out in front of them hurts nobody, least of all the participants.