Marian Drew: Photographs + Video Works

Book Review

Marian Drew’s new anthology investigates her art practice over the past twenty-five years. It is a striking publication with over eighty reproductions providing a cross-section of the artist’s photographic practice. It is accompanied by a beautifully-crafted DVD containing a recent interview with the artist by Kris Carlon, two documentaries and several examples of Drew’s video work, including a new piece titled Song in a teacup.

Each of authors considers a different aspect of Drew’s work, charting her artistic development both stylistically and intellectually. The artist’s interaction with the landscape is the main theme of Caroline Jordan’s contribution. Jordan makes connections between Drew’s childhood in Bundaberg and her ongoing fascination with capturing the landscape to highlight the artist’s exploration of working at night with long exposures and selective lighting, techniques used to develop aspects of her mis-en-scènes, and to convey a sense of time.

Anne Kirker considers the period 1986-96, arguably the key period in Drew’s development as an artist. Kirker highlights the influence that performance artists of the 1970s and ’80s have had in the evolution of Drew’s studio-based work, in particular her use of the human figure (often herself) in long-exposure, torch-lit imagery. Drew’s use of the body is primarily as a performative tool rather than as social commentary. Kirker also underlines the importance of a sense of place in Drew’s work, developed during periods working overseas. It is also during this time that Drew focussed on domestic sites, which in turn brought traditionally private spaces into a public realm. The hidden becomes exposed. Local histories are similarly highlighted throughout this period, including references to the treatment of indigenous people. Kirker suggests that during these years Drew ‘creat[ed] a personal history through engaging with the particular here and now’. Time and place became crucial components of her practice.

In the early the 2000s Drew worked with German artist Thomas Bachler on the collaborative series Awake/Asleep, where one artist shot a roll of film and then sent it to the other who reshot on the same role. Serendipitous repetitions in each artist’s subject matter are a notable feature of the series. The subjects are somewhat mundane, everyday images of Australian and German life. Montaged over each other, the resulting images assume a greater complexity than the sum of their parts. Place again sits at the forefront of the series. This simple idea, reiterated through the uncomplicated subject matter, is investigated in theoretical detail by Brigitta Olubas. Olubas’ essay is more academic than the other writings in the book and provides a more critical reading of Drew’s practice.

Russell Storer writes on Drew’s current Australiana/Still Life series, arguably the strongest of Drew’s work to date. He outlines the influence of European still-life traditions and the beauty that veils the trauma and drama of Drew’s subjects in this series, namely native wildlife that has met its death as a result of human intervention (roadkill and other similar fates). The sumptuous beauty of the series stands in stark contrast to the morbidity of Drew’s subjects. The traditional subjects of the artist’s European predecessors—objects of excess as examples of wealth and status—are replaced with the dead native creatures. This in itself suggests that ultimately these creatures will be of even greater importance to Australia through their demise as entire species. They are symbols not of material wealth but of environmental wealth, and wealth that is slipping through humankind’s hands.

For me the most interesting words are from the artist herself. At times Drew writes somewhat obliquely, with a humorous and poetic underscoring. She begins: ‘I’m the sort of person that projects voices onto dogs, which is OK, except that recently my border collie seems to be developing a severe lisp.’ Drew elucidates her working in a brief summary, finishing with a point that is touched upon throughout the book—that travel has been the key element in her development as an artist. For Drew, time in Europe and the United States has helped her to define her artistic expression within a local milieu.

Marian Drew, Satin and Lino. From the Australiana series. Gicleé print, 900 x 720mm: Photographs and Video Works, QCP. Courtesy the artist and the QCP.

Marian Drew, Crow. From the Australiana series. Gicleé print, 900 x 720mm: Photographs and Video Works, QCP. Courtesy the artist and the QCP.