One of the three exhibitions currently on show at Devonport Regional Gallery is titled PRESS: Selected Prints from the DCC Permanent Collection. This exhibition showcases the work of some of Tasmania’s most celebrated printmakers, and highlights a continuing fixation of many Tasmanian artists on the natural environment as a core consideration in their work.
Three Simon Cuthbert photographs held in the Devonport City Council’s Permanent Collection, The Problem with Concrete (2002), Washington Hotel (2003) and Mirror Mirror (2003) provide an interesting contrast to the prints showcased in PRESS, as they find their subject in arguably lesser-explored urban environments.
Simon Cuthbert is a Hobart based visual artist who studied Photography at the Queensland College of Art before relocating to Tasmania, where he studied a Bachelor of Fine Art (Hons) at the University of Tasmania. Cuthbert has referred to his innate desire to photograph, and to present his work in a fine art context, where documentary photography is valued as presenting more than a purely objective perspective. He has also in the past expressed his belief that photographs have the potential to incite change by arousing new thoughts and acting as a catalyst for discussion and the exchange of ideas.
Cuthbert often explores this potential through his photography of architecture and public spaces in urban areas which often appear neglected, or simply unnoticed by those who pass by. Non-permanent states of buildings and streetscapes are often the subject, with the use of these functional spaces often subtly alluded to, rather than directly captured. Cuthbert often frames the image in a way that decontextualises the space, instead revealing the visual patterns and abstract qualities to be found in our urban environments.
These qualities are evident in each of Cuthbert’s photographs held in the DCC Permanent Collection, such as The Problem with Concrete (2002) which depicts a typical multi-level car park, with a degree of detail that presents the structure as a composition reminiscent of an abstract painting. Four squares of paint can be seen on the building – swatches which give a hint of passing time, process and human intervention in a utilitarian space which we wouldn’t usually give a second thought.
Washington Hotel (2003) captures a similarly homogeneous building in an abstracted way. Little is known about the hotel other than its potential location, alluded to through the title, as the image captures 18 floors of undisrupted uniformity. As with the paint swatches in The Problem with Concrete, a human presence is only subtly alluded to through the slight variations in the window coverings, which may exist or may be a trick of light. The Washington Hotel is actually located in Shinjuku in Tokyo, and was the site of interior scenes from Sophia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, shot in 2003, the same year as Cuthbert’s photograph. Cuthbert has said that Tokyo is “without a doubt, the most compelling, beguiling and otherworldly environment I have ever experienced”.
Unlike the perspective in Washington Hotel and The Problem with Concrete, Mirror Mirror (2003) adopts a more familiar scale. However the photograph has an uncanny sensation to it as it is again devoid of a figure, where it seems intuitive that someone, likely the photographer, should be captured in the reflection of the mirror. The work alludes to our narcissistic tendencies, as we are also denied any glimpse of our own reflection in the mirror. The unvarying tiles also evoke a sense of the coldness and uniformity, along with a geometric abstraction that aligns with Washington Hotel, despite the space in Mirror Mirror feeling as though it should be more intimate.
Each of these works reflects Cuthbert’s conviction that photographs are able to convey information beyond their literal representations. Our intuitive responses, and contemplation of the circumstances surrounding both the photographs’ subject and production, are drawn out through this unique approach to the selection and framing of his subjects. Cuthbert’s abstraction and simplification of familiar but often overlooked elements of our surrounds stimulates a reconsideration of how we look at and interact with our urban environments.
-Erin Wilson, Curator of Collections
PRESS: Selected Prints from the DCC Permanent Collection is on show at Devonport Regional Gallery until Sunday 7 August 2016.
Featured artists: Raymond Arnold, Vivienne Breheney, Tim Burns, Denise Campbell, Rodney Ewins, Christine Hiller, Bea Maddock, Susan Pickering, Michael Schlitz and Philip Wolfhagen