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Ann Shelton; once more with feeling

6 December 2008 - 24 January 2009

otira gorgeThese three distinct groups of photographs by Ann Shelton are responses to artworks from the Hocken Collections created after her two visits here in 2008. Collectively they demonstrate the impossibility of art, collections and art history to present the complete picture. Like her other recent work, these photographs focus on overlooked or little known histories.

The exhibition title draws our attention to Shelton's practice of remaking narratives. Here she recreates landscapes by William Fox, George O'Brien and Petrus van der Velden as diptych photographs. By photographing the geographical locations depicted by these nineteenth century artists, she explores the history of these sites and presents them as palimpsests where many, overlaid histories co-exist.

Shelton's photographs of painting storage racks that display artworks for which the artists are unknown, suggest the inadequacies of art history and collection methodologies. While the arbitrary 'Artist unknown' label assists in the ordering and cataloguing of a large collection, it further banishes unidentified artists to obscurity. Shelton's recording of these paintings asserts the visibility of these artists within the art historical canon and ensures that they are remembered.

A third body of work shows the reverse side of paintings by Lionel Terry. Terry's racist beliefs led to him murdering an elderly Chinese immigrant, Joe Kum Yung, in 1905. Joe Kum Yung's story has been overshadowed by Terry's notoriety and sensational persona but Shelton's photographs create moments of pause in order that we might consider the systemic racism experienced by Chinese at that time.

By focussing on quieter moments, works by lesser known artists or the reverse sides of paintings, Shelton's images become acts of disclosure that disrupt the canons of art and the narratives of history. Rather than reflecting the desire for completeness that the obsessive collector often seeks, Shelton's examination of specific paintings from the Hocken Collections acknowledges the chaos of memories that a collection represents and presents a concept of the past that is based on partial recollections, fleeting moments and intangible memories.


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