MAstars 2011: Paola Bernardelli, MFA

MAstars 2011: Paola Bernardelli, MFA Paola Bernardelli, La Pietà (Diptych 1 of 2), 2011. Digital print. 105cm x 72cm. Credit: Paola Bernardelli

Sara Greavu selects Paola Bernardelli from the University of Ulster for MAstars

'...The dream is the theatre where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic' (Carl Jung, General Aspects of Dream Psychology)

In a show comprising some fine work, including Alistair Freeburn’s musings on the woodbutcher’s art and the accomplished paintings of Tim Millen, Paola Bernardelli’s video and photography work sits apart in its social engagement.

The work plays with Renaissance pictorial tradition, photographically restaging iconic works in a modern idiom with a careful control of colour, composition and lighting. It also explores the relationship between video and photograph in its use of almost-still video images, displayed on a flat screen mounted to the wall. The work is reminiscent in some ways of Bill Viola in its use of the elemental and the ecclesiastical. The scale is modest and the works depict ‘ordinary’ subjects, albeit those possessed of contemporary hipster beauty.

The photographic prints all share a rich, velvety black background. The subjects - attractive 20somethings, their bodies adorned with tattoos - pose in recognisable arrangements: odalisque, pieta, and displaying the stigmata. Against the pared-down black background, the posed figures have a dreamlike quality and a pop/fashion sensibility. The nostalgic colour palette is reminiscent of the ubiquitous ‘Hipstamatic’ iphone app (mustard yellow, avocado green), but with clarity and precision in the play of light and shadow rather than ersatz dust, scratches and lens flare.

The key component to these assembled elements is perhaps the Caravaggio- inspired Narcissus. In Bernardelli’s re-imagining of the work, the smooth surface of the pool is replaced by the fractured view offered by a shattered mirror. The almost-still video portrait draws attention to the act of posing for the camera; the duration; the process. The work suggests an interest in self-presentation strategies - how we document ourselves and play roles – and our own pleasure in these performances.

In a pieta diptych, the scene is doubled and gender roles are inverted. Like the popular understanding of the Jungian concept of the dream, in which the dreamer is all the actors in the dream, we can embody any and all roles.

These processes of self-presentation have become an essential part of online identity formation. The fractured and alienated self enters a tautological loop. We produce images of ourselves playing many roles. We place ourselves at the centre of our own stage, the subject and object of our own sexual or religious longings, with surface and image taking precedence above all.

Selected by Sara Greavu
Published August, 2011

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