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Pat Brassington: the body electric

One of Australia’s most influential contemporary photo-media artists

Pat Brassington The Branching 2015 Art Gallery of New South Wales. Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Endowment Fund, 2015 © Pat Brassington. Photo: AGNSW

Pat Brassington is one of Australia’s most important and influential contemporary photo-media artists. Drawn entirely from the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s collection and featuring work that spans her career to date, this exhibition focuses on Brassington’s depiction of the body and her ability to cultivate suspense and unease.

Since the mid-1980s, Brassington has produced photographic work that conjures worlds in which the fantastic infiltrates the familiar. The figures that populate her images, many of them distorted, however subtly, through digital manipulation, confound our expectations of anatomy. With pliable and elastic physiques, these bodies are at once intimate and alien.

While she crafts fictional scenes inhabited by imaginary protagonists, Brassington leaves very few clues through which to decode the narrative context of her work. Brassington’s photographic images resist interpretation and analysis. Rather than suggesting complete narrative arcs, they are episodic and fragmentary and, as such, resemble singular poetic stanzas.

Exhibition curator Isobel Parker Philip said Pat Brassington: the body electric acknowledges the relationship between Brassington’s practice and poetic form, as well as the indirect influence poetry has had on her work.

“The exhibition takes its name from a poem by Walt Whitman. Whitman’s free verse poem I sing the body electric exalts the human body and celebrates physicality. As the poem progresses, visceral images are amassed with accelerating intensity. Climaxing in a list of fragmentary body parts and organs, the poem reads as the literary equivalent of a Brassington photograph,” Parker Philip said.

Structured in a non-chronological display that scrutinises several of Brassington’s ongoing thematic preoccupations, from claustrophobic domestic interiors to spectral apparitions, illness, consumption and secretion, the exhibition highlights the way Brassington has recycled certain motifs across her career.

“In a practice that could loosely be defined as cyclical, Brassington resurrects imagery and stylistic mannerisms from her early material in subsequent work,” Parker Philip said.

“Women in trance-like states, exposed necks and disembodied hands, among other subjects, punctuate the exhibition. Stemming from Brassington’s personal archive of images, these forms haunt her work like ghosts from her own imagination,” Parker Philip added.

Related events

Pat Brassington exhibition talks
Free 30 minute talks by the curator, artists and experts: Wednesdays 5.30pm on 13 September, 11 October, 15 November, 29 November 2017 and 10 January 2018 (meet in the exhibition space).

Singing the body electric, in verse
Hear poetry among Pat Brassington’s photographs during this free one hour presentation on Saturday 16 September at 1pm (meet in the exhibition space).

ReCollection: Pat Brassington
Hear from artist Deb Mansfield during this free 30 minute viewing of the exhibition on Thursday 14 September at 12pm (meet at ticketing and information desk).

Contemporary art with UBS

On view
16 Aug 2017 – 11 Feb 2018
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Media contact

Hannah McKissock-Davis
Tel 02 9225 1671