Sunday, 8 April 2012


Flowers Gallery until April 21

Julie Cockburn takes found photographs and by stitching, collage and judicious cutting makes them her own, a new work linking past and present. I think the main image of Bond is from the cover of a 1950s copy of Marie Claire, a popular French womens' weekly which first appeared in 1937. Along with most  other magazine titles, it was banned in 1942 by the German authorities who had occupied France. It reappeared in 1954 as a monthly publication.
But why is the face of this top notch model obscured by a studio photograph of a 1930s baby? She looks as though she might fall out of the picture, since she should have been shown horizontally but has been tipped anti clockwise into a scarily precarious position. No doubt originally destined to be a passive artefact passed around delighted family and friends, the photograph is turned on its head so that the child looks straight out at us, the viewer.

Why did the artist choose Marie Claire? Today’s magazine bids you to ‘Think Smart, Look Amazing’. To help you get there, it offers News, Fashion, Hair and Beauty, Celebrity, Lifestyle, Health, Travel and much more, such as ‘a peek at our top picks from Cheryl Cole’s new stylistic shoe collection’. One possible reading of Bond is that, like Damien Hirst’s butterflies and sharks currently on show in Tate Modern, the viewer is invited to reflect on  the transience of life, even our own mortality.
By literally defacing the model’s image Cockburn has transformed the subject. Cockburn says ‘Something happens beyond my control with a successful work; it is greater that the sum of its simple parts , becoming a new image with a new history to unfold'.

I can’t guess who this beautiful woman is  nor do I know why she has a such a rapt and intense expression while sewing. What I do know is that the enigma is intensified by the delicate pearl-like thread which encircles her head. It summons up a number of responses. The cartoonist drawing Desperate Dan in a comic of that name would use lines like this to signify a blow to the head or shock or surprise – from which he would surely scramble up unscathed. Or, someone who through spite or jealousy was intent on spoiling a photograph, might scribble just these lines.  Or perhaps the beauty of the thread and of the woman suggests a halo? Perhaps it's an annunciation scene? The artist has succeeded in turning a humble, repetitive though creative task into an enigma posing an intellectural and political challenge.
I enjoy the freshness, thoughtfulness and provocation of Cockburn’s work. As I walk away I reflect that most of us don’t know what to do with photographs. They used to be stored in albums and were largely untitled and unseen. Later came a host of slides – bursting with colour and vitality - but only coming to life with the help of projector. Now photographs languish inside some electronic device or other, competing with trillions of others for an airing.
Why not risk making a collage? This is on the front of a  birthday party invitation I made and sent out in 2006. A figure cut from a studio photograph is pasted on to a postcard sent from Adelboden in Switzerland in the 1930s. It certainly isn’t art but it intrigued the recipients: is the baby nestled warm and snug in the natural hollow of the mountain or is she poised to slide down into the black lip of the lake?
It’s artists like Cockburn who make the familiar strange - and maybe  give a stamp of approval to our own creativity?

1 comment:

  1. I really connect to this work and haven't seen it before - thank you for sharing and writing such an interesting post about her art