The works on this exhibition consist of paintings of frames from popular black and white photo-magazines published from approximately the 1960s to the 1980s. The paintings are exact reproductions of images from these magazines which, through the translation into oil on canvas, are placed in a new context and given a new ‘visibility’.
It is, on the one hand, satirical commentary on the photo-romances themselves (the humour, the melodrama, the exaggerated gestures and sentimentality), but is at the same time social commentary that foregrounds a particular white identity mediated by the photo-magazine and its audience. Preller’s images evoke – at least for certain viewers – memories of a particular form of cultural production from a very specific historical period. Photographs are therefore again used a means to capture and recover memory.
The translation of the photo-frames into oil paint – traditionally a medium associated with ‘high’ art – comments on the peripheral relationship of popular culture to so-called ‘high art’. Preller does this in two ways. Firstly her subject matter is derived from pulp photo-magazines which, at the very least, could be called a marginalized genre, and secondly, the translation of these frames into the medium of oil paint destabilizes the relationship between ‘high’ and ‘low’ or ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’.
Although speech bubbles are included no particular narrative is intended and construction of any narrative is left to the viewer. What is highlighted is certain aspects of popular culture, its audience, and (white) society at the time (for example the role and treatment of women) – something which is not effected by the magazines themselves. Humour, through the speech bubbles and exaggerated gestures, is an important part of the work.
(Text based on a paper presented by Lisa Allan at the 21st Annual Conference of The South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH) in Grahamstown, September 2005.)
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