13.12.02 - 25.01.03
White Cube is pleased to present a new body of work by New York based
artist Anna Gaskell. 'half life', Gaskell's most ambitious project to
date, is a group of photographs and a film, loosely based on the well-known
gothic novel Rebecca (1948) by Daphne du Maurier, that also makes reference
to ghost storytelling made famous in works such as Henry James's The Turn
of the Screw and Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart. Gaskell often takes
a literary starting point to explore the imaginative potential of the
surreal, with her previous series of photographs, 'wonder' (1996) and
'override' (1997) being based on Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
In all of these works the focus is on the slippery nature of fantasy and
the distortion of believable reality that the mind can create.
Gaskell's photographs frequently use pre-pubescent or adolescent girls
as their models to cunningly play on presumed notions of objectification
and the potential for voyeurism. Gaskell's camera angles, combining tight
choreography and a dramatic use of angled lighting, create unsettling,
memorable images loaded with meaning. Her scenarios are highly charged,
richly coloured tableaux with exaggerated foreshortening and menacing
shadows. Gaskell has often used the notion of the double as a way of evincing
trauma. In her 'resemblance' series (2001) for example, she presented
multiple, dislocated, body parts of young girls such as their hands and
feet, which are terrifying in their apparent replication and isolation
from their owner.
In 'half life', however, the artist has moved away from using groups of
figures, to focus on a single character or body, or in the case of some
photographs, no body at all. Although the overbearing sense of fragmentation
still exists, here the girl is seen only partially from behind, above
or below. Gaskell's camera angles often seem impossible, and we glimpse
elaborately decorated interiors - a large stately house or a theatre -
from behind a girl's skinny legs, down a flight of stairs or looking down
from a bird's eye perspective as if dangling from the ceiling. These compositions
are statuesque in their proportions, with an uncanny charge that is equally
buoyed by a discernible erotic undertow. There is a sense of vertigo,
and claustrophobia, the objectifying coldness of the image at odds with
the dissolution of the figures, blurred in their nearness or shadowy in
In contrast to the technical gymnastics of Gaskell's photographs, the
accompanying 21 minute film uses a single, static camera angle throughout,
presenting a girl floating under water in a state of 'non-being', neither
fully alert or dead. The girl holds her breath, her eyes opening and closing
periodically to suggest amniotic gestation or, more perilously, drowning.
The film is looped, emphasizing its liquidity - a continuum of weightlessness
between the real and the fantastical.
Anna Gaskell won the prestigious Citibank photography prize in 2000. Solo
exhibitions have been presented at Castello di Rivoli, Turin, (2001),
the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2000) and The Menil Collection, Houston
Tuesday to Saturday 10am - 6pm.