The bridge gathers by Helen Clegg


HELEN CLEGG The dunes 2013
Archival pigment print from 120 positive film

Similar to Matryoshka or Russian nesting dolls, there is a body within a box within a landscape within a photograph within a frame. In each of the images in the series The bridge gathers (as a passage that crosses) there is a landscape into which has been introduced an acrylic box that Helen Clegg has attempted to physically insert herself inside.

The landscapes themselves are not extraordinary; cabbage trees make shadows in long grasses, clumps of sandy grass bend in the wind of a beachscape, tall buildings are seen from an urban apartment balcony, a foggy park’s grounds are dotted with daisies and water laps at a river’s rocky shore. A highly sculptural, even minimalist device, the acrylic box is both synthetic and transparent. It is a manufactured object used as a formal device, serving as a geometric frame that composes the artist’s body similar to the compositional frame of photography. Its planes, edges and vertices are arbitrary and unyielding; the box is indifferent. It is an enclosure that confines and defines a body’s boundaries.

The hard edges of the acrylic form are at odds with the soft flesh, awkward bones and complex shape of a human body. The box enables a packaging, insertion and display, it creates a set of parameters the artist attempts to place herself within. Clegg sometimes manages to fit her whole body within the shape and sometimes she exceeds it, spilling outwards. Uncomfortable then comfortable, Clegg’s photographs register a wriggling, shifting, bending, placing and holding of various body parts. There is a gathering up of the brute matter of a body so that it might nestle within a small encasement, resting, resisting, pressing and pulling itself together.

As evidenced by the partially-visible shutter release cable snaking towards the foreground, each print is a highly-constructed act of self-imaging, an instance of performative photography in which Clegg utilizes the legitimizing medium-format camera as a mechanism or apparatus for inscription. A self-conscious imaging of a female body is posed, isolated in solitude and somewhat separated from her surrounding environment. Clegg’s self- presentational strategy is disruptive as she evades the all too common presentation of a scantily-clad female body to a commodifying, consuming and lustful gaze. These framed insertions as performances have been staged solely to be photographed so that the space of the image as a document is in fact the only place in which the performance occurs and the only way it can become available to an audience. Therefore of central importance is this relationship between an audience and these documents of isolation and incongruity, discomfort and display.

HELEN CLEGG The way 2013
Archival pigment print from 120 positive film

HELEN CLEGG The junction 2013
Archival pigment print from 120 positive film

HELEN CLEGG The shelter 2013
Archival pigment print from 120 positive film

HELEN CLEGG The river 2013
Archival pigment print from 120 positive film