Being Human Human Being - Michael Reid

Dr Christian Thompson AO’s flower walls re-calibrate the viewing experience. The first encounter is with scale and colour. We are denied context and background. The pictorial space is flattened. Instead, the full depth of field is pressed into a few centimeters of the foreground of the scene. Rich with detail; awash with plant and human material. A wonderful abundance of gathered and organised blooming flowers. The effect is mesmerising. An immense wall of flowers. A figure strangely woven within.

Thompson constructs and inhabits these flower walls. Emerging or dissolving, his figure is obscured by the foliage. Multiple human limbs spread like branches from the dense floral arrangements. Thompson’s seminal 2007 series Australian Graffiti first alluded to an Australian political history that denied citizenship to Indigenous Australians; grouping Aboriginal people with flora and fauna. A colonial structure made to dehumanise. Thompson’s early works drew attention to this political absurdity, through portraits beautifully adorned with delicate native blooms.

In more recent works, this political narrative has transcended into a spiritual one. The dissolution of human and non-human is celebrated. The delicate adornment has cascaded into an abundance. The non-human grouping with flora is re-claimed, suggesting a world view that moves away from the anthropocentric and hierarchical.

That there is no singular focal point to be found within these images reinforces this logic. As our eyes naturally seek to find a particular point to look at, a ‘resting place’, the rejection of this way of seeing prompts and encourages us to get lost inside the image. The ‘human’ here is undefined. It is also plant and animal, and is uncritical of the blurring of these boundaries.

The title work Being Human Human Being reaches further into questions of ownership, power structures and ultimately identity. A surreal palette of neon lavender and white brings a new atmosphere. The floral still life as an art historical trope, has long been an allegory for death or the inevitable passage of time; transience. Such an allegory is inferred here in Thompson’s work, but the title suggests a reading of time that indicates a broader understanding of existence. Thompson has often explored notions of non-linear time, repetition and inversion. The suggestion in this work is that existence can be both transient and regenerative, when self is dissolved into nature.

There is a potent sense of mystery surrounding the work of Petrina Hicks. Polished, tense and cool to the touch; with each photograph we are invited to comprehend a profound sense of curiosity as we gaze into narratives that are equal parts bemusing and beautiful. There is a discerning barrier between the viewer and the subjects of a Petrina Hicks photograph, a foundational device that threads the artists entire eighteen-year career. This barrier is well controlled, quite intentional and has driven a roster of global exhibitions that have attracted critical praise for their visual ingenuity and un-compromised pursuit of technical excellence. Petrina Hicks is a perfectionist, and every part of her scrupulous sensitivity is present in her work.

The mechanics of Petrina Hicks’ studio practice has only ever been known to the artist and her models. Each shoot session can take as long as seven hours to complete, an exercise in precision and patience for everybody involved.  To this day, Hicks prefers analogue methods to capture the images she presents to us, by way of wishing to preserve the traditional film discipline. Petrina Hicks does not even have an Instagram account, which is why the presentation of Polaroids at Michael Reid Sydney could be considered the artists most courageous project to date.  

Petrina Hicks shoots all her work on either her medium format Hasselblad camera or large format Linhof Technika, instruments that have been paramount in directing photographic history. These cameras are equipped with polaroid mechanisms that enable an ability to gauge colour, lighting, and composition before committing to film. Since the year 2000, Hicks has amassed and archived a considerable number of polaroid test prints, a collection that now narrates a life’s work in ways that only pictures can.  

Containing over 400 individual images, Polaroids is an illustrative survey of Petrina Hicks’ studio methods, from her steady beginnings as a commercial photographer, through to experimental test prints of Fly Through The Candles Mouth Like A Singeless Moth, 2021. In this documentary exhibition audiences will witness the collision of ideas, the artist’s failures and successes, the funny, beautiful, bizarre and the bewildering. Also on view are a selection of the very first test prints of Lauren Dawes, Hicks’ most prominent model, creative muse and friend.

In Polaroids, the artists heightened imagination, technical mastery and sensitive understanding of her subject matter is present in every image on display, meticulously installed and culminating in a truly authentic conversation.

The mechanics of Petrina Hicks’ studio practice has only ever been known to the artist and her models. Each shoot session can take as long as seven hours to complete, an exercise in precision and patience for everybody involved. To this day, Hicks prefers analogue methods to capture the images she presents to us, by way of wishing to preserve the traditional film discipline. Petrina Hicks does not even have an Instagram account, which is why the presentation of Polaroids at Michael Reid Sydney could be considered the artists most courageous project to date.

Petrina Hicks shoots all her work on either her medium format Hasselblad camera or large format Linhof Technika, instruments that have been paramount in directing photographic history. These cameras are equipped with polaroid mechanisms that enable an ability to gauge colour, lighting, and composition before committing to film. Since the year 2000, Hicks has amassed and archived a considerable number of polaroid test prints, a collection that now narrates a life’s work in ways that only pictures can.

Containing over 400 individual images, Polaroids is an illustrative survey of Petrina Hicks’ studio methods, from her steady beginnings as a commercial photographer, through to experimental test prints of Fly Through The Candles Mouth Like A Singeless Moth, 2021. In this documentary exhibition audiences will witness the collision of ideas, the artist’s failures and successes, the funny, beautiful, bizarre and the bewildering. Also on view are a selection of the very first test prints of Lauren Dawes, Hicks’ most prominent model, creative muse and friend.

In Polaroids, the artists heightened imagination, technical mastery and sensitive understanding of her subject matter is present in every image on display, meticulously installed and culminating in a truly authentic conversation.

Dr Christian Thompson AO’s flower walls re-calibrate the viewing experience. The first encounter is with scale and colour. We are denied context and background. The pictorial space is flattened. Instead, the full depth of field is pressed into a few centimeters of the foreground of the scene. Rich with detail; awash with plant and human material. A wonderful abundance of gathered and organised blooming flowers. The effect is mesmerising. An immense wall of flowers. A figure strangely woven within.

Thompson constructs and inhabits these flower walls. Emerging or dissolving, his figure is obscured by the foliage. Multiple human limbs spread like branches from the dense floral arrangements. Thompson’s seminal 2007 series Australian Graffiti first alluded to an Australian political history that denied citizenship to Indigenous Australians; grouping Aboriginal people with flora and fauna. A colonial structure made to dehumanise. Thompson’s early works drew attention to this political absurdity, through portraits beautifully adorned with delicate native blooms.

In more recent works, this political narrative has transcended into a spiritual one. The dissolution of human and non-human is celebrated. The delicate adornment has cascaded into an abundance. The non-human grouping with flora is re-claimed, suggesting a world view that moves away from the anthropocentric and hierarchical.

That there is no singular focal point to be found within these images reinforces this logic. As our eyes naturally seek to find a particular point to look at, a ‘resting place’, the rejection of this way of seeing prompts and encourages us to get lost inside the image. The ‘human’ here is undefined. It is also plant and animal, and is uncritical of the blurring of these boundaries.

The title work Being Human Human Being reaches further into questions of ownership, power structures and ultimately identity. A surreal palette of neon lavender and white brings a new atmosphere. The floral still life as an art historical trope, has long been an allegory for death or the inevitable passage of time; transience. Such an allegory is inferred here in Thompson’s work, but the title suggests a reading of time that indicates a broader understanding of existence. Thompson has often explored notions of non-linear time, repetition and inversion. The suggestion in this work is that existence can be both transient and regenerative, when self is dissolved into nature.

  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    Being Human Human Being, 2022

    120 × 120 cm
    $12,500
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    Being Human Human Being, 2022

    250 × 250 cm
    $45,000
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    Double Happiness, 2021

    250 × 250 cm
    $45,000
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    Double Happiness, 2021

    120 × 120 cm
    $12,500
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    New Gold Mountain (Xin Jin Shan), 2021

    250 × 250 cm
    $45,000
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    New Gold Mountain (Xin Jin Shan), 2021

    120 × 120 cm
    $12,500
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    The Meaning of Fire, 2021

    250 × 250 cm
    $45,000
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    The Meaning of Fire, 2021

    120 × 120 cm
    $12,500
  • Dr Christian Thompson AO
    Amsterdam RMX, 2020

    $9,900