Saturday, 5 March 2011

John Stezaker

Whitechapel Gallery, London
John Stezaker is one of the most renowned collage artists of our time and it was a treat to find that a retrospective of his work had been curated for the Whitechapel Gallery. I first came across Stezaker's work when I visited New York in 2007, whilst studying on my foundation year, at the time I was unaware of how influential Stezaker would come to be. I re-visited a sketchbook from New York whilst studying my degree and noticed a small thumbnail of an intriguing and jarring image, researching further I realised it was Stezaker and began to explore his work further.
Within my wider research for my dissertation I researched Stezaker and found some of his themes very interesting. Stezaker uses film stills an juxtaposes them with disparate or complimentary images, film, stills.
Stezaker explores gender roles in cinema and is often described as a male feminist. It is interesting to wonder whether his work is perceived differently because he is male, compared to if a female generated similar work.
He comments on the idea that women are objects of attention and subjects of the male gaze, a theme prominent within Hollywood cinema. Using collage Stezaker subverts, exaggerates and draws attention to our perception, using what we take for granted and offering the opportunity to re-think what we see by rearranging the way images are ordered and presented. This transformation of images allures the viewer, as collage does so often, into a new sense of reality, a continuous comment and questioning of perception.
I researched Stezaker for my dissertation, I found it interesting to observe a male response to some of the feminist issues I had been exploring. To see the huge retrospective of Stezaker's work was inspiring and overwhelming to see so much of his work in one place, the work has much more resonance in the space of a gallery rather than on screen or in a book, seen at the size which Stezaker intended. What was so impressive is that each of the collages were original works, not re-produced or printed out, the actual fragments were original, and there is something endearing about how two disparate, unedited elements can work together in a strange harmonious chaos.
The idea of male dominance/gender hierarchy and the male/female gaze is something I have explored in a film workshop, with Sam Meech using found footage for the North West Film Archive, and something I will continue to explore in future work.

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