Tracy Lindner Gander: FLOUNCE
Tracy Lindner Gander in collaboration with Katherine Bull, João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town
A young woman wearing a gold catsuit stands amidst a cluster of indigenous grass. Behind her, a fence cuts across the length of the horizon. Despite the somewhat glamorous get-up, the photograph depicts a woman with expressionless features. She is neither obviously sad nor happy. Paired with this curious portrait is a landscape study. It is a study of the same location used in the accompanying portrait, just empty, devoid of people.
All of the photographs in Tracy Lindner Gander's show Flounce follow this simple formula, pairing evocative, mood-driven portraits of model/artist Katherine Bull in various disguises with landscape studies of the same environs. Gander's strategy prompts an immediate question: why is the landscape purposefully projected forward next to the portrait? The works themselves offer no answers. It is only in the photographer's simple, declaratory titling that one discerns feint suggestions of an answer. Looking to the title to this particular work, we glean that the young woman in the catsuit stands in the vicinity of Valkenberg psychiatric hospital.
There is a remarkable currency to the photographic work of Gander. By currency I mean exactly that: it is current, contemporary. Like the work of Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans, or his countryman Jurgen Teller, Gander's work is self-conscious in its questing, unsettled in its tonality, poised in its aesthetic. I have intentionally drawn a parallel between these two German contemporaries and Gander because of the visible fashion aesthetic they share. But there is more to these photographs than mere fashionable gestures.
Tillmans and Teller, like Olaf Martens, first came to prominence in the early 1990s, not soon after the dissolution of a divided Germany. A time of elated but intense introspection for many young Germans, Tillman's pseudo-documentary style, for instance, captured all the unsettled drama of youth set against a multiplicity of post-Cold War backdrops. Confusing categories such as landscape, portraiture and reportage, his highly emotive work subtly unearthed the inner wrangling of both German and UK youth.
While some take exception to the fashion aesthetic which colours these European's work, quite possibly forgetting that Man Ray also came to prominence as a fashion photographer, the objection does merit pause. (There are whispers that Gander's "fashion aesthetic" is troubling to some.) In a modest piece of writing, Ricardo Dominguez once pointed out how recent German fashion photography (read Tillmans et al) presented a look that combined "reality and history under the frame of style-as-hypermutation". Style, that remarkable alias used to stave off anonymity, and particularly style as identity, became "a suture to ground the ruptures of historical breaks - the zeitgeist becomes form only during a cultural crisis".
In this rather inelegantly argued point the extraordinary currency to Gander's photographic work is revealed. It is a currency that has little to do with the fact that her work is aesthetically similar to recent avant-garde European photography. Rather it is a currency based on its remarkably accurate presentation of a reality familiar to many young South Africans. Whether dressed as a partially clad bride in Observatory, a tiara-adorned nymph in Newlands forest or a masked glamour girl crossing the Black River outside Valkenberg, there is something joyfully familiar in the exaggerated style of this individual trying to formulate her uneasy identity. A show of striking certainty, meticulous style and self-conscious lyricism, Flounce may not necessarily chart radically new subject matter. Which young contemporaries aren't reassessing their identity? What, however, makes this exhibition noteworthy is its confidence. While documentary photography might still claim a privileged place in the local photographic canon, Gander's show is one of only a few braving new styles in the search for what is unequivocal and true in photography.
Art South Africa, Vol01 Issue01 Spring 2002, p55