Mike Parr
Volte Face: Mike Parr Prints & Preprints 1970 – 2005

2nd March – 21st May 2006
Museum of Contemporary Art

Mike Parr’s solo exhi­bi­tion formed part of a wider sea­son of exhi­bi­tions at the MCA explor­ing self-por­trai­ture by select­ed Aus­tralian and inter­na­tion­al artists. Mike Parr is a lead­ing Aus­tralian artist who has worked across diverse media since the late 1960s. Embrac­ing per­for­mance, pho­tog­ra­phy, draw­ing, print­mak­ing, sculp­ture and instal­la­tion, Parr’s exten­sive prac­tice has exam­ined a range of social con­cerns from per­son­al iden­ti­ty and the self por­trait’ to polit­i­cal­ly charged actions and ges­tures that com­ment on the role of the indi­vid­ual in wider society.

In this exhi­bi­tion a selec­tion of key print works were brought togeth­er for the first time in Syd­ney. Although Parr pro­duced his first print in 1987, the exhi­bi­tion con­tex­tu­alised his print­mak­ing prac­tice through text and instruc­tion’ pieces from the ear­ly 1970s, and pre­sent­ed pre­lim­i­nary draw­ings or sto­ry boards’ along­side print­ing plates as a way of reveal­ing the men­tal and phys­i­cal process­es through which the prints evolved.

This exhi­bi­tion, as its title Volte Face (or about face’) indi­cates, focused on the self por­trait as a piv­otal theme in Parr’s prac­tice over the last 35 years. Tra­di­tion­al­ly based on the phys­i­cal sem­blance of the artist – and typ­i­cal­ly, the face reflect­ed back at the artist via a mir­ror, or drawn from mem­o­ry – the self por­trait was here pre­sent­ed as an unsta­ble, ambigu­ous psy­chic ter­rain. Lines were scratched into the pic­to­r­i­al sur­face with a com­bi­na­tion of lyri­cism and feroc­i­ty, while human traces appeared one minute and reced­ed or frag­ment­ed the next under a mass of lay­ers and visu­al distortions.

Parr’s Self Por­trait Project’ devel­oped out of his live per­for­mances of the 1970s and their pho­to­graph­ic (or filmed) doc­u­men­ta­tion. It took the form of draw­ings based on the pho­tographs in the ear­ly 1980s, then print­mak­ing, as well as sculp­ture and more recent per­for­mance works. Scale was sig­nif­i­cant for Parr’s prints, which var­ied from sin­gle-sheet works of con­sid­er­able inti­ma­cy to large-scale works encom­pass­ing mul­ti­ple sheets. Often pinned direct to the wall, rather than framed behind glass, there was an imme­di­a­cy to these works in which the minute, irreg­u­lar detail of wood-grain was revealed before the view­er along with the scratch­es, burrs and fur­rows of met­al-plate print­ing processes.

The exhi­bi­tion includ­ed a range of mate­r­i­al drawn from the MCA’s Con­tem­po­rary Art Archive and from pri­vate and pub­lic col­lec­tions around Aus­tralia. Also includ­ed were the filmed per­for­mances House of Cards 2004 and One Hun­dred Breaths 2003. In the lat­ter the artist inhaled one hun­dred self por­trait prints to his face in the form of tem­po­rary masks. In House of Cards the artist cre­at­ed a sculp­tur­al con­struc­tion out of the prints, which slow­ly slide and fall dur­ing the course of its dis­play – only to be rebuilt once again.

Curat­ed by Rachel Kent