While in Tokyo I spent many hours sitting on trains moving through the Yamamoto or inner city subway circuit. This is a continuous loop that traverses the major commercial suburbs of Tokyo. I began to understand that Tokyo train travel is precious "time-out" for its citizens. Although the carriages and views through the train windows are filled with advertising imagery, many passengers use this time to close their eyes and sleep, even while standing with one hand holding the support handle. Train travellers often keep their eyes closed for the duration of their trip having developed an instinct for waking-up at their stop.

Julie Bartholomew 2006

Transitional Bodies

As Bartholomew suggests, Transitional Bodies refers to bodies that are 'in transit' and between destination points. Also inferred is a state of transition occurring on and around the female body as it is fashioned, accessorised, modified and represented. These physical changes relate to a transition in perception and understanding about how the body operates as a site on which cultural ideas of beauty, control and identity are played out.

The installation, Transitional Bodies consists of four female figures that have been cast from actual women; Lisa, Yoriko, May and Michelle. Beyond their individual identities they represent malleable, contemporary bodies in motion through the tunnels of a super city. The women sit on a bench seat as though travelling on a subway while a montage of digital imagery scrolls over their bodies, speeding up and slowing down, inferring train travel. A sound track of train noise is heard in step with the motion of the rolling imagery, all of which propels the still, sleeping women forward. The digital projection is a composite of beauty product advertisements and actual women interviewed and photographed by the artist during her Australia Council Residency in Tokyo during 2004. The seamless flow of beautifully branded bodies is interrupted by images of real women, each with a compelling presence. This disjuncture alerts the viewer to the fact that the seductive meta-narrative is not real and that a subversion is taking place.

Bartholomew identifies the bombardment of Tokyo's public spaces by global brand-names and cosmetic products as promoting Western values and ideals of beauty. Issues of 'white' hegemony are raised and the porcelain women appear to be victims of 'Westernisation'. Yet 'whiteness' is also akin to Japanese tradition surrounding Geisha dating back to the Heian Era (794-1185 AD), which in turn, may have developed from cultural gazing to China and/or Europe. Of course in the West, the inverse is promoted via tanning and skin darkening treatments. Ideals of beauty are informed by a tendency to romanticise otherness and the white bodies in this work become enmeshed in these readings.

On the other hand, the women are not seeing or listening to these messages, and importantly, they are not `performing' for any gaze, but sitting comfortably, held within their own internal thoughts, dreams, memories.  The presence in the group of a Caucasian woman, Michelle reflects how the global city is fractured by many different bodies and furthermore, the potential for cultural blending. While the female body is a site for the marketing of global industries, these bodies are not figured as homogenised clones but represented as thinking, feeling, dreaming beings within a contemporary, global world. A deliberate conflict operates in Bartholomew's work which enables her to identify the female body as both complicit and passive, and also unengaged and dissident.

The women's bodies are configured in doll-like sections, a reference to Japan's highly regarded tradition of making life-size dolls, and a reminder that the female body is a site of discourse where battles of power and control are acted out. This work identifies a shift in the battle for control of the female body away from feminism, which renders conflict along gender lines, and post-colonialism which confronts the inequity of coloniser and colonised. Transitional Bodies foregrounds the emergence of another battle between the female consumer and global capitalism. These relations of power over the 'body which consumes', reconfigures individualism as being expressed through purchasing decisions and acts of consumption.

However, subversion of traditional or mainstream bodies is a constant process of transition, as capitalism and consumers chase each other around a cultural and political sphere of representation and depiction. The installation's digital component includes images of women on the fringes of society; Lisa 2005 and Toyama 2005. Here unconventional bodies  demonstrate experimentation with body change practices as a way of expressing self and autonomy, practises that are a vital force amongst aspects of Tokyo's youth. Consequently the doll-like configuration of the four figures not only raise questions of power and control, but reference the possibilities of modification as demonstrated by the piercings, tattoos, fashioning of facial and head hair, utilised by the women in these images.

The theme of the female body as a site for capitalisation, absorption, experimentation, and cultural colonisation is taken up in the rest of the exhibition. Smaller, sculptural works are presented like products in a department store aiming to create veneration and awe in the shopper. These sculptures are perfect porcelain white, fragile and rarefied. Thereby Bartholomew utilises the very strategies at play in the consumer culture she critiques. This is reflective of the art world's appetite for cultural criticism, as though in cynicism we may find reprieve. Of course something sinister is at play here, where bodies are carved, cut up and squeezed to fit within cosmetic product designs. These works may reference the other end of the industry, which is propped up by circumspect labour conditions in developing countries. The malleable postmodern body may be perceived as complicit with an increasingly consumer oriented world, and actively utilising options for re-figuration in order to subvert the beauty industry's core narratives and values. However we are reminded in these small works, that bodies operating on the other side of capitalist modes of production, are equally being shaped by their relationship to the global market.

Illuminating Beauty I & II consists of cast instruments used for cosmetic surgery positioned within a silicon rubber bed which allows a hidden light to shine from beneath. Here the coveted translucency of polished porcelain collides with associations of pain, and the knowledge that these are instruments for the cutting and reshaping of the body where 'design' extends to the body itself. I am series consists of porcelain works displayed on clean, glass topped tables where cast parts of women's bodies are squeezed and squashed into fashion accessories. In a similar way, Product depicts body impressions that have been compressed to fit inside designer cosmetic bottles, inferring the extreme processes of body modification. Markings envisages three petite, porcelain hands each branded with a logo carved into the surface of the skin. The hollowed emptied body has become intermingled with brand identities. Finally Wrapt consists of upright standing hands and legs placed on two long glass topped tables. While the hands and feet are presented as actual casts, the legs and arms of these pieces look to be wrapped or stockinged. In this way these animated body parts are like mannequins in a state of permanent rapture, while the detail of wrinkles, veins and folds act as a counterpoint for their polished veneer.

The blending of the manufactured allure of the shop front with real bodies and the promise of endless youth with actual skin, draws in and seduces viewers, only to leave us revolted by the very ideas we have coveted in the initial seduction. Arguably, Bartholomew's artwork operates within our own bodies as we encounter her work with tangential feelings of rapture and repulsion. This  conflict is perhaps intended to step the viewer towards their own transitions in thinking and embodiment.

Kirsten Lacy
Acting Director
Shepparton Art Gallery

©Copyright 2002-2009 Julie Bartholomew. All rights Reserved R10 Design