Anne MacDonald: Pink & Blue, Artereal Gallery, Sydney, 2018
The Romance No.1, gelatin silver photograph cut and mounted on satin
Bronwyn Watson, Anne MacDonald: The Romance
For more than six months, Anne MacDonald wandered the shops of Hobart hunting for different types of hearts to photograph so she could represent the pain and disappointment of romance. During her search, she discovered what she described as “perfect stuff”, such as a heart shaped chocolate box, heart shaped soap and a little gold heart-shaped frame to put a picture of your loved one in.
Given MacDonald’s fascination with hearts, it is not surprising they are a key trope of one of her formative works, The Romance, a suite of 51 photographs she produced in 1987. But her interest in hearts and romance is not at all sentimental. Rather, she takes an ironic look at how romance is a desperate desire that is never fulfilled and is defined by overused clichés that have become completely meaningless and pure artifice.
Speaking from her home in Hobart, she says that when she made The Romance she was a young woman and having “rocky relationships”. “I was really struggling with this idea of what is love, what is romance, and this codified idea of the romantic ideal, and finding life much more disillusioning than that.” She says. “So it was really very much from a feminist perspective of a young woman and working with tropes of romance.”
One of MacDonald’s photographs from The Romance series is on display at Brisbane’s Griffith University Art Museum in an exhibition, Dark Rooms: Women Directing the Lens 1978 – 98, which features more than 25 artists such as Tracey Moffatt, Fiona Hall, Jill Orr, Anne Zahalka, Destiny Deacon, Fiona Foley and Lindy Lee.
MacDonald’s No.1 from The Romance depicts a luscious silver heart dissected in half and mounted on to satin fabric. There are also two silver fish hooks, inspired, MacDonald explains, by a Margaret Atwood poem:
you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
“I was thinking around the idea of that poem,” MacDonald says. “This idea of how women are perceived in society, and the idea of romance and how we all get hooked at some point, and that we get hurt by these things.”
However, another more personal reference for the work was Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, and more specifically the song’s lyrics, “We’re just two lost souls / Swimming in a fish bowl”, which were a key inspiration from when she listened to them as a teenager. “I remember a very close friend I had when I was young, around the time my mother died when I was 17, the same time I went to art school. He had lost a very close friend in a car accident that he was actually in, and we used to play that song and get incredibly maudlin.
“Then, a few years later, I was in this quite serious relationship that was not going anywhere. It was feeling like lost souls in a fish bowl and feeling like I was somehow trapped in this long-term six-year relationship. It was during this time that I made the work.”
Naomi Evans, the curator of dark Rooms: Women Directing the Lens 1978 – 98, says that MacDonald’s image is “striking and speaks so well to me about the complexities of love and the illusions of those rituals of romance”.
“As a stand-alone image it works very well,” she says, “and I love that there is a physical gap or wound in the image. And the two sizes of fish hooks suggest that it might be sutured back together, but the physical gap remains.”
Evans says she is thrilled to be able to show MacDonald’s work 30 years after it was first produced. “I think the ideas that are crystallised in this work are still very pertinent and it is fascinating that we still need to think about feminism and still need to think about the nature of sex and love, and this is why this image speaks so powerfully to those things.”
The Weekend Australian, 28 - 29 July 2018
All that glitters 2017 (fine art ink-jet print 157 h x 110 w cm), an egg-shaped field of crumpled gold confetti medallions, mines connotations of luxe and indulgence implicit in the vogue for faux metallic party-ware decorations – contradictory when applied to the cheap, disposable and ‘temporary’ nature of the product – and a potent commentary for our time on the transience of personal and political excess and greed.