Australian artist Justine Varga examines the conventions of photography, exploring its process, materiality, and relationship with time, along with the very act of looking. Made with or without a camera, Varga's photography is known for its slow process due to the artist's use of long exposures.Read More
In her early projects, Justine Varga often employed ordinary objects and varying degrees of exposure to create atmospheric images in her studio. A work from 'On the outside' series (2007), for example, implies elements associated with Australian landscapes indoors through figurines and the television, which appear semi-transparent as a result of multiple exposures. In 'Empty Studio' (2009), depicting toy animals, strings, or pieces of numbered paper on the wall, a soft milky colour palette contrasts with the rough and untidy studio walls and floor.
Justine Varga began to experiment with cameraless photography in 2010, disengaging photography from its more conventional function of freezing singular moments. Desklamp (2012) is a product of extreme exposure: the large-scale negative, ranging in shades from pale to darker purple with blotchy pigmentation, was made over the course of a year using the artist's desk lamp.
For Justine Varga, the film is a sculptural medium on which she can draw, inscribe, or otherwise manipulate. Thin, seemingly random scratches shine through an amorphous cloud of green in Remembering #16 (2015), while the stripes in Abrasion (2016) almost resemble patinated metal. In such works as Lattice #1 or #2 from the 'Areola' series (2017–2018), faint but recognisable ghosts of windows are captured inside what appear to be frames or boundaries imposed on the film.
With Maternal Line (2017), Varga took a slightly different approach by giving her grandmother a piece of film to test pens and later developing the negative. The resulting image is in dark green and purple, with the marks visible in varying thickness and colours. Varga also asked her grandmother to scribble with saliva, not only recording the bodily fluids in the work but also referencing the time embedded within it.
Vargas won the 2017 Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture for Maternal Line, which caused controversy over what its critics called a 'spit and scribble' photograph. Shaune Lakin, who decided on Vargas' work, described it as 'the award's most ambitious portrait' and noted its relationship with the history of process-based photography. In the words of the artist, Maternal Line is also 'a portrait of our relationship, of our collaboration'—a family portrait delineated through maternal lineage.
Engaging with the possibilities of the photographic medium, Justine Varga collapsed the boundaries of photography and drawing with Photogenic Drawing (2018). The chromogenic photograph was made by layering pigment on film and making marks with pen or spit before developing it in the darkroom. In the work, erratic lines in blue disrupt the smooth and flat surface associated with either photography or drawing. In 2019, Varga was awarded the Dobell Drawing Prize for Photogenic Drawing.
Justine Varga's work has been shown at international fairs including the Auckland Festival of Photography, Paris Photo, and Sydney Contemporary. She was twice the recipient of the Joseph Ulrick & Win Schubert Photography Award in 2013 and 2016, and received the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia Primavera Veolia Acquisitive Prize and Australia Council for the Arts London Studio Residency in 2014.
Tachisme, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne (2021); Areola, Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide (2019); Memoire, Two Rooms, Auckland (2019); Accumulate, Stills Gallery, Sydney (2015).
News from the Sun, City Gallery Wellington (2019); Ways of Seeing, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2019); Exposed: Confronting Photography Through New Australian Writing, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2019); Performing Drawing, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2018); From Will to Form: Tarrawarra Biennial 2018, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria (2018); Silver and Salt: Experimental Photography, Art Gallery of NSW (2016); Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand (2016).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021