Jane Brown – Black Ships
Jane Brown’s beautiful and ambiguous photographic work appears to originate from a different era but simultaneously depicts contemporary subject matter. The meticulous process that Brown employs and the careful presentation of her hand-printed, black and white works, places them in a liminal realm between being images and objects.
The title of her latest series Black Ships suggests the idea of a Western perspective on Japan. ‘Black Ships’, was an idiom used by the Japanese for Western vessels approaching their shores and dates from the 16th century when the hulls of Portuguese vessels were painted black with pitch. The term became a symbol of the end of Japan’s isolationist policies and the modernisation that ultimately ensued. The images in Brown’s Black Ships are laden with symbolic meaning – pathways and bridges to reflect the idea of a journey, bandaging and wrapping symbolic of past wounds, walls and fences figurative of boundaries and cultural isolation, nature and decay referencing the Japanese concept of mono no aware (mortality and a pathos for the transience of things). A key image features the cherry blossom, richly symbolic in Japanese culture and celebrated for its ephemeral beauty, whilst also a symbol of nationalism. In World War II, for example, kamikaze pilots would paint them on the side of their planes. And the souls of dead soldiers were thought to be reincarnated in the petals of the cherry blossom.
Ultimately, Black Ships is a travelogue that looks to the strange machinations of history, and at the same time, a reflection on contemporary Japan. Seen through a traveller’s eye, it acknowledges the photographers who travelled there in the mid 19th century (the timeless gardens of the Silver Pavilion and the natural environment may well have been documented in daguerreotype 150 years ago). It also responds to Japan’s militarism of the 20th century - born out of the policy to modernise – and the horrific consequences of atomic warfare. Brown aims to convey the complexity of emotions experienced when visiting a city like Hiroshima. More broadly it is an articulation of curiosity, seeking out points of difference from home – the peculiar, the beautiful and the unfamiliar.
Jane Brown has exhibited widely in Australia. Recent exhibitions include Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria, The Sievers Project at the CCP, Island of the Colourblind at Breenspace Sydney, CCP Declares: On the Nature of Things at The Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce, Melbourne. Brown is a recipient of the Art and Australia/ Credit Suisse emerging artist award for 2013 and was a 2012 and 2013 finalist in the Bowness Prize at the Monash Gallery of Art. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Art and Australia journal, The Australian and The Age newspapers. Her work is held in major Australian collections including the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria. This is her first exhibition at Stills Gallery.