Justine Varga – Accumulate
From the subtlest explorations of tone to rich explosions of colour and pattern, Justine Varga’s series Accumulate (2014/2015) expands our expectations of photographic abstraction. Collaging the gallery walls with prints, her reductive style isn’t abandoned but intensified. The show is accumulative in every sense; film, paper and personal moments are layered, echoed and repeated.
Some prints accumulate dense layers through multiple exposures. Others are camera-less photographs - exposed for months at a time. In intriguing ways, each captures the artist’s life during a 2014 London studio residency. The negatives are inflected with her aesthetic sensibility and her autobiography. They accumulate performative gestures, private spaces and personal experiences of time.
By compressing this narrative quality into a single frame, Varga notes, they “shift the decisive moment, stretch it out and collapse it again.” Her approach to photography, therefore, is experimental and improvisational - a response to stuff in her studio or a moving piece of music that’s stuck in her mind.
Ghostly geometric patterns emerge where a rectangle of film overlaps itself innumerable times; elsewhere, a grid of gauze is crisscrossed with stray hair. Others elicit the emotional depths of colour, punctuating a muted palette with deep pinks, velvety oranges and vivid yellows. Yet they also bring us back to the surface of photographic film and the banal details of daily life.
In Exit (2014/2015), for instance, striking horizontal stripes are an effect of Varga applying tape to film. This visually echoes her neighbour’s tiresome trampling of their staircase before the negative was left on a windowsill and got mottled pink by rain. In the case of Enter (2014/2015), a glowing yolky yellow tells the story of a doormat. Placed by her front door, the negative was trodden on repeatedly for weeks.
Despite this rough-and-ready approach, it is the intricacies of tiny scratches and markings, the idiosyncrasies of analogue film, which become significant compositional elements when the negatives are enlarged into prints. Within the dense fields of colour, expressive graphic lines sketch the print surfaces, while dark stains allude to depths beyond their two-dimensions. These imperfections exquisitely embellish the works with the texture of space and time, as we encounter in lush colour Varga’s capacity to transform the mundane into the sublime.
Justine Varga has achieved impressive recognition since graduating with Honours from the National Art School in 2007. She has been a Finalist in numerous awards, including in 2015 the NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging), the Bowness Photography Prize and the Churchie National Emerging Art Prize. In 2013, she was awarded Joint Winner of the Josephine Ulrick & Win Shubert Photography Award. In 2014, she was awarded the Australia Council for the Arts London Studio Residency, and in 2012, she was selected for Primavera, MCA Australia. Her work is held in numerous private and public collections, including the Art Gallery of NSW, Macquarie University and Artbank.