Friday, August 5, 2011

METAMORPHOSIS ~ a second birthday celebration

In order to celebrate our second birthday I invited friends to provide images and texts that address  metamorphosis. Many thanks to Aliey Ball (sculptor/Melbourne), Chris Barron (poet/Melbourne), Moira Corby (artist/Melbourne), Phylicia Daria (Systems Designer/USA), Bruce Dickson (artist/Melbourne), Andrew Garton (musician/Melbourne), Werner Hammerstingl (photographer/Melbourne), Clinton Hayden (photographer/Melbourne), Kyriaki Maragozidis (artist/Adelaide), Mark McDean (artist/Newcastle/Melbourne), Steven Middleton (animator/Melbourne) and Simon Park (scientist/United Kingdom) for their valuable contributions and kind permission to reproduce images.
Wollongong. Despina Maragozidis (1977)
Change is something we all experience. It unfurls slowly over time, creeps along like low mist over land and we barely notice these alterations as we go about our usual day. Sometimes change occurs in sudden bursts; as devastating events that change our lives forever. Affects of the natural and synthetic world on our physicality and perception is unmistakable. We age, dust falls and remains undisturbed, things around us become cracked and eroded, unseen bacterium eat away at surfaces, the pages of our books yellow, photographs taken years ago fade or change color.
Kyriaki Maragozidis's family photo acutely reminds us that children grow, families disperse, fashions change. We view the subtle pink hue of the scene as if through rose-colored glasses, interpreting the past through the lens of the present. And, the moment is all important, for in one second our whole world view can change.
San Francisco. Werner Hammerstingl (2010)
Werner Hammerstingl seizes a moment of transition in this image of a woman affected by something she has seen in the San Franciscan skyline. We cannot imagine what it is that transfixes her gaze; however we can see the immediate imprint of flux on her visage. Here, metamorphosis is interpreted as a fleeting gesture, the emotion across her face like clouds across the ephemeral azure.

To notice alteration is to recognize a prior state and change always brings with it memories of a previous self. When Gregor Samsa the primary protagonist in Franz Kafka's novel The Metamorphosis (1915), awoke from an anxious dream and discovered his transformation into a monstrous roach with lack of limb control, bodily stench and gradual blindness, he began to question life and his humanity, as we all do when experiencing sudden or catastrophic change.
Pupa. Clinton Hayden (2010)
Transfiguration from human into a chrysalis state, perhaps to show a period of isolation or stasis  is clearly shown in Clinton Hayden's Pupa in which the persona of the individual is erased in the half light, shadowy other zone. This self portrait, influenced by Rene Magritte's The Lovers (1928), depicts the loneliness of the individual in his contained singularity. A black shroud covering the head  of the sleeping subject indicates both confusion and mourning, but also suggests a certain anticipation  and desire to be woken to something anew.

Avoiding Domesticity. Mark McDean
Whereas Hayden's subject is lying down, Mark McDean's camouflaged figure is erect, almost phallic, sheathed as it is in its cloak of many colors. Both artists refer to the transformative effect of clothing as veil to disguise or enhance identity and, in both, the subject of the photograph maintains a particular air of anonymity, suggesting that they are interested in the universal rather than the particular. McDean's masquerade, composed of 'exotic' destination tourist scarves sewn together is commentary on the difference of the other as well as the social and cultural norms that define us all.

Phylicia Daria also relies on clothing to remodel her outward appearance to more closely reflect her inner  psychology. Confirming to the dominant societal paradigm of gender as binary construct s(he) felt compelled for much her life to dress and behave like a man, however, although she experienced the usual discrimination and transphobia directed at those who refuse to conform to acceptable norms, she completed her transition from male to female about a year ago and now lives as a transgendered person. The fluidity of transformation evident in Phylicia's body modification is demonstrated in Andrew Garton's meditation on metamorphosis.

Photo (left)Jeanie McGowan, photo (right) Morgan May.
Metamorphosis: Steven Middleton (2011)
I had a thought about caterpillars and what it is that happens when they cocoon themselves. Recently I discovered that they liquefy before they turn into moths or butterflies. It's quite bizarre to think that an organic form turns to mush, then transforms into a physical form entirely different from whence it came. A kind of beauty and the beast story with a brutal middle, although I doubt caterpillars are aware of themselves dissolving. Then again...
Andrew Garton (2011)

Steven Middleton gives more than a nod to the sixteenth century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, whose refined anatomical drawings depicted lively cadavers holding their own flayed skin. Middleton reveals humanity in a state of becoming other than, but quintessentially human, through a metaphorical shedding of skin. This simultaneously dead and alive human/pupa, emerges from its cocoon amidst a bubbling primordial mass, suggesting perhaps that the post-human body is a product of the evolutionary forces attributed to contemporary biomedicine as well as advanced communication technologies.
Metamorph. (Beasty Boy II) 
Moira Corby (2011)
Moira Corby's digital image reflects ubiquitous technology, its obvious impact on body imagery and the continuous flow  that occurs between humans, animals and technology. Here, the child, transformed into a humanimal with hairy mane  and claw-like fingers crawls upon a bloody surface suggesting perhaps that the transition between prior and future states of the human will not be easy task.

Neoplasm. Julie Clarke (2011)
No matter how much medical and imaging technologies  may be used to modify the human body, nature itself has its own unique way of transforming us at a cellular level. I wonder how long it will take for the acrochordon (skin tag) on my left eyelid to multiply. It is almost as if the neoplasm with its downward spike, unhappy with its current state of being has decided to mutate into a lash instead of remaining contained within the lid.

Transformation as both affect and uncontrollable desire in other than human entities is depicted in Simon Park's photograph of bacteria penetrating and altering the surface of an old postage stamp. The image speaks to the temporal nature of life, the ultimate erosion of  the visage and all masks we adopt. Here, even the monarchy, established as abiding figurehead cannot escape the ravages of time. The bacterium  (from human touch or contact with the external environment) forms a skin over the stamps surface and reminds us that human beings, identified as such through their external appearance are in fact human/bacteria hybrids, super-organisms harboring cells, bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Old postage stamp. Simon Park (2011)
Spinner. Aliey Ball (1994)
The word metamorphosis (meta: change ~ morphe: maker of dreams) conjures up a magical sphere in which almost anything may happen, and Morpheus weaves his spell in the most fascinating way in Aliey Ball's Spinner. A spinner is a medical bio-reactor that rotates and activates cells and mediums so they may be harvested. However, Ball's creation, reminiscent of our walnut-shaped brain, is a self portrait of her own  psychic transformation nearly two decades ago. Inspired by Emile Zola's The Masterpiece, the interlaced tendrils of this sculptural, ridged object suggests a process of becoming or mutation, one that might eventuate into a spiral of madness demonstrated by Claude, who, in Zola's 1886 novel hangs himself in front of his artwork. With any state of flux there is uncertainty, and this nowhere more obvious than when we create an artwork or thing, itself subject to changing perceptions and transformations. 
MM. Bruce Dickson (2011)
Change, which is clearly shown on the surface of  real and virtual bodies in the works of the various artists shown here, may also be expressed as reflecting an inner psychology, a chaotic event, unleashed as a spiraling mass that moves towards or outwards from a central point that might also be interpreted as the space of the self. Bruce Dickson's muted blues and reds hint at the collision between intellect and passion, chaos and order and a magic that cannot be explained, only viewed.
And, finally, the magic of Morpheus and the ability of dreams to alter our perception is demonstrated in Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream and is expressed in Chris Barron's poem in which the body is transmogrified and the human spirit embraces change.


When Puck, the Psychopomp,
turned Bottom to an Ass
Titania was ecstatic.

She, an elder of the forest,
was delighted with his long, priapic ears,
especially since the changeling boy

was taken from her,
and Oberon, himself a dwarf,
was often short on it.

For change is the allure we long for most,
and when short-changed,
the numen dwells upon it more.

CDB (2011)


  1. Oh wow what a collection! Well done Julie :)

  2. Agree - I'm so happy with the contributions. Most I know or have met in real life, however Aliey, Chris, Phylicia and Simon I met on face book a year or so ago. Of course, Phylicia was Phil then.