One consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic has been that many of us have had to engage with mainstream media and news more than we would ideally like. That means forced exposure to the uniformity – and perhaps vulgarity – of language and image that is inherent to our 24-hour news cycles and clicks-driven media landscape. It can be exhausting, yet experimental photographer Jacinta Giles has channelled this reliance on news into art, through her conceptual, suggestive, and unconventional exhibition Aberration.
“From the moment the media started referencing the virus in January, before it hit our shores, I found myself obsessing over knowing as much as I could about it,” says Giles, who is based in Brisbane. “As someone who had been committed to not watching news for more than a decade, I became an obsessive consumer of media broadcasts – playing them in the background and recording multiple news channels to watch later in the day in case I’d missed something. So my experience of lockdown became a cycle of consuming a constant stream of media as a virtual witness to the unfolding present. I therefore wanted to see if I could relay a sense of my experience through my creative practice.”
Aberration features a series of manipulated photographs that Giles took of scenes projected from a domestic television screen during the first two months of the pandemic (she completed a ‘virtual’ residency with Metro Arts in Brisbane over this period).
Four of these images will be displayed as large prints in the physical space at PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery, along with a video work that consists of 50 photographs composited into 35 images. Each of these 35 is overlayed with a large blue cross, representing another ubiquitous visual emblem of the pandemic: the cross on the supermarket floor reminding us to maintain social distancing. Ten of these images will be viewable as stand-alone stills via the PhotoAccess website.
As with several other projects across Giles’s career, Aberration is also an exploration of, as she puts it, “the workings of visual memory.” The artist’s works have a sense of disjointedness, unreliability and deliberate ambiguity – she describes her work as both “anti-linear” and “anti-narrative.” Her images appear to focus on a resonant or emotionally sharp detail from a larger image that Giles found in her TV watching. This does, in a way, recreate how the memories we retain often boil down to specific individual images, phrases or moments.
“The images become after-images, or traces of reality,” she says, “mimicking the mutable and fragmentary way we process remembering. In grafting these traces within the concrete space of the photograph, my practice looks to bring to light that which normally remains unseen in terms of conscious sight.”
By addressing the pandemic and its media coverage, Aberration cannot help but feel somewhat political, even if Giles is keen to emphasise that there is no specific statement or agenda behind the work.
“For me, these images reveal something of the anxiety and uncertainty I have felt as a result of Covid-19, and as they were created by something that came into the orbit of my camera, via some level of chance, I can only hope they transgress that space between mine and yours,” she explains. “My intent is not to direct the viewer, but for them to engage with its multi-temporality and materiality – then leave it to them.”