For the solo exhibition “Nudie” Australian photographer Polly Borland has, after a long career, turned the lens on herself for the very first time. Using an iPhone camera, she challenges ‘selfie’ tropes and social media culture of self-worship and self-image through contorted, grotesque oversized nudes. These confrontational photographic prints amplify her aging body with tightly cropped frames that seem sculptural and surreal in their abstraction. The artist twists, kneads, flips and folds her body, handling her flesh like a malleable material while also steering her iPhone camera with a selfie stick. Borland is widely known for her portraits of prominent cultural figures and conversely, underground communities, like her investigations of infantilist fetishists in the 1990s. Taking and now unveiling these immensely personal self-portraits exposes the artist to the same vulnerability she notoriously and miraculously elicited out of her past portrait subjects.
Borland explains, “I think of my camera like a microscope, regarding my sitters closely. On a good day, it is more like an x-ray machine being able to penetrate below the surface. At its best, portrait photography is psychologically revealing.” By that token, these nude self-portraits culminate her decades-long photographic investigations of publicly and privately curated personas built on the physicla and digital manipulation of body, power, sex and ego.
Borland explains, “The selfie work is confronting my aging body. They are nudes basically, so I decided to use my iPhone and do what everyone else is doing but not beautifying or hiding anything. It’s about the body’s decay as one grows older,” she says, “also, it was time for me to do to myself what I did to others.”
The subversion of the male gaze to surreal, punkish or ghoulish consequence has always been present in Borland’s photography. She disrupts traditionally alluring images and subjects, intensifies them, repositions them and essentially turns them on their head through specific staging. This is exemplified with her past “Bunny” series where she inverted the soft, seductive pin-up type with an aggressive, confrontational and physically dominating model in bizarre rabbit garb. Playboy bunnies are certainly a continuation of classic, historical depictions of the female nude, which tend to be demure, reclining in a docile manner with smooth, glowing skin and unblemished features. Borland’s huge images for “Nudiie” reveal wrinkles, varicose veins, layers of loose skin, body fat and other imperfections that do not exist for male consumption. They do not elicit sexual desire, but rather, reveal hidden truths.
Borland often cites Hans Bellmer, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley as her biggest influences — all who play with a combination of the abject disgust, dark humor and a strangely seductive, aesthetic violence. Recalling Bellmer’s disturbing images of doll parts reassembled as the Surrealist ‘Exquisite Corpse’ , Borland’s body seems rearranged, disjointed or reordered in “Nudie” as features like elbows and knees get convoluted and breasts hang upside down. Like the skin pressed against glass in the photographic work of Jenny Saville, ‘Selfie I’ shows the drooping breast and loose skin so close to the picture plane, the shapes become abstractions, like stalactites in a Yves Tanguy landscape. Like the work of these influential artists, from the Surrealists to her contemporaries, Borland’s enigmatic and absurd tableaux invite new considerations of underlying cultural contradictions.
Borland’s choice to display her aging body, a taboo image reserved to shock and horrify in popular media, is entrenched in her reversal of the ubiquitous exercise of highly curated, posed and ‘filtered’ nudes and self-portrait exchanges in youth culture. For all her brutal honesty, she chooses to exclude her face, perhaps referencing the anonymity of modern relationships played out online, but also making the resulting images all the more inhuman and surreal.
Polly Borland lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Borland’s formal art practice has led her to exhibit worldwide, especially in Australia, the UK, Europe and across the United States, including the major exhibition Pollyverse at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 2018. Borland’s career as a photographer and visual artist has spanned over three decades, covering a myriad of subjects, and has shown internationally at institutions including National Portrait Gallery, London; University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; and Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. Her work is in public and private collections including The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, National Portrait Gallery, London; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Damien Hirst’s Murderme Collection.
Polly Borland : Nudie
May 15 – June 19, 2021
Nino Mier Gallery
7277 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046