Try to Do Things We All Can Understand
Solo Show at Street Level Photoworks as part of Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art 2008.
‘Try to do things we all can understand’.
This is the first solo show by London based artist, EJ Major. She presents four bodies of work from the past four years, all distinct yet complimentary journeys around private/ public concerns. Having studied both photography and the social sciences EJ Major’s inquiries are rooted in questions of identity. Specifically, in how we are constructed as human beings – by biology, society and circumstance – and in the lexicon of languages we must adapt to and adopt to survive.
The artist’s materials began with the personal, letters, diary excerpts and family snap-shots, and now include their public equivalents - films, books and magazine articles. The process of re-presenting these varies depending on the chosen material but is always something that emerges over time and begins with the act of collection.
The work Try to do things we all can understand (2003-2005) is shown on multiple screens and includes 300+ film stills and the corresponding excerpts of dialogue that go with them. The image/text pieces are played on alternate monitors at random, thereby undermining each narrative’s specificity. Instead the piece plays upon memory and fantasy using the films the artist grew up with.
Film is again referenced in Love is… (2004-2006) in which the artist took a screenshot of each second of the film Last Tango in Paris and from each one printed a single postcard. These 7,000+ postcards were then hand delivered around London and the West Midlands with a Freepost address on the back and a message which asked the recipient to respond to the postcard as part of an enquiry into love. The film was used as an organisational framework around which to engage strangers while the text acts as both prompt and challenge.
Made between 2004 – 2006 Marie Claire RIP is based on an article published in Marie Claire magazine which featured police mug-shots of a woman taken over a fourteen year period. The images were used as an anti-advert for heroin and the article revealed that after the last picture was taken the woman was found dead. In part this piece was motivated by a desire to memorialise an unnamed person. But, in using herself as subject in the restaged images, Major challenges the veracity of the photographic portrait, finding an authenticity in a practice of self-portraiture that involves acting.
The latest work from a distance (2007) uses William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying as a starting point. Major originally read and annotated this text at the age of seventeen and seventeen years later has revisited it. The edited text is interposed with images culled from Brownie annuals. At seventeen the artist often found herself unable to speak and returned again and again to Faulkner’s novel. The piece is an attempt both to equivocate this loss, the failure of language to adequately describe experience, and a celebration of the power of language to translate experience through narrative.
In all, the driving concerns in the artists work remain constant: an exploration of the individual as a physical and psychological collage; a study of the ways in which we are simultaneously created and self-creating, of the way our worlds and our selves entwine.