Thursday, January 25, 2007

From Russia With Love

A dear friend of mine- Morag Schonken- recently sent me a review she wrote of my From Russia With Love installation as a part of her mentorship program at MAWA. I've included it here in it's entirety...thanks for the ego boost, Morag!


Tara Bursey
Fly Gallery

October 1st-31st, 2006

A small brown package arrived in my mailbox. I flipped through the catalogue
that I found inside: Anna, 22, Burnaul, Russia; Irina, 21, Nikolaev, Ukraine; Yulia, 20, Frankfurt, Germany. Twenty-five to choose from and this was just the tip of the iceberg. Seventy-two Russian “mail order brides” are featured in Tara Bursey’s latest Installation “From Russia with Love” at Fly Gallery in Toronto.

Bursey once again challenges the depersonalization and objectification of women. By drawing portraits of the women found on mail order bride websites, Bursey is giving a face and voice to these otherwise silent photographs. Activating the women through her drawings allows the viewer to see the human behind the photographs, and not just another object in a catalog.

In fact the parallels between experiencing Bursey’s installation and the process of finding a bride online are worth considering as the similarities are striking. In searching for a bride one navigates the website looking for women that matched desired criteria. The next step in finding a bride is to order a catalog. For a large annual fee a catalog is mailed right to your door. Similarly when I first saw Tara’s show on her website the experience was much like shopping online for a bride. I searched the site taking each woman in, gathering as much information as I could.

Fly Gallery is appropriately a store front window on Queen Street. Bursey has lined the walls with the portraits, and assembled 25 of them into a bookwork also displayed in the window. They are on display for your shopping convenience and for the cost of a few dollars you too can own a copy of the bookwork. (It can also be mailed to you.) Whether buying Bursey’s artist book or subscribing to a commercial wife-finding service, you are acquiring a catalogue which includes pertinent facts and a physical likeness of each woman. Both formats although strikingly similar, portray these women in vastly different lights.

The use of medium to portray women seems to have a big impact on the way the viewer sees them. The photographs online objectify the women. They are objects to be acquired by men and for other women they can bring up a feeling of hostility. However when Bursey transforms them into pen and ink portraits they become real: they could be your best friend, your sister. Hostility is replaced with compassion and curiosity. In this way Bursey continues her “Ongoing investigation of repetition, and it's potential to depersonalize and desensitize within both institutions and domestic realms.” Again she succeeds in giving a personal identity back to these women.

This same transformation is seen in the works of Ghada Amer, who takes playboy photographs of women and transforms them into embroidered patterns repeated over and over again. In Amer’s case, the repetition works to deemphasize the pleasure the image is meant to give the male viewer and instead emphasizes the femininity of the women by the use of embroidery. Both the work of Amer and Bursey challenge ideas surrounding the ideal and idealized female forms.

I have taken Bursey’s bookwork out of its brown package, searched through the pages and put it back in its package numerous times. It strikes me that all these women are younger than I am (26). I wonder how someone can choose a bride this way and hope for a wife and a partner. I’d have a hard time choosing one of these women to be a pen pal. But mail-order wife selection is done everyday and there is a growing market for it. What truly brings these women to place themselves in a catalog?

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