Imagine you could rearrange the world. All the stories that come flooding through our screens and across our coffee tables, telling us what the world looks like – you could reconstruct them; take all the images that propose to show us who, where, and what we are, and create a new, more familiar mythology.
In 2019, there were 3 billion images being uploaded to the internet every day, and each day 2.5 billion of these are stolen1. But while many artists mine this treasure trove for source material, Teresa Lane insists on finding hers through a physical search of bookstores, thrift shops, and donated texts. For her, pouring over books and magazines with a magpie eye for images that intrigue, also provides her with their history. Her selection is not from a shallow Google Search, but pulled from its source article with its full context realised. Her image search is research.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."2
Teresa is frank on revealing her sources; where she has purloined these images from, making careful selection, hand-cutting with tiny scissors and scalpel, sorting into boxes labelled “eyes”, “cocks”, “flowers”, etc., which she then reassembles into fantastical stories. Stories so far-fetched that it’s proper to ask: where did you get your information from? How are we supposed to untangle the knotted clusters of snipped limbs, flower heads, and animal parts that float across blue skies, images that are so full of information, of desire and humour that we clearly need to believe in these fresh new worlds?
Teresa’s reconstruction of the world is fashioned from three themes: the nude, the environment, and art history.
While the nude may once have lied convincingly that it is a classical representation of ourselves, stripped of worldly possessions and standing bare in our animal humanity, it is our more contemporary understanding that “Your Body is a Battleground”3. The nude is political, and since her Cockware exhibition (2012) Teresa has humorously played with our conflicted relationship to it: our double-standards of gender, bias of race, the conjoined binary of lust and repulsion, and the quaintness of how we clothe the nude in ideas of culture to make it bearable in public.
Some of her nudes come from porn magazines, and these make Teresa “uncomfortable. They are unapologetically exploitative. How do I allow porn back into the public realm, neutralize the inequality and make these nudes palatable?”4 Her Love in The Time works are impressive for their harmonious re-presentation of the figure, equally male/female and with a myriad of skin tones that feels good, feels like a festival. This was not easy to achieve, with most figures across all magazines being white and female. Teresa found newer issues of Vogue to be the most diverse. Yet perhaps the most noticeable aspect of her figures is their lack of faces (excepting one screaming mouth). “Take the face away”, says Teresa, “and the bodies start to equalize”. With this anonymity, she has been able to slip a nude of herself into one picture, joining the rehabilitated nudes in naked solidarity.
A major development that’s come from Love in The Time is Teresa’s inclusion of native flora and fauna to her stories. In her Godly series (2017), her daily practice of photographing the sky from her balcony provided big, open backgrounds for her visual narratives. These skies remain in the new works, but our viewpoint has been expanded to encompass the land. A recent gift of New Zealand Geographic magazines has provided a new, local relevance to her constructions. Even if we don’t consciously recognise them, there is a particular tone to the native orchid, black-eyed gecko tail and wings from endangered terns that Teresa has used that supply a familiarity – they are the textures of Home.
These home-grown images make Teresa’s story telling much more convincing. There is a reassurance that, despite the fruity reimagining of the figure, they perform their narratives on familiar ground, under a familiar sky. The heads of arum lilies, like a swarm of painted eyes, tumble down a slope in Matauri Bay, above Samuel Marsden’s first church. A hunter stands Barry Crump- like on a crag while an ibex-headed figure crouches like an animist idol. Teresa has formed a new, recognisable mythology.
More subtle, are the images taken from contemporary art magazines. References to New Zealand artists peek slyly from the profusion of clipped images, offering a Where’s Wally for the art cognoscenti. This in-house humour is a sincere positioning of her practice. Like collage, visual art is an accumulation of images, and Teresa literally includes the cultural landscape she operates in within her work. It is a recognition of those whom she admires and who have helped her; it is an acknowledgement that an authentic artist does not work alone but operates as part of a community.
And community is at the crux of Teresa’s story telling: she is talking about us, our world, our home. These new vistas, full of complex combinations – composite figures made from women and men and animals and flowers – are extrapolations by the artist of her observations of us. We are the ones that populate these new, familiar mythologies. We hunt each other, we love each other, we spray angels with aerosols, yet we are also the angels. Chains of hands reach out to each other but never connect. Our heads are full of colours and our faces are flowers. We are complex, we are composites of the stories we hear and we tell.
Love in The Time is strange and beautiful and complicated. It tells of us vulnerable and kind, destructive and inventive. Teresa shares these new narratives to help us navigate this rearranged world with wonder, humour, and the wings of an endangered fairy tern.
Tamaki Makaurau Auckland June 2020
1 https://www.copytrack.com/wpcontent/uploads/2019/03/Global_Infringement_Report_2019_EN.pdf 2 Jim Jarmusch, MovieMaker Magazine #53 2004
4 Interview with the Artist in her studio, 19th June 2020.