May 15 – June 19, 2021
Nino Mier Gallery presents Nudie, a solo exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist Polly Borland presented in the newly inaugurated Gallery 3, on view from May 15 - June 19, 2021 at 7327 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.
After a long career of photographing others, world renown Australian photographer Polly Borland has, for the first time, turned the camera lens on herself for this striking series. Borland gained global notoriety in the 1990s for her editorial portraits of prominent cultural figures, capturing moments of unique vulnerability beneath the steely veneers of oft-photographed politicians, rocks stars and the like. By equal measure, her early artistic investigations expanded into figures who had never before been photographed, capturing the dark seedy underbelly of underground communities, like her Babies: photographs of infantilist fetishists who existed in a pre-internet anonymity. With her latest exploration with the Nudie series, Borland unveils these immensely personal self-portraits and boldly demonstrates the same vulnerability she notoriously elicited out of her past portraiture. 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."
For Nudie, Borland challenges social media ‘selfie’ tropes and the widespread culture of self-worship and self-image curation through presenting contorted, grotesque oversized nudes taken with this era’s most popular tool: an iPhone camera. Her large scale, confrontational photographic prints amplify the sculptural nature of her aging body with tightly cropped frames that are surreal or even landscape-like 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 or pressing herself against mirrors. The sculptural handling of her own body revealed in such a provocative way culminates a decades-long photographic investigation of publicly and privately curated personas built on the physical and digital manipulation of body, power, sex and ego.
Borland also concedes that ironically, such revealing work may not have been possible for her to take on at a younger age. With age she has gained the wisdom and maturity to care less about vanity, what value might be assigned to her body or the judgments about her choice to pose nude at all. Borland explains further, “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, amplifying the absurdity of sexualizing women by dressing them as small animals. 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 Nudie revels in the wrinkles, varicose veins, layers of loose skin, body fat and other authentic depictions of women's bodies.
Furthermore, in Nudie (1), where she plunges her fist into her breast, her body is physically handled in such a way that subverts the female form into an object - but not for male consumption. Her breast is not delicately cupped or lifted – it is kneaded like clay in an almost violent or absurdist gesture. These images do not exist to elicit sexual desire, but rather, confront the underlying violence present in the systems of control in historic image making that govern set gender roles and sexuality. Nudie forces upon us the unyielding truth that remains behind our highly constructed and filtered social and digital realm.
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 with breasts hanging upside down. Like the skin pressed against glass in the photographic work of Jenny Saville, Borland 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 like Sarah Lucas or even Lucien Freud, Borland’s enigmatic tableaux invite new considerations of underlying cultural contradictions. Borland’s choice to display her own ageing body, a taboo reserved to shock 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