Odalisque, As Archetype

Odalisque, As Archetype


(These notes were compiled during production)

Odalisque, As Archetype is a combined photographic and video-based installation, which explores the personal journey of a sex worker in an urban landscape. An exercise in personifying the “working girl,” this series will incorporate documentary interview footage, along with photographs that depict each sex worker’s perception of self – contrasting society’s stereotype with the woman she either aspires to become, or the individual she imagines herself to be. The photographs will represent the fantasy/archetype, “the unreal,” and the interview of the witness discussing her childhood, trauma, hopes and dreams — will represent “the real.” Odalisque, As Archetype will deal directly with the myth, the archetype, the fantasy and the lie, redefining who or what is a sex worker. Witnesses may choose to remain anonymous. The intent is to amplify the personal in a way that challenges the viewer’s presumptions about who a sex worker really is.

The prostitute’s body — a commodity (life under capitalism) that can be bought, sold and discarded — inspires this documentary installation to explore the personal domain of the “working girl”: their home/work environment, videotaped interviews of their life stories, snapshots from their childhood, and possessions they hold dear, whilst exploring the stereotype of this marginalized group of women. For example, one woman may see herself as a warrior or a goddess, a business woman or a health-care professional, a sacrifice or a symbol of consumer culture.

This dynamic new body of work, consisting of photographs and video, will be exhibited in a gallery space. Gallery exhibition will be at Beaver Hall Gallery October 4 – 23, 2014. Opening night October 4, 2014 during Nuit Blanche. Website: http://www.thesexworker.ca

This was a joint project with documentary photographer, Barbara Greczny and documentary media artist/filmmaker Esther Buckareff.


The creative process shared between us involves the building of a communal collective voice that will allow the participants to shape the artwork and inform the project. Filmed with an open consent form, the project challenges the notions of the artist’s ownership and authority when it comes to art and story telling. As Canada enters an historic era of legalized sex work, this timely exhibit explores myth and reality, by facilitating a platform for sex workers to speak for themselves. Odalisques, as Archetype will deal directly with the myth, the archetype, the fantasy, and the lie, redefining who or what is a sex worker. 
Odalisques, as Archetype (working title) is a photographic series and video-based installation, which explores the personal journey of the sex worker in an urban landscape. An exercise in personifying the sex worker, this documentary-based art installation includes interview footage along with digitally manipulated photographs and a soundscape installation. Ten almost life size 30 x 60” digitally altered photographic images will be mounted on plaques and hung without frames, representing the fantasy/archetype ― the unreal. There will be ten iPad touch screen monitors with attached head phones, one monitor to each photograph will be placed near the photograph with the actual interviews of the subjects talking about themselves, their childhood, their hopes and dreams ― the real. The viewer will control the video footage via the iPad’s touch screen capabilities, and be able to pick which portions of the video they would like to listen to and watch.

In 1932 John Grierson stated, “Documentary is a clumsy description, but let it stand. The French who first used the term only meant travelogue”. Olivier Lugon seventy-three years later wrote, “No-one has ever known with certainty what the term ‘documentary’ actual entails…However, the vagueness of the word has by no means been a drawback, but has contributed to its success and dissemination, since a very wide variety of makers have legitimately succeeded in appropriating the documentary”. The documentary tradition, in the past, focused on the photography and the film-based media. Today documentary has spilled over into the Internet and, in our case, into an art gallery. It is no longer just about sound, film or photography and their division. It is a discourse about the interaction between these media and others, as well as about other multi-media approaches like installation art. Olivier Lugon mentions that despite all the variations of the term documentary there is a “…very general requirement to respect the subject matter, the desire to reveal ‘things the way they are’, to provide reliable, authentic information about them” . Odalesques as Archetype seeks to uphold and respect its subject matter, even within its construction process. The interview footage displayed on the monitors are the unique stories of the witnesses. The photographic images throughout the gallery are those of the participants’ archetypes.

The gallery suggests a different type of spectatorship. Instead of sitting silently in a darkened cinema, listening to headphones, or passively viewing photographs on a wall, an installation asks that the audience participate in the space. It is here that the installation becomes performative. Elizabeth Cowie states, “In the gallery the audio-spectator is mobile, perhaps just passing through, physically engaged by and traversing a space that has been designed for her movement in and around it, perhaps staying two minutes or ten minutes. In any event, both the space and the time of spectatorship of time-based works are transformed. Each gallery installation may produce a new mode of experiencing a work, not only through differences of aspect and setting, but also because the work itself may not have a fixed form”. Odalisques as Archetype is designed in such a way as to accommodate people who saunter in and out of the gallery space in a matter of a few short minutes and for those who like to experience each aspect of the installation in more detail. For example, by putting on the headphones, it elicits active participation on the part of the gallery patron. There is no “fixed form” to the installation per se, and it allows viewers to interpret the work for themselves. The installation’s overall propensity is more towards active participation.

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