Text by Thomas Trummer from the catalogue accompanying Julian Opie's solo exhibition at Galerie Krobath, Vienna in 2004.
In the show, the model steps on to the catwalk to present herself in alluring poses in filmic movement, interrupted only by postures evoking pure pleasure. Like in a strip show (where it is even more obvious), the simple and foreseeable course of events is to be regarded as an act of visual allure. Here, the expectations are being fulfilled, and thus the visual pleasure is unmasked. The model presents herself as a "sub-iectum" in the literal meaning of the term: she subjects herself to the gaze of others. But the fulfilment of the expectations causes inconsistency. By anticipating the expectations, the model maintains her sovereignty over the gazing desire.
"This is Kiera" - The slim beauty is wearing underwear with lace, skin-tight shirts and long silk stockings and at one stage, she even appears naked. Kiera's shoes are invisible, they consist of thin straps around her ankles - an allusion to the fetish about heels being the phallic extension of the legs. Julian Opie presents the "real" body of a model in the way we know it from advertising. This kind of aesthetics is represented by monochrome backgrounds, shining vinyl and clear outlines - reducing the life-size body to a set of signs signalling sensuality. Abstracted and realistic moments are suddenly put together. The head, for example, is an empty circle, without a neck and hovering over the shoulders - it is an abstract curve without a face; the feet are cut off. However, these anonymous elements do not diminish the sex appeal. On the contrary, the lack of individual features attract even more attention to the "curves" of the body. It was no coincidence that one of Julian Opie's works was chosen for the cover of a book with the title "Reiz und Ruhrung" (1) (Attraction and Emotion). It is the portrait of a girl from Bali, which he enlarged enormously and exhibited at the Atelier Augarten in 2002.(2) In the same style, he had already made portraits of Formula One drivers and pop stars such as Jacques Villeneuve and Bryan Adams. For all these images, he used photographs, which he edited on a computer with common graphic programmes to produce simplified, gigantic pictograms. In "This is Kiera" Opie does not aim at recognizability. It is not Kiera, a friend of his, who is to be identified, but the stereotypical portrait of a woman. Opie depicts the symbolic power of the image and the process of abstraction, which is not directed towards what is seen but towards the act of seeing.
In order to achieve these effects, Opie uses choreography, gestures and the characteristic iconography of the aesthetics usually found in strip shows and on catwalks. As in fashion photographs, we see Keira as a woman in the picture, but at the same time, we see her as a picture - notwithstanding the gender, although sex does play a role. Kiera is the subject of these works and at the same time she is the medium of a certain system of forms and shapes. For achieving this double function, the model is captured in the rigid pictures, and then set in motion again. In each of the pictures, one single posture is depicted, which looks as if it were taken out from a series of movements. And indeed, within the erotic fantasy (of the male spectator), the model starts to move and continues the well-known poses, suggesting the act of undressing.
Julian Opie had shown the same model in real movements. Like in the classical myth of Pygmalion, where the artist's unfulfilled desire for a goddess is compensated by a creation by himself, Opie's Keira, who has been captured in rigid photographs, is brought back to life by computer generation. We see the animation on Opie's well-organised web page: julianopie.com. Framed in an upright format, the animated character moves as on a treadmill: remaining in the same place and at the same time moving elegantly, swinging her hips rhythmically - however, she never crosses the limits of the frame and its logic.
It is difficult to resist Opie's images at the Krobath Wimmer Gallery - they do not move, and yet, they convey movement and emotion. They present their effect by suggesting filmic presence and movement, as well as moments of indecision, which are purposefully incorporated into the pictures. Pop and realism, eroticism and lack of passion, theatricality and intimacy - all these engage with each other, just like aesthetic seeing and voyeuristic visual pleasure. In his works, Opie is looking for these contrasts - the effect and influence of the libido on the indifferent pleasure. He deliberately repeats the utilization of the female body, unmasks the dominance of the male gaze and the simplistic pathos of sex.
1. Konrad Paul Liessmann: Reiz und Ruhrung. Uber asthetische Empfindungen, Wien: WUV 2003.
2. Julian Opie: wallpaper, October 5, 2002 - February 9, 2003, Atelier Augarten. Centre for Contemporary Art (Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere)