Tony Curran



Face Value was produced as part of the artist’s PhD research exploring the notion of self and the role of the self in contemporary visual art. It responds to a variety of changes in how concepts of self have been constructed and represented, and the value of the face in representing self.

The face is where the mind meets the body. It is where the inner world shapes the surface, revealing to others our thoughts and desires. It is where our self can be read, the private made public. It links your subjectivity with countless others.[1] For this reason the face is simultaneously public and private. It is on display for others to see and it is up to us to control how much of our inner world we express to others. A quick scan of a wallet reveals the value we place on the face as a signature of identity evident on official documentation that give us access and privilege in the community. We need facial identification to drive a car, to exit and enter countries and workplaces. It is our property but we also must share it, and guard it.

For centuries, artists have studied the face to learn about the soul, the self or identity, producing mixed results. The works in Face Value look at how the mind, the body, and society are represented in the face. They explore how the self is expressed and performed, via the face, to reflect the values of the individual as well as the customs of the community to which it belongs.

In Face Value, four works have been shown together to contemplate ideas about self and to activate the sense of self of the viewers. Being in a space filled with pictures of faces instantaneously facilitates a social encounter between the viewer and the subjects of the work. The viewer’s own physicality in the space is integrated through the enveloping structure of Scrutiny, the overhead placement of Watching over you and the intimate scale of Finding Arthur Wicks: Portrait miniature series.

The works stand as objects or installations that are dependent on the viewer’s physical placement in relation to them. In Scrutiny, the use of mirrors creates a looped rotation by repeating the pictorial sequence infinitely. Upon approach the viewer’s own face is incorporated into the work, reflected back into view. The viewer becomes object unto their self. Watching over you particularizes the viewing position, while revealing itself as an illusion of space and perspective.

The psychological effect of the Rorschach inkblot is explored in Finding Arthur Wicks: Portrait miniature series. The intimate scale of the miniatures invites close inspection, provoking embodied and reflective responses. As the viewer moves closer, two-dimensional pictorial clarity is lost to an inky ghost like form painted three-dimensionally. An imagined or psychological engagement with the subject matter is crucial, and this incorporates the viewer’s reflective self. One of us creates a sense of the uncanny. When viewed from afar it appears to be a collection of portraits of the same individual, but when approached a little closer the story grows more complicated and varied. The gestural brush strokes in Scrutiny and Watching over you create a psychological sense of energy counterbalanced by the stillness of an expressionless head. The use of gestural ink work reflects the fluid nature of the self, emerging and shifting through time. The dimensions of self are blurred together as the viewer encounters a trace of the artist’s body – a drawing. Reflection, relation and materiality are seen to be inseparable and dependent on one another.

Each of the four works developed as a result of other people’s participation. The head in Scrutiny and Watching over you was a bust of Arthur Wicks’ head. Wicks was a key figure of the Australian performance art landscape of the 1980s.[2] Wicks loaned the bust in response to an invitation to be the subject of a portrait. It had been an original bust from his studio, which he used to make masks for his performances as his alter ego – the Solstice Voyeur. Finding Arthur Wicks: Portrait miniature series involved the participation of associates of Wicks as a map of Wicks’ social and professional history – a series of portraits while simultaneously a portrait of Wicks.

One of us connotes assimilation, or individuality amidst the crowd. It involved about 150 participants during a three-month residency at the Museum of the Riverina, titled Identify, Identity, Identikit (2012). In this residency the public of the Riverina were invited to donate a part of their face in a 5-10 minute sitting, offering up their eyebrows, eyes, nose or lips to be drawn. From this identikit, 42 facial composites were made, which became the basis from which a photograph of my face was altered to take on the character, emotions, and physicality of different individuals from the Riverina community. As a series they demonstrate how the individual self can be stretched beyond its comfortable limits into the collective or social self.

One of us and Finding Arthur Wicks: Portrait miniature series are a population with their own fates. The population of Finding Arthur Wicks: Portrait miniature series is a community that becomes dissolved as each work is purchased. The group slowly shrinks. Currently seven remain (on display) from the original series of ten with three having gone into private collections. One of us, on the other hand, will continue to unfold well after the production of the artwork. From the total bank of facial features in Identify, Identity, Identikit, approximately 3.2 million unique composite faces can be made. As works leave the studio into private collections other unique faces will be made, so that One of us continuously remains a population of 42 individuals, each individual only ever printed once. While these post-exhibition considerations are sentimental, they shape and maintain the context of the work as authentically original, unique and humanized artifact; they remain individual works yet they belong to a group.

Face Value is not a claim about self. It responds to ideas of self and considers a new aesthetic, modeled on the various characteristics and dimensions of self. The subjects in Face Value are selves, the viewer is a self and the artist is a self. The face value can be seen in how it links the innermost private thoughts, to the space we inhabit in society, simultaneously as a psychological, material, political and social object. The value of the face is that it is a site of self.

[1] Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, trans. Simon Pleasance, Fronza Woods, and Mathieu Copeland (Paris: Les Presse Du Reel, 1995). 23

[2] Anne Marsh, Body and Self: performance art in Australia 1969-92 (Melbourne, AU: Oxford University Press, 1993). 159