Running alongside the exhibition ‘Still Life Now’ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 19 February 2023, the ‘Still Lives’ film program from 9 October 2022 until 12 March 2023 screening at the Australian Cinémathèque in GOMA, presents a selection of films that speak to the core exhibition themes of life, death and transformation. Here are five artworks and their filmic counterparts that take a fresh approach to the still life tradition.
Deborah Kelly Beastliness 2011
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos The Lobster 2015
Ideas of desire and transformation underpin the works of Deborah Kelly and Yorgos Lanthimos. Deborah Kelly’s mind-boggling collage animation Beastliness creates fantastical creatures from the pages of old encyclopaedias and textbooks to make riotous commentary on the nature of life, death, and reproduction. In a similar vein, director Yorgos Lanthimos’s darkly comedic film The Lobster is an absurdist take on the future of love and relationships, where candidates who fail to find their perfect love match are transformed into an animal of their own choosing.
The Lobster 2015
Marc Quinn Portraits of Landscapes series 2007
Director: Jessica Hausner Little Joe 2019
Combining ideas of art and science, nature and artifice, life and death, Marc Quinn’s vibrant ‘Portraits of landscapes’ series uses highly saturated, hyper-realistic colours to bring attention to the scientific practices of genetic modification and cryogenics that are used to alter the natural life-span of plants. Jessica Hausner’s tense paranoid thriller, Little Joe 2019, takes a similar stance, and imagines an alternate future where a genetically engineered plant named ‘Little Joe’ emits a mood-altering pollen, resulting in some sinister consequences.
Little Joe 2019
Anne Noble Dead Bee Portrait #1 2015
Director: Jan Švankmajer Insects 2018
Using electron microscope images of dead bees, New Zealand artist Anne Noble attempts to reanimate the deceased bees through the vehicle of photography, to draw attention to their threatened existence and imagine their secret lives and untold histories. Comparably, the master of modern Czech surrealism, Jan Švankmajer, combines stop-motion animation with live action footage to create a wonderfully bizarre take on the lives and minds of insects.
Michael Cook Natures Mortes series 2021
Director: Pedro Costa Vitalina Varela 2019
Michael Cook’s deeply moving, and highly emotive photographic tableaux, Nature Morte (Agriculture) and Nature Morte (Blackbird) from the ‘Natures Mortes’ photographic series emphasise the importance of culture and identity in the wake of grief and past trauma. Similar in tone and in subject, director Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela is a visually striking portrait of a widow embarking on the rediscovery her identity following the loss of her husband.
Vitalina Varela 2019
Chen Qiulin Garden 2007
Director: Jia Zhangke Still Life 2006
Still Life 2006 by renowned Chinese director Jia Zhangke and the video work Garden by multidisciplinary artist Chen Qiulin both take the Three Gorges Dam hydro-electric project — a major engineering endeavour responsible for the displacement of thousands of residents living along the banks of the Yangtze River — as their focus but take two very different approaches to storytelling. Jia Zhangka’s Still Life focuses on the lives of two individuals whose stories take place around the project and, like the cities affected by the dam, are going through a similar process of self-deconstruction. Chen Qiulin’s video work Garden, depicts a group of migrant flower sellers moving through the streets of Wanzhou to deliver bouquets of artificial peonies (a flower which in China represents the fragility of life and its potential for renewal), to make comment on the movement of people in favour of economic progress. Both works are incredibly compelling, and explore notions of displacement, memory and social injustice to make comment on the scale and pace of change in contemporary China.
Still Life 2006
A Bucket of Blood 1959
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover 1989
Death Becomes Her 1992
Coffee and Cigarettes 2003
Niu pi (Oxhide) 2005
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu 2005
Carnivore Reflux 2006
三峡好人 (Still Life) 2006
Parque vía 2008
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 2014
The Lobster 2015
24 Frames 2017
Hmyz (Insects) 2018
Little Joe 2019
That Cloud Never Left 2019
Vitalina Varela 2019
Samtidigt På Jorden (Meanwhile On Earth) 2020
Flux Gourmet 2022
Victoria Wareham is Assistant Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
‘Still Life Now’ is at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 24 September 2022 until 19 February 2023, the ‘Still Lives’ film program is at the Australian Cinémathèque in GOMA from 9 October 2022 until 12 March 2023. View the ongoing Cinema Program.
QAGOMA is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.