S p o r t s m e a t
Craig Freeborn and Justin Spiers
Runs to November 7
S p o r t s m e a t, Wall text.
Film-maker Stan Brakhage once observed that humans are “meat objects.” Dunedin artists Justin Spiers (Photography) and Craig Freeborn (Painting) would agree. It is bodies, meat and flesh to which we return for proof in the image, but it is upon this that we founder.
In the translation of battle reportage into academic history painting, Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier and others sought to balance the pathos of death with military pomp and heroism. The public, exerting pressure via vast sales in printed copies of these painted originals, were often more convinced by the harsh materialism of bodily imagery below, than by the regal gestures of Napoleon above—as in Antoine-Jean Gros’ Napoleon on the Battlefield of Eylau (1807). Meat beats theatre, because in the end, all theatre is just meat revolving on the rotisserie. We are, in this sense, caught in a search for real flesh.
Freeborn bases his paintings on found photographs of Ebola victim disposal and of the complex physical structures of the rugby scrum, whilst Spiers’ photographic capture reflects an epicurean taste for unsettling public displays and for the global marketplace in table-animals. From Freeborn’s Timaru high-school, complete with a tree gifted to former student and medal-winner Jack Lovelock at the 1936 Olympics (the famous “Hitler oak”), to Spiers’ simultaneously languid yet desperate caged cats, we are caught within a series of battles and tensions regarding bodies, the spaces they battle to occupy, and what they consume in order to survive. Though staged in the epic manner of history painting—the measured emotion and scale of Freeborn’s work; the carefully curated triptych and blocks of black-framed colour in Spiers—we are in this exhibition moving through a stadium in which audiences and artists seek not just victory, but to determine of what, if anything, we can be certain. Perhaps, in the end, all we are left with is the gory red of a foot, or the delicate umbilicus of a deceased piglet. All we shall ever know is that, as painter Francis Bacon said, we are all “potential carcasses.”
--Jonathan W. Marshall,
University of Otago / WA Academy of Performing Arts
''Sportsmeat,'' Otago Daily Times, October 29 2015, Samantha McKegg
''Sportsmeat'' is an exhibition of new works by Dunedin artists, and State of Princes co-foudners, Craig Freeborn and Justin Spiers.
Freeborn and Spiers have two very distinct practices as Freeborn is a painter, and Spiers a photographer, but they come together as they ruminate on bodies, flesh, meat and death.
Freeborn shows two new large-scale works that present modern scenes in the manner of classical history painting.
Both paintings focus on human bodies: the first a rugby team brawling in a locker room and the other shows the disposal of an Ebola victim's body.
While the scenes are worlds apart, they are images that might appear within the same news hour.
Spiers' photo-series and video work show unsettling public scenes of bodies within defined spaces.
Collating a variety of images, from a museum display to cats straining against cages in a back-alley market, Spiers creates an uncomfortable tension around human control over non-human animal bodies.
With Freeborn's palette and Spiers' black-and-white photos, ''Sportsmeat'' has an aesthetic as well as a conceptual darkness.
Freeborn and Spiers are confident artists and are able to convey nuanced ideas around flesh and bodies through images that are visually intriguing.
Sportsmeat Review, Georgia Phillips
Upon entering the inviting gallery space of State of Princes, those in attendance were greeted with a striking juxtaposition, in terms of both medium and imagery.
Craig Freeborn’s painting style is full of movement and emotion, his colour palette simple yet vibrant. The overwhelming Bull Block makes an immediate impact with its intriguing composition, large scale, and distinct subject matter. True to theme, this artwork is set in a sports locker room, a space generally associated with the less glamorous and mundane side of the sporting institution. Freeborn’s rugby players violently embrace one another as if mid-tackle, however there is no ball to be seen. The players poses appear staged, as if displaced in the environment they are within. Freeborn illustrates what is considered merely ‘sport’ upon the field, is in fact pure physical violence in a different location.
The world depicted throughout Justin Spiers’ photography feels dark, foreboding and alludes to or partially reveals the ‘unseen’. His shadowy backgrounds and brightly lit subjects highlight details that otherwise may go unnoticed, such as dried blood splatter upon a table or the sallow, bloodless skin in Shi-quan. Although those photographed are animals, Spiers exposes that the hand of humankind is responsible for placing these creatures in such horrific circumstances. In Untitled (Cat) there is a menacing shadow entering the frame which threatens the cat’s escape attempt, while the feline bodies stacked upon one another allude to the unnecessary loss of life.
In terms of style and content the works of the two artists are very different; however there is imagery that connects the various works within the gallery space. Cages frame and encompass the subjects of Spiers’ photographs, imprisoning the animals. In Freeborn’s Bull Block, the cage-like imagery is slightly more subtle; however still alludes to the threat of imprisonment. Bloodied bodies also pervade both artists’ works. The cut up bodies in Spiers’ work lack life; they are treated like objects, meat in the first stage of the production chain as opposed to once living, breathing creatures. Freeborn’s rugby team are portrayed as active while caught in a moment of aggression and physical violence.
The idea of the disposable body is present in both artists’ works also. Tackle A shows the disposal of human remains, however every figure on the canvas is cut up, lessoning the distance between the sacredness of the human body and pure meat.
The mild spring evening would (in a traditional sense) be considered a perfect fit for images of our national sport and adorable animals – however due to the theme that ties these two subject matters together, the weather played a sombre role. Despite the differences in the artworks, I believe they depict the same dark world: where a sport fuelled by violence and aggression is hailed, gladiatorial style, as the hero of our society and animals are nothing more than objects.