Polly Borland: Not Good at Human

Let’s be honest, what I’d really love is to sit down with you, drink in hand, and tell you personally about why Polly Borland is the bees knees. I’d do a bit of a fan-girl rant about how when I first came across her book ‘The Babies’ (2001), I was standing with my sister in a Melbourne bookshop, and with our heads together and jaws dropping, we went back and forth through the pages – and then back again. I’d then grab your hand from across the table, look you in the eye and go ‘did you know Polly Borland is having her first ever Sydney solo show this month?’ Let me just make that clear – one of Australia’s most internationally renowned, experimental and conceptually disobedient artists is having a solo show in Sydney for the first time. Borland’s been romanced by Melbourne, L.A. Britain, The Queen… yes, that’s right, Lizzy II, and now it’s our turn to charm, and you best be ready to look – and look again.

Polly Borland, Not Good at Human   Polly Borland, Not Good at Human

Making you look is the canny lure of Borland’s work. In this era of easy to digest (and forget) images, it is those magic makers like Borland who get us to work for it, and so the ideas linger long after we’ve left the gallery. We can’t know immediately if we are unsettled or seduced by what we see in her photographs. Human bodies are contorted and reshaped with stockings and stuffing into comical – sometimes crude – forms. I’m unsure if I want to run my hand along the contours of these new bodies, or ask the model if they’re ‘OK?’  And such a response is downright wonderful with the photographic form, because that unfixed space of push and pull, where both the maker and the audience are unsure of where things will land, is what great art is. Polly Borland is a great artist.

Polly Borland, Not Good at Human   Polly Borland, Not Good at Human

Those that have been alive long enough understand that contradiction is there to challenge us morally, creatively and aesthetically. Borland plays with this. She works for it. She builds relationships with her models drawing on play, intimacy and open-ended enquiry. She likes work that is “hard to look at”, but I would also add that her photographs hang about in the peripheral. Every time you turn to catch that unfixedness – to get a sense of the ungraspable – there the bodies freeze in motion. It is a futile task, but Borland’s new photographs and collage works call the viewer to try and try again. It is a dance between the body and the camera, between the viewer and the photograph, and between knowing and feeling out of your depth. It is seduction and humour all rolled into one.

Until 23 December, 2016


Not Good at Human, 2016, archival pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney