French Fantasy, March 18–July 14, 2020
Gattamelata, August 1 – November 17, 2020
Women’s Work, December 1, 2020 – March 18, 2021
The GreyChurch Billboard is generously supported by Jane Irwin and Ross Hill
Text by Madalen Benson, Capture Photography Festival
Fragmentation and juxtaposition are two ways in which Elizabeth Zvonar challenges the power of representation within iconic images from Western art history. Cutting and pasting pictures from art history textbooks into collages, Zvonar examines their underlying systems and structures.
In French Fantasy, the face and torso of the figure from Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque (1814) is removed and replaced with a detail from an image of a funerary statue of ancient Egyptian Prince Rahotep and Princess Nofret (c. 2600 BC). This arrangement obscures the identity of the woman in Ingres’s portrait, replacing it with the stylized arm of Nofret. In Zvonar’s image, both women are released from idealization and the viewer’s fantasy; their objectification becomes obfuscated.
Gattamelata juxtaposes the Mona Lisa (1503–6) by Da Vinci with an image of Donatello’s Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata (c. 1453). The image of the statue, which represents Erasmo da Narni, a military captain, is removed and replaced by an offset image of the Mona Lisa. The arms from another image of the Mona Lisa float below, proportionally larger in scale than the fragment of the face above. In Zvonar’s collage, the figure from the Mona Lisa becomes larger than life, her face much greater in size than that of the statue, with her hands enveloping the ground on which he stands. The equestrian statue as a symbol of male power is negated by the male representation of a woman. Systems of power and representation in both images are challenged.
In Women’s Work, Zvonar cuts up both black and white and colour images of Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergere (1882) and mixes it with Fernand Leger’s The City (1919). The section of Manet’s painting that is removed from Zvonar’s collage is that of the mirrored male figure that appears to be the subject of the worker’s attention. What remains is her despondent gaze, multiplied through two additional sets of eyes. This combination lays over Jan Van Eyck’s image of hell from Last Judgement (c. 1430–40). The result is a commentary on labour in cities, identifying the strife of ill-paying jobs as a hellish condition of cosmopolitan life.
By appropriating, splicing, and remixing these images, Zvonar forces them to recontextualize one another. She uses a formal gesture of mirroring throughout all three images: the feet and the curtains in French Fantasy extend beyond the frame, architectural motifs in Gattamelata transform building facades into endless patterns, and the mirror is cut in Women’s Work shifting the perspective. Through mirroring, a multiplication of the subject and form emerges, reinforcing Zvonar’s move to recontextualize the original images. From the objectification of women, to power relations inherent in images, and to the realities of labour in urban life, they serve as a testament to the relation between representation and reality, or idealization and life.