Julie Rrap: She’s Back!

Posted on July 18, 2010

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Julie Rrap, 360 degree Self-Portrait (detail), 2009, digital video, 10 minutes 42 seconds, Edition of 3 + 1 A/P. Courtesy the artist and Rosyln Oxley9 Gallery.

Julie Rrap was (is) a beauty. Not only does she have striking features, courtesy of her Eastern European heritage (a distinctive genetic cocktail shared by her older brother, seminal Aussie performance artist Mike Parr) but Rrap also has that X-factor: the unquantifiable something that makes stars sparkle, a certain quality that isn’t about physical beauty, but which nonetheless increases its potency exponentially, beyond calculation.

In person, Julie Rrap is magnetic. (I’ve only witnessed this effect once before when I saw Gwyneth Paltrow dash into a taxi in New York. On screen she’s pretty. In the flesh, even glimpsed fleetingly, even from a distance, she literally glowed.) With such star quality it was perhaps inevitable that Rrap would end up in front of a camera. But instead of becoming a model or screen siren, Rrap became an artist and her own muse.

From her first solo show in 1982, Disclosures: A Photographic Construct, which featured black and white photos of herself, both nude and in various provocative states of undress, self portraiture has been central to her practice. Rrap embraced a kind of pre-emptive empowerment; if she hadn’t turned the lens on herself, there is no doubt someone would have done it for her.

Many of Rrap’s contemporaries from this era, particularly women, used self portraiture to explore issues of identity, gender and the (male) gaze. However, many, if not most, of them also conspicuously stopped once they reached a certain age. At 32 and drop-dead-gorgeous, Rrap may not have needed a lot of courage to offer herself to the camera’s voracious, devouring eye. But 28 years later, she’s still at it.

In 2007, at 57, Rrap produced an extraordinary sculpture titled Body Double. In this piece, white rubbery casts of Rrap’s own body played host to ghostly projections of both male and female figures who rolled into her form as if propelled by the rhythmic soundtrack of inhaled and exhaled breath. At the time I wrote, “To continue to present her own body: naked, vulnerable and un-airbrushed, in the context of a contemporary culture which is stubbornly in denial about the reality of aging, seduced and duped by multi-billion dollar anti wrinkle cream and cosmetic surgery industries and gripped by a full-blown cult of youth (especially when it comes to images of women), is both subversive and brave.” And I meant it. It was a terrific piece, hypnotic and vaguely unnerving.

But Rrap’s figures in Body Double were headless and the images she projected were both younger and lither than her own, and just quietly, I wondered if she’d looked in the mirror and started to lose the stomach for self portraiture.

Well ,I needn’t have worried. At 60 years old, Julie Rrap is back. Her video, 360° Self-Portrait, is unrelentingly stark, unflinching, unflattering and utterly compelling. Rrap’s face is projected, a massive floating head in a black void. She calmly looks dead ahead then slowly her features crease with tension. She turns bright red and seems about to cry. Her eyes brim with tears, but they never quite spill. This cycle repeats over and over, with no soundtrack at all. 360° degrees, a circularity of emotion. It’s also a memento mori, a nod to the inexorable cycles of life. In the end Julie Rrap fades to black… as will we all.

Julie Rrap: 360° Self-Portrait, Rosyln Oxley9 Gallery, 8 Soudan Lane, Paddington, 9331 1919. Tuesday-Saturday, until August 7, 2010.

This review (and more reviews, by other writers) can also be read on The Art Life.

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Posted in: The Good