The art that made me: Julie Rrap


Julie Rrap with her standard poodle Cirrus. Photo: Jacquie Manning.

In The art that made me, artists discuss works in the Art Gallery of NSW collection that either inspire, influence or simply delight them. This selection by Sydney artist Julie Rrap first appeared in Look – the Gallery’s members magazine.

The body and body doubling occur throughout Julie Rrap’s work. Her fascination with the figure is reflected in the works she has found formative in the Gallery's collection.

‘Throughout Western art history, the body – and most particularly the female body – has been the site upon which changing social and political mores have been enacted,’ notes Rrap. ‘This makes it a fascinating and constantly relevant subject to explore in both my practice and in the work of other artists.' Furry friends Cirrus (pictured) and Cloud (included in Anne Graham’s work) are also important.

Rrap’s photographic Non-portraits 1990-92 and installation Body double 2007 are featured in the exhibition Shadow catchers, on display 22 February to 17 May 2020.

AGNSW collection Juan Muñoz Piggy back (right) (1996) 293.1997
AGNSW collection Juan Muñoz Piggy back (right) (1996) 293.1997

Juan Muñoz Piggy back (right)

Between 1986 and 1994 I lived in Europe, and for five of those years in the city of Ghent in Belgium. I exhibited there with Joost De Clercq Gallery, where Juan Muñoz also showed. This connection introduced me to Muñoz’s sculptural works in which he invigorated the use of bronze figurative works in exciting and inventive ways. In Piggy back (right), the title suggests a playful combination of two figures, but the physical presence of the work creates a much deeper and more abiding connection to the human condition. The resonance of these qualities complements my own interest in the use of the body/figure within sculpture and also in the use of such classical material as bronze. The challenge is to confront the viewer with a fresh perception of the human figure without resorting to sentimentality. What Muñoz achieves is a work that contains both pathos and humour but also mystery; the two figures could be doubles. This doubling is something I have often explored in my own practice especially in the installation Body double, which is in the AGNSW collection.

AGNSW collection Anne Graham Julie and Cloud (2014) 609.2014.a-c
AGNSW collection Anne Graham Julie and Cloud (2014) 609.2014.a-c

Anne Graham Julie and Cloud

I have been familiar with the work of Anne Graham for many years and I find her practice very inventive in its use of a range of materials to explore many themes. I feel there is an intimacy and connection to the everyday in her practice. This was very successfully achieved in a series of works in which she collected hair donated by friends from their dogs, which she then felted to create a range of extraordinary coats. Each person was asked to model the coat alongside their dog for a photographic shoot. Different backdrops were digitally composed to create an imaginary ‘world’ for these portraits. This combination of fantasy and reality is re-enforced by the physical presence of the coat, which creates a slightly shamanistic relationship between owner and dog; enacting the connectedness between human and animal beautifully.

I was thrilled to be invited to participate in this project and dutifully collected the hair of my standard poodle Cloud over many months. Because Cloud has now passed on, this work becomes a beautiful memento mori.

AGNSW collection Marina Abramovic, Ulay Gold found by the artists (1981) 211.1981.5.a-p
AGNSW collection Marina Abramovic, Ulay Gold found by the artists (1981) 211.1981.5.a-p

Marina Abramović & Ulay
Gold found by the artists

On many occasions Marina and Ulay stayed next door at my brother Mike Parr’s terrace in Newtown. I therefore got to know both artists in this context. Although their performance work was gaining traction in Europe, they did have extended stays in Australia and the work Gold found by the artists became a major performance piece at the AGNSW. I remember sitting as an observer for several hours on numerous occasions as the performance unfolded over many days of endurance.

Observing this process and the different effects on each artist was a very moving and memorable experience. Performance art at this time was undergoing a renaissance so the whole experience felt exciting, experimental and visionary. Performance became a touchstone for my own practice although it was expressed more through photography, sculpture, video and installation. Marina has returned to Australia for major exhibitions and events and has become a celebrated performance art figure. However, I feel she has a very strong affinity with Australia formed through these early connections to the art community.

AGNSW collection Hans Bellmer La demie poupée (1971) 89.1996
AGNSW collection Hans Bellmer La demie poupée (1971) 89.1996

Hans Bellmer La demie poupée

My practice has strong synergies with the surrealist movement, transported to a more contemporary register, so I found the imagery of the dolls in Hans Bellmer’s work both fascinating and disturbing.

I first saw La demie poupée at the AGNSW when curator Tony Bond included it in his exhibition Body in 1997. I also had a work in the exhibition, Vital statistics, which included a sculpture created from pink silicon and fibreglass cast from the negative spaces of my body and accompanied by photographic images, which together resonated with Bellmer’s work in both complementary and contradictory ways.

Bellmer’s seemingly fragmented and contorted use of the female doll-form represented a challenge to feminist ideas around representations of the female body in art. However, my research revealed a more complex relationship in which his work utilised the surrealist object’s subversive and erotic, sadistic and fetishistic qualities to expose his fierce opposition as a German artist to the Nazi regime. The innocence of the doll becomes a metaphor for a body exposed to both torture and abuse.