Ffotogallery is pleased to announce that Wendy McMurdo is the recipient of FF30, Ffotogallery’s 30th anniversary commission to celebrate the organisation’s distinguished past and continued investment in international contemporary photography. Wendy McMurdo is one of the UK’s leading lens-based artists who has evolved a singular photographic practice and iconography that explores the impact of digital technologies on our understanding of the photographic image and how this new media fundamentally affects identity, particularly in relation to the psychological world of the young.
For FF30, the artist has developed a new body of work, which draws inspiration from Sir Henry Raeburn’s much loved painting, Rev. Walker Skating on Duddington Loch, 1784 – where the protagonist is pictured skating in splendid isolation in the middle of a frozen lake. The painting is widely regarded as a characteristic of the Scottish enlightenment – an 18th Century image of reason triumphing over nature. In contrast, McMurdo’s Skater, which forms a similarly evocative motif in her photographic work and time-based collaboration with filmmaker Paul Holmes, presents a more dystopian view of the impact of virtual technology on the lives of the young.
Here McMurdo has produced a series of strange and unworldly images of young figure skaters. Through these digital constructions, she explores the theme of the avatar – recognized as being a particularly important surrogate and tool for adolescents in an on-line world. McMurdo’s portraits of young skaters offer up an image of strange beauty and perfection. Like the avatars they represent – several of these skaters were used as models for ‘real’ computer aided avatars – these perfect, floating figures appear as beings able to be conjured, and manipulated, at will.
To accompany these sublime, yet dislocated, studies of young ice rink athletes, McMurdo presents a series of portraits of young ‘gamers’ at play, which function as a paradigm for future generations immersed in a highly mediated world. These inanimate but charged ‘characters’ allude to how identity is formed in a virtual environment – where fantasy slides into reality and back again, within the looped world of the game.
According to Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “children grow up in a culture of video games, action films, fantasy epics, and computer programs that all rely on that familiar scenario of almost losing but then regaining total mastery: There is danger. It is mastered. A still more-powerful monster appears. It is subdued. Scary. Safe.’ Wendy McMurdo’s digital work and the parallel film made in collaboration with Paul Holmes explores this disturbing dichotomy, examining the relationship and polarities – between traditional and digital recreation – and our need to play and explore both the ‘scary’ and the safe.
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