press release

Presented by the Australian Centre for Photography with the generous support of the Mondriaan Foundation, Graphic Art Mount, Flatland Gallery, and Netherlands Consulate-General in Sydney.

Selected by the Spanish curator Paco Barragán, Erwin Olaf: Elegance & Perversity brings together works from six series made by Erwin Olaf between 1999 and 2005. While they continue to explore beauty from the margins, power relations and sexual play these new works demonstrate an increasing complexity and sensitivity to the human condition. An exuberant and imaginative photographer and film maker, Olaf has carved a career staging his own realities, revealing an ambiguous world where the divide between fiction and fact has dissolved.

Erwin Olaf brings his incisive wit and vision to create a satirical portrait of our contemporary consumer society. Visually sophisticated and conceptually provocative, his images challenge global trends towards youth-obsessed sexuality, hypocrisy, violence, hyper-consumerism and social control.

"This exhibition is a convergence of carefully staged moments in which iconic historical characters (Royal Blood) ageing pin-ups (Mature) fashionably fetishised bodies (Fashion Victims) depraved clowns and hysterical voyeurs (Paradise the Club) are juxtaposed with an alienated mother and child (Separation) and a claustrophobic family dinner (Rain). In all these scenarios, representing as they do the diversity of the human condition, the body becomes a site of transgression that throws into question the current codes of morality, freedom and beauty." (Paco Barragán)

"The sense of melancholy disconnection continues in the latest work in this exhibition, Rain. The video clip depicts a dour family gathered around the dinner table waiting for a meal that is never quite served. No-one speaks, but the characters eye each other disconsolately, fidget and daydream. Outside the rain pours down. The sequence is a tightly controlled exploration of claustrophobic social constraint and individual alienation." (Alasdair Foster)

Olaf's staged compositions allude to traditional European painting techniques, drawing his very contemporary work into an ongoing historical discourse. The artist subtly manipulates his images by heightening the use of chiaroscuro and colour saturation, charging his photographs with dramatic tension. The initial seductive and elegant appearance of his images gives way to awareness of increasingly anxious, perverse and constraint visual world.


Erwin Olaf: Elegance & Perversity
Kurator: Paco Barragan