New York Artist, Rhona Bitner, will make her solo debut with CRG Gallery this Dec. 6th. The exhibition will feature recent photographs from circus performances and portraits of clowns. Bitner has been photographing the circus since 1991. Positioning herself in the audience, she records performances from around the world. She limits her visual inquiry to characters under the spotlight in the ring and uses only the theatrical lighting of the circus which isolates the subjects on a black ground. The photographs are arranged in groups, usually loose grid shapes or lines, suggesting a larger vocabulary of gestures and signs. In a recent essay, the artist Jorge Ribalta observes:
Her photographs, though, are far from documentary even if today the circus may be seen as an appropriate subject for an archeology of spectacle. Her work is, more certainly, a reversal of the staged imagery which dominated much of the photographic practices of the past decade. For critical artists in the 70’s and 80’s the constructed or dramatized image was a tool for responding to the cultural implications of photographic representation. But today, for Rhona Bitner, the familiarity with the notion or practice of the constructed image is just an implicit part of the picture making process. This familiarity allows her to restore an empirical approach to her subject matter. Empiricism and construction are historically at opposite poles of the cultural understanding of photography – on the one hand the record of the fact, on the other hand the record of the fake. From the memory of the fake, Bitner returns to the fact.
In her newest work Bitner leaves the anonymity of the audience and, in a series of life size and uncomfortably intimate portraits of clowns, directly faces her subjects. Motionless and isolated, the clowns now stand in the studio, outside the spotlight, their theatricality stripped away, confronting the viewer with an indifferent and impenetrable look. Bitner’s work is also currently on view in the exhibition, The Circus in 20th Century American Art, at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, through January 6, 2002.