Kate Farquharson 

27 July - 6 August 2016 
Opening Night: Tuesday 26 July 2016, 5-7 PM

In photographing the ailing health and dementia of the her great godfather Peter MacDonald Tow, Kate Farquharson provides unobtrusive glimpses into a crumbling life.

Disintegration investigates the imprints the human body leaves on its environment and upon other’s memories. It seeks to represent not only the ailing of the human body, but the dissolution of the mind. It is a lament to the collapse of great minds, the devastation of dementia and is an avenue of quiet contemplation.

Peter was a child of the Great Depression and grew up in poverty in South London. Through obtaining scholarships he was able to study Medicine at Cambridge University and specialised in Psychiatry. In 1955 his book Personality Changes Following Frontal Leucotomy was published. Peter travelled between England and Australia until the 1970s, when he settled in the suburb of Red Hill, Canberra.

Image: Kate Farquharson 'Chair,' digital image on photo rag, 841mm x 560mm, 2013.
Kate Farquharson: 'Disintegration'

Words by Dara Wei

Old armchair, worn curtains, broken kettles, discarded vintage car, Persian rugs, cigarette packets, wilted flowers, artworks, clocks, and piles of books and newspapers… These are some of the objects featured in the photographic exhibition 'DISINTEGRATION' by Kate Farquharson.

The documentation project began in 2009 when Farquharson realized that dementia had started eroding the physical and mental health of Peter MacDonald Tow, the artist’s great-godfather, a child of the Great Depression, a self-made psychiatrist, a lifelong autodidact, and a hoarder of books, notes, newspapers, and patient files. Throughout the documenting process continuing after Peter’s death in June 2015, the artist captured the traces of a fascinating person whose physical and mental existence went through dissolution due to aging and dementia.

Paradoxically, the body of the subject matter is visually absent from the works and physically from reality. It’s intriguing to ponder the implication of Peter’s disappeared presence or existing absence in an exhibition that is all about him. Strolling along picture after picture, the viewers gather the fragments of a life once fully lived and project an image of it that is visible to their mind’s eye. Not unlike assembling numerous puzzles, the subject matter of 'DISINTEGRATION' is approache
d, felt, and imaged from the scattered visual and emotional clues from the works.

At the back of the gallery, the artist configured a stage of patterned wallpapers, vintage curtains, and withered leaves as a glimpse into the artist’s perception about her great-godfather. It makes one wonders that when the leading role of a life story is off stage forever, what remains that might be still influencing other’s memories? Not intended as an installation work, the arrangement of the back stage does not disrupt the flow of the photograph series but cast an intimate touch that is integral to the narrative of the exhibition. 

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, I was approached by visitors with positive feedback. Many have found that they deeply resonated with the photographs because they have families or friends suffering from dementia or other kinds of physical and mental disintegrations. A sense of lose is therefore communicated and shared in a flow, adding another dimension to the exhibition. This contemplating state of mind is precisely what the artist intended and indeed a goal well achieved. The entire gallery room generates a pausing effect to slow down and have a quite moment to get lost in one’s own thoughts.

Titled 'DISINTEGRATION', the exhibition itself, in contrary, has constructed a rare integrity found in both the individual works and throughout the show. At a time of dazzling immersive installations and experimental forms of art that often reach out to the external world, 'DISINTEGRATION' explores the internal possibilities and limits, and provides a mindful occasion to reconcile our outer urges and inner tranquility. 

This essay has been produced as part of the White Cube Program

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