Public Works: Joachim Froese

Joachim Froese, Rhopography 15, 2000. QUT Art Museum, Brisbane. On display until August 16. FOR nearly five years photographer Joachim Froese painstakingly laboured over the tiny corpses of beetles, moths and flies, posing them for his camera.He would carefully arrange them into different positions set against a backdrop of household dust and the detritus of everyday life.To make them seem alive, he would glue wings or limbs into position. Or he would use dental floss to suspend the insects and make them appear as if they were flying. He was so meticulous he would spend weeks rearranging and re-photographing the same subject.It would be easy to consider Froese's work as bizarre, but it's not meant to be. In fact, his work has strong links to European art history, notably the 17th-century Dutch still-life painters who would paint a bountiful vase of flowers but then hide tiny ants, spiders, flies, worms or beetles among the flowers to symbolise the ephemeral nature of life and the inevitability of death. Froese decided to take those small insects and make them the focus of his work.Born in Montreal, Canada, in 1963, Froese grew up in Germany and migrated to Australia in 1991. Initially he lived in Launceston, Tasmania, but he has since moved to Brisbane. He has, however, kept his international connections, exhibiting widely in Europe, Asia and North America. The present exhibition at the QUT Art Museum showcases 10 years of his work and coincides with the launch of a monograph of his work published by the Queensland Centre for Photography.Froese's first still-life series, Rhopography, was produced between 1999 and 2003. Curator Simone Jones says Froese first became interested in still life while attending art school in Tasmania. Froese noticed that little black spiders had made their nests around the windows in his home, so he started photographing them.His partner and daughter wanted to clean away the spiders, so he brokered a deal and was given a couple of windows where he could cultivate, and photograph, his spiders. Froese has said he is drawn to things that other people may perceive as being boring or even repellent."Photographs can present the viewer with a new angle or viewpoint," he says. "For me, everything tells an exciting story, even the most banal objects."Certainly in Rhopography 15 Froese has taken banal objects -- a fly and a piece of decaying fruit, a lemon -- and created an enigmatic image that emphasises the trivial or the inconsequential and makes us pay attention to what we overlook in our everyday lives. We are seduced into looking closely at the carefully staged tableau: the shiny armour of the fly, with each repellent, bristling hair magnified, and the gloriously textured, dried-up lemon.The name, Rhopography 15, refers to the Greek word rhopos, meaning trivial objects or trifles. Froese has used this title to make us focus on the insignificant and to reflect on the concept of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning be mindful of death, remember you are mortal.Rhopography 15 also reveals Froese's interest in the process of photography. He wants to query the assumption that a photograph does not lie. He wants the viewer to believe the image of the lemon and the fly was taken in a split second. To try to make us believe this, he doesn't crop or edit his negatives. He also uses black and white prints to give the authority of documentary photography. But the trick is that Froese's image is, in reality, a carefully constructed illusion, in the end as theatrical as a Samuel Beckett or a Shakespearean play.Originally published asPublic Works: Joachim Froese

Public Works: Joachim Froese 1

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