MIKE PARR, installation view of “Easter Island,” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney, 2013. Courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney.

MIKE PARRUntitled Self Portrait 21, 2013, inkjet print on Spectrum gloss paper, 180 × 118.5 cm. Courtesy  Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney.

MIKE PARRUntitled Self Portrait 33, 2013, inkjet print on Spectrum gloss paper, 180 × 118.5 cm. Courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney.

MIKE PARRUntitled Self Portrait 35, 2013, inkjet print on Spectrum gloss paper, 118.5 x 180 cm. Courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney.

Easter Island

Mike Parr

Anna Schwartz Gallery

Australian artist Mike Parr’s latest exhibition “Easter Island,” at Anna Schwartz Gallery at Sydney’s Carriageworks, pays homage to the megalithic figures of Easter Island finding analogy in the futility demonstrated by the islanders—while reaching for the divine they neglected the realities of life on earth—for more modern day attempts at transcendence.

The work consists of 99 enlarged photographs of Parr’s hand-drawn self-portraits from the past 20 years. The images have been altered by a digital photographic process: copied onto film then digitized and printed. Lit only by daylight which filters in through clerestory windows and creates hot spots on the photographs’ surfaces, the images become the “skin” of appearance, which is central to Parr’s concern.

“Digitization and technology are creating a situation where the real in a sense is becoming a kind of abstraction,” Parr told ArtAsiaPacific. He sees the digitally meditated works as nothing more than a veneer for the the pains and emotions that led to their creation.

In the past, Parr’s parallel performance and endurance practice has often entailed brutal self-mutilation. He cuts, nails, stitches and generally abuses his body, often with the intent of addressing political issues. In this series, his explorations have a more internal logic. Pushing beneath the surface, he wants to address the loss of the real and its replacement with simulation.

Parr’s self-portraits have nothing to do with likeness, although his very obvious countenance—the drawings are almost surgical like in their examination of the artist’s face, complete with tortuous lines meandering along frenetically—stares down from the gallery walls. Of self-portraiture he says, “the image is a just kind of fiction, it is provisional.”

Rather than attempting verisimilitude, for Parr, the series has become a self-validating body of work. The portraits were the result of spontaneous self-reflection in his studio. “I became interested in those moments when I would suddenly look up. I wanted to observe and think about myself and I would do a drawing but it would then get radically contradicted because someone would ring in and I would write a note on the board, or I would do some scribbling or make some sort of calculation,” he told AAP. He likens these thwarted meditations to the Easter Islanders’ bids for transcendence.  “Those stone megaliths were representations of the divine and they were trying to reach the divine. In the process they consumed and neglected their material base . . . they cut down all the trees to roll those megaliths into place. And then they couldn’t build the boats or the rafts to leave the island, the resources become limited and they turned on themselves and the result was extinction,” Parr said.

Though it may seem convoluted, in a curious way one can see what Parr is driving at. As the light fades in the gallery space it all becomes somehow very clear.

Mike Parr’s “Easter Island” is on view at Anna Schwartz Gallery through December 21, 2013.

Michael Young is contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific.