Louise Giovanelli’s Prima Donna at International 3 draws upon the techniques and motifs of old master paintings; reframing or reappraising them to bring attention to the unexplored and overlooked aspects that effect the way we view them. She is concerned with the modes of looking and how we view paintings based on ‘hidden’ aspects such as lighting and hanging decisions, and how these can affect our interpretation of a painting.
Prima Donna was spurned from an interest in classical music terminology and how appreciation and interpretation is shaped through suggestion of how the music should be played. Giovanelli has transferred this musical approach to Prima Donna, with the exhibition focused on direction of how the exhibition should be displayed as much as the images themselves. The title also ties to music terminology in its meaning of a solo female voice, and the nature of the exhibition carries the same weight as an opera or performance in its curation which creates a viewing experience rather than just a display.
Each painting is lit and positioned to make the viewer conscious of their experience of the work and by doing this Giovanelli makes us aware of how we approach and view paintings. The Globe is a perfect demonstration of the artist’s focus for the show, as it balks at the traditional wall based hanging of paintings in its positioning upon a plinth. This allows the viewer a 360 degree perspective of the work, thus the hidden back of the painting is revealed and by doing so repositions our view of a painting existing solely as a two dimensional object. The piece’s lighting also reappraises the idea of a painting, as the lights are positioned on the plinth itself so as to shine through the canvas, creating an almost translucent effect opposed to the heaviness normally associated with oil paintings.
Light is crucial aspect within Prima Donna in its exploration of the effect it has on the viewer, it is used to create tension between the work which is heightened by the grey walled gallery space, which is intentionally dimmed so the source of light is focused on the paintings alone. This way of lighting the paintings by using spotlights to highlight features within them, although familiar throughout gallery spaces, carries the feeling of a theatrical production in the heavy atmosphere it creates. The sense of theatrical atmospheric lighting is epitomised in the piece Neckline (From the Tiergarden) in which the chosen lighting, that mimics candles and their positioning, transforms our interpretation of the image. It elevates the simple image of a woman’s neck into an object of status and is reminiscent of a shrine or holy icon in its display.
Whilst other exhibitions have circumvented the idea of painting and its display, Giovanelli masters this whilst looking from a historic vantage point in her use of traditionally styled paintings, which are reappraised to make the viewer conscious of how curation can affect our interpretation. This paired with the ties to classical music and its influence is what makes the exhibition so intriguing, it is about the experience created for the audience as much as the paintings displayed.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.
Installation image courtesy The International 3 and Simon Pantling.
Louise Giovanelli’s Prima Donna, The International 3, Salford.
29 June – 5 August 2016.