without / within – a self portrait of the world: Lisa Sharp reviews “Alone Together: In the company of strangers” by Jo Meisner

Alone and Together by Jo Meisner (was onsite at 1 Margaret Street, Sydney 8-9 March)

On a busy city corner at One Margaret Street Sydney art in a glass-walled corporate foyer reflects, barely contains and displays the herd of people moving through the city. In a visually subtle, site-specific spectacle, the reality of the moving crowd without is echoed by the evocative imagery within, in a photographic installation created by artist Jo Meisner. Placed within and among the actual surge of human movement, the glass wall comes to life. Reflected legs merge with the strides and steps of people coming and going. It is at once integrated and illusory. The work melds, almost but not quite fusing with the world it depicts. And it is those parts that don’t quite fit which make it such an intriguing, uncanny experience.

alone together 1

The relentless, restless movement of people outside the building is repeated inside the building by the work, Alone Together: In the company of strangers. Consisting of a strip of photographically printed transparencies, located on a waist-height horizon line, the imagery is of truncated bodies. Legs stride, feet hit the pavement and colour is bleached away in a frozen moment.

Read literally as an urban street scene it conveys (but cropped to a lower register only) the repetition, monotony and movement of commuting much in the vein of that iconic John Brack painting, Collins Street, 5pm.[i] Yet on closer inspection the images have been photographed in situ – according to Jo, just days before, so that at any moment the owner of the depicted legs could walk into and through the image in a strange conflation of time, object and subject. This brings the work to immediate, vivacious life. Wrapped on the inside of these public-facing windows then, is an inward-looking idea; that of the self within the crowd. The static, black and white imagery stands as metaphor for an idea that Jo has been exploring for some time now – the alienation of the individual and particularly, its manifestation in our highly digitised, social media and device-aware contemporaneity.

alone together 2

Jo ascribes her initial concept to the childhood matching game of tops and tails, but this is different. While John Brack gave his commuters highly individualised features, these legs and feet are anonymous. They are yours, or mine. Identity comes from the interaction that occurs when any individual walks into the reflection and becomes part of the work – and it is a fleeting, ephemeral moment.

alone together 3

There is an immediacy about the process of making this work, also only made possible with digitisation and rendering in plastic film. What was seen only last week is now enlarged and printed with the ubiquitous media of our age. There it is, multiplied, a rectangular reflective screen within which to see ourselves. One of Jo’s influences is Michelangelo Pistoletto and his mirror paintings. This legacy is apparent, but here it is taken out of the gallery and onto a particular street corner, creating a specific “self portrait of the world”.[ii]

Can we be lonely while in a crowd? The sense of separation is familiar but uncomfortable.  It is all around us – on a train, a bus stop, commuting to work, as a group we move as Jo observes, with “heads looking downwards, not outwards.” Our mutual alienation commodified on a building wall. See it, look and walk through it.

The exhibition was part of in’habit , the Spectrum Now festival and was supported by Dexus property group http://spectrumnow.com.au/events/%C9%AAn%CB%88hab%C9%AAt-presented-by-dexus-property-group/.

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All images courtesy of the artist.

[i] John Brack, Collins St, 5pm, 1955, oil on canvas, 114.8 x 162.8 cms, National Gallery of Victoria

[ii] Michelangelo Pistoletto, www.pistoletto.it

 – Lisa Sharp


Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and independent curator. She
currently lives and works in Sydney.  After a career as a lawyer, Lisa recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours – painting). Lisa is travelling to Paris at the end of this month to exhibit her paintings at the Factory 49 Paris Pop Up Gallery. The exhibition “unmake / make / dénouer / nouer” will be open at 122 rue Amelot, 75011 Paris from 30 March – 23 April 2016. Lisa also likes to write about art and artists, and curate exhibitions. Her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

Jo Meisner has a website http://jomeisner.com.au/

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