START FAIR SAATCHI GALLERY 10-13 SEPTEMBER 2015
Liane Lang’s new series of photographs refer to the stories of saints and martyrs. Rich chromatic hues, attire and insignia reference their aspects in the history of religious sculpture and painting. Hinting at narratives and patronage, the images oscillate between the macabre and humorous, the beautiful and disturbing, not unlike their medieval forbears. The images were taken mainly in the house of Gothic Victorian architect Augustus Pugin, a house which itself holds many references to saints and was next to Pugin’s lifelong project, a Catholic Church he built himself. Lang uses her own life-like dolls made in the studio, to create the scenes, locating the images closer to sculpture. Pugin’s architecture and interiors are used both as a stage and protagonist in the photographs, his aesthetic sometimes presaging modernist forms in their orientation to medieval simplicity. Pugin claimed to have converted to Catholicism for reasons of aesthetic preference.
Lang’s interest in the history and use of sculpture here references the special powers ascribed to religious objects, occupying a delicate position between representation and embodiment. The relationship to the body, particularly the female body, make the story of martyr saints a rich source of feminist material. Lucy, having her eyes gourged out becomes the patron saint of light, St Margaret escapes from the belly of the dragon to become the patron of pregnant mothers, Vitus, boiled in hot oil, becomes the patron of dancers and Barbara, locked in a tower by her father, the protector of architects. Lang’s work with female saints draw connections between the martyrdom of saints, the cutting off of breast, the pulling of teeth, the burning of flesh and the processes of beauty treatments and surgical body enhancement, the martyrdom and self sacrifice of women in the pursuit of the unobtainable, of eternal life, perfection and earthly paradise. Lang invites the viewer to revisit these narratives and appreciate them from a fresh perspective as a rich source of understanding the archetypal power and poetry of the irrational and the symbolic.