Polly Borland: Shapeshifter

By Leigh Robb, Curator of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of South Australia

Part-photography, part-sculpture, Polly Borland’s 2018 series MORPH sees the nude body cocooned, distended and annexed by soft sculptural props. The use of studio portraiture techniques, including the control over costume, background and lighting, reflects Borland’s meticulous editorial eye. Even the choice of high-key pop colour belies the undulating dysmorphia of her subjects; the bodies presented here are neither totally human nor totally non-human.    

Expanding on the sculptural possibilities of photography, Giant MORPH 1 (2019) is a life-size tabula scalata or ‘ladder picture’. Originally displayed as a vertical image, the ‘turning pictures’ of the late sixteenth century were an optical folly whereby two images were spliced and corrugated to create an image that changed according to the angle of viewing. By moving around Giant MORPH 1, the moment of metamorphosis is extended and dramatised. The photographic still is viewed here in perceptual motion as the traditional reclining nude is either emerging from or swallowed up by a bulbous larva-like form.

Polly Borland’s series of hallucinogenic high-key pop-colour morphs are contemporary shapeshifters that metamorphose between the human and the non-human – alien forms that are in excess, but also masked. A photographic composite of human and other, Borland’s morphs are post-gender: they might be bifurcated but they are non-binary, they defy heteronormative readings.


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