Archive: Issue No. 103, March 2006

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Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
The Return of the SMWW 2003
Lambda print. 1200 X 375 cm

Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
The Maiden Perfect 2005
Lambda print. 180 X 180 cm

Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
The Blue Collar Girl (Cape Town) 2004 Lambda print. 54.5 X 241.5 cm

Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
The Blue Collar Girl (Maputo), detail 2005
Lambda print. 54.5 X 241.5 cm

Bridget Baker at João Ferreira Gallery
by Linda Stupart

Bridget Baker's show 'But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again' incites, even in its loquacious title, a carefully styled nostalgic cinematic grandeur. Alluding to the 1970's housewife, and the enduring role of woman as victim in contemporary film and storytelling, Baker's titling sentence also suggests the sensible woman as trapped in a role of passivity, dutifully turning over and returning to her prone lifeless state.

In this show, Baker presents three intertwining heroines, The Blue Collar Girl, The Maiden and The Sunday Morning Wonder Woman (SMWW).

The Blue Collar Girl transcends both geography and identity in her Yves Klein Blue power suit/uniform, burgundy nails and careful styling; conquering and branding her territory in Cape Town, Lagos, Delhi and Ghent. Looking at her partial reflection in a gilded mirror next to a signed film still that is part Marilyn Monroe, part Cape Town Blue Collar Girl, Baker's subject oozes the identity, styling and pose of an early Cindy Sherman. The Blue Collar Girl, however, does not rest (as Sherman's subjects did) in posing as the constructed, docile, looked-upon everywoman. Instead, Baker creates a persona that does more than represent the victim.

In the second panel of The Blue Collar Girl (Cape Town triptych, our heroine is seen scaling the Old Mutual Building - resisting both her submissiveness and domesticity as she conquers her environment. This reclamation of city space is extended further in the final panel where Baker's trademarked sentence, 'Only You Can �' is engraved on a city windowsill, presumably the one to which the Blue Collar Girl is climbing in the middle panel. This act of branding, or 'tagging', public space is repeated by both the Maputo and Ghent Blue Collar Girls - the former inscribing her motto on a faraway shipwreck, the latter dropping a piece of her trademarked 'Only You Can �' blue cloth on the sidewalk. Thus, Baker's Blue Collar Girl not only takes the momentous step, through work and effort, into public space; she signs the landscape as her own - echoing the traditionally masculine act of graffiti writing (which can, I believe, be described as 'pissing against a wall'). Because of her superpowers, however, the Blue Collar Girl is not content with merely leaving her name out in the open, but rather she must leave a positive, if platitudinous message for her public.

This act of marking territory is also evident in The Return of the SMWW where a sexy young woman in a 70s towelling dress rollerskates down the Seapointpromenade, leaving behind the same mantra printed by the inked stamps that are her roller skate wheels. Though the SMWW may be taking a break from her weekly duties (is she in fact the Blue Collar Girl?) she still makes an effort to spread the word. Though suitably whimsical and narratively sound, the very specific retro styling of this particular work may be a little too pretty and trendy, and bear a little too much similarity to a host of contemporary fashion shoots, to be as effective as the other works.

The most stylized and tragic images in Baker's show are those of the Maiden. Steeped in mythological and nostalgic allusion, these photographs are the most elaborately and deliberately constructed images on the show - demonstrating perhaps the imagination and hard work that is required for the construction and portrayal of the endangered maiden in popular storytelling.

Both The Maiden Perfect and The Botched Epic Attempt to Escape the Maiden feature young women who are threatened with engulfment at any moment by hideous seas of embroidery. Again, Baker draws attention to the domestic dilemma, here using highly styled beauty queens and biker girls to explore the peril of the historically and domestically-bound woman.

Like her provocative opening line, Baker's photographs are luridly glamorous, epically tragic and delicately, transiently, beautiful. Even without a discussion of the artist's intricate and collaborative working method, this exhibition of photographs stands on its own considerably better than most. The images are lush, intelligent and exquisitely styled and coloured. Baker has created multifaceted personae and a witty narrative using the props of nostalgic cinema without falling into the trap of being too cool to be meaningful. A sensible woman indeed.

Opened: February 8
Closed: February 25

João Ferreira Gallery, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423 5403
Fax: (021) 423 2136
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 2pm