Photographer Rhona Bitner is fascinated by spaces, capturing them alongside the people and objects related to theatre, music and dance in an exhibition at The Wellin Museum of Art.
Seven photography series, dating from 1990 to the present day, take us into the circus and the ballet, on to the street and on tour, in a sumptuous capturing of the mundane. ‘What interests me is the idea of performance and what it represents,’ Bitner tells us.
‘“Resound,” my first major museum exhibition, at the Wellin Museum of Art, presents 30 years of work around this idea. I am fascinated by the parallels between the theatre and the camera: both are black boxes, or spaces, within which an image appears. And that image or experience acts as a laboratory of human experience outside the black box. Samuel Beckett said: “A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine.” This is what drives my work. There are seven series of photographs presented in the retrospective including the Circus project which explores the language and gestures of the performer and includes images from 10 years of following one-ring circuses around Europe. The Stage project is about the sense of anticipation and excitement as the show is about to begin. And the Listen project focuses on the histories and inner architecture of American popular music.’
When viewed through Bitner’s lens, images become imbued with a nostalgia, felt especially in spaces she photographed which went on to close, or present in artefacts from past performances. ‘CBGB’s [New York club open for 33 years] eminent closure gave birth to the Listen project and it, like the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, is one of only a few venues in the Listen project that are no longer around. But the project features hundreds of venues that are still thriving, from Electric Lady Studios and Radio City Music Hall in New York to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals or the Austin City Limits soundstage or First Avenue in Minneapolis or First Church of Deliverance in Chicago or The Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles or even Folsom Prison or Graceland. It is the memory (sometimes legendary) of what happened in these places that inspires me. The photographs present the spaces empty of the people and performers that made them famous, leaving room for the viewer to imagine themselves in the space.’
Ultimately, Bitner is searching for a sense of place in the stories she captures. ‘[What draws me] depends on the premise of a particular project. The Listen project was entirely about the history of the space and what happened there. The Stage project was about the proscenium itself, so I sought out a variety of theatres and visual elements, mostly in Paris because I had access there, but I was also determined and succeeded in gaining access to the (then) State Theater at Lincoln Center in New York where I saw my first performances as a young person. My other projects, Circus and Pointe for example, focus on the performer or the material trappings of performance such as the shoe a ballerina wears when she performs.’
Rhona Bitner: Resound is on at Wellin Museum of Art until December 9 2023
Receive our daily digest of inspiration, escapism and design stories from around the world direct to your inbox
Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.
Frank Traynor makes everyday objects extraordinary
Frank Traynor’s ‘A Can Opener of Myself’ – a ‘maximalist, minimalist contradiction’ of adorned objects – is at The Future Perfect, New York (until 31 December 2023)
By Pei-Ru Keh Published
New M&C Saatchi Berlin office interiors embrace bold colour
Llot Llov’s M&C Saatchi Berlin office interiors bring a shot of colour to their brutalist setting
By Tianna Williams Published
Comme Si’s first store in Brooklyn is a design lover’s temple to socks
Sock and loungewear brand Comme Si launches a temporary Brooklyn store, a rich and inviting space created with designers Elias Studio, John Sohn and Yoonjee Kwak
By Pei-Ru Keh Published