Selina Ou: Downtown - Art Collector

Issue 45, July - September 2008

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The markets of Santiago were a natural source for the bowerbird aesthetics of Selina Ou writes Ashley Crawford.

We all crave information. In the world before internet and television, that craving was often fulfilled via the humble newsstand. Whether it be New York or Tokyo, street corners hosted a mass of newspapers and magazines. The newsstand was a place where locals would stop and gossip, or talk about the news of the day. The newsstand vendor was a locus and a filter to reach the wider world. While this may sound nostalgic, in some parts of the world, such as Santiago, Chile, that is still the case.

With its plethora of products, the downtown markets of Santiago were a natural source for the bowerbird aesthetics of Selina Ou. In September 2006, Ou traveled to Latin America and settled in Santiago for just under a month to produce this new body of work.

Along with the two gentlemen manning the newsstand there is an almost heroic food vendor staring ahead in a pose reminiscent of Che Guevara, but instead of a beret he is adorned in a Heineken t-shirt. There is a laconic hardware owner going through his books, a man whose dreams seem to have long passed him by.

Ou had headed for the downtown markets to seek out what she describes as the “service culture”, which she considers a reference point for “understanding contemporary culture through the products supplied to the public,” as she explained to Nicola Harvey on ArtsHub.

“I was looking for the non-tourist side of Santiago, the shops that are part of everyday life, the chemist or the news stand.”

In a series of 15 photographs, Ou has set out to capture what might be dubbed the consumer landscape of Santiago. “I was drawn to consumer environments because despite where you come from, you can relate to these spaces,” she says.

The almost obsessive ordering of products – magazines, tinned food, hardware items – creates an internalised domain and the shopkeepers are clearly the lords of these tiny realms.

To say that Ou is a restless artist would be an understatement. Chile continues her examination of the reaches of globalisation, building on her previous bodies of work, Sakura Season in 2005, and her China series of 2003.

Born in Malaysia, Ou studied photography at the Victorian College of Arts and over the past five years her work has been selected in a number of national and increasingly international group exhibitions including Ciudad during PHotoEspaña in Madrid in 2005, The All Australian Show as part of II Ponte Contemporanea in Rome in 2005, Open Letter at Gallery 4A and the Asialink South East Asia Touring Exhibition in 2005. During this period, Ou has also held frequent solo exhibitions. In 2003, she was awarded the City of Hobart Art Prize in photography and in 2005, she was selected for the ANZ Private Bank Emerging Artist Program. Selina Ou has also undertaken series of work in Japan and China, including during her 2005 Australia Council residency.

Selina Ou’s photography will be on show at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne, from 12 August to 6 September 2008. Her work will also feature in an exhibition of City of Hobart Art Prize winners at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery from 1 August to 14 September 2008.

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