THE YELLOW LINE
There is a spectre in these scenes. There is an intimacy of memory, an unbreakable resilience between present and past.
Economy is of the essence here. Even the slightest of gestures become crucial. A touch or twist or link of hands; a head turned; an index finger, slightly raised. The actions are muted somehow; tender, far from overt. But they are significant.
The two figures at the centre of Deborah Paauwe’s new body of work are permanently connected, irrevocably entwined.
The Yellow Line Paauwe refers to in this collection of large-scale, staged, highly gestural colour photographs is one of the road. Born in Pennsylvania, her early life was spent in the back seat of the family station wagon, traversing the highways of 1980s America.
What we witness in Paauwe’s photographs, however, subverts romantic, cinematic connotations of travel. Here, the signifiers of freedom – endless highways, sky and empty expanse – are obscured and erased. The austere, symmetrical environs of an underground car park take their place. The yellow line creeping into frame leads not to a distant horizon, but to the arbitrary swirl and texture of a concrete wall.
As with the majority of Paauwe’s work, the pair of protagonists here are female, faces obscured from view. Their body shape, hair colour, signature of movement and gesture, are remarkably similar, almost familial. Yet, there is an ambiguousness to the figures. Age is indecipherable at first glance. Both are lean and long-limbed, in a youthful way. They cling together in their matching Sunday best, tightly framed and cropped against cold grey.
With time, more details come to light. Disparities between the pair become more evident. Bruises become decipherable, as do veins, the deep scarring on a leg. We come to realise that one subject to be a woman and the other a child. In a shift from Paauwe’s recent works from the exhibitions Kindle & Swag (2005) and The Crying Room (2006) – which resonated with a kind of lush sensuousness and sexuality – the figures in The Yellow Line espouse a different brand of intimacy. Their touch becomes one of nurture, one of connection via mutual experience. It is not necessarily one of choice.
The idea that the woman and child might be an allegory for Paauwe’s adult and childhood selves seems particularly compelling. Though separated by time, their shared memory ensnares and entraps them both.
The Yellow Line is a parable not of boundless freedoms, but perhaps of our inability to break from our past.
Dan Rule is an arts and music writer from Melbourne. He writes the 'Around the galleries' column in The Age and is the co-founded of independent art publishing imprints And Collective and Erm Books.