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scrolling the banal babe, in the work of Clunie Reid

November, 2015


Photoworks Annual Issue 22: Women, Photoworks, Brighton, 2015. Image courtesy of Photoworks.



I can see the back of her head, but not her face. She’s half sitting-up and half-reclining in the way girls do on the beach, remaining in the right position you need to be in to tan and remain visible at the same time. Not totally recumbent but relaxed enough to look like she’d be fun to someone. Her knees are tucked together, suggesting the sexual body, but keeping it hidden from strolling lifeguard eyes. I could be looking at a photograph of myself as a teenager—it is an image of such repetition and banality: but this pink, purple and blue-pigmented image has been found and appropriated by the artist, pulped from the internet, where the search terms were probably as banal as ‘beach’ and ‘babe’.

She is the cyberspace Lolita, endlessly the same and endlessly sexualised: completely gazed upon by the male consumer while she turns her head. Scrawled in black marker pen, either side of the young girl’s body, are two words—BANAL ACTUAL—a visceral response to an abject thing. This handwritten conjunctive is the title of the 2011 work by the British artist Clunie Reid, and embodies the paradoxical reality of her sameness. Banally actual and actually banal: she is real insofar as she is fake, a disappearing act that is further accentuated by the photograph’s printing on silver-backed holographic paper. She twinkles like an object, or ornament.

‘Banal actual’ is an aphorism that could have just as easily come from Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (2012), which simultaneously performs and critiques the global colonisation of the teasing young girl temptress. She is literally eaten up and spat back out again as another young girl, in a magazine or on TV. As Tiqqun, translated by the poet Ariana Reines, writes: ‘the very moment that the evidence of the Young-Girl attains the force of a cliché, the Young-Girl has already overcome it, at least in her primitive aspect of obscenely sophisticated mass production’.1


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