Julia Fullerton-Batten, Persona @Jenkins Johnson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the divided main gallery space, a smaller side room, and the area behind the reception desk. All of the works are c-prints, made between 2005 and 2012. The prints are sized 40×54, in editions of either 5 or 7. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Julia Fullerton-Batten’s new photographs are filled with the edgy tension of unspoken communication. Unlike her previous projects where solitary teenage girls were symbolically staged amidst miniature theme parks (Teenage Stories) and suspended in midair (In Between), her newest tableau pictures introduce the complex melodrama of relationships, her scenes constructed to maximize uncomfortable anxiety and simmering, stylized emotion.

In Mothers and Daughters, pairs of females are seen together, spanning the entire cycle from a young mother with an infant daughter to a middle-aged daughter with an elderly mother. The familiar scenes (kitchen, garden party, wedding dress, leaving home etc.) are pared down and dreamlike, with subtle gestures and body language telling the stories of tenderness and dependency, separation and rebellion, distance and misunderstanding. Matching dresses and echoes of hair and posture reinforce obvious similarities and connections between the mothers and daughters, while the changing emotional bonds between the pairs play out over time with fragile, unspoken intensity.

In Awkward, Fullerton-Batten’s teenage girls are matched with equally moody adolescent boys, and the pairs circle around each other with heightened, uneasy awareness. Eyes are averted and glances are stolen, the bumbling sexual tension thick and unfulfilled. All the interaction in these pictures is indirect, the desire to connect offset by the fear and embanrassment of doing so, leaving both subjects in uncomfortable isolation. The girls (nearly always in willowy nightgowns or dresses) are often staged as the object of the boys’ gawky, hungry attention, neither side particularly adept at controlling their emotions. The dramatic lighting and the almost too perfect faces take these scenes out of the realm of reality and into something more like fantasy or memory.

Nearly all of these single frame stories have something unsettling about them, a dissonant note leaving the viewer without resolution. Behind the veneer of glossy correctness in these set pieces, the emotional landscape Fullerton-Batten is exploring is surprisingly raw and conflicted. These new works have moved beyond symbolic interior studies of adolescent sentiments toward more complicated and stylized depictions of specific thoughts and reactions. Her taxonomy of emotions now includes nuanced situations and changing roles, heightened to a place just short of the breaking point.

Collector’s POV: All of works in this show are priced at $12900 each, except the four prints from the older Teenage Stories series, which are priced between $17000 and $21000 each. Fullerton-Batten’s work has only just begun to enter the secondary markets in the past few years, so gallery retail is still likely the best option for interested collectors.

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