VERSIA HARRIS: MERELY A CHIMERA
While some of the photographic landscapes of Versia Harris’s selection of works from the series, Merely A Chimera, reference the terrains of the Caribbean, New Zealand, and Brazil, others are composite settings. It is in these placeless spaces that Harris foregrounds her unorthodox characters—illustrated fantastical beings engaged in various activities. Undermining the traditional correlation between specific physiognomies and topographies that lends itself to the fixity of place and the conception of the significance of space, Harris’s characters have the heads of animals, creatures, and flora. In their fusion of reality, imagination, and narrative, Harris’s representations provide a window into a new kind of reality distinct from that which prompted it. Here imagination comes to predominate and the diegesis is evocative of beast tales.
At times, familiar iconography emerges within these ambiguous territories, such as Swan Girl in Snow White’s dress. Swan Girl is a character that appears throughout Merely A Chimera and in Harris's animations. The dress of Disney’s first animated princess, who appeared in 1937 and was updated and re-released in 2001, paradoxically places the world of Swan Girl in contemporary times while simultaneously highlighting the timelessness of a fairytale detached from social progress; a tale transporting young girls and women from around the globe into a world of fantasy and romance where they are damsels in distress and men, their saviors.
The powerful influence of these fictional female protagonists is exerted through their animated stories and a variety of products that promote the ‘Princess franchise.’ In donning the dress of Snow White, Harris’s Swan Girl attempts to embrace the persona of the princess and the dress becomes a physical means to the embodiment of princess attributes through customs that tie identity to the body. Swan Girl thus becomes a prism refracting the complex processes through which perception and identity are continuously recreated from conditions of heterogeneity, disarticulation, and fracture within a multiplex, media-saturated world.
Harris’s phantasmagoric panoptic bird with purple bow in beak (and who later seems to become a meal for Swan Girl) intimates the dynamic between observation and intuition that operates beneath this bringing together of many fragments into a whole in an attempt to gain a greater understanding of personal experience and existence. Desiring this interrelationship, however, linear and nonlinear coincide raising questions about boundaries of linguistic and visual syntaxes—what may be added, subtracted, or displaced while still maintaining coherence and the possibility of interpretation?
Harris’s reticent flower-faced figures, depicted with either open or closed petals, and her blurred landscapes threaded with streaks of color, approach the brink of the dissolution of intelligibility, but, through degrees of mimesis suggest instead a private reality that breaches the everyday actuality of appearances, i.e., the expression of an individual universe as well as another beyond the real world. As a result of going beyond appearances, beyond the reality of a specific location, and beyond the representation of actual objects through the translation of imaginative material into pictorial terms, Harris’s images are a conjugation of fact and imagination, and of reality and fantasy—the boundaries of which are never clear cut.
©Jeelan Bilal-Gore, 2016
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Versia Harris was born in Barbados where she currently lives and works. She received her BFA in Studio Art in 2012 and was awarded The Lesley’s Legacy Foundation Award, an annual prize given to the top graduate. She has participated in residencies in Barbados, Brazil, Curacao, Trinidad, and Vermont. In 2014, Harris's work was featured in the IV Moscow International Biennial for Young Art themed ‘A Time for Dreams’. She was also a part of the follow up exhibition ‘MOMENTUM_InsideOut screening of ‘A Time For Dreams’, Berlin. Recent group exhibitions include Quaternary, NuEdge Gallery, Barbados; Digital, The National Gallery of Jamaica; and Transoceanic Video Exchange, Lagos, Nigeria.