Party Pictures 1993-1997

Photographs from the series Party Pictures, were first exhibited in the 1997 exhibition Tripping the Light: The Big Party Show, curated by Robyn Daw for the University Gallery, at the University of Tasmania at Launceston. The following text is an extract from Daw’s catalogue essay. The full essay (not reproduced here) also discusses the work of fellow exhibitors Greg Leong, Christl Berg, and Barbie Kjar.

Cath Barcan: The entertainment

‘What brandy, wow!
What whiskey, here’s how!
What gin and what beer!
Will you sober up my dear?’

After the food has been devoured, the party accelerates and people warm to their chosen characters, taking the theatre to a high point in their dress and behaviour. What is implied is the fleeting moment that a party lives, but captured as if it is a permanent state, on film. The next day may be full of headache, but the photographs attest that a good time was had, an extremely good time in some cases.

Cath Barcan has spent many research hours on this theme, developing a series  of work devoted to the hedonistic display which party revellers can achieve when slightly encouraged to do so. Her film noir-esque tableaux of semi-staged, partly-sober party revellers are testaments not only to the endurance capabilities of her guests, but the fact that the host was able to focus at all through the mayhem. These documents not only act as witness to events which will not occur again in the same manner, they themselves are a riotous combination of colour, movement and quirky composition.

Caught in action are several of the protagonists in the exhibition, heavily disguised as safari-suited explorers or operatic divas, or royally clad with furry cloak or glittering tiara. Look closely and you may find your opinions of people somewhat altered. But isn’t that—? And are they really doing — to —? And is that really an alligator?

Barcan’s abilities for subtle coercion and remarkable organisation of dedicated party revellers are evidenced in this extraordinary catalogue of hedonistic decline photographed over several sumptuous soirees.

‘Have you heard that Mrs Cass
Had three beers then ate the glass
Well did you ever! What a swell party this is.’

Robyn Daw, 1997