Cultural Malaise

Anonymous figures rest on floral pillows. Disembodied feet stand on chairs. Vintage televisions sit against patterned wallpaper; white noise and static buzz on screen. This is the world of Eliza Bourner, a lens-based artist interested in capturing “the cultural malaise of postmodern living; alienation, loneliness and unease.”

Working as photographer, set designer, model and stylist, she stages each image alone in her own home taking inspiration from the silent theatre of Edward Hopper and the surreal paintings of René Magritte. In 2021, her work which captures mundane events through a cinematic lens has been recognised by the Lens Culture Art Photography Awards and was shortlisted for the Prix Levallois.

Distraction, consumerism and materialism are central to Bourner’s oeuvre, which is populated with symbols of passive entertainment: TVs, phones, computers. The series also taps into our contemporary fixation with productivity. On social media, we are constantly bombarded with adverts, apps and infographics about how to “work better.” How does this affect our wellbeing? Are we striving for the impossible? Bourner’s pictures seem to suggest so.

“The ‘ordinary’ is less and less desirable,” she says. “If you work hard enough, you can seemingly achieve anything.” In one image, a character looks up at a picturesque mountain landscape. The place in the poster feels entirely out of reach; it’s simply an image copied and pasted into a claustrophobic environment. After months spent in lockdown, these staged portraits feel like stepping into a troubling daydream. | @elizabourner

Words: Eleanor Sutherland

All images courtesy Eliza Bourner
1. Absent Reflections, 2019, self portrait in mirror, from the series ‘The Act of Living’
2. Pillow Talk, 2021, self portrait, from the series ‘The Act of Living’
3. Television Set with Venus, 2018, from the series ‘The Act of Living’
4. New Shoes, 2020, self portrait stood on chair, from the series ‘The Act of Living’
5. Imperial Leather, 2020
6. Great Escape, 2021, Self portrait looking at poster, from the series ‘The Act of Living’