Pamela Strettonby Bettie Lambrecht (Contempo, August/September 2006, pg 16)
"The obsessive need to control", says Pamela Stretton, whose first solo exhibition was purchased lock stock and barrel by Hollard Insurance in Cape Town, was at the heart of the eating disorder that informed her body of work."The Encoded Body". Pamela's four-year struggle with anorexia nervosa inspired these artworks that ensured her a place as finalist in the Absa L'Atelier Prize exhibition in July this year.
"The Encoded Body" consists of nine digitally manipulated and enlarged to life-size images of her own nude body fragments.
Probing the possible psycho-social aspects that could have influenced her disease, she says: "Maybe my problem started when, at a co-ed private boarding school in the Eastern Cape, I was surrounded by high-achievers. That ensured a common presence of peer-pressure. Taking this competitive environment into every aspect of my life, I began setting extremely high standards for myself. An ambitious attempt at achievement developed into a dangerous obsession with my body, and ultimately my mental health. The sense of power and control gained from the careful monitoring of food and exercise seemed like a solution and gave me a sense of being 'on top of things'". Now, as a 26-year old, those are memories.
Drawing on these experiences, complemented by the formal academic study, which earned her a distinction from the University of Cape Town, the artist turned her affliction into a formidable body of work. "The Decoded Body" also comprises, aside from the body fragments, superimposed images presented as the "pixels" of a digital picture. They consist of tiny pictures from food packaging and other motifs that refer to weight, measuring, health, fashion and beauty. Words like 'Rib', 'Skin', Best Before' fits the underlying body like a skin.
Futhermore, her meticulous technique expresses the central theme of anorexia. She not only photographed the thousands of words and images from advertising and media sources, but also cut them out by herself, one by one. She then smeared glue, then cut polystyrene pieces, pasted them on the pixel-images and then glued these onto the background photo. A hand process which combines with the digital technique to produce an amazing Super Female Nude. At once larger than life, so that the viewer has to step back to take her in, and minutely small, to invite a close-up view.