Saturday, July 14, 2007

Flaming Creatures

Dear Reader – I’ll spare you the preamble this time; but I can’t guarantee there isn’t a postlude – too much stuff happens; I’m always running late from one day to the next; and the politics of the day make their inevitable impact. No sense in suffering through my anxiety attack just to get to a post, though. And here we go.

11 July 2007

[Le Cirque d’art et de sexe à LIGHTBOX (cont’d.)] While my inclination at Lightbox is usually to take in whatever’s hanging (or situated) in the entrance/foyer area and veer to the right, it was impossible to really have a look at the ceramic work (by Roger Herman) closest at hand through the crowd. And when Kim Light steers you in the opposite direction, you assume she knows where she’s going. We walked into what looked like a work in progress, or perhaps a disassembled porn movie set – albeit one well beyond the ken of most porn directors, to say nothing of say, Larry Sultan; or maybe an acid trip set-up for the Nicolas Roeg/Donald Cammell film, Performance (I’m dating myself – I don’t recall who did the art direction for that film – but you could look it up on the IMDb). You could almost imagine the Jack Nitzsche blues-inflected music wailing like a siren around the set (although that would pull us back as far as 1970; and, as I said, the deejays were going for a 1980s vibe). The checklist for the show indicated individual photographs separately, but several (or all) of them appeared to be integrated into the installation(s), mounted on mylar covered panels – a coy allusion I assumed to what might be reflected in such panels in the course of an actual orgy – or more likely, a film or theatrical performance. And there was no getting around the theatricality – right down to the thick black paint drenching some of the individual constructions that looked so freshly applied it appeared to ooze and drip amid the swags of paste, beads and costume jewellery festooned and plastered over the constructions. Kim introduced me to the artist, Samantha Magowan, a recent graduate of Art Center in Pasadena, who appeared to be going for a vaguely 1980s look herself, though completely updated – glittery make-up, long, long lashes, lipgloss – she made me think of Tamar and Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles; she was unassuming and utterly smashing. Apparently, the installation was disassembled in a sense – in that the vertical constructions (built up out of trophy figures and kitsch figurines (mostly enameled or painted or pasted over with beads, glitter and so forth), colored lights, parasols and disco/mirror balls were discrete and self-contained assemblages. Still, between the mirrored surfaces and twinkling colored lights (with cheap rugs scattered between), as well as the photographs and other elements – you could be forgiven for not recognizing this. Some of the pieces hovered closer to the ground, with motorized, moving parts – that had the effect of carnivorous plants or amphibious life from one of the more alluring circles of hell. I felt lost for a comment as I probed the ‘life forms.’ “Have you ever seen Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures?” I asked her. (I know – dating myself again.) It reminded me of nothing more than Jack Smith.

Although the photographs are clearly well contextualized in this setting, I’m not sure if they are shown to advantage this way. The whole point of the photographs is to crop, isolate this vignette of pastiched decadence into a kind of terrarium or still life (as in completely objectified – right? – the prints – conceived as a series – are titled, “100 Ways of Performing as an Object”). It’s not a bad idea to mount them theatrically – e.g., mylar covered panels or mirrors – as they are here – but the isolation and the objectification are severely challenged if not defeated in an installation of this magnitude. The photographs reminded me a little of Jeff Burton – whom she has to have been influenced by. But Burton’s photographs are far more still, quiet; even though the porn allusions are more explicit. This is a baroque burlesque where the erotic veers not towards the ecstatic, really, but towards camp verging on lunacy; hence not really erotic at all.

I have to say I was a little nonplussed by it all. My first impressions of the whole of it were dubious; but in a situation like this, perceptions are inevitably blurred. Setting aside the individual photographs, it was a bit hard to take in. But then this is an aesthetic of saturation, even hallucination. The show is called Soft Core – but there were moments when I felt that might just mean soft focus – mostly my own.

The rest of the show offered opportunities to refresh that focus – though amid the swirling crowd and swirling drinks, I was a bit challenged to find those moments. But they are here: in Sharon Ryan’s intimate, arabesqued polaroids (the “Lovelace” series), a truly magnificent painting by Roger Herman (“Poppy A”), and a delicate piece by George Stoll – a bowl of small, bobbing breasts, like peaches or strawberries in cream – a perfect refreshment for a show like this. There was also an attractive lightjet print by Case Simmons that struck a harmonious note with the Magowan installation – a kind of pagoda or chandelier of sampled images – a cultural kaleidoscope – that reminded me a bit of Elliott Hundley, but not quite at the same level or pitch.

With a show like this, it’s best to go out on a screaming tear. (Remember Performance again? “White Hound Dog” – howled out by the incomparable Merry Clayton?) And if you could nudge a few people out of the way (a spilled drink might work.), you might have gotten a look at an amazing Kim Dingle howling out its juvenile rage and hysteria in grisaille triptych – a mad children’s birthday party (or something) clearly gone to the flies. (The title is “Stuffing Pinky.”) The sheer energy of it is amazing. Between the Stoll’s calm and charm and this mad rage (where is Dingle lately? She’s as invisible as Merry Clayton herself is in recent years.), it was a high note to go out on.

[No postlude – fooled you – besides there’s still MORE TO COME. But the art director for Performance (I just looked it up) was John Clark. He also did the art direction for (big surprise) Ken Russell’s film of The Who’s rock opera Tommy.]

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