Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Toxic Clouds and Molotov Cocktails: The Human Stain

9-10 November 2007

En route to Fette’s (this is the evening of the 2nd, remember), I thought about where Emin might take her “Tracey Emin” project next (besides the fairs, of course). She’s not ready to do a film yet (yes – I know she’s done one; it’s not something I would look at without a (well-compensated) assignment). Television? With the writers strike on, a reality show might be a good vehicle. (Could an audience be persuaded to bypass Nip/Tuck or Project Runway for her? Hard to say.) Or she might go back to her “Tracey Emin Museum.”

Having considered the “performative” aspect of Emin’s work (which seemed almost the only possible way to excuse it), it was interesting, chez fette, to be confronted with work whose performative aspect was similarly available and, in one instance (or more precisely several short instances), explicit. Of the two artists whose work was on view, Erika Eyres (Canadian, but now based in Glasgow), was perhaps the more ‘performative’ – but only slightly. Each artist’s work was presented under its own evocative title. Eyres’ matched the near-brutality of her drawings: ShutUp Shut Up Shut Up Shut Up. Her medium – not merely pen-and-ink, but specifically ball-point pen – emphasized their severity. They were not portraits so much as poses – more or less realistically treated, but with a specific exaggeration or distortion: shadowed eyes apparently sunken in a pillowy mass of white; lips and mouth bee-stung or stretched and compressed into a slash; bodies pushed hard against an absent wall or simply slanted – neither standing nor reclining – against a banquette; figures bled of their integrity – almost not figures at all. They might be taken from life (e.g., faces that looked like cosmetic surgery victims from Brentwood) or entirely imaginary. The sense of distortion was emphasized by the deliberately(?) irregular edges of the paper – nearly but not quite square or rectangular – appearing to have themselves been ‘slashed’ from larger leaves or a sketchbook.

The videos featured the artist herself in a variety of brightly colored synthetic wigs. In a few, she appeared to play more than one role. The effect, however, was not to set one character off against another, visually or otherwise, as a kind of foil, or to create an opposition or contrapuntal dynamic, but rather to repeat and compound the effect – the ‘message’ – which was virtually without content – the message entirely reduced to ‘massage’ (if a ‘stress position’ can be considered a massage – tears will be shed). Consider the source material: “info-mercials”; Jerry Springer-style emotional (and sometimes physical) head-butting/head-banging; Oprah-style harangues; personal injury lawsuit mills with their principal huckster-lawyers; etc. In short, a succession of disinformation-breeders. What is performed here is a kind of disinformation chain reaction. (Hence the title?)

While some of Erika Eyres’ drawings had the intensity of paintings, many of David Ostrowski’s paintings (oil on cotton or paper, those on cotton being somewhat larger) had the effect of pen and ink drawings – swiftly drawn out and brushed, sometimes boldly and sometimes tentatively, with larger patches of gray washed over portions of the panels not as a tonal modulation or contour shading, but a kind of stain. The subjects (inasmuch as they could be discerned), some taken apparently from photographic (and perhaps film) sources, appeared to gaze through a toxic cloud, or in other instances, were partially enshrouded or not-quite-blotted out by the ‘cloud’ or ‘stain.’ Studied closely, some of them looked like film stills. (Films of Tennessee Williams plays seem to figure disproportionately here – e.g., A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; why? If Ostrowski weren’t German, I’d be tempted to call it a Caroompas influence (see next posting – or her show (at Western Project). Even through a toxic haze or blotted out behind a cloud, there was no mistaking the iconic figures of Stella with her weeping Stanley, or Maggie the Cat begging Brick for attention.) 1960s- and 1970s-vintage papparrazzi glamour shots appeared to be another source for imagery.

Ostrowski’s title for the show was How to Look At Homegrown Terror, which, not unlike Eyres’ title, seemed to invoke a dual irony. I’m not sure, as one friend of mine put it, this has as much to do with the way Americans see things “post-9/11”, as it does with the way Americans (and others no doubt), consciously or unconsciously, construct a world – or a world-view – calculated to evoke (and perhaps provoke) terror. On one hand, one is inclined to say to that terrified gaze – it’s only Death; and on the other, to inquire/admonish – why are you so eager to invite it in?

There is something in the air at the moment – perhaps not just in L.A., although quite visible here – preoccupied with this kind of imagery, (heavily) filtered through a kind of scrim of contemporary angst and anxiety – a kind of poisoned nostalgia. Some of the work I saw just the other night (the 9th) at the Hayworth Gallery – by an artist named Miller Updegraff – seemed to partake of this same sensibility. (I’ll come back to that show – which also featured two artists – in another posting.) It’s not lethal – but you know you won’t be ordering that cocktail for some time to come.

Later that same evening (the 2nd again), I went to the Smart Building (as it’s called) in Venice for the launch of the new Rojo number – but more on that in a bit (or I would simply refer the reader to the magazine). I’m anxious to jump ahead a bit. The following evening, as some may be aware, saw the much-anticipated opening of Carole Caroompas’s show at Western Project, which was overall pretty great – and in which needless to say I took great interest. (MORE TO COME)

1 comment:

Andrew Berardini said...

Beautiful blog, I just serendipitously happened onto it, but I think you've made me into a regular reader. Witty and observant in a way that makes me remember to open my eyes a little wider.