Saturday, January 26, 2008

I, etc. -- (Self-)Portrait as Fugue

25 January 2008

I’m mixing things up a bit, I know. It’s simply the way my too-complicated life intersects with the L.A. art world. Again I start by posting a note to a late-dated note. But that’s the L.A. art world, too – the endless confluences, coincidences and correspondences that enmesh us like a rich and densely woven tapestry. I attended a screening of Welles’ F for Fake Tuesday evening (22 January) at the Hammer – one of a series of films presented in conjunction with the Francis Alÿs Politics of Rehearsal show. That the process and technique of this film would appeal to Alÿs and relate well to the substance of the Hammer exhibition is obvious – Welles narrates – emcees, if you will – a great deal of the film from his editing table; the seams, patches, ellipses, elisions are all (or mostly) exposed in plain view. The film is also, however occasionally self-involved or self-conscious, a masterpiece – a revisiting of Mr. Arkadin, and a number of other Wellesian themes and subjects in an entirely fresh context, tantalizing and electric in its feints and conundrums. It was also a fresh reminder of what the show at fette’s Gallery tried to express “mathemetaphysically” – i.e., the “inconstancy of FACTS as well as the multiplicity of YOU.” The film is itself a double, even triple (and more) portrait – a veritable fugue on the subject of identity, signature (in every sense) counterfeiture (in every sense), self-possession and projection. The ephemeral purchase each of us has on self-actualization, projection, identity (here reduced to a tragicomic joke). The contentious, dubious claim we stake on observation and expression – our own and others’. There are indelible scenes and portraits within this portrait: an amazing face-off between Clifford Irving, would be-biographer of Howard Hughes and Hoax perpetrator, and Elmyr de Hory, famed art forger (who made a specialty counterfeiting the Fauves, late Post-Impressionists and various School of Paris artists) and himself the subject of an earlier Irving biography; the fascinating (and drop-dead gorgeous) Oja Kodar; and finally Welles himself – at his editing table and on various locations, including Chartres, where he delivers an elegiac monologue. “Our songs will all be silenced; but what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.” I have to remind myself of that once in a while.

12-13 January 2008

The natural follow-up to photoLA was a themed group show of photographic work curated by fette (with the further amplifications of one “Dr. L. Hernandez Gomez,” a “mathemetaphysician” with the “League of Imaginary Scientists”) for her Culver City gallery. Although it would be absurd to refer to the exhibition as simply photography, its insights into the medium and process were directly applicable to much of what was on view at the photoLA fair (the work Andrew Garn, Bruce Gilden, Trent Parke, Zachary Drucker and Brian Finke provide just a few examples). But the show goes to the heart of a much deeper problem of the both the medium and art itself; and beyond that to the problem of perception and (self-)definition. Although Fette had determined beforehand that photography would be the participants’ common medium for the show, her core idea was to ask each of the 25 artists (there are two collaborations by paired artists) selected to photograph themselves “representing someone else.” This is both specific enough and general enough to wreak a certain havoc in what would otherwise be a more conventional show of portraiture. Of course it also has a multiplier effect – which is what may have inspired Fette to bring in the collaboration of a “mathemetaphysician.” I think a pure mathematician would have sufficed; but I sometimes wonder if Fette takes a certain, almost perverse, pleasure, standing back and gleefully watching her prank unfold in ways she might not have foreseen herself. (The last lines of the Mark Antony funeral oration from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar suddenly come to mind. “Now let it work. Mischief thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt … Fortune is merry, / And in this mood will give us anything.”)

It does. If self-portraiture is above all portraiture, inherently a kind of doubling, (Unititled) u = ___ approaches this particular kind of auto-portrait en masque as a (quasi-)mathematical function. (In fact, the ‘operation’ as it is described sounds something like a quadratic equation applied in a social context and – well, let’s just say in infinite series. The infinite extends to the infinitesimal: we are, all of us, defining, refining, re-defining our notions of self, persona, other, and others (society, or the group) on a more or less continuous basis. In short, reality is slippery, and we need no further proof of this than a glimpse in our mirrors. Projection (self into the external; as well as the projection of others’ onto the self), extension, abstraction, displacement – any number of strategies are available here.

Some of the (not exactly self-)portraits are relatively straightforward. William Lamson shows a digital C-print image of his(?) face encased in a transparent (plastic?) mask in a kind of early medieval configuration, the mask bristling with pins (acupuncture needles?) which appear to almost pierce Lamson’s skin. It’s the social warrior in a moment of repose (or not – can we ever rest?), the self-scaffolding exposed beneath the (transparent) armor, the myriad projections – slings and arrows indeed – of a million friends, enemies and anyone looking for a momentary prop on their own reality and self-definition. Some are all pose and context (e.g., Kristian Haggblom, Ned Meets Kuzo; Kate Gilmore, Hungry Hillary – a bulemic’s poster-girl, Anouk Kruithof, musicnature • solvation)

Some are about the transition – the moment(s) of transformation/transaction – the exchange of attitude, persona; the blur (of posture, identity, gender). Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Amy Elkins and Arnaud Delrue provide examples of this. Performance, pose (costume) and manipulation are key elements here – e.g., Elkins and Delrue, who both wear dresses; Delrue’s an interesting contrast to Sepuya’s attitude blur. The performative aspect is more explicit in Deanna Templeton’s (a kind of vacant ‘advertisement for herself’ – Space Available) and Tobias Faldt’s. In others, the role play is multilayered – less blur than an accumulation of layers of identity, each interacting, commenting on the others (Suellen Parker, Roya Falahi, Raphael Neal and Eva Lauterlein providing excellent examples of this. Falahi’s and Neal’s are particularly brilliant).

Carlee Fernandez has explored this terrain fairly extensively and by now is an old hand at it; and I wasn’t surprised that her “Self-Portrait as my Mom’s Ex with 29 Palms Rainbow Stockings” had sold straightaway. (Victor Boullet explored another (digital) kind of displacement.) There are more examples than I have time to inventory – including the almost pure abstractions (e.g., Melanie Bonajo) – but there I go again. I’ll sum up only by saying Fette’s in a bit of a rut lately: she only does interesting shows.

She may be in a rut where openings are concerned, too. This one (Friday evening, the 11th) was particularly fabulous. Leora Lutz (of Gallery Revisited) was there, among many, and in fine form; and, as I was leaving, a spectactular looking film-maker I can only identify as Nana from Ghana walked in; among many, many others. I haven’t laughed so much in months.


robert kingston said...

Hello Ezrha Jean Black,
I enjoyed meeting and chatting with you at the Rosson Crow show last night. Your blog is very good. I've spent the last hour reading out of it. If you go back to the LA Art Show today don't forget to check my paintings at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery. Cheers

galleryrevisited said...

a pleasure as always...what were we talking about? well, it was fun(ny) indeedy. yes indeed.