Mathilda Eberhard – [←] ** (2010); [→] * (2010)

Whatever Eberhard lacks in polish, she more than makes up for with her audacity.

Apologies if this is a repetition of a previous persnickety and pedantically harped upon point–however, I am presently too inebriated to be able to figure out how to navigate out of this post and onto my blog to check whether I’m remember on of innumerable discarded drafts (there have been a lot more of those than usual lately, alas) or if it’s just something I thought about addressing and then just couldn’t figure out how to fit it all to words…

Anyway, during the nightmare hellscape that were MFA applications, I thought a lot about why I am drawn to the implications of narrativity much as the magnetized tip of the steel needle finds north on the face of a compass.

On the surface, I am intrigued by the power of stories. People can love you because of and through a well-told tale. Stories can connect people. Yet, the can also be used as Trojan Horses secreting ideological payloads.

My time as a film making student taught me that I might not be as great at judging the merit or lack thereof as far as those sorts of payloads.

I asked myself what would be involved in implying the entirety of a story with a single, static frame?

There are really two reliable ways to do this:

  1. Illustrate a story that is uber familiar to your audience
  2. Or, stage a tableau that allows for a familiar dramatic scenario (Pathos).

The former is the terrain of Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; the latter: Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.

Both require being relate-able–a less direct way of saying looking to what has come before. This leads to the sort of work where being lesbian or trans is just another character trait… like born in Louisville, KY, Gay, really likes kabob, etc. as opposed to a wholistic aspect of and projection from the character’s self.

And what we’re finding out is that it’s a lie that our love is only recognizable in the way it mirrors straight love. But we have our own language, or own deeply incised pathos and when you see them you–if you are capable of love–see them too and they mean the same to you.

Eberhard was really far ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. She’s challenging the limits of what pathos allows for in the most fantastic ways.

I haven’t seen any new work of hers in almost half-a-decade. She has an instagram–but it’s private. I would do just about anything to know what she’s up to these days. (She is in the top three on my lists of artists I would do just about anything to facilitate.)

If anyone reading this maybe knows her and could help a super fangirl out it would be supes appreciated.

K Thnx Bye.

Francesca WoodmanDepth of field, Providence, Rhode Island (1975-8)

Woodman first appeared on my radar in either late 2005 or early 2006.

Her Wikipedia entry was much sparser then–not that it’s anything to write home about now; however, it did have one fantastic feature: there was a ridiculously chronological index of approximately 120 of her photos. (At that point it was the most comprehensive collection of her work–essentially, every photo uploaded to the Internet was centrally linked.)

Dribs and drabs of additional work would emerge as new exhibitions went up. And the spate of new and/or updated monographs in the late aughts introduced even more work.

That shifted noticeable with her 2012 Guggenheim retrospective in NYC–which if memory serves consisted of 20% new/rare photographs.

The Guggenhein show was staged more or less chronologically. Beginning with the early work–culminating in her Swan Song series; before interjecting the work she made while studying in Italy for a year (which was housed in a passage and adjacent niche), followed by the ‘failed’ fashion photographic efforts and then looping back into the first room where there was work from her time at the MacDowell artist colony.

This layout was simplistic but with the simplification driven by cleverness not torpor–allowing her work to demonstrate itself as always of exceptional quality but arranged in such a way that her incandescent genius becomes all that much more apparently as she slowly begins to fire on all cylinders. (If nothing else a strict chronological view of the work shares with the viewer a sense of hard work finally paying off when you consider a photo like the one of her as her alter ego Sloan side-by-side with other work from the same period. She was getting better, saw she was getting better and derived confidence from the awareness.)

The narrative of her trajectory has always been that she peaked during her year abroad and never quite managed to reach such Olympian heights ever again. The notion that her fashion experiments were a failure dovetails nicely with this theory.

Still, it’s always bothered me that one of my favorite photos she ever made emerges from the same period as the fashion ‘failures’–namely, this self-portrait with a wasp on her neck.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve noticed a deluge of work I’ve previously never seen emerging. (The above is an example of such.) There’s no enough of it that I am beginning to question the endurance of the narrative that she was very good but also immature, undisciplined and very lucky.

There’s a couple of things you have to keep in mind here: first, the photos that until recently have been understood as her overarching body of work were ones she exhibited during her life. The subsequent work that’s emerged has been released into the world by her parents. (This has led to issues where there exist an original print or two she made herself vs work that he father has reprinted–the latter tend to present a more dynamic range of tones, whereas hers skew much darker, as a rule.)

The notion that the fashion work was a complete failure is something I think the newly released work calls sharply into question. I won’t argue that a lot of it is bad. There’s enough of it that is at least stubbornly iconoclastic that suggests something further at work here.

Increasingly, I think that what gets interpreted as failure was merely an effort to play the can I be an artist in mid-to-late capitalism and not starve. My impression is that Woodman was attempting to fit her style and preoccupations to what she understood as the framework high fashion sought. When, really, the other way round was the way she should’ve approached it. (A more concrete way of putting it might be to suggest that whereas her early work were about self-expression, the later work is an effort to invert the ploy of inventing an alter ego like Sloan (to allow herself to explore–representation at some degree of remove) and instead wanted to filter her work in such a way that she would be perceived as belonging on the fashion scene. It didn’t work because too much of who she was involved independence and a commitment to non-conformity.

As bad as some of the fashion stuff, it is not all bad and she continued to make exceptional work–or that’s what the emerging work suggests to me. It’s almost as if the darker her vision became the more increasingly universal the reaction to and response to her work.

Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)

Homoerotic imagery in
the visual arts has historically been hidden, destroyed, and censored –
so too the documentation of artists’ sexuality when that includes the
possibility of same-sex relationships…
Documentary evidence of a person’s sexual activities is, in many cases,
rare, regardless of the personal’s sexual orientation. In the face of
little or no information, everyone is assumed to be heterosexual unless
proved otherwise. When asked Can you prove she was lesbian? why do we
not respond, Can you prove she wasn’t?
                   — Jim Van Buskirk, “Between the Lines: The Often Fruitless Quest for Gay and Lesbian Materials,” Art Documentation 11, no. 4 (Winter 1992): 167-170, 167. (via lesbianartandartists)               

Dmitry ChapalaAnastasia Scheglova from La Mégère apprivoisée series (2015)

The composition here is so muddled and dunderheaded that I don’t even feel as if I can weighing in on whether or not it qualifies as #skinnyframebullshit–maybe, maybe not? What is even with this perspective? Are we supposed to interpret that bed as positive space and the Ikea shelf–why does everyone I know have this shelf, it’s ugly af–floor and rug as negative space? :::shrugs:::

Why am I bothering with this picture then? More specifically: why am I bothering with Chapala’s work at all? (It’s not like he’s especially good at what he does… he lacks the edginess/audacity of Giancomo Pepe and there are times when I effing swear he’s genuflecting in Marcel Pommer’s general direction. (Not to say he has never produced interesting snaps… he has a handful that are almost good. I simply feel his work is nearly completely derivative. He seems to be this breed of image maker that insists upon himself and his ‘fine art bonafides’ and folks just go along with it because the work superficially conforms to some arbitrary median threshold…)

Again, why bother? Well, in this case, there are two reasons. First, it seems as if every snap from this session is available online–a sure indication of less than adequate editing rigor.

I want to circle around to two of the more widely circulated shots from this series; both echo each other as far as composition–far more sensible but it still doesn’t entirely work. In one the woman has her eyes open, in the other her eyes are closed.

As far as order goes there’s a sense that the picture above preceded the other two. The falling trajectory of her left hand across the three images suggests that the subsequent order is eyes open then eyes closed. (You’ll notice–also–that the other two have had the contrast dialed up compared to the one above.)

The angle of view and the position of the ugly Ikea shelf contribute a feeling that the viewer of the image has walked into a room with which they are familiar and have found a beautiful, naked woman comfortably stretched out on the bed.

The second image is Playboy softcore-esque; the third is more unsettling given the first and second image. It suggests that either the woman is no coyly pretend as if she’s napping or worse–that this is sort of an on the fly revision, a sort of masturbatory fantasy change on the fly. (”I walk in and she’s stretched out on the bed, gazing coquettishly at me. Wait, no… she’s alseep…” Yeah, I like that better.”)

Point number two w/r/t why bother with this image is despite the litany of flaws with the above image, it does actually do something a lot of fine art nude work fails stupendously at: aligning a candid perspective with actually candid body language.

I recently realized there’s a way to describe this as long as you don’t mind a minor digression. Okay? Cool.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the few books I’ve actually had to read on three different occasions across years of schooling. As you’ll recall, Huck runs away, encounters Jim and then hears about a drowned body found on the river. He wonders if it’s his father so disguising himself as a girl, he approaches the abode of Mrs. Loftus to seek information.

Mrs. Loftus quickly puzzles out that something isn’t quite right and so she challenges Huck to three tests: she has him toss a lump of lead at a rat, thread a needle and finally the old woman tosses a lump of lead into his lap to note how he catches it. He fails each test. His aim is true with the rat, he thoroughly botches threading the needle and instead of opening his legs to let the material of his dress act as a trampoline to catch the lead, he slams his legs shut to avoid the potential of getting his gonads struck.

There’s a way in which supposedly candid shots always seem to have this demureness that undercuts the scene. As humans we carry and arrange our bodies different based on whether we are in public or in private. In public, we tend to favor decorum over comfort, in private, it’s the other way ‘round.

In other words: there’s a tendency with the sexualization inherent in the male gaze, frequently candid work features extremely stylized and self-consciously demure poses. In effect, there’s a tendency for the subjects in candid fine art nude work to make the same mistake as Huck–responding instinctively instead of naturally.

This doesn’t do that–which despite it’s numerous flubs–is actually to its credit. However, I will admit that the two subsequent images sort of screw with that by subverting the comfortable naturalness to the end of something that I can’t help by read as holding some sort of unsettling psychosexual implication.

Alek LindusUntitled (2010)

I was in time, in flight, in finiteness. The present had
disappeared, there was nothing left for me but a past and a tomorrow, a
tomorrow which I was already conscious of as past.
Since then I have
tried, every day, to cling on to something stable, I have tried
desperately to recover a present, to establish it, to widen it.
Eugene Ionesco, Fragments of a Journal

Santy MitoChoke de fuerzas… (2016)

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.  Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong.  We say bread and it means according
to which nation.  French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure.  A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment.  I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can.  Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling.  And maybe not.  When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records.  But what if they
are poems or psalms?  My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton.  My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey.  Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body.  Giraffes are this
desire in the dark.  Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map.  What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Jack Gilbert, The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart