Hot DAM! Picks
Carrie Moyer and
I was delighted to be invited to guest curate the Visual AIDS Web Gallery, as it gave me an opportunity to get to know the wide range of work contained in the Visual AIDS Archive Project. The process of selecting works for this online exhibition allowed my own aesthetic predilections to reveal themselves like a Polaroid slowly coming into focus. As an artist, seeing this snapshot of my formal and content preferences was pretty telling.
The Beau-Laid (the Beautiful-Ugly), the Grotesque, the Awkward, the Color RED, the Figurative, the Kooky, the Kitschy, the Painfully Personal, the Lonely, the Reverent, the Utopian -- I found out that these are the things I want to look at.
Arnold Fern's floating Head, a dreamy homoerotic memento, marries references of Pre-Raphaelite "Ophelia" paintings and Symbolist imagery to the formal earnestness of an academic painter.
Enrico Fillippi's untitled picture of a girl is a testament to the idiosyncratic distortions inherent to drawing. Fillippi's drawing manifests a willful aesthetic that seems to strive for some sort of observed "accuracy" but gets waylaid by its own inner mandate. Look at that gorgeous line that goes from the top of the head to the small of the back!
Robert Flack's two c-prints from his Love Mind series speaks to the hippie flower child in me. The ecstatic potential of the physical body is simply and beautifully offered to the viewer in these psychedelic photographs.
The history of 20th-century painting is cannily evoked by Frank Holliday's work. Little Clown is a meditation on late Picabia with its use of dimestore-Cubism and kitsch content. The claustrophobic Red Room is fascinating and totally creepy. It brings to mind my favorite Guston paintings.
Clan of the Cave Bear meets Lady Bunny in Mark Morrisroe's untitled self-portrait with wig. Somehow, Morrisroe manages to slyly evoke a whole range of photographic references in this incredible picture, from hand-tinted Victorian ethnography to photographs documenting the "primitivist" rituals of the Viennese Actionists of the Sixties.
Seen in this group of artists, Chuck Nanney comes off looking positively classical! His wickedly funny titles, fiery turd and I Death Valley, combined with the formal rigor of the objects themselves, points the viewer toward the disconnect between lived experience and the process of art-making.
Lo-tech materials and an accretion of the obsessive, utterly unique concerns mark Alan Walker's 25-year project, Paper Women of the World. Like the fabulously inventive artist Henry Darger, Walker's work hints at a process outside the traditional purview of the studio. One can just imagine him sitting at his kitchen table, watching the "Miss Universe Pageant" and cutting out paper dolls.
It was a real joy to spend time thinking about these artists and looking at their work.
Ever since I got my first 110mm camera as a child, I was drawn to the snapshot. I could prove that I went to Disneyland, prove that I had friends and prove to anyone that something had actually happened to me. For years I was an incidental tourist of my life. I photographed all that happened to me and also allowed myself to be photographed by others. Sometime after I turned 14 years old, I stopped taking photos and disappeared from family portraits. I didn't reappear until my late 20s when I began making art and acknowledging an identity that never had a venue in my childhood. I chose these artists because they reflect many of the inspirations that have moved me towards creating a photo testament of my life.
Steed Taylor's photographs (School Play and Watching T.V.) remind me of a parallel universe that co-exists with many childhood snapshots. In the photo-world we are there smiling with a birthday cake, standing confidently with popular classmates, or enjoying a family activity. Steed brings us (with his methodic magic marker) to the anti-world where you are not given attention except for that one moment when someone takes your photograph. Erase yourself from that photograph and the attention you craved, even for that split second, is erased as well.
The popular imagery of my childhood included a fascination with teen-idols. I was trained early from the pages of the magazines Tiger Beat and Sixteen that celebrities were real people (like you and me!) who had trained hard and with a little luck and a lot of tenacity had become stars. I just didn't buy it! Later when I met my first celebrity (Bette Midler) at the stage door of Radio City Music Hall, I felt the fear we all feel when confronted with the grim reality that Tiger Beat had tried so hard to instill. Yes, they were indeed real people . . . Bette was shorter and older than I imagined and seemed in a big rush to get the hell out of there! My bubble had officially burst. Joe De Hoyos, Celebrity AIDS: Debbie Harry, speaks to a public that has never had its fascination with celebrity held in check. AIDS now becomes the ultimate leveler on the magazine rack where celebrities can be as real as the fans that admire them.
In my house, my parents turned to me whenever it was time to install a stereo, figure out how to record on the VCR, or when something got stuck in an electrical outlet. I love the mechanics of anything and often thought I would become a garage mechanic if not a photographer. Still, with all my enchantment with gears and automation, I have never given much thought to what goes on inside of me. When I saw them open some guy on PBS during an open-heart surgery I just thought . . . what a big mess, who can see anything? Per Eidepjeld's vision in his works (RNA and T 4 Cell) make more sense. What is all that mess without the soul of the person attached to all their parts?
One of the most frightening elements of photography for me is its ability to preserve a time that I can never go back to. Albert Winn's bravery in documenting what may ultimately be his final legacy entrances me. He demonstrates a way to combat my panic of preservation by constantly redefining and mobilizing a time called "Now."
Sue Schaffner is a photographer. Her photos are published under the alias "Girl Ray." Her photos include portraits of featured media personalities for magazines and an ongoing personal project documenting her family life. Her photos have appeared in Men's Health, People, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, Esquire, and Wired.
Together, Sue Schaffner and Carrie Moyer founded Dyke Action Machine! (DAM!), a two-person public art project. Since 1991, DAM!'s culture-jamming campaigns have dissected mainstream advertising by inserting lesbian images into recognizably commercial contexts. Our media interventions are sited wherever the public gets its information -- the streets of New York City, the worldwide web, interactive phone lines, even matchbook covers have all been used as targets. DAM!'s work represents an on-going interrogation of how lesbians are depicted (NOT) in popular culture. DAM! is the only specifically lesbian public art project working today. Check out http://www.dykeactionmachine.com for more information.
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