Re-Dis-Membering: Imagining Bodies, Muscle Cars, and Aurochs
Backstory: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ron Jude and Guillaume Simoneau
July 19 – Oct 6, 2013
Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
Scenes From the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux
March 20 – Sept 8, 2013
1400 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605
A few years ago at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I sat in a dim gallery. The slide cartridge of Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency clicked away. The slides offer her memories pleasure and deterioration. The commonness of the images juxtaposed to their irretrievable temporal distance irradiates the present with random moments of the past. Motes of arousal and sadness caught my focus like dust in the projected beam. Ephemeral images produced unrelenting spirals of simulated nostalgia.
Ache and artifice underpin symbolic projections into the present. The proliferation of social-networking and image-capturing technologies has processed once private and fleeting events into readily, publicly consumable fields. Such technologies give people new ways to fossilize their fleeting lives. Cyberspace replicates these found images, that of past polluting the present with the past. Images adhere to each other without any pretense of chronology, without any obedience to historical cohesiveness. Narrative vertigo ensues as nostalgia is no longer discreetly hidden or discretely contained.
The Tumblr I Hate Renton imagines itself as the Ballad of Sexual Dependency II. The blogger, however, mines the internet and not his personal life for his source material. Scrolling through this site creates a world covered in bad carpeting, computer chairs, and toothpaste spattered mirrors. The grainy poorly shot images make the viewer try to construct some narrative. Youth and modularity are as sturdy as they cheap dorm furniture that often occupies these images. The images fit together—the life of some poor rural faggot fucking his way through life. It is not the most complicated story, but it is one that is clearly visible.
This drive to craft narrative from fragmentary images asserts itself even in a gallery space. Ron Jude’s collection emmet (exhibited as part of the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s show Backstory: LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ron Jude and Guillame Simoneau.) The treatment of these pictures taken during Jude’s adolescence reveals a loving touch. B-movie monsters drool blood and racecars spit fire in a boy’s dream of American masculinity. Juxtaposed to these totems of dark working class fun. The tow-headed snaggle toothed waif poses in the lonely woods. In one photograph, the boy splits wood with a hatchet. In others, he stands dominating the wilderness. Perhaps there is no surprise that Ron Jude’s collection recalls the short fiction of Dennis Cooper. Memories of thin young men and their fragile lives are essentially inherently erotic.
The distance between then and now is never reducible. We struggle to breach the distance. The homosociality of photographer and subject is a conduit for this eroticism despite the decades-long interim between composition and display. But the stills from zombie movies remind the viewer of the danger of sex. An image of the blonde boy kissing a girl is carefully aligned with a zombie eating sloppy, red flesh. A longing gaze so often isolates the subject.
But the connectivity between what we want is not bound by the span of our lives. In hosting the Lascaux 3—the traveling recreation of France’s 20,000 year-old cave paintings, the Field Museum reminds us of the power of simulated memory. Baudrillard says of Lascaux 2, “with the pretext of saving the original, one forbade visitors to enter the Lascaux caves, but an exact replica was constructed five hundred meters from it, so that everyone could see them (one glances through a peephole at the authentic cave, and then one visits the reconstituted whole). It is possible that the memory of the original grottoes is itself stamped in the minds of future generations, but from now on there is no longer any difference: the duplication suffices to render both artificial.” In the original and duplicate versions, Lascaux conflates gallery and cave linguistically. The third generation conflates the gallery and the cave spatially. In this iteration, the tunnels have been miniaturized and laid out in the opening gallery of the exhibit like the plasticized bowels of blue whale. In the depth of the exhibit, life-sized replications of the images have been mounted to the wall. But they have been arranged at an eye-level regardless of the actual placement in the caverns. The blind entries into other parts of the exhibits negate the tension between creating accurate replications and convenience for the viewers by coaxing the crowd to move at a steady clip. Walking through the galleries the acts of discovery, creation and recreation become intersecting temporal planes.
One of the first vitrines the spectators encounter contains the remains (or simulated remains) of a Magdalenian woman. A lifelike reconstructed bust looks back at the remains. Her regal beaded headdress adds gravitas to her high cheekbones. The first incarnation is quickly forgotten in a frenzy of scientific information about the caves’ preservation. But cached amid the reconstructed paintings, her body repeats. Fair, freckled, and well-proportioned, she is a Paleolithic queen, robed in furs. Her enshrined simulations reminds us that millennia of creation and decades of reproduction that the environment and our memory is plastic. And time refuses to move in straight lines.
Replication lets us edit memories. Art and anthropology spawn narratives that we can easily integrate into our present. We must look at the work and remember veracity and verisimilitude are inconsequential because remembering is a current and originative event.