“Now that I’m by myself,” she says, “I’m not by myself, which is good”

DiverseWorks

Noah Simblist

Brian Bress, Still from Under Cover, 2007; single-channel video, color, sound; 13:16 minutes; courtesy the artist and Cherry Martin

Yuki Okumura, Me Riding Motorcycles in Taipei; 2007; Lambda print; 8½ x 18 inches; courtesy the artist and Misako & Rosen, Tokyo

When the singer, songwriter and producer Santigold started performing without her band, she told an interviewer for Fader magazine, “Now that I’m by myself, I’m not by myself, which is good.” Curator Rachel Cook’s group exhibition at DiverseWorks takes this quotation not only as its title but also as a philosophical position. The exhibition features artists whose work with performance and video is simultaneously intimate and self-consciously voyeuristic.

The relationship between artist and viewer has always influenced artistic production, but over the past century, the concern for spectatorship has taken on a feverish pitch. Modernism initiated a heightened self-consciousness in art, self-reflexively probing the division between the solitude of artistic production and the performative nature of its display. These days, the relative merits of the artist’s intent, the location of authorship and the political and social responsibility of the artist have been parsed and agonized over to the point of ridicule. But increasingly, artists are making work that takes advantage of the blurred boundary between public and private without necessitating a critique of art practice in general. Cook has assembled a group of artists that avoid weighty art historical arguments and instead take an approach more akin to play. As a result, there is a raw, intimate and bizarre quality to the offerings on view.

Laurel Nakadate, for example, finds slightly overweight middle-aged men on Craigslist to play roles in her films and videos. She sets up a camera in their drab, unassuming bedrooms and living rooms and records what look like grownup children’s games or innocent fetish acts. In Beg For Your LifeNakadate holds a gun to the heads of men who kneel and cry and plead for their lives. Wearing a miniskirt and tank top, Nakadate plays the role of the ice queen—a dominatrix wielding both the gun and camera as extensions of her empowered, weaponized sexuality. In the more complex Little Exorcisms we see Nakadate peeing in various public places, staring out the window of a train in various states of undress and occasionally interacting with more anonymous men. In all of these scenes, there is an intense sense of intimacy that cuts through the anonymity of public space.

Also on view at DiverseWorks is Nakadate’s homage to the great photographer E. J. Bellocq and his photographs documenting prostitutes in Storyville, New Orleans, in the early twentieth century. Bellocq’s posthumously printed photos were famous for the strange way that the faces of some women were scratched out. Nakadate has taken photographs of herself and similarly effaced the faces, further underlining the strange way that representation—or its erasure—participates in the power play between the camera, the subject and the spectator. Is the effacement to protect the shame of the sitter or an outburst on the part of the photographer against her subject, an expression of her—or his—own shame?

Yuki Okumura, I am Shadow Man (dandelion), 2007; Lamda print; 13 3/8 x 10 2/5 inches; courtesy the artist and Misako & Rosen, Tokyo

Wynne Greenwood, Other Looking with Faces, 2007; C-print mounted on black Sintra; 18 x 24 inches; courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Wynne Greenwood’s Peas plays with a similar sense of intimacy and fantasy. In her video installation, Greenwood is shown lying with her shirt pulled up, revealing a line drawing on her belly. The drawing depicts a character representing the pain in her gut. The character holds a similarly drawn microphone by which it engages in conversation with Greenwood. Meat, a video commissioned for the show, was conceived as an extension of Peas. In the projected video, Greenwood sings a song of causation to multiple faces drawn onto her legs. The work seems to ask what causes things like a pain in one’s gut. Is it jealousy or anxiety? And what, in turn, are the causes of those things?

Greenwood is well versed in psychoanalytic, feminist and queer theory, referencing each in her work in concert with a kind of childlike make-believe. Her videos and performances demonstrate a desire to find the root causes of psychic afflictions and their physical manifestations, as well as a desire to find the will to fracture one’s self in order to gain greater self-knowledge. In a collaborative video with Nicole Eisenman, for example, Greenwood’s body is woven into the white ground of the paper on which Eisenman draws figures and an interior. A relationship is being built between drawn and perceived worlds. What is real and what is fantasy, what is the product of one creative authorial voice and that of another is made unclear in a way that appears productive for new definitions of both identity and artistic creation.

Yuki Okumura also invites questions of reality, fantasy and self-fracture but through extended references to popular culture. In the video Daydream Believer we watch Okumura go about his daily life: walking through Tokyo, eating, drinking and hanging out with friends. It is not until the end of the video that we realize this stream was all a fantasy world. In the concluding scene, the artist is shown at DiverseWorks with a technician pulling a cord from the back of his head just as Morpheus did with Neo in The Matrix. In another video, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, a similar narrative unfolds but the punch line is a reference to Men in Black: Okumura’s body is really a cyborg with a tiny alien in his head running the show.

Finally, Brian Bress’ work includes videos with characters dressed in fantastical costumes inhabiting bizarre sets. These characters dance and sing but are also tortured by waterboarding. Resembling a funny but bizarre Paul McCartney, Bress evokes feelings of intense awkwardness and discomfort.

Strange feelings are a general rule for this show. The brazen desire to reveal intimate wishes and anxieties always evokes discomfort. “Now that I’m by myself,” she says, “I’m not by myself, which is good” does reflect the cathartic aspects of independence performed and witnessed, but it also reveals the challenges inherent in the wish to exist both in and out of one’s self at the same time.

Noah Simblist is a writer and artist based in Austin and Dallas.

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