Nudes by Ryan Cameron
An art show in James house featuring work by Allyn Gaestel. Opening April 30th, 8:30pm - 10:30pm. Show runs until Friday, May 15th. Supported by the Students Art Fund.
Nudes by Ryan Cameron: An art show in James house featuring work by Allyn Gaestel.
Opening April 30th, 8:30pm - 10:30pm. Show runs until Friday, May 15th.
On Nudes by Ryan Cameron
In his chapter on Andy Warhol in Art Since 1900, Hal Foster defines a simulacrum as "a copy without an apparent original," arguing that repetition functions as a means of obfuscating its source (486). But because a repeated image only "appears to dissolve the original," Foster characterizes the simulacral image as a means of producing an illusion, a visual tool that tricks the eye into seeing an image as an image instead of an image of a person. My work lives within this moment of hesitation—it attempts, through a syntax of repetition that occurs materially, art-historically, and figuratively, to deny a filial order of signification; but its citation of familiar styles, genres, and people perpetually align my images with spaces before, beyond, and behind their simulacral surfaces. Nudes is about the semiotic problem catalyzed by visual reproduction, and intends1, through its curation and content, to exemplify and criticize the symbolic ambivalence Foster articulates in lieu of Warhol's work.
While Warhol's simulacral surfaces seek to empty images of meaning (Foster 486), the repeated images in Nudes serve a different rhetorical purpose. Because I present each instance of repetition with slight variations in tone, color, or composition, my images hang together as singular reiterations (rather than plural replicas) of the same image. The five lithographs of the coital couple refer to each other in the same manner that Warhol's 5x5 Marilyn grid constructs a self-reflexive (rather than mimetic) visual significance; but unlike Warhol, my images perform a simulacrum that says something about difference rather than sameness—I want my images to appear different from each other in spite of their similarities, constructing visual plurality that denotes multiplicity rather than redundancy 2. Although the coital lithographs are all printed from the same plate and subsequently present five copies of the same image, the varying qualities from print to print establish subtle but visible differences in narrative tone—the sexual encounter depicted through delicate ink washes on white paper suggests a tender moment of intimacy; the sex imaged in brick red ink and few tonal variations seems harsher and more ferocious (because the man looks so dark and the woman so light, their contrasting degrees of visibility connote a moment of violent conflict); and the palest version with rough patches of white exudes the same sort of nostalgia as a weathered photograph that portrays a lost but perpetually handled (and remembered) moment in time.
This ability to read the same image differently on the basis of slightly varying visual cues calls attention to the manner in which we read rather than look at images, urging the viewer to construct the images' narrative significance in accordance with material rather than figurative criterion. While this series of lithographs depicts porn, it isn't about pornography—it's about how we look at pornography. Similarly, the repeated image of a dead/prostrate body in the grass (displayed through two etchings, a projection, and two transparencies that hang inside and beneath the same frame) does not simply signify a dead corpse, but a body that requires different types of looking. As a projection, the image distances itself from the artist's hand—on a screen, it reads as an image detached from its moment of creation; however, the transparency taped to the overhead projector, the transparencies hung on the wall, and the etchings exhibited construct a cumulative narrative that points the viewer back towards my hand, suggesting an inability to let the artwork wander too far from the artist.
While Warhol's repetition images, according to Foster, seek to detach the artist's hand from the artist's work, my repeated images allude to each version's specific moment of creation. The visual and material variations evident in each iteration of the same image connote, for the viewer, varying moments of production that, though non-linear, construct a temporal multiplicity that contradicts the simultaneous moment of display in James House. So in order to explain the "here and now" of the exhibition, the viewer must acknowledge the presence of an artist behind the work displayed so that the progression in time implied by the work can be reconciled with the frozen time that exists in a gallery space (Benjamin). 3 By including photographs of myself (as well as a projection of Allyn, the photographer), however, I attempted to complicate the viewer's conception of the figure of the artist, embodying an artisanal hand that is typically disembodied and invisible.4
In my show, I have attempted to show the viewer that the artist is someone who paints and has a photographable body—she is both subject that looks and can be looked at, and by displaying my body as well as my body of work, I invite other people to participate in the ways in which I look and look at myself. Perhaps this is why this show seems so intensely autobiographical, and yet, its status as an exhibition as well as its syntax of display (repetition, allusions to Schiele, porn, etc.— i.e. unoriginal images that detract from my singular authority) destabilizes any statement about myself; I have constructed myself, through my show, as manifestation of multiple repetitions that repeats herself as well as others before her. Thus the person I am showing to my audience is a dead one—my body, my body of work, my artistic hand are all situated within the past, a moment of production and creativity prior (and lost) to the present moment.
In attempting to problematize reproduction, I think Nudes ended up perpetuating the problem. The gestures to Schiele, the paintings that refer to themselves and each other (but not my prints), the male bodies sequestered but prioritized in large paintings and photographs, and the glaring white walls that seek to legitimize the images through the clean, blank syntax of a gallery introduce so many threads of repetition that it becomes almost impossible to pick out the argumentative trajectory of the show. When I originally conceived of the project, I imagined this overwhelming profusion of inter and intra-visual allusions as having a cacophonous effect (amplified by an intense play of darks and lights provided by the construction lights) that would instill my own anxiety about the relationship between images and things, signifiers and signifieds, nudes and naked people in my viewers—but something about the aesthetics of the work, the airy syntax of display, the pleasant lighting, and the tidy pile of books flattened that intensity. Because I wanted to avoid marking this show a performance (by using colored lighting, presenting a messy personal library, or placing my "aura"-filled Benjaminian paintings outside the window panes so that they would actually look into the space), my quest for subtlety stuck me with an autobiographical performative that I did not anticipate.
Although I'm not sure where to go from here, I can see (after examining my show and this rambling paper) that I perpetually need to limit my focus—because I always have a lot to say, I haven't yet figured out how to say more by saying less. I expected Nudes to work by presenting it (in title and exhibition) as a plural statement, but that plurality ends up obfuscating its significance rather than saying something about the obfuscating nature of signifieds. I think that's why I was so thrilled when Professor John Muse mentioned one print I made that depicts an orgy rendered solely through negative space during our Contemporary Art Final Critique—that lithograph guides the viewer through and out of confusion5 in the manner that I hoped the entire show would, so perhaps that ocular, narrative, and symbolic motion will help raise my work from the dead.
1 What a strange feeling to say that word definitively. 2 I don't mean that as a value judgment—Warhol’s multiple Marilyns in Marilyn Diptych are not superfluous—I mean that the images are redundant in a purely formal sense. 3 In other words, I am not figuring myself as a Pop Artist: “What Pop Art wants is to desymbolize the object,” that is to release the image from deep meaning into simulacral surface. "The pop artist does not stand behind his work and he himself has no depth: he is merely the surface of his pictures, no signified, no intention, anywhere." (Barthes in Foster, 486) 4 For the poster, I deliberately chose an image of myself in which my hand (holding a cigarette) is the lightest part of the photograph. 5 In terms of form and content—the multiple mediums in the show were, I think, somewhat problematic but the use of drawing, painting, and lithography work in this image.