SARAH CHARLESWORTH, JA’TOVIA GARY, CHRISTIAN MARCLAY, PAUL PFEIFFER
The Politics of Desire
February 12, 2021 - March 14, 2021
A group of works by Sarah Charlesworth, Ja’Tovia Gary, Christian Marclay and Paul Pfeiffer examine the subjects, objects, and politics of human desire. Having mined the archives for still and moving images of celebrated figures, fantastical sites, and idealized bodies these artists cut, rearrange and re-present manipulated images. The resulting works in a range of media reveal the unreality of the fabricated images that are their source material, and the spectacular nature of the culture that produced them.
Sarah Charlesworth’s Objects of Desire series, produced between 1983 and 1989, sought to make visible the “shape of desire.” Meticulously excising images from a range of sources—including fashion magazines, pornography, fanzines, and archeological textbooks—she re-photographed the cutouts against fields of pure color. Enclosed within lacquered frames, the seductive Cibachrome prints propose an iconography of visual culture, and the values encoded within. Charlesworth’s desire is both broad and specific: iconic ‘must-have’ items such as a white T-Shirt and a red scarf are given the same treatment as the moon. The inclusion of celebrity figures such as Japanese movie star Toshiro Mifune as Samurai (1981) literalizes the objectifying power of the desiring gaze.
The formation and fragmentation of identity through fame, particularly popular music, is also the subject of Christian Marclay’s Body Mix series (1990–92). Inspired by the Surrealist exquisite corpse, the artist stitches together record covers decorated with bodies to create strange, hybrid superstars of indeterminate race and gender. In one example, the head, shoulders, and outstretched arms of composer Erich Leinsdorf are completed by the stomach and thighs of an anonymous 1970s disco dancer, and the calves and feet of Tina Turner, clad in patent leather high-heeled shoes. With sly humor Marclay draws attention to the already fragmentary format in which the body is presented to us in this medium, and the degree to which a human is never whole but already a sum of parts.
Known for his innovative manipulation of digital media, Paul Pfeiffer recasts the visual language of spectacle to uncover its psychological and racial underpinnings. In works from the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse series (2004–06) Pfeiffer uses a technique comparable to Charlesworth, removing the context from an NBA image of a basketball player in a key moment of play so that he is alone against an interchangeable crowd, his identity intensified by virtue of his isolation. In the video works Caryatid (De La Hoya) (2016) and The Long Count (Thrilla in Manila) (2001) Pfeiffer edits footage of boxing matches, superimposing background imagery over the performers to selectively erase their bodies and allow them to evade the desiring gaze. Screened on unusual, hybrid display monitors that are alluring objects themselves, the works both obstruct and incite desire.
Shot on location in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, and imbued with the idealized beauty of that place, Ja’Tovia Gary’s Giverny I (Négresse Impériale) (2017) is a six-minute examination of the precarious nature of Black women’s bodily integrity, the continued violence of global imperialism, and the art historical canon. While Pfeiffer removes racialized bodies from a violent space to shift the focus to the structure of the spectacle and disrupt the act of looking, Gary does quite the opposite, inserting her own body into a traditionally white place that is also a site of fantasy, a verdant garden already emptied of bodies and primarily known through painted images that have been reproduced to oblivion. The insertion as disruption is emphasized by Gary’s flickering form and the interweaving of archival video and film—including Diamond Reynolds following the murder of Philando Castile in 2016 and Fred Hampton speaking on political education, c. 1968-69. Giverny I (Négresse Impériale) is the only work in the exhibition that includes the artist’s own body, and with it, Gary challenges the gaze by presenting the desiring self and the desired subject as one.