Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Note on B-Sides at FotoFest

There's a good show up at FotoFest headquarters called B-Sides. It's up through December 11. As usual with FotoFest group shows, this one quite various in its contents, and the overall level of quality is high. I want to discuss just two of the artists.

Nic Nicosia, like a lot of modern photographers, is not about capturing a perfect moment, but more about constructing one. He creates sets and then does some kind of action in them, and takes a photo of the result. Or, at least, that's what the viewer is left to conclude in the photos here.

Nic Nicosia
Nic Nicosia, Untitled (dirt target) from the Space Time Light series, archival inkjet on canvas, 2008

The implication is that the figure has been throwing dirt at a target made of dirt (or mud) smeared on the wall. Or did he create the target by throwing mud at the wall? Hard to say. He appears to be very close to the wall, and he may be in the act of smearing the dirt on, even though his body looks like he just pitched a mudball. And what about the side walls, with their grey pastoral scenes. What is their relation to dirt? And is the target even really made of dirt? It looks too "clean"--dirt (or mud) as a drawing medium is surely more difficult to handle than is implied by this image.

Nic Nicosia
Nic Nicosia, Untitled (black rectangle) from the Space Time Light series, archival inkjet on canvas, 2008

This image was even more mysterious. But the first thing I was struck by was the beauty of it. I like the brown and tan colors, the patterns on the wall-paper and how they interact with the light coming through the slats, and how those lines of light intersect the edge of the canvas. But were are again confronted with a strange room--one that appears to have been constructed from scratch for this photo, like a soundstage for a movie.  The roof is deliberately left incomplete, and it appears that Nicosia has carefully dropped dirt (dirt!) through the exposed roof to create a rectangular pattern on the floor. Why? I have one possible answer. Nicosia may be recreating a famous physics experiment, the double-slit experiment, which was used to try to determine whether light was composed of discreet particles or whether it was waves in the ether. In Nicosia's version, dirt is substituted for light. The results appear inconclusive.

Richard Mosse went to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale (both George Bushes had been members, and they were recently in the news for an offensive hazing ritual) and asked the Dekes to have a yelling contest. The rule was that you had to scream at the top of your lungs, pausing only to inhale, until you just couldn't anymore. This video records the result.

Fraternity from Richard Mosse on Vimeo.
Richard Mosse, Fraternity, video, 2007

Intense, no? And kind of psychotic. It's hard to imagine a better and more succinct explication of frat life--but more important, of guys. On Mosse's Vimeo site, one of the commenters remarks that this reminded him of new age men's groups who would do the same thing to try to tap into that inner warrior. So it's not all about "bro culture." It's men getting together. A group of guys drinking brews and screaming at the football game on the TV. A bunch of soldiers or rugby players yelling as they psyche themselves up for the battle or the game.

And, watching it (but not participating) is highly irritating and a little disquieting. As a video, it's like Bruce Naumann's Clown Torture. The person being tortured is the viewer! FotoFest had the volume for this piece at a reasonable level, but it should have been turned up loud! The real extremity of it would have come through.

(One last thought--if you wanted to have a truly scary Halloween decoration for your house, you could project Clown Torture onto a white sheet in your front yard. Of course, your neighbors would hate you.)

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