Tag Archives: Rineke Dijkstra

Los Angeles

California Dreamin’

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

If this blog was started to dispel the myth of the Angelino artist as a bright, breezy, color-driven painter, then LACMA’s The Sun and Other Stars is the perfect show for me to discuss. The unsettling exhibition brings together the work of Katy Grannan and Charlie White, two California based artists who explore the often conflicting desires for individuality, conformity, and celebrity in American identity.

In Katy Grannan’s photographs, the harsh sun and white stucco walls illuminate drifters lurking in back lots and on city sidewalks.  A woman holding a plastic lunchbox snaps a photo on her iphone as her black hoody and skirt (seemingly out of place in this stark light) whip in the wind. A Marilyn Monroe lookalike grimaces with fatigue and regret–a companion image to Richard Avedon’s mesmerizing photograph of the original.

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

This is the dark side of Hollywood and west coast pioneering, away from the beach, the billboards and the success stories. But the photographs are classically composed and richly detailed, giving weight and reverence to the figures, and allowing the images to avoid being grotesque. The repeated title of Anonymous, drives home the obscurity of these individuals in relationship to the world of glamour and fame that they shadow, but it also draws attention to their refusal to be easily understood or encapsulated.

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

In contrast to Grinnan’s ragtag group, the adolescent girls in Charlie White’s series of casting call photographs passively fulfill the photographer’s request for white, blonde, and slender blandness. Through these photos, White powerfully critiques America’s tyrannical lust for an empty ideal, and the resulting images are profoundly bleak. I wholeheartedly agree with White’s disgust at “all-American” or “valley girl” culture, but his cold and calculating use of these young women leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Also included in the exhibition is a television showing White’s animated series A Life in BTween. The series satirizes “tween” culture –texting, malls and gossiping—to such an extent that the combination of the animation and the photos feels cruel and reductive. At what point does this go too far? By creating these images is White participating and further trivializing teen girls?

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

This vision of adolescence was particularly striking considering my recent encounter with Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs, and one of Dijkstra’s young bathers, Hel, is currently installed at LACMA just around the corner from White’s “tweens.” Unlike the tweens, Hel is photographed with tender respect and treated as an agent in her own right. It is hard to envision a photographer in Los Angeles making similarly earnest images.

In contrast to the world White captures, Grinnan’s harsh reality seems almost liberating–better to flounder towards the unconventional than to accept life as a cardboard cutout.

New York

Maybe she’s lonely because no one can see her…

The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), Liverpool, UK, 2009
Four-channel HD video projection, with sound, 32 min., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

To create the video installation The Krazyhouse, Rineke Dijkstra built a white wooden studio within a club in Liverpool (The Krazyhouse) and filmed a selection of club patrons dancing alone to music of their choice. The resulting piece includes footage of five different individuals, projected on four different walls of a single room. It may not sound that exciting to watch an amateur clubber dance alone in front of a white wall, but Dijkstra cannily tunes into the energy of her subject and carefully reveals something thrilling in the human.

The most compelling of the clubbers was Dee. For the first couple of minutes of music she moved slowly and awkwardly, like a teenage girl with stage fright or someone who is playing out possible dance moves in her head but can’t quite let them out into her body.  But then, almost imperceptibly, Dee’s energy shifted and I found myself watching a young woman confidently shaking, shimmying and lip syncing, reveling in the moment.

This video installation was one of the most recent pieces in Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim and it brought together many of the themes that emerged through the 30 years of work—raw vulnerability, the experience of looking and being seen, the performance of identity—but most specifically pinpointed the unlikely relationship between shy discomfort and confident self-assertion. Rather than being opposites, Dijkstra’s work suggests that they are interconnected aspects of an honest projection of self; in these dancers, confidence is tinged around the edges with the shy desire to be seen. The moment of Dee’s transformation was a moment I have experienced a hundred times over on dance floors, at social gatherings, in the work place–the moment of crossing a threshold from internal to external, of learning to relax into performing myself.

Rineke Dijkstra
I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), 2009
Three-channel HD video projection, with sound, 12 min., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

In another of Dijkstra’s video projects, I see a Woman Crying, a group of Liverpudlian school children respond to Picasso’s Woman Weeping. The camera rests on the children, never turning to look at the painting in question, focusing our attention on the interactions among the children. Unlike Dijkstra’s portraits, where the subjects directly confront us, here the painting acts as the mediator.

The children begin reticent, cautiously describing what they see in the image—“I can see a woman crying” — and gradually gain momentum in speculating upon the precise emotions and the narrative that created them. Their insights range from “maybe she is crying because no one looks like her” and “other people are scared of her” (this is after all a cubist piece of Picasso’s) to “maybe she is a ghost” and “she’s lonely because no one can see her.” There is an interesting interplay between the suggestibility of the students as they roll with each other’s ideas, and the revelation of individual emotional landscapes through the specific comments they make.

During the artist talk last Tuesday, Dijkstra said that she is looking for an exchange to happen between her and her subject,and that in a successful piece there is “a recognition of something truthful in that person.” In that hunt for truthfulness Dijkstra both reveals the isolation of our interiors and the longing to have that interior be honestly seen.