When interviewed about the reception of his latest film The Idiots, Lars von Trier responded, in a disenchanted way, that the public had rejected it on the grounds that it was badly made; notably because microphones appeared in some of the shots. Georges Tony Stoll's poorly printed, small-scale photographs sometimes provoke a similar rejection, or immediate categorisation within a tradition which, from Nan Goldin to Jean-Luc Moulène, endeavours to show in a more or less documentary style, more or less marginal groups of people in grungy environments. But as in the case of von Trier, a closer study of the work makes evident that what appears to be a contrived aesthetic stance is, in fact, a political tool used to make another point emerge more forcefully.
In the first room of the gallery, which is visible from the street through the window, a single row of glass-framed photographs runs across the walls, depicting in subdued tones shabby interiors in which half-dressed men, usually alone, are absorbed in some occupation or simply rest. In other pictures, the men have disappeared and mundane things are the subjects of what appear to be absurd mise-en-scènes. Scanning the row of pictures one notices recurrent forms, colours and gestures, and a sense of continuous motion, perceptible from one image to the other, unified by the glass. Some pictures are out of focus, as if their subject had moved; others are clumsily centred; bodies are fragmented. In Tout à la maison (Everything at the House, 1997) a man is walking off, stepping over scattered lengths of string. Amants 2 (Lovers 2, 1996) shows a hand clutching a pair of carrots; Ma main, ta main (My Hand, Your Hand, 1997) depicts another hand, painted black, resting upon a table. A figure topples over in Abstract Position (1997), while another, seated at first, gets up and walks away in Cinq positions doubles (Five Double Positions, 1998). The latter work comprises ten images: five views of a roughly modelled clay shape in front of a red background, juxtaposed with sequential views of a male figure. It is perhaps the most legible image, drawing out a relationship of cause and effect between one series and the other.
The introduction of a visible narrative in this work strongly suggests that the images are the result of a performance, making a comparison between the human body and sculpture, and seeking to evaluate the physical and political potential of bodily activity. The human being is clearly at the centre of the images, even when they depict its absence: the footprints on a wooden floor of Sans titre (toi et moi) (Untitled, (You and Me), 1995); the large cross made with brown cellotape stuck on the wall in Sans Titre (Mon corps) (Untitled (My Body), 1997); or the pair of trainers against a red background in (Sans titre (où je suis) (Untitled (Where I am), 1997).
The three pieces of coloured oilcloth hanging against a wall in Trois vues (Three Views, 1995) recall the body through an evocation of Beuys' Die Haut (The Skin) of 1984. Stoll's references are most often open and evident. The legacy of Nauman's concern with human scale and the possibilities of bodily metamorphosis are visible in images such as those in Television 1, 2 and 3 (1995), which depict three profiles and naked torsos against a television set in the background, on whose screen appears a man smearing white make-up over his face. Beuy's anthropomorphic objects are echoed in the oilcloth, the carrots, or the pair of intertwined shoe trees in Amants 1 (Lovers 1, 1996).
But Stoll uses his medium in a way that clearly departs from the documentary photos from which the actions of Nauman or Beuys are known: the gestures are contrived, the sense of motion is most often artificial; a result of the careful staging of figures and forms. The narrow range of colours - red, blue and flesh - creates strangely unreal effects, and clarifies Stoll's apparently paradoxical explanation for switching from painting to photography: he wanted to create images that do not exist in the world. The adoption of a painter's purpose is visible in the two video installations, Faites-le après le dîner (Do it After Dinner, 1998) and Ce que fait le minotaure quand il est seul (What the Minotaur Does When he is Alone, 1997), which obliterate narrative by showing oscillating bodies filmed in monochrome environments.
Hence, the videos seem to take place within space while the photographs constantly hint at a displacement within time as well as space. This contradictory use of these media creates for the viewer a state of suspension, in which relations between forms and bodies seem to shift endlessly from reality to fiction. The rejection of a fixed aesthetic form forces the viewer to question whether performance, documentary photography, painting or the moving image are really able to convince; and whether they possess the ability to transmit a sense of the human body in its social or geographic environment. Stoll's images display a precarious balance between nostalgia for 70s freedom and a desire to appropriate more contemporary art forms as a vehicle for his own formal and political concerns.