Contrary to popular opinion, horses do not sleep standing up – or rather, the ones who do are old nags who are afraid of not being able to get back up again. Nonetheless, it is so rare to see a horse lying down that the sight can easily create the impression that the animal is dead. Marzia d’Argento asleep was the title of Jeanne Faust’s exhibition of photographic images and objects she created during her 2012 fellowship at the German Academy Rome Villa Massimo. One inkjet print, which, like all the other works in the exhibition, was entitled Untitled (Marzia d’Argento asleep) (2013), showed a horse lying asleep on its side. The proportions of the photograph added to the potential sense of foreboding of death: the animal squeezed up against the upper edge of the image, the dusty ground taking up most of the space.
The scene feels familiar in the context of Faust’s work; it could easily have appeared in one of her films. In Rodeo (1998), for example, the artist masterfully juggles Hollywood movie ciphers without adhering to any stringent narrative: the expanse of a desolate industrial landscape, two lanky guys in a lonely cafe with bored staff, a stretch limousine. Somebody puts up a Marlboro ad on a billboard. The drowsy horse would fit into these surroundings well. At the same time, the scene’s ambiguity offers a good example of Faust’s analytical approach to visual and linguistic narrative structures – one which is always linked to everyday experience: B movies, pop culture, visual sales strategies.
The horse photograph proved to be a pivotal point of access to the exhibition. It was the only subject which was not based on a collage of silhouettes, found images and arranged decorative objects that have been staged for the camera. The horse image is unsettling, but in a familiar way. All the other works – along with the prints, there were three other objects – appeared both alluring and highly enigmatic. Two of the three collages showed a conspicuously large number of accessories, including expensive-looking handmade bags, necklaces and a riding cap covered with blond hair. The items are reminiscent of fashion advertising, of illusory exclusive worlds with their inherent fetish for high-quality handmade objects and animal imagery (think of Hermés) – a borrowed glamour that is immediately subverted by the clearly un-Photoshopped pictorial surfaces of the tableaux. A dog-headed walking stick fashioned by the artist herself, which appeared rakishly in one of the pictures, was also present as a real object leaning against the wall. The fantasy was foregrounded, however: the now visibly homemade walking stick, relaying questions about conventions of representing luxury.
An attractive, folding screen-like object with dark painted-on wood grain and two oval windows conjured connotations of an oversized, antique picture frame. Stereoscopically displaying two distorted, reflected collages – almost evocative of the yearning, torn atmosphere of a Michelangelo Antonioni film – a second look exposed the luxurious and sculptural appearance as mere illusion. Beyond this, a corresponding third collage showed a masked person holding a glass pane, alongside a lamp with a duck sculpture.
Little by little, the works set one another into motion. They orbited concentrically around a core in which concepts such as reality, semblance and staging arose from fashion campaign styling and boutique display windows. A strict conceptual understanding of the connections here is not always possible. Faust’s intuitive approach calls to mind the seductively inscrutable mirage of a posh shopping street. Those familiar with Faust’s work to date would here rediscover many issues that continually engage the artist, above all her interest in narrative structures. Which objects connote exclusive consumption, and why? How do images promising happiness relate to the experience of everyday life? But even without previous knowledge of Faust’s work, the discrepancy between the precarious, casual aesthetic and the stylish content sparked enough irritation for the exhibition’s overall concept to surprise. Both the images and objects emphasized the character of an autonomous impossible world – like a film that has gained material substance and become physically bound to a place.
Translated by Jane Yager