BY Shonagh Adelman in Reviews | 01 JAN 99
Featured in
Issue 44

Where is Your Rupture

BY Shonagh Adelman in Reviews | 01 JAN 99

'Where is Your Rupture?' presents the work of five artists who explore the ways we make sense of identity and the way identity makes sense of us. As the work in the exhibition demonstrates, the psychological and social dimensions that form identities inevitably pose a threat: the scope of possibilities is sacrificed on the altar of recognition. Each artist foregrounds a tell-tale breaking point that disrupts the smooth transition from obscurity to recognition. The rupture in each instance becomes a poignant moment mapped onto a time/space axis. The curatorial query, 'where is your rupture?', places the onus of interpretation on the relationship between viewer and image. Ultimately, the viewer's capacity to make sense of rupture might be said to depend upon the degree of shock absorption built into her or his drive towards meaning.

Brigit Kempker's Exercise in Drowning (1998) presents boys on the brink of adolescence singing a selection of choral arrangements, audible through headphones. The inevitability of the boys' transition into manhood and the resonance of tradition within the work suggests that although youthful voices might crack, they cannot entirely break from their heritage. Kempker's piece is assimilated so inconspicuously into the space that it seems to drown before it could rupture.

Hans-Peter Ammann's two videotapes use a candid-camera vantage point and slow-play mode, not to provide a faithful recording, but to suggest how the tape as document is translated through a matrix of familiar narrative cues. In Couple (1998), a Chet Baker song, You don't Know what Love Is, combines with the title to form romantic directives that exploit our gullibility. Leading us down the garden path, these obvious, though possibly empty, signs of a romance get us nowhere in our attempt to unravel the elusive interaction between the people who comprise the 'couple'. Using the reverse strategy, Mission (1998) begins with a montage of apparently arbitrary edits of a quasi-formal cocktail party. Over the course of the 20-minute videotape we become privy to its tenuous logic: through the chatting crowd, the camera concentrates on one man. Though this device initially heightens the sense of the camera as surveillance tool and evokes the possibility of a desiring gaze, a momentary gesture shifts the narrative. The man turns to look directly at the camera and suddenly disappears, and in so doing intensifies our doubt about who is really in control.

Whereas Ammann makes use of disorienting techniques to deconstruct a linear narrative, Lutz Bacher de-familiarises a key moment in the highly publicised footage of Princess Diana's funeral. The appropriated sequence a loop showing a Welsh Guard carrying the coffin including video scan lines, funeral organ and ominous church bell sounds, extends the public indictment of the media. The 'live' caption that appears at the top left hand corner of the frame implicates the Janus-like, voracious systems of deployment and consumption: the role of technological mediation and public deification. All pomp and circumstance, Bacher's untitled work invokes a mordant irony: the true protagonist's presence in absentia illustrates the extremity to which identity can be seen as merely a prosthetic extension of public perception.

Marlene McCarty's characters, on the contrary, are criminal outcasts. Her highly evocative, life-size pen-and-ink drawings of girls who have killed their mothers or guardians are accompanied by short texts taken primarily from newspaper reports. Both texts and images defy the tendency to generalise criminal typology. Perhaps attesting to her own voyeurism, McCarty has drawn pudenda and nipples into the folds of clothing, teasing out the prurient appeal of the images. Her defacement and eroticisation mimics the delinquency of the girls themselves and points to the inviolable association between sexual precociousness and criminal female behaviour.

Amy Adler's Surfer (1997) is also a depiction of a teenage girl, but in this case, the artist herself. Her colourful, bikini-clad figure taken from a snapshot is revamped into a self-portrait. Confounding the straightforward distinction between drawing and photography, portraiture and self-portraiture, Adler takes up the positions both of viewing subject and exhibited object. The equivocal meanings of her image are nevertheless refracted, like the other work in the exhibition, back into the eyes of the beholder.

Each of the artists confronts the way in which identity is moored to a fixed point, both in time as a narrative moment with an implied past and future and in space, located within a set of material conditions. However, it is in its very contingency that this point carries the seeds of rebellion: ultimately, identity as a product of a collective imagination depends on the co-operative alignment of others.