Monday, July 9, 2007

"Perhaps No One Will Notice Them"



"I had sweet company / because I sought out none"

As Kristin Prevallet notes, Helen Adam's collages are "strikingly simple." She writes:
They combine two images — a beautiful man or woman, and a creature. And this combination results in a ironic playfulness that teases the viewer to wonder: are these collages a form of self-portrait, a projection of this woman's deep fears mingled with her repressed desire?

For Prevallet, this simplicity must be read in the context of Adam's contemporary, Jess, whose collages create complex fantasias, interconnected and complex worlds that can only be read as allegory or as metaphor. That is, taken as a whole, a Jess collage cannot be interpreted as mimetic; it's closer to the allegorical narratives of Breugel the Elder's paintings of proverbs, or to Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights."

In contrast, aside from their surrealistic play with scale and with nonsensical juxtaposition, Adam's collages often imitate the quote-unquote mimesis of perspectival photography, even where they refuse to practice it. In a way, they can be regarded as fakes, closer to the use of composited landscapes in early photography, or to the practices of matte compositing or the techniques of Georges Méliès' fabulist cinema.

"Perhaps no one will notice them"

At the same time, there's nothing really simple about these, as Prevallet is well aware. In the second of the two pieces illicitly reproduced above, the caption contextualizes what is presented before our gaze; indeed, lacking the caption, the opposite interpretation would be available. And the text, which works alongside the image to evoke advertising copy, produces a complex tension that does not quite resolve itself. It initially works as a delightful critique of the fashion/glamour industry, inverting the importance of being seen, of being "noticed," of transforming one's self into the gaze's object. What might seem a bizarre manifestation of haute couture ("bats are the new black," or are "in for spring") is turned into a source of shame.

But this shame — this desire for one's unpleasant aspects to be obscured — is precisely that which advertising relies upon in its pitch. Adam's apparent inversion, which might almost be a critique, ends up recapitulating the logic of advertising, perhaps laying its mechanism bare, but no more so than do ads that hearken to, and construct, notions like the "heartbreak of psoriasis." That isn't to say that the latter meaning doesn't still imply critique, but that its a different form of critique. And it isn't entirely clear to me where we stand in relation to this message, what position it constitutes for its reader, or what meaning it produces for the image.

To complicate things further this tension is unresolved: the sense of shame implied by the caption is so thoroughly belied by the delight of the collage itself... Why wouldn't you want everyone to notice your bats?



6 comments:

Steven Fama said...

I happened to listen a week or two ago to the Helen Adam radio interview archived on Penn Sound.

Her enthusiasm for her creative activity is such that she audibly sighs when inhaling on just about every breath when she talks about her life and work. It seemed obvious listening to her that she was deeply immersed in her creative life in a way that required quite a bit of self-isolation (not an uncommon thing among writers and artists).

It was also fun to hear Adam say that (paraphrasing here) while Spicer is definitely a poet, she didn't understand anything he wrote.

Kristin Prevallet's essay on Adam's collages is great. But she maybe overstates it a bit when she contrasts the great jig-saw-ian complexity of Jess's collages with the simplicity of Adam's. Adam's are simple, and what comes immediately to mind when Jess's collages are thought of are his incredible huge detailed paste-ups. But his earlier (mid-50s) collages sometimes had a touch of simplicity, though usually not as simple as Adam's pieces. In other words, Jess did not from the get go make the super-complex collages for which he is today probably best known.

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online bookie said...

the photos are interesting to make me think that there is behind them

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