REVIEW: Mythed , at Doomed Gallery, a dual show with Karlos Armandariz and Chloé Meunier
We enter the scene through pixelated eyes, the work of Karlos Armandariz.
There are rectangular shapes across the walls, they are dotted, multi-coloured, inscrutable…at least until we re-adjust our optics and gather enough information to link one dot to another, then many to others and fashion an image that makes sense, no longer abstracted but coherent; that is we no longer see this as a semiological representation inviting us to ponder on the development of remote communication and object/subject relation, removed from our sense of actuality …we are confronted with other eyes watching us, or so they appear; a gaze , a human gaze. I will suppose I know nothing of their origin, or anything about the reason for this display, and I prefer it this way for now. From very far out, a parallel universe, these dots congregate into a meaningful constellation, and through this gathering of evidence, the connection between the viewer and the mind of the artist behind the work is achieved. The image grows in our conscious mind reflecting a path already taken. It re-forms as we intend to decipher, so long as we keep enough distance. We remain on the margin, and this allows us to encompass a wider perception. But we are compelled to come closer, like moths to the flame. What would Voltaire’s Candide see? Would we come to the same conclusions…we must cultivate our garden? These eyes draw us to them, some soft, others cold, some vague, others focused, but we ourselves lose focus as we gravitate towards their point of singularity where all coherence, all totality dissolves, disintegrates, and all these eyes become an amalgam of strange undefined digitalised objects floating in white static space. Is this not how it can be with other human beings? The closer we believe ourselves to be to them, the less sense they make, the less we understand them. The parts that once came to a logical sum are divided by an expanse we had not suspected, and the idea or nature of which we cannot grasp, let alone enter. Those eyes lead to emptiness, but not necessarily an emptiness of meaning or humanity; a void echoing the distance that separates us from one another.
In two large prints, a person reveals a fold of their character unexplained to the world… until now. It is really more. But we cannot fail to notice the binary principle at work, a principle we all fall prey to whether we accept it or not. In one of the sumptuous images, a man, unequivocally male is tending to his dressing toilette. He is looking away from us, as if unaware he is being watched or worse, fixed onto a film. But we suspect it is an act. He plays his part to the letter. Yet, as a man, we would expect him to look back. He however is caught in a state of passivity. Next to him, a woman stares at us from what we could almost assume is the throne of a queen. She is in control; she projects her persona fully clothed, fully armed and certain of her success. There is no doubt, this is a woman and she aims at men as the epitome of female seduction. She is dressed to kill, her gaze is powerful yet imperceptibly sexual. We learn, if we deign read, this is one and the same person. Should we know more about this individual without drifting into philosophising gossip? He calls himself he, and he calls this ‘he’ a “transformatist”.
We look again at the man. We hardly noticed it but now, it is clear. He wears tights and an article of lingerie. His face is still unhindered by the painterly layers that will transform him into his idea of a woman.
Even more striking and more controversial is the video piece. This may cause a certain unsettling in some viewers who did not expect to watch the transformation so closely. We are, as everyone knows from the age old photo-documentary discourse, voyeurs , uninvited into the personal drama of complete strangers. This video is the product of a five year partnership between the artist Chloé Meunier and Marilyn. We are therefor evidently not on a level with the depth and complexity of the character or the creative relationship manifested in the film. One member of the audience appeared a little dismayed by it and preferred the detached images of eyes…safer in a way. The film opens with a pan shot that moves across wall paper, palm trees in garish colours, a Miami scenery, a utopic holiday photo, the fantasy grows darker and recedes to open onto a close up of a body, so close up it is more like a topographic analysis, a body de-moulded into a territory where armies from opposite nations battle for supremacy. Which will conquer, be victorious and overrule the past of the other? We have from our earliest hour been the passive receptacle of a binary language and adopted subsequently certain behaviours which have been decreed natural, yet the product of relentless indoctrination. This indoctrination has passed into the collective unconscious, it carries with it the parasites of religious dogma.
We see a human being undressing and re-dressing ; he is naked before us, psychologically; a whole history of repression written in his demeanour, his gestures, his body language. There congregate his aspirations and contradictions. We may refuse to comply, but the morality upon which the building of civilisations is founded, this bedrock of the species’ survival impregnates even our desires, the perception of ourselves, and the way we relate to others. We see this individual shifting almost violently, mechanically from one pole to the other, caught in a vicious circle of two dualistic personas, neither of which truly fits. Still, each has become a default support for his confused psychology, a reflection of ours, a psychology in search of an Eden, rendered inaccessible by the character he has chosen to impose on himself, merging with his identity, braking it in two equally caricatural halves and believable only because both correspond to the habitual model we all rely on to recognise one another.
The music is more of a melancholy refrain. It is a melting meeting of notes sliding sideways into a non descript melody. It stops at the very moment where suddenly, Marilyn’s face pushes outward, or is it inward? Facing us in the fullness of its transformation, its unequivocal identity, the woman our society has fashioned to re-condition the psyche into forgetting its universal wholeness; to give it a manageable shape, and incorporate it into the ‘control-grid’ in order to manufacture a functional automaton fit for a world of hyper productivity, i.e. work and pro-creation. The model imposed is archaic but has been adapted to modern living, inserted into a language steeped in preconceptions, prejudice and false assumptions, yet the only one we know. And in this sense, neither feminism nor machismo can lead to the solving of our ills. Humanism, that is, contemporary humanism, at a tangent with linear thinking, what I would call flatliner thinking, a humanism therefor encompassing male/female/other in equal measure, a wave band that will override the barcode of the institutional structure of society, is the only possible way of deconstructing the convention that will either wise continue to surpass our true nature. Marilyn could not stretch his imagination far enough, and henceforth became a mirror of our own distorted views of humanity, a mirror that will either shatter or enclose us entirely.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012