27 November 2005

A failed pop-cultural vaccination

So-called 'free newspapers' that mainly survive on advertisement and are available on every corner tend to make my stomach polically upset, which is the reason for my usual avoidance. As I walked past one of such newspaper stands a couple of weeks ago, I noticed Floria Sigismondi's face on the front cover and had to break the pattern and pick up the issue of Toronto's NOW from November 11, 2005 and read Kevin Temple's article regarding Floria's career and her new photographic publication Immune.

This curiosity was rooted in my early interest in Floria's work: back around 1997, as I struggled with learning HTML, my fan site was one of the first unofficial tributes to this artist. I admired her video work for Manson and Bowie and found her fashion photography to be quite unique. Floria also was a bit of an inspiration - after all, she went to the same art school my friends attended, and look at her now!.

At the same time, I dared to call her a less shocking, repackaged Witkin rip-off. I must emphasize that in my book everyone in possession of a remotely similar style is a Witkin rip-off, which in turn makes everyone and Joel-Peter himself an Arbus rip-off. Naturally, I exaggerate, but my gods must maintain their Olympic pedestals.

Years went by, the brief life of a virtual fan art gallery had run its course, and I lost track and interest in following Floria's projects. Yet there she is on the cover of a politically unsound pop-cultural magazine. This magazine informs me that Floria's career is booming more than ever, which prompted her recent move from Toronto to Los Angeles, where she barely has any time to spend with her husband and baby daughter due to excessive work demands. NOW also details her second photography book.

Author Temple presents a short synopsis of some of the works included in this new release - as much as a two-page newspaper spread would allow. In particular, he describes one of the photographs as:

"A female manikin (sic) posed naked, revealing her enhanced body with four breasts (doubles her pleasure) and spikes running down her spine, an added defense to compensate for her missing right hand"

Despite the article's limits, this attempt at visual analysis could and should have acquired further depth. Do the doubled breasts double the mannequin's pleasure or ours - that of the voyeur? If the spikes are defense mechanisms - spine extensions tearing through skin to counterbalance the disrupted bodily totality, then could the mannequin function as a cyborg? On the artist's website this same figure mechanically rises from behind a cityscape depicted from below, not unlike Rodchenko's early 1920's famous balconies featured on the Left Front of the Arts cover. Floria's photographic training points in the direction of purposeful referentiality. The mannequin becomes a modernist triumph - the fusion of man and machine. At the same time, the spikes appear to be organic - this animates the perfect one-size-fits-all artificial human canon and transports it into the 21st century.

Is the absent elaboration a sign of the author's misguided writing or Floria's self-unawareness? I read further. The artist proceeds to comment on a "futuristic family who's been numbed by society" and is "eating media", because they've been "fed and brainwashed". The family's heads are large white blobs with holes, because Floria "wanted to see if you took away expression and eyes, could you still get emotion?"

While the mass-produced seriality of consumerist humans floats at the surface, had I seen the photographs prior to reading her comments, my initial concern would have been with whether the subjects are able to return the gaze. That is to say, do the holes where the eyes should be provide this family with any kind of agency in contrast to lacking any indication of sight at all? Are they aware that they are being visually consumed just as they themselves consume the media? Even more obviously, where is the sense of cognizance regarding being the producer of this very media by which this family had been brainwashed?

Last year New York artist Nikki Lee, famous for her photographic documentation of infiltrating various subcultures, gave a talk at the University of Toronto. While I was not present at the event, I learned that Nikki avoided discussing certain obvious implications of her work for no other reason than a somewhat poor preparation. This alleged lack of responsible self-awareness is inexcusable for a photographer who holds a Master's of Fine Art from a prestigious American institution and undoubtedly encountered the same types of questions while she earned it. Are her poignant candid photographes subconscious to a much greater degree than initially assumed, and does the same then apply to Floria?

Perhaps what I seek is located in Floria's book, but I currently only have her website accessible. An artist statement detailing the apparent sophistication of her work would do, but I find none. Nothing, nothing at all. Lacking evidence for the contrary, we the fans inadvertently transform into Subliminal Floria's Futuristic Family, getting a little more infected with mass media through the artist's aesthetically pleasing visuals, as a result of her attempts to vaccinate us against it.

You can decide for yourselves by checking out http://www.floriasigismondi.com

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