Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, June 26, 2005

More Major Production Photos

Cheekwood’s Temporary Contemporary is running a show by Anthony Goicolea that goes with the Crewdson photos at Frist very well. Like Crewdson, Goicolea stages strange, vivid scenes for his photographs. Of course the imagery is different: woodlands, crude structures, and school boys in private school uniforms. He runs a lot of riffs that contrast the markers of high social refinement with a state of nature. In a video, two boys in school uniforms and ski masks crawl along the ground, grunting, until they find a trap set for them – a tea service set under a box propped up as a trap like what I used to do to trap birds as a kid. The feral schoolboys are irresistibly attracted to the tea and cucumber sandwiches, and fall into the snare. Inside they eat the food and drink the tea, dose it with something from a flask, but it makes them sick. They pass out or go to sleep, and then fade out.

In one of the photos, “Still Life with Pig,” two men sit under a crude shelter in the woods made from cardboard and tree limbs. Their faces are smudged, maybe with paint, maybe with dirt. They blend in with the environment. The shelter could be something in a homeless encampment, or castaways. On the ground in front of them lies a profuse array of foods, all with luscious reddish tones. A raw pig, scalded but not cooked, Rainier cherries, turnips, apples, beets, black grapes, carrots, cantaloupe, and other cuts of meat. Food almost too perfect to be eaten, something out of a painting. Like classic still life, it is a delight to look at, but an intrusion in this setting.

Goicolea is Cuban-American and is interested in mixing up the two cultures and their folklore, one southern and tropical one, the other northern. His imagery doesn’t seem to draw too literally from either, but isolates elements of wildness and social order. The schoolboys in several of the works seem more English than American, and that reflects the way England stands as the ideal form of social norms people have tried to establish here. The woodlands settings seem to refer to a larger view of Caribbean culture and history as the site of encounter and conflict between cultures. The suggestions of castaways in “Still Life with Pig” made me think of an essay I read years ago by Roberto Fernadez Retamar, a Cuban writer, on Caliban, the savage in Shakespeare’s Tempest, as a model for the encounter between European and people of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within the lush woodland setting, or a cave in Hawaii, social forms get confused. The two men in the shelter seem to be reverting into the landscape, and the fruit and meat are what stand out.

In addition to having different thematic concerns that Crewdson’s Blue Velvety suburbia, Goicolea’s photos have photos’ crisp edges. They are more conventional photographs on the level of first appearances. Goicolea’s interventions in the environment are less extreme than Crewdson, but he makes up for it with digital manipulation. He uses his own image in many of the photos, repeatedly in the same scene. “Pile” shows two boys in school uniforms throwing another boy on a pile of boys dressed the same in front of what looks like an English stone church. All of the boys are the same person, and as I understand it they are all images of Goicolea, who apparently is a very youthful looking guy.

Cheekwood is running this through July 31. Their mazes are also open (following last year’s treehouses), but I was doing a blitz of galleries in town Saturday when I saw the Temp Contemporary show and didn’t get a chance to look at anything else.

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