The four-person exhibition on view at the New York branch of Galerie Adler explores the influence of the Tableau Vivant (‘living picture’) tradition on contemporary photography and video. Originating in the medieval period, this custom is defined by a frozen theatrical scene upstaged by models dressed in elaborate costumes. Immobile and silent, they would hold their positions for an extended amount of time, as if they were statues intended for decoration. The profound effects of this age-old practice are plainly apparent in the works of photographers Clarina Bezzola, Thorsten Brinkmann, and Boo Riston, and video artist Hannu Karjalainen. As they fuse performance art, painting, and sculpture—the production of the photograph becomes almost incidental, a mere document of the elaborate scene they have fabricated.
Brinkmann offers a new interpretation of the classical three-quarters portrait. After scouring the streets for discarded items such as pails, lampshades, and furniture, he returns to his studio to construct a backdrop and outfit for a self-portrait. With his head concealed within an object, and body clad in a hodge-podge of clothing items—he positions his camera to capture a ‘formal’ portrait of his newly christened identity. Boo Ritson’s photographs are also the outcome of a performative act, yet with an added dimension of painting. Her works comment on American stereotypes embodied in pop personalities such as an Elvis impersonator and the cowboy. Rather than dressing her sitters in the appropriate costuming, she paints the character directly onto them by swiftly applying household paint to their face, clothes, and hair. The resulting surface is thick and stiff, and conceals the sitters in their entirety. Although Ritson renders her models unrecognizable, she asserts that their identity is crucial as it determines the character into which they have been transformed. Bezzola and Karjalainen utilize sculptural objects and lighting effects respectively in order to communicate an individual’s psyche and emotional state. In staging and constructing a new personality either for themselves or others, the works of these four artists embodies the eerie spirit of the Tableau Vivant tradition, and keeps it alive with novel and highly inventive interpretations.
Images: Thorsten Brinkmann, Conntess Silverbaum (2008); Boo Ritson, The Elvis Impersonator (2007); Clarina Bezzola, Tenderness Shield (2004). Courtesy Gallery Adler.