“Ilene Segalove,” a concise exhibition of the artist’s photographs, radio plays, and videos dating largely from the ‘70s and ‘80s, is elegantly and eloquently curated by TV executive and media investor Dean Valentine, and hits surprisingly close-to-home. Ms. Segalove was a Cal-Arts kid, a student of John Baldessari, and one of those “in-betweeners,” as Valentine describes them, born betwixt generations of principle and action—just after those who protested for peace in Vietnam and for Civil Rights, and just before those disillusioned by the “rubble of failed Utopian politics” who made it their prerogative to pursue purely personal satisfactions. Segalove, and Valentine himself, apparently came of age during a period bathed in and suffused by a hazier, more ambiguous light: “the big marches passed us by,” declares Valentine; “the emotional tenor of our moment was deflation.”
It is precisely Segalove’s acknowledgement of—even embrace of—this ambiguity, which gives her work such resounding, declarative force. The lens through which she explores and expresses the would-be quotidian moments of her own microcosmic experience is focused razor-sharp. Her perception of and attention to every minute detail of this unique existence brilliantly embodies the ontological dilemma which was her generation’s raison d’être, or lack thereof. “Self-realization”—the exploration of private, inside spaces—was not exactly Segalove’s life-work; nor was political or social activism—attention directed outwards, towards the world. Instead, she located herself somewhere in between, acknowledging that the Self “would have to find its own authentic ground of Being.” Without the political or social moorings to which earlier generations had referred, or the existential, white-flag-waving surrender of the generation that followed hers, Segalove understood that the stuff of her life, and, accordingly, the fodder for her work, could be only what she saw around her, what she knew: the insecure, generic minutia of ‘60s and ‘70s Beverly Hills suburbia, which happened to be the same sort of material available to everyone else as well.
It is due to the specificity and, at once, the universality of the “particulars” of Segalove’s existence, that the small dramas and investigations of her work are so touching, so real, and so relatable. There are moments when she addresses this relationship directly, joining her own, small, self to the world with her perceptions: “the gold in my mouth reflects the deserts of Arabia,” she muses, in a clip called “Cavities.” When her sister points out that the shapes of the paramecium she has been investigating under the lens of a microscope in fact mimic the paisley pattern of her outfit, she is thrilled, precisely because that this revelation allowed her to understand herself, for a moment, as part of a larger puzzle: “suddenly I felt very connected to the universe. My dress matched a piece of science.”
In these works, Segalove investigates and describes her mother’s domestic preferences, a one-time glimpse of her parents kissing tenderly, her own complex relationship to the television, the time a house-painter exposed himself to her, her feelings about various boys, and about Jewish summer camp. Her imagery is original, compositionally bold, and engaging: one scene consists entirely of hands—one presumably hers, one belonging to her sister—as they pass bejeweled hairpins to one another across a piece of blue velvet, upon which sits a selection of the ornaments, “neatly displayed.” The clip is entitled, “French Roll.” Segalove writes and speaks well; she is pithy and clever. No anecdote is too trivial or too insignificant for her attention, and the simple devotion of her attention—her charming, youthful but perceptive attention—would be all such an anecdote would need to take on powerful proportions. Add to that a technically-informed, skilled artistic hand, a bright, intelligent presence, and a creative, refreshingly unique voice, and you have something rather spectacular.
Images: Nine Purple Packages (1974), C-print; All of My Pants Except The Ones I was Wearing - Fronts, All of My Pants Except The Ones I was Wearing - Backs (1974), Chromogenic Print; Today's Program: Jackson Pollock, "Lavender Mist" (1973), Chromogenic Print; Close But No Cigar (1975), Chromogenic Prints. Courtesy the Artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, © Ilene Segalove.