by Kara Q. Smith
Alexis Courtney - Honorable Mention, ArtSlant Prize 2013
Working across media, Alexis Courtney delicately exposes vulnerable sensitivities in both the artist and the viewer. Be it pleasure and frustration, or intimacy and rupture, Courtney’s pieces oscillate between affectabilities with an effortless honesty.
Untitled, a series of photographs created over the last couple years, most prominently features the artist herself as subject. In Shorts (2013), Courtney sits topless, in a pair of cut-off jean shorts on a couch, her posture confidently poised toward the viewer, her gaze directed to the viewer’s right, focused beyond the edge of the photograph. Her pose and expression convey an intentionality and depth. She is both confronting the viewer and avoiding a direct glance, averting being read as coy. The title suggests emphasis on the shorts, a pair I learned belonged to an ex-boyfriend. Here, is Courtney missing him? Channeling him? Expressing regret or desire? In other pieces in the series Courtney is found standing naked in a kitchen holding a rag, or lying on an ironing board with her face turned directly at the viewer, or, in Catch (2012), bent over a balcony in an attempt to retrieve a fallen item.
Alexis Courtney, Catch, 2012, Archival Pigment Print, 20 x 24; © Alexis Courtney
The scenes are domestic and the compositions blend staged with comfort. In this space between what is and isn’t, Courtney addresses belonging through housewife-like expectations (ironing, cleaning), yet rebels against them through bodily expression (nudity, gaze). Untitled is likely titled as such because the works are a part of a personal process, one that is quite universal: a battle of wanting and rejecting, the result of which is yet to be determined. When and where do we feel like we belong and how long does belonging last?
Courtney’s recent video work creates a more active relationship with the viewer. Moving Together (2013) is a looped dual channel installation projected onto a screen hung higher than recommended for a comfortable viewing experience. On both sides of the screen, Courtney is dressed in black activating a punch balloon. One side askew from the other, the actions of each character seem to never match up, but come so close. Both balloons are continuously punched toward the viewer, causing an aversion to the piece and an attraction at the same time. If one stands long enough, will they ever synchronize? Conversely, In/Out (2013) exists on a 2”x 3” screen, sonorously drawing the viewer in close. The video slowly changes back and forth between close-ups of Courtney’s face and that of a young male. Both breathe in and out deeply and slowly with pursed lips, creating soft whistles with each breath which never occur at the same time. It’s a more serene and intimate type of discordance. Taken together, it’s as if the videos should not exist without each other.
There is both a violent and calm side to relationships—between artist and viewer, romantic partners, self and belonging—often shifting. While the dualities in both video pieces seem to never match up, they come so close, offering the possibility of such occurrence. While failure seems to prevail in the dynamics of each video, akin to the detachment in her Untitled photographs, the deliberate effort and underlying desire embedded in each of Courtney’s works delivers a glimpse of optimism in the journey of finding a sense of belonging.
Alexis Courtney is a multidisciplinary artist working in photography, video, and installation. Her work explores human relationships through the documentation and staging of daily life, depicting the frustrations and vulnerabilities that surface. Recently, her work has been exhibited at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Queens Nails Projects in San Francisco, and United Photo Industries in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a Master of Fine Arts in 2013, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
—Kara Q. Smith
(Image on top: Alexis Courtney, Exhaustion, 2013, Archival Pigment Print; © Alexis Courtney)