Associating John Stezaker's work with the movies feels like an obvious fit; his aesthetic, in general, is one of another era of high cinematic splendor – a silver-screen photofit populace, cut-up from Hayworth's hair, and Cary Grant's jawline. The famously-symmetrical are typically used for slashed-up perversions of every golden rule about beauty; all myth about ideal proportion. Even the landscape postcards – the canyons, the rivulets and the mountains – which Stezaker uses are somehow anachronistic in their simple sweeping beauty, and their fantastic aura. That said, it's rare that the artist works in moving image proper, despite its immediate connection to his source material: Blind, at The Approach, is one of Stezaker's first shows of this kind (of new material, at least), for some time. The stills are collaged from his private collection.
John Stezaker, Imposter XI, 2013, Collage, 48x57.6 cm, 18.9x22.7 ins; Courtesy of the Artist and The Approach.
The blindness referred to in the title of the work is the aching result of a kind of visual overload – a breakneck optic fever dream. The frames, at twenty-four per second, sweep dizzingly past the viewer, leaving him or her with the vague impression of Hollywood hallucination. Blind recalls the hypnotic power of cinema, yes, but also alludes to its mystery – its unknowable fast complexity. Every movie scene which lingers with the viewer – however powerfully it affects them – is a little obtuse, because of its ephemeral composites. Generally, the frames of a film are inaccessible to us on an image by image basis; they come to us as an overall visual wash. The effect is apparent enough when these frames are designed to run consecutively – when they are each individual entities, things become more alarming still, and approach disorientation. Stezaker’s video piece affords the viewer a vaguely different interpretation every time, as the eye – as it is wont to do – settles on new images every second by second. Blindness is a common theme in his collage work – the eyes of his subjects are often doubled, removed, distorted, or otherwise damaged; the eyes, after all, are not only the conduits through which we absorb our cinematic idols – they are also the means by which those idols tell us their stories.
(Something about this filmic collage is reminiscent of Kenneth Anger – perhaps its retro aesthetic, or maybe the way in which each separate image is so considered; so utterly belonging to a particular visual school. Either way, the association is one which presents itself immediately, though this is less an inauguration into the pleasure dome, and much more cinematic phosphene.)
John Stezaker, Imposter V, 2013, Collage, 48x57.6 cm, 18.9x22.7 ins; Courtesy of the Artist and The Approach.
There are non-moving-image works, too: a series called Imposter, in which characters are superimposed, via montage, into other scenes. The actor, of course, is imposter by nature – so too, in a way, is the artist whose work relies on re-appropriation and mock-up. Seeing Blind, the viewer feels like something of an Imposter, too, attempting to decipher an impossible language: the language of memory, of history, and of cinema. A language decoded only in part by the eye; to the rest, the viewer is blind.
(Image on top: John Stezaker, Imposter IV, 2013, Collage, 48x57.6 cm, 18.9x22.7 ins; Courtesy of the Artist and The Approach.)