There is an inherent risk in putting one’s own image in one’s artwork. When the artist steps in front of the camera, on the page, into a space, the context of a work is recalibrated. In Per-son-age, Famous Accountants presents a collection of video works, curated by New York-based Rico Gatson, that confront the valences of artist as material. In different ways, the works each pose reflexive questions of the art-making process. Collectively, the show builds a meta-commentary interrogating the art production, persona in the art world, the evolution of the artist throughout art history.
The introduction of the artist’s body, presence, and persona into the framework of a piece of work is an interventionist moment. In his short work The Fridge, Dan Herschlein explores that instance; an abstracted, richly saturated interior scene sits within the frame, and the only motion arrives when an unrecognizable figure opens a door. With that insertion of an active body into the space and the accompanying simple action, the light, color, and composition all transition. Herschlein’s other piece, Number One, the same contemplation of the artist’s intervention into a work is presented. For just over a minute, the artist himself smacks his feet together, while rocking back and forth on the floor. Both works investigate the unique physicality specific to video, emphasizing the mechanics of artistic production.
This meta-narrative dissecting the art-making practice is elaborated in Chris Larson’s Heavy Rotation B-Sides. The viewer sees Larson spreading watered-down black paint around a wooden, canvas-like frame. Through the single shot aerial view, we watch Larson’s action as both artist and subject develop. He paints, pushing and pulling the ink around to no apparent end; this about process, about how the studio and gallery convene in a work, how the artist becomes a part of the piece. Lars Kremer’s Anatomy Lessons explores a similar interest in process, with a distinctly art historical perspective. Kremer draws human forms, then bends and twists his body to match his own figure to the image. It is a treatment of physicality that deconstructs a kind of classical attention to the body.
Beyond a conceptual focus on physicality and the body, Per-son-age takes a critical look at persona in the art world. Laura Parnes’ The Real Art World Episode 4 takes hold of the mockumentary form to poke fun at the character of the artist in the real-life drama that is the art market. Parnes plays an artist trying to sell to a pair of oblivious collectors. The conversation quickly turns into a series of bloated artspeak misunderstandings. Marc A. Robinson’s I’m the man you think you are presents a similar critique: the artist strokes a bust of Malcolm X complete with an actual pair of his signature horn-rimmed glasses. It is a moment of confrontation between artist and historical persona, interrogating the complexities of icons in both arenas.
Per-son-age creates a dialogue, limited in form, but expansive in perspective. What happens when the artist becomes a part of the art? Curator Gatson selected ten artists whose video work function in a reflexive nature creating memorials and documentation of the artistic process, as well as the turning of a critical eye to the role of persona within the art world.
Images: Chris Larson, Heavy Rotation B-Sides, 2011. TRT: 5:30. Color DVD; Dan Herschlein, Number One, 2011. VHS transferred to DVD. TRT: 1:05; Marc A Robinson, I'm the man you think you are, 2002. TRT: 4:28. Color DVD. Courtesy the artists and Famous Accountants.