A common trope in sci-fi and horror movies is the temptation to escape human limits by becoming something greater — and, it always turns out, lesser: Mr. Hyde and the Borg are both free of human responsibility, doubt and mortality, and physically enhanced, but also spiritually diminished. Heroism demands acknowledging human limitations and going on anyway. The boasting killing machines of The Iliad would be mere Batting Bots without their poignant vulnerability.
Modern art for the most part ignores the tragic, unlike the artists of previous eras, who were all too familiar with a hostile universe — and perhaps imagined transcendent meaning (Christian or otherwise) where there may have been none, as did their societies. Martyrs of the early church died atrocious deaths, in that view, as a kind of reciprocal sacrifice in honor of Jesus’ torments. It is in contemporary performance art that we see the urge for physical and spiritual transcendence most clearly exemplified: the Passions of Chris Burden, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Stelarc and Orlan attempt to spiritualize and aestheticize voluntary danger, suffering and death; some viewers find this absurd and unnecessary (it’s not as though that unholy trinity somehow went away), or even vainglorious and morbid — while others find it strangely fascinating. Kinky sex and dangerous sport are said to produce the same adrenaline rush. Always be drunk, as Baudelaire said.
Some visual artists, however, have explored these murky parts of the human consciousness. Francis Bacon’s smudged, blurred depictions of fleshy/ectoplasmic bêtes humaines are the most obvious example; Joel-Peter Witkin’s horrific photographic tableaux of the dead and deformed engaged in parodying classical paintings are another. To this company we may add Marcos Rosales, a multimedia artist who has found a way to create dramas of human extremity from erotic magazine and internet imagery that has been manipulated and massaged (so to speak), and then shot with a slightly moving camera. The resulting large-scale photos show blurs of various flesh tones against black backgrounds; they hover between illegibility and implied S&M dungeon-doings — and of course, they are quite beautiful, and even cathartic. Rosales: "Bondage is a way that many people test their limits, experience psychological liberation and at times out-of-body experiences. I wanted to take photographs capturing their psychological or even spiritual transformations." The artist grew up in fundamentalist east Texas, infamous for Waco and Crawford (and spiritually so similar to its sister oil patch in the Middle East), so his interest in the less-than-sunny aspects of religion is perhaps understandable — as is his voracious shooting of thousands of photos for this series. Besides the photos, which are entitled using his digital camera’s number sequencing, Rosales is also showing large, black, extremely eccentric macramés, all nets and knots and tassels and tendrils; in the vicinity of the photos they take on a rather creepy gothic aspect, like bundles of nerves or veins stained for display, or Miss Havisham’s funereal badminton net, but they’re elegant and funny as well, laboriously constructed reconfigurable ink drawings in space.
(*Images, from top to bottom: Marcos Rosales, The Interiors, June 5 - June 28, 2008; Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 8102, 2008, chromogenic print, 29 x 43", courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco. Marcos Rosales, The Interiors, June 5 - June 28, 2008; Steven Wolf Fine Arts, installation view, photo courtesy of Steven Wolf Fine Arts. Marcos Rosales, The Interiors, June 5 - June 28, 2008; Steven Wolf Fine Arts, Macramé Sculpture # 1, 2008, wire, acrylic cord, dimensions variable, courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco. Marcos Rosales, The Interiors, June 5 - June 28, 2008; Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 7432, 2008, chromogenic print, 29 x 43", courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco.)