“It’s like looking at a crime scene,” whispered one observer at Michael Mazzeo Gallery, as she inspected a large-scale, panoramic photograph of a shabby, uncomfortable domestic interior. The photograph is part of a series of about a dozen entitled Home Theatre by Hrvoje Slovenc, a young Croatian-born, New-York-based artist, fresh from his recently earned MFA at Yale.
The domestic spaces depicted in Slovenc’s series are indeed like crime scenes, and contain clues—a pair of handcuffs, a heavy stick, various apparatuses for asphyxiation, black plastic bags duct taped over a wall. But these are not sites of heinous murder or kidnapping, but rather spaces for consensual sadomasochistic activity. Slovenc apparently solicited S&M devotees on the Internet, gained their trust and then visited and photographed their homes: basements and spare rooms that simultaneously serve as theatres of humiliation and domination, pain and pleasure.
The resulting series of photographs are both highly-finished products and quite seductive objects. They verge on the panoramic, but by breaking each scene into diptych or triptych forms, Slovenc manages to carefully delineate and separate the “normal” domestic interior from the “abnormal” S&M stage. This strict zoning of space implies a subtext of deviance or criminality. The observer is cast as the detective, looking for clues of the perverse. The continuity of filmic lighting between the panels, however, gives the impression that they are all views of the same stage. Here the stacks of books, the family photos, and the china cabinet seem to serve as theatrical props as much as the fetishistic paraphernalia.
The high production values, emphasis on immaculate professional lighting and elaborate staging, immediately aligns Slovenc’s work with the Yale brand of photography, spearheaded by its celebrated faculty including Gregory Crewdson and Philip Lorca diCorcia. Slovenc's work seems indebted to Crewdson’s fictional scenes, featuring actors playing out repressed tragedies of suburban America, and to diCorcia's photographs of male prostitutes at sleazy hotels; however he differs from both focusing only on the set, the empty stage, rather than the actors. Only one piece, Untitled IV (Tea Party), shows a middle-aged participant, facing away from the camera, revealing deep scratches on his back, flanked on both sides by his neatly displayed collection of china teacups.
This juxtaposition of traditional, “innocent” domestic objects with the spaces of sadomasochism—a child’s Radio Flyer wagon perched just outside a dungeon, the incongruously kitsch wallpaper behind a pair of suspended shackles—sometimes borders on the melodramatic. Slovenc seems to want to convey that all the world’s a stage, but instead of showing the audience some form of truth or shattering a false perception of reality, his unheimlich partitioned scenes tend to reinforce a binary of deviance and normalcy. If any fetish is really portrayed here, it’s the fetish of the photograph. Those lush, large prints showing edgy subject matter, mounted on sexy aluminum panels—the finished object here takes precedence over any concept or questioning of reality and artifice, or theatre and life.
(Images: Hrvoje Slovenc, Untitled I (October Bliss), 2009, Pigmented Ink Prints, Triptych, 30 x 108 in., Edition of 3 +2AP. Untitled VI (Radio Flyer), 2009, Pigmented Ink Prints, Diptych, 30 x 73 in., Edition of 3 +2AP.)