In a series of rapturous new photo portraits, Marcos Rosales
transmogrifies his bound, gagged and eroticized sitters in search of an
It's all staged though. For his second solo show at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, the multi-media artist has constructed bondage scenes out of small magazine pictures and internet downloads that were printed out, cut up and restaged in miniature with added accessories. Paper clips double for chains in these dioramas. Though everything looks very real.
"I wanted to see if I could take very wooden or overly-staged images and give them depth and emotion," said Rosales, "liberate them from that flat surface, actually dive into the picture."
People who engage in bondage often describe a sense of freedom that comes with being immobilized and unable to alter the coming erotic event. Many report having out-of-body experiences. Using time-lapse photography Rosales stretches, warps and inflates the pictorial space in an attempt to externalize a sense of release in the sitters. For an artist from Coleman, Texas, who grew up around magical thinking, faith healers and other spiritual eccentrics, contriving these photos was kin to conjuring spirits with a voodoo spell.
"Bondage is a way that many people test their limits, experience psychological liberation and at times out-of-body experiences," said Rosales. "I wanted to take photographs capturing their psychological or even spiritual transformations."
From vernacular renditions of early Christian martyrs to Chris Burden's 1971 Transfixed and Martin Scorsese's 1985 Last Temptation, the tradition of aestheticizing ecstatic moments is rich in western culture and Rosales' photos are deeply engaged with it. They feel both of-the-moment and historically informed--the lush Spanish Baroque atmosphere a response to the call of Robert Mapplethorpe's stark, neoclassical S&M pictures of the eighties.
Most likely, comparison will be made to the work of Nobuyushi Araki, whose photos of bound girls in banal settings dominate the world of bondage photography, and James Casebere, whose elaborate, watery worlds made from minitaure sets play upon our superstition about the presence of real life in photography. But the noirish atmosphere and foregrounding of the grotesque seems more of a piece with the performances of L.A. artists Bob Flanagan, the photos and videos of Paul McCarthy, and the inscrutable characters in Dennis Cooper novels, who joylessly leap into bottomless erotic worlds often without knowing why.
"To George it looked like a game," writes Cooper in his 1986 short story Wrong. "Whether it wound up that way or not was beside the point. Handcuffs clicked shut in the small of his back. Electrical tape sealed his lips. Black leather shorts made him feel sort of animalesque."
If Rosales' photos feel like scenes from a larger narrative, it's not just because of the cinematic residue from the time lapse, but because his work is a continuous tapestry. As he moves from performance to sculpture to painting to video the visual and psychological connections are unmistakable. This is probably a result of having staged his biography at the center of his practice since early in his career. Beginning with the rewriting of a letter penned by his birth mother to the organization handling his adoption, Rosales has been rewriting his own personal myth through his work. When he discovered that letter as an adult, portions were elided with scrawling black rectangular marks and these dark absences became his signature mark. They appear as text in his twitchy black and white drawings, go Freudian and symbolize feces and snakes in one animated video, and form the essential structure in his best known work, elaborate architectural spider webs of kinky black macramé.
To see the artist literally tie these forms to yet another body of work, extend their meaning into a new realm and deepen for himself the relationship between artistic mediums is to catch him in the act of not just constructing a career but himself as well.