I was reading an excerpt from Clive James’ autobiography in the Sunday Times last weekend. The veteran reporter said after interviewing several celebrities he felt the ridiculous nature of the business. The actor’s faces were often of the gargoyle variety; radical surgery, somewhat dimmed by the lighting of the film set, was appalling in reality. It made me think of the lengths to which the industry goes to remove themselves from the outside world. The use of these actors is, I suppose, akin to having a reflective medium; you see so little emotion in them that you project onto the frozen image and empathise with yourself. This reminded me of a rather unnerving situation at the Venice Biennale this summer when I helped Barbara Knezevic interview the Australian representative Shaun Gladwell. The artist wore mirrored shades throughout. It literally stopped my brain working; I was narcissus-like, drowning in my own image. It worked; I became more interested in myself than him.
I managed to get to David La Chapelle’s American Jesus exhibition the weekend before last. The Sebastian Guinness Gallery decamped for the occasion to Connaught house on Burlington Road in Ballsbridge. This office block is a well-known developer’s base and has recently come on the art scene as potential exhibition space. Every art graduate toys with the idea of re-enacting the classics and soon realise it’s all been done before, yet La Chapelle has indulged himself. Artists such as Jeff Wall can carry out such a revival in a manner that radically overhauls the classic image, making it their own. La Chapelle seems only keen to rekindle some basic Art History references and most attending the show felt extraordinarily rarefied at noticing Courtney Love was posed in the manner of Michelangelo’s Pietà.
What reminded me of the James’ biography was the fact that the actors featured, often reliant on the moving image, added little to the still. Any attempt by the artist to strike empathy into the waxen-faces was a struggle, one added to by over-zealous airbrushing. This freakish transformation of real-human into dead computer painting makes one feel as though the celebrity zest for giving nothing away has been finally realised.
Ironically the show-stopper was the only photo that contained no human, The Statue. The potent nature of the classic Greek statue at the centre of this work had all the empathy none of the humans featured could muster. It leaves one to imagine that if celebrities go the full hog and finally manage to freeze their features completely, they might suddenly master the art of empathy. Though the show was a glitzy attempt at notoriety, I have to applaud the organiser’s promotion of contemporary art in today’s market. It seems bizarre that the Workinspace show featuring Ireland’s young artists was shown in the same venue not two months ago. The owner of the establishment would do well to ask the organisers of that show what next to use the space for.