From the video, The Krazyhouse, Liverpool, UK (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), 2009
By Michele Faguet, Originally Published in ArtForum, October 2010
For nearly two decades, Rineke Dijkstra has used frontal photographic portraiture to register the unrehearsed innocence, inhibition, and insecurity that mark the difficult and often tragicomic transition from adolescence to maturity. “Liverpool” presented new photographic and video work produced during the 2008-2009 Tate Liverpool exhibition “The Fifth Floor: Ideas Taking Space,” which provided the artist with a functional studio setup within the museum, much like the temporary studios she had constructed to isolate and film pubescent clubbers for her earlier work The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL, 1996-97. (Similarly, the Berlin exhibition was installed in a series of white cubes constructed within the gallery’s vast new industrial space in Wedding.) Once again, Dijkstra’s subjects were teens at a local club, but this time the video, The Krazyhouse, Liverpool, UK (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), 2009, was edited into five channels projected sequentially, each showing a solitary figure dancing to a selected track from start to finish. The effect is one of greater intimacy, allowing viewers an opportunity to witness the possible range of subtle shifts that inevitably occur in that space between knowing you’re being observed but allowing yourself to retreat into the solipsism of a dance. A heavily made-up, stunningly beautiful young black girl shyly sways, hesitantly mouthing the words of Kelly Rowland’s “When Love Takes Over,” until the euphoria of the music finally releases her from the unforgiving gaze of the camera–and that of her eventual audience, our own reactions oscillating between embarrassment, voyeuristic complicity, empathy, and nostalgia. Perhaps even more heart-wrenching is a blond girl whose long hair flows perfectly onto a dress chosen to accentuate just the right amount of cleavage. “Nicky” (also featured in the series of photographs of female clubbers posing against a gray backdrop) affects the most self-assured pose of the group–her gestures and facial expressions just right, except that she is almost always looking down as if afraid to break the spell of her carefully constructed persona.
The Krazyhouse approximates an attitude once expressed by Phil Collins regarding his own work: “A camera makes me interested in you and you maybe interested in me. In this sense, it’s all about love.” For him, this “love” always implies the potential for exploitation, and if Dijkstra seems less interested in the conceptual baggage of her medium than Collins is, her decision to photograph these not-yet-fully-formed individuals against starkly neutral backgrounds results in a formal austerity that prevents the work from becoming an unmediated exercise in seduction. The other two videos in the exhibition venture more explicitly into the terrain of self-reflexivity, as their subjects are filmed not in a state of heightened self-consciousness but rather one of intense concentration. In one of them, The Weeping Woman, Tate Liverpool, 2009, a group of schoolchildren is shown observing and commenting upon the Picasso portrait, which hangs just outside the camera’s frame, with speculations about the source of the woman’s sadness–childhood abandonment, the death of a friend, guilt over a wrongdoing–becoming more imaginative as the discussion evolves. Their faces betray a range of attitudes, from the skepticism of a chubby girl standing with her arms crossed defensively to the genuine concern of a scrawny boy, who appears to be absorbed in the ways in which all that emotion expressed in the picture might relate to his own inner life–filling in, as Dijkstra’s viewers must, those blanks that are essential to every representation.
ASX CHANNEL: RINEKE DIJKSTRA