PRINT February 1992


Ida Panicelli

In this issue of Artforum we consider the problem of representation, focusing on the human body as the pivotal element in an intricate system of signs that must be taken into account each time we try to articulate the complexity of our reality. A sort of social allegory provides a larger frame for Patrick Faigenbaum’s photographs of the Italian nobility. In these works, Faigenbaum investigates the possibility of linking spaces and people in a chain of signs that speaks mostly of their connecting borders, so that the end of one “thing” touches the beginning ofthe next. Generations, places, and time are perceived as if circular, and photography functions as the factor that establishes the synchronicity of past, present, and future.

The photographic project of Sandy Skoglund and the drawings of Don Bachardy both make use of the polymorphous strategy of analogy. As Michel Foucault reminds us, there is “one particularly privileged point. . .saturated with analogies”—the human body, the focus of all proportions and of all relations between macro- and microcosm. Skoglund takes literally the assumption of the body as flesh, carrying the analogy to its extreme. Going just one inch below the skin, she reveals what is basic and common to all of us—the body as “raw meat,” ever on the verge of decay. We, the viewers, are not only the proverbial voyeurs of this macabre striptease, but find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of potential cannibals. On the other hand, Bachardy’s moving portraits of the late Christopher Isherwood, himself captured on the verge of dying, become emblematic of that Foucaultian space of radiations where the body, while representing the world, retransmits all the information it has received from it. Isherwood stares back at us, a pulsating individual being, but his face becomes a map, a comparative table, of a larger universe as well.

For Jeff Koons, the attraction is not the deep structure of things but their surface, the colorful yet ordinary skin of things and bodies. Keeping the viewer in the most obsolete and passive position, lie represents the existing world by a mere reflection of it, adding a “new-and-improved” look, a touch of sugary pink, a blissed-out attitude. Each part mirrors and captures the other in a sterile doubling that, seeming to extend to infinity, ends up in the void.

Representation goes beyond mimesis, of course, allowing us to bring to visibility what has been invisible. In that sense, Thomas McEvilley’s essay may be read as an attempt to bring clarity to a field that, as yet, has no formal shape: the ongoing process of re-writing history, of finding new models—new ways of picturing the world—that suit the era in which we live and in which we make art.

Ida Panicelli