Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Tate Gallery

In the most general way it could be said that Marc Chaimowicz’ art is about the melancholy repetition of the recollection of past desires. It is a careful, highly structured art that seems at once tender and yet rather cynical. Working with a deliberately limited set of images—images of an eroticized domesticity—Chaimowicz has, over the past few years, been investigating the boundary between the private and the public worlds, an area in which the voyeuristic impulses of both the artist and the spectator are brought into question.

Chaimowicz’ work is consciously artificial, it has a stagy feel to it; yet its subject matter is private and resolutely untheatrical. Installations, performances, videotapes, and photographs are all rigorously structured, but the atmosphere they generate is at first vaguely romantic, an uncertain disease. One becomes aware that one is seeing the same highly stylized furniture, the same patterns on wallpaper and curtains, the same room. The figures inhabiting this room grow familiar, too, looking out the window, sitting, drinking, talking on the telephone; rarely talking to one another, they appear introspective, an effect heightened by the pale greens and grays that predominate.

In this installation at the Tate—a brave new venture into contemporary art for that venerable institution—Chaimowicz pursues the metaphoric use of screens as a distancing device. The photographs, now with a frankly erotic content, are arranged, as though at random, over large sheets of glass. These are tilted against the wall so that a pattern of shadows is cast by the blank slides that throw diffuse magentas and blue-greens against the piece. The work is pregnant with meanings, but none are allowed to surface definitively. The work remains darkly anxious.

In Partial Eclipse . . ., a performance piece that accompanied the installation, the artist steadily circles a straight-backed chair and a blank screen placed in the corner of a darkened room. Slides are projected against the screen, coming and going with a regular, rather slow rhythm. Making this rhythm hypnotic is a sound track composed of eerily vacant music by Brian Eno, and a woman’s voice reading a meditative text of repetitions and ellipses. The projected pictures seem to record the passing of a love affair. The text perhaps alludes to this also.

Again one is held in thrall by the slow, insistent repetitions, kept at a distance by the shadowy interplay between the theatrical, real-time representation—the artist walking in circles around his work, around his life—and the photographic representations on the screen. The predominantly gray tones of these slides on slow dissolve, in combination with Eno’s music, indicate a mood, but this is punctured from time to time by incidents of sharp humor—the insertion of a lushly colored close-up of a flower,a snake in the grass—which reduce the pervasive melancholy to a very unsentimental acknowledgment of both self-pity and fear.

Thomas Lawson