New York

Laurie Simmons

International with Monument

Not far away, in an East Village gallery, Laurie Simmons phrased a concise reflection on the position of women in representation. “Tourism” is a series of large color photographic prints in which famous architectural scenes—Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, Gothic cathedrals, and more—are glimpsed as they are “visited” by female dolls. The dolls are tall, slender, ’60s-ish figures, color cued to their environments; similarly, their gestures and groupings mimic the features of their locales. The photographs sit flush against the wall so as to simulate “windows on the world.” Because of the way the figures are placed in the foreground, they imply a feminine viewer, rupturing the conventions of image/spectator relations that presuppose masculine identification with the scene. In this, Simmons appears to play against the apparatus of fashion and advertising, which reinforces the established codes of patriarchal society through skilled manipulations of viewer positions. Yet everything in these photographs serves to repeat—in another, and critical, register—the rhetorical devices of the media. What emerges from them is the artificially contrived naturalness of the image, a slickness engineered for effect.

Inasmuch as the architectures in these works are phallic, they can be perceived as monuments to their makers—that is, monuments to men. And what Simmons seems to suggest is that woman, within this landscape, can only be a tourist; she occupies the position of the other, the disenfranchised or dispossessed, within a structure of value and property. Authorship here is the correlate of authority, and the careful composition of these works indicates reflection on a legislative domain—the unnoticed but hardly neutral strategies that construct sexual positions. This discourse is evident in the deployment of dolls, for if these figures pose, it is through gender stereotypes that have already been imposed and, through the process, repeated into acceptance. The dolls seem to point toward that location at which what is patterned on reality overtakes its source or origin, literally engendering its social products. Advertising’s hyped-up, hot hues and staging devices here represent a play of reality against illusion that composes our sense of the world in a way analogous to sexual preconceptions. And, in that Simmons would undercut these effects through her invocation of a feminine spectator, she illuminates the artificiality that sustains any natural view.

Kate Linker