New York

Silvia Kolbowski

Nature Morte

Silvia Kolbowski’s show seemed important for pushing the artist’s focus into a broader referential frame. All of her work deals with the construction of sexuality, and, in particular, with the imposition implicit in the feminine position; her rearrangements of photographic images generally drawn from mass media magazines treat the means employed, and masculine interests served, in the process of feminine subjection. This exhibition extended the reach of those themes into the spheres of business and fashion.

My comment requires a stipulation, for the show, composed of three different modes of work, seemed designed both to illuminate a problematic nexus and to propose intellectual strategies to circumvent it. Thus two works, installed on opposite walls so as to face one another, employ photographs and installation shots of previously exhibited works. What at first appears a simple reproduction acts to critically recontextualize the image; similarly, the use of imagery depicts representation en abîme. For inasmuch as Kolbowski’s materials are media photographs—most of them views of women—the exhibited works are representations of representations of images already mediated by society. This repositioning acts to evacuate pleasure, to undercut, through analytic distance, the psychological investment evident in the construction of woman as object. And such detachment provides a strategy that was alluded to throughout the show. In a series of small photostated works, for example, the logos, phrases, and graphic devices of fashion and corporate advertising are first decontextualized, then repositioned, so as to indicate their sexual charge. Lines, forms, and voids serve as the displacement of difference, demonstrating the immanence of woman to masculine capitalist space, even in the absence of her image.

Underlying the show seemed to be a correlation between feminine absence (or lack) and masculine loss, one that points to woman’s subjection as a means to displace the division constitutive of subjectivity in psychoanalytic thought. The two “central” works pursued the analytic app roach through staggered combinations of visual and verbal texts. One deploys a corporate logo, the other, photographs from fashion magazines; both appear to deal with the imagery of the circle, and with the sexual valences it implies. What first appears as a mark of containment—of closure, formal perfection, and beauty—is revealed as a device to recontain the anxiety, for men, that women imply. (Cf. Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.) In December 1984 a reproduction of an IBM computer disk is juxtaposed with one of a Raphael Madonna, the circular Madonna of the Candelabra. Here the theme of the corporation implies incorporation; it suggests a relation to the maternal body—one of separation and loss—that is insistently socially denied, and that grounds the complex of intimidation and awe by which men approach femininity. The merit of these intricately nuanced and difficult works lies in their demonstration of the degree to which the political issue of the body traverses social space.

Kate Linker