Aida Laleian

Howard Yezerski Gallery

Aida Laleian’s surrealistic photographs present a series of composite mythic creatures, each combining the portrait head and/or torso of the artist with the body of a taxidermic specimen of a wild beast. Although Laleian has focused her energies for the past eight years primarily on photographic self-portraiture, the modern mythic hybrids she presents in this exhibition, entitled “Atavistic Beasts,” constitute a departure from her signature compound self-portraits.

Laleian combines specimens photographed primarily in natural history museums or from nature magazines with close-up self-portraits that emphasize her exotic dark features and bared upper torso. The seamless illusions that result depend on extensive manipulations—rephotographed collage, projected imagery, adjustments to the negatives, and elaborate printing techniques. A schooled printmaker and painter, Laleian relies on masking and paste-up methods similar to silk-screening to create her illusions. After projecting the juxtaposed Kodalith negatives, she makes a detailed preparatory drawing and uses it as a map. She then masks areas of each of the two negatives with rubyliths thin sheets of cut plastic and creates a collage that she enlarges, prints, and finally retouches and hand-colors with translucent oils. Enigmatic titles, generated from a bank of words stored in a computer memory, revive the Surrealists’ chance methods—A Blank Allegory, Separated from His Beloved Lust, or Moths Against Snow, (all works 1991)—mirror the alluring, exotic, and mythopoeic mood of the images.

In A Blank Allegory Laleian appears as a sexually provocative female centaur, a perfect matching of the curves of beast and beauty, in which the genitals and lower human extremities are replaced by the smooth, taut body of the horse. Chase Upon Memory #2, in which Laleian combines her turbaned tilted head and arms with the lower extremities of a mountain lion to create an Ingresque sphinx, provides a clever metaphor for the femme fatale. Here the flat background and softly tinted atavistic forms suggest a Victorian tableau, reminiscent of Oscar Rejlander’s best photocollages.

Although each photographic collage displays meticulous craftsmanship and ingenuity, the most compelling images are those in which the physical blending of beast and woman has a symbolic resonance that transcends the special effects. Laleian’s beasts suspend reason and suggest a feminine ancestry in which the beast complements the human, providing metaphors for the duality of reason and passion that informs her nature.

Francine A. Koslow