Georges Tony Stoll

Galerie Jennifer Flay

What initially strikes one about Georges Tony Stoll’s photographs, videos, and wall drawings is the intense physicality of the scenes they depict. In his images, various men (all friends or acquaintances of the artist), bump into, brush against, hit, and scratch one another as they move, with little apparent motivation, through domestic interiors. Driven by nervous energy or by an unspecified obsession, the men use strange, intensely personal gestures to evoke a restless existence on the fringes of conventional social reality.

Although intimacy—more precisely homosexual intimacy—is Stoll’s stock-in-trade, he neither resorts to explicit representations of gay sex nor presents the men as stereotypes. Absent are the gym queen and flamboyant fem; Stoll’s figures are gay everymen whose identities are not immediately legible at the level of outward appearance. Yet his images are characterized by a palpable sexual undercurrent signaled by his deployment of props, such as cords, cables, masks, and backdrops. Some of these items are crafted out of plastic or latex sheets. While they function as integral components of the orchestrated scenes, Stoll calls attention to the polysemous nature of the material, which can be seen as both a substitute for flesh and a substance used in the manufacturing of devices intended to prevent the transmission of HIV. That the men seem to accept disease and loneliness as unavoidable realities can be sensed in photos like Croix Rouges—dec 93 (Red crosses—dec. 93, 1993), in which a man’s torso is painted with a circle filled with red crosses that may refer to deaths from AIDS.

The men’s bodies are sometimes seen whole and at other times synecdochically, as a hand, an ankle, or a fragment of a face. Many of the works focus on hands—rubbing, smashing, touching, or caressing. In Ma main, ta main—sept 97 (My hand, your hand—sept 97, 1997), a white hand and another painted black (the chromatic dissonance heightened by the suggestive note of a red napkin) appear above a table as if they are attempting to communicate with each other. More overt references to couples appear in works like Television 1-2-3—nov 95, 1995, which comprises a trio of photographs: the artist in profile, smoking; Carlo, his companion, in the same pose; and Carlo again, but with nothing in his fingers, signaling an unfulfilled desire. In the background of each, a television screen showing a face painted white recalls the work of Bruce Nauman, while offering a hint of a mysterious third party who may burst into the intimate scene.

The life of a couple doesn’t preclude another, more solitary sexual activity. The video installation Faites-le après le diner—janv 98 (Do it after dinner—jan. 98, 1998) is an oblique allusion to masturbatory pleasures. Here, the artist is seen slowly rolling about on the floor and touching his head, his breathing a sensual pant, in front of a sky-blue plastic backdrop. Another video piece, Ce que fait le Minotaure quand il est seul—mars 97 (What the Minotaur does when he’s alone—march 97, 1998), which was presented on three monitors, records a young man’s pensive journey through two rooms as he engages in various mysterious activities that include a symbolic washing of the feet. The second monitor shows a man, his head covered with a round plastic mask, staggering like a caged animal against a red backdrop in an enclosed space; while the third presents a shot of clouds, seeming to posit a freedom in nature, beyond the prison of the body.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.