Los Angeles

Daniel Marlos

The debut solo show of photographer and filmmaker Daniel Marlos presented, unintentionally, a case study of what is most provocative, even perplexing in much current Los Angeles art: the uses and reinterpretations of earlier art movements. Many younger LA artists, perhaps too many, are enthralled with late-’50s and ’60s styles, from architecture and interior design to Color Field painting and, in Marlos’s case, structuralist filmmaking. Of course, contemplation of and enthrallment with earlier artistic endeavors is nothing new, but much of this work is touted as though it were new rather than a tired pastiche. Unlike some of his cohorts, Marlos acknowledges his debts to various cinematic theoreticians. The press release for the show mentions Russian film theorist Lev Kuleshov, and a pamphlet produced for the screening of Marlos’s movie, 13 x 13 (1997–98), quotes Vlada Petric on Dziga Vertov. In Marlos’s photographic series, “Spatial Relationships,” 1997–98, there are subtle nods to Sergei Eisenstein’s juxtapositions of divergent images and the stark domesticities of Chantal Akerman, particularly in her je tu il elle (1972). The series is composed of fifty-seven dual photographs (two images printed vertically to retain the “frame by frame” structure of a strip of celluloid and the frame line between exposures) juxtaposing images of Giovanni Lance—the object of Marlos’s fascination, he is shown in his room, lying on his bed, sitting on his sofa, etc.—and shots of Marlos’s own apartment, its furniture, daylight, and stuff. Except for an occasional hand or foot. Marlos himself appears but once, in a single frame in front of a bathroom mirror, dressed as a mummy for Halloween. The series might have been called je tu il il. Although structured like miniaturizations of some of Dan Graham’s dual images, Marlos’s project holds together by a Cagean performance of chance and a careful negotiation of restrained—and even strained—intimacy: The two images were supposedly printed without alterations and in the order in which they were taken, and the respective images were at times taken more than a week apart. Unlike, say, Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall, whose photos contain a cinematic atmosphere within a single dramatic still, Marlos strips the photographic relation to film down to its minimum: two images relating or not, as in montage.

The appearance of beauty, like the accident of happiness, is a chancy affair. The best of the photos suggest a narrative with no plot, an inundation of the extraordinary juxtapositions of daily life, some of which are noticed, most of which occur only to be missed. In Spatial Relationship #74, 1998, Giovanni’s handsome head rests on his arm on a counter’s ledge, a bright light glaring, glowing, above him but no more luminescent than he himself is; the still, contemplative moment is paired with a shot of a ceiling, its beams and simple lighting fixture and, inexplicably, some lush vegetation sprouting above. AH the elements of a story are present without any of the encumbrances, something fictive without fiction or even conclusiveness. In Spatial Relationship #4,1997, Giovanni lounges across a bed, his back bare; it is tempting to read the many metal filing cabinets with which he is juxtaposed as containing all the failed attempts of other media, especially language, to represent the grace of his skin—tempting, that is, but pointless. The strength of the series is that it returns to silence, refusing to answer any of the questions it poses about desire and obsession.

Odd problems arise from other elements in the show. The photo-based kinetic sculptures never move beyond innocuous gimmick. His photo series are more cinematic than his movies, suggesting such qualities are not dependent on cinema. Although there were amusing sequences in 13 x 13, as a filmmaker Marlos charts no new territory. His films never achieve the complexity of, say, William E. Jones’s Finished (1997), which is constructed of (among other things) footage of sea-, sky-, and cityscapes intercut with (mostly) still images from gay porn magazines as an investigation of desire, mourning, memory, and fantasy’s reliance on the photographic. But Marlos’s photos reach beyond gimmick and pastiche, and it will be interesting to see whether what he has discovered in the relationship and limits between spaces, people (self/other), and media will allow him to now test the limits between genres, the limits of betweenness itself.

Bruce Hainley