Los Angeles

Marnie Weber

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

ONE CAN DRAW, PAINT, SCULPT, or digitally illustrate what doesn't exist, but photo-based practices generally necessitate that someone or something be there to be photographed. To depict unreality—fantasies, fairy tales, religious stories, etc.—the photographic artist must resort to staging, manipulation, editing, or a combination of these. A photograph or film thus can unfold a fiction and simultaneously document the strange reality of acting, choreography, set work, cinematography, and all the other “real” activities that figure into generating a “reel” experience. In some cases, this duality is heightened. Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, for example, is both a complex fantasy—a vision based on Paul Schrader's screenplay adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's 1955 novel, which is in turn derived from the Gospels, the sources of which are a matter of debate—and, like many films, a self-conscious document of the staging and editing that went into the depiction.

It is by exploiting this odd dual role of photographic media that Marnie Weber tells strange stories while at the same time describing the strangeness of storytelling. Her photographs and films are engaging to behold and to think through, as they elaborate compelling fantasies through obviously concocted means.

The centerpiece of Weber's recent exhibition, The Red Nurse and the Snowman (all works 2000), is a video installation featuring an elf-scaled chalet with fake flowers, glitter, and an exaggerated ski-jump roofline that would fit into the backdrop for any shopping-mall Santa. Through the door and window of this winter-wonderland structure, one views two monitors playing Super-8 footage of a caped, masked, blond-wigged nurse who uses the very same chalet (placed outside somewhere) as a base of operations as she journeys across drifts of snow. Part superhero, part fetish fantasy, part Nordic dream, she tends to the needs of a snowman who bleeds, a blind rat with bandaged eyes, and a bunny with a crutch. Any moral, meaning, or end to the story remains vague, which adds to the mystery, in terms of both the plot and Weber's intentions. The viewer is given the pleasure of reading, speculating about, and being entertained by the hints of story line as well as the sight of grownups in bizarre costumes and animal suits playing nurse-and-patient in a make-believe house and romping around on some ski slope.

While the installation deals primarily with staging, of which the viewer is reminded by the presence of the chalet as a set for the video, Weber's photographic collages deal more with editing: These images are pieced together from obviously diverse sources to form new scenarios. Storybook characters, animals with human faces, and human bodies with animal heads populate forests. Trees are decorated with strands of pearls, nude women socialize with swans, and a crow and a scarecrow square off over the abundance of a cornucopia. Elsewhere, animals that Mother Nature wouldn't allow within the same geographic zone stand together in a new order.

The pleasure of Weber's works is rooted in their ability to playfully remind us how much our relationship with images depends on a suspension of disbelief that isn't reserved for the matinee and how much suspending that suspension can be just as intriguing and entertaining.

Christopher Miles