Maria Marshall

FA Projects

Production stills are the tourist art of the video and film world—too often overpriced souvenirs made for little other reason than to appease acquisitive yearnings that moving images are less apt to satisfy. Maria Marshall has approached the still image differently; the results, in her exhibition “In two hundred days I will be eleven,” might be a lesson in how to generate a photographic appendix to or continuation of a video project with integrity intact.

The video in question is a work from 2004, Lollipop (In two hundred days I will be eleven), which has already been widely exhibited. It consists of a single wide-screen close-up à la Sergio Leone, the subject squinting, not so much from the sun that bathes his face in golden light as with malign intent. But the face that fills the screen is that of a young boy, and instead of a cigarette dangling from his mouth, that’s a lollipop stick. Built on a single looped six-and-a-half-second shot, the work’s nearly static visual component—it becomes a sort of monochrome painting with occasional twitches—is offset by the rising dramatic intensity of the eight minutes of accompanying music, composed by Damon Albarn of Blur but modeled on Ennio Morricone’s sound tracks for Leone.

Lollipop is about the poetics of imitation—how copying an existing work can give rise to unique forms of beauty and irony precisely through the discrepancies between the source and the new version. As such, it is a particularly well realized reinvestigation of an already familiar theme. At the same time, it functions as a commentary on an earlier work of Marshall’s own: Its star is the artist’s son Raphael, whose younger brother Jake was the subject of her earlier and still best-known work, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cooker, 1998, in which the then very small boy seems, thanks to digital manipulation, to be puffing on a cigarette and blowing smoke rings. The connection with the earlier piece brings out a complementary aspect of the idea of imitation: childhood as a period of intense and mostly ineffectual imitation of adults.

This is the theme that Marshall has developed in the five digital prints, all made in 2006, that continue the “Western” theme of Lollipop. She is still working with already known imagery, from not only the old cowboy movies themselves but also their various echoes in art, starting with Richard Prince’s Marlboro men in the ’80s and including Rodney Graham’s remarkable “music video” How I Became a Ramblin’ Man, 1999. In all five photos, Raphael is seen as an isolato in the wilderness, wearing the requisite ten-gallon hat and serape; his steed is not a horse, however, but a pony. He sleeps, nuzzled by the animal (In this world there are two kinds of people, those with loaded guns and those who dig), or rides it, gazing off into the distance (I will always honour your memory, I swear); we see the boy close-up, the brim of his hat plunging his eyes into inscrutable shadow (Blondie) or in the middle ground, through high grass (He’s both young and strong, that’s what keeps him going ’til now). Always, we are tenderly aware of the pathos of the incongruity—at once droll and disquieting—between the fantasy of adult masculinity embodied by the cowboy and the child’s true vulnerability. Only in Santa Fe, when sighted far off against the horizon, tiny and almost unrecognizable, does the boy succeed, for a moment, in embodying his illusion—the most poignant moment of all.

Barry Schwabsky