Paulette Phillips

Diaz Contemporary

ENTREZ LENTEMENT. That warning is accompanied, in Paulette Phillips’s prints Knock Knock One, Two, and Three (all works 2008), by images of overlapping photographs depicting a building’s interior. Blurred details and small holes in each of these suggest that they are snapshots—perhaps once pinned to a studio wall—that have been scanned and enlarged against colored paper. Typical of the artist’s pictures, the work combines enticing visual features—in this instance, a shiny surface and collage aesthetic—with an ambiguous narrative.

An association between domestic architecture and the uncanny is suggested in the video Shell. The title may refer to the condition—or the beachfront setting—of the work’s subject, a modernist villa on the Côte d’Azur designed by Eileen Gray in 1929. An initial note of comfort is struck by an image of the home as seen from a distance, accompanied by the sight and sound of water lapping against the sun-kissed shore below. This sentimentalizing wide-angle shot contrasts with the bulk of Phillips’s footage, which probes minute details of the building’s dilapidated interior and untended grounds in close-up. At one point we glimpse a Le Corbusier mural from 1938 depicting a stylized nude with bulbous breasts. The image is analogous to the professional and personal abuse suffered by Gray, who conceived the villa for her lover Jean Badovici but eventually walked away from the project.

The subjects of gender and neglect are explored further in shots concerned with Gray’s integration of furniture, art, and architecture in a manner intended to allow for a flexibility that would liberate inhabitants from bourgeois conventions regarding the use of space. Thus the camera peruses a ruined room that functioned as both boudoir and studio, subverting the traditional segregation of female and male territories. Another space the camera reaches into contains a sleeping alcove, circular shower stall, dressing area, and partition wall—all in various states of disrepair. But along with such images of historical interest are a multitude of views that would seem inconsequential to the scholarly eye: shots of cracked moldings, rusted railings, and foliage swaying in the breeze. Such images suggest the search for evidence at the scene of a crime, or for Gray’s spiritual presence, the latter perhaps best evoked by a sliver of illumination emerging from beneath a closed door.

Long shots analyze sections of a spiral staircase, once hygienic white but now spotty and soiled. Occasional shuffling and crackling sounds derive from bodies negotiating obstacles and debris revealing Phillips’s presence but also evidencing the activity of prior inhabitants, such as those who vandalized, looted, and defaced the site; creepy clues include the word welcome scrawled on one wall. Phillips’s portrayal leaves open the potential for understanding Gray’s creation based on an intuitive connection to detail freed from its former attachment and purpose.

Dan Adler