New York

Marlo Pascual

While so much of today’s common wisdom around appropriation grants that tactic a kind of distanced purview, from which an artist might critique while simultaneously participating in prevailing modes of cultural representation, we all too rarely account for the ways in which a sort of lasciviousness attends the venture—especially, perhaps, as younger generations take up its presumed look and legacy. Walking into Marlo Pascual’s first solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan, one had the feeling that the artist could be some crusty old cinephile: If she were a man, I might think he was a creep. Though the images she uses are “borrowed” and so—one might argue—not truly reflective of the artist’s conscious (or even unconscious) drives, they nonetheless feel wholly touched, if not downright caressed, as though they have had bestowed upon them a hyperbolic, not exactly healthy, kind of attention.

Having trolled the usual sources (eBay, vintage shops) for old stuff, Pascual picked a number of images, many produced in amateur photography clubs in the style of various 1940s and ’50s quasi-filmic genres, from glam pics to pinups, portraits to interiors. Cropping and enlarging the pictures, and placing them in an odd, minimal, domestic-type space (featuring a few chairs, a lamp, a thick band of wood, seemingly marking a threshold on the floor but moving up the wall and interacting with works hung there, etc.), Pascual rendered the photographs uncanny and unreliable. Her images—which include the back of a woman’s very blond, very processed, very styled head; two female legs, scissored to look sexy; a pair of hands, nails manicured to points so that they look nearly like claws (and two fingerprints, enormous from being blown up, on the photograph’s surface); a woman, face obscured, perky nipples evident, standing in a shower, . la Psycho—now exceed themselves in more than just size.

Although Pascual’s medium is ostensibly the photograph, she wields it in the least photographic way she can. Refusing to bend either to timeworn clichés of the medium or to its most seductively complicated theorizations, Pascual instead coaxes the found images she uses into a different kind of utility, creating for her paper characters scenarios that escape equally the firmly fictional and the firmly factual. The critical writing on her practice that has appeared thus far wants to usher this other mode of the photographic into the realm of the sculptural (and one sees why, since Pascual seats her images in a larger, three-dimensional context of which “real things” are a part and also, in some cases, treats the images as things themselves, “cracking” them as though they were glass, for instance, or placing other objects on top of them)—but this too quickly bypasses the queerness of her move. For, while disallowing any pretense of disinterestedness when it comes to appropriating her images, Pascual also undermines still attendant romantic notions of the photograph, thus placing her images in an unexpected interstice: Her practice highlights the affectual dimension of both photography and appropriation, and crucially points to how often women continue to operate representationally as things to be looked at. (The three images where men do appear include one of a dark and handsome guy turned literally on his head; the other two chaps, in separate frames, gaze vaguely in each other’s direction across the wall, looking like a couple of Howdy Doodys, with their hands to their mouths as though calling out to each other.)

Pascual’s photographs act as strange placeholders, gesturing to where they were found (rather than cutting ties) while suggesting that new contexts can be made to reinvigorate them and perhaps ultimately issue a kind of challenge. This is why the creepiness of some of the images’ past lives still lingers, and why Pascual’s use of them ushers in a surprisingly feminist camp humor.

Johanna Burton