Secret Behavior Magazine

On Justin Matherly (2013)


History necessarily requires props to reassert itself, lost as it is to the experience of anonymous agents in the continuum of real-time. Chronicles, tapestries, crumbling monuments, photojournalism: we try our best to get it all down. Justin Matherly's cropped and disfigured classical figures, wrought from low-grade industrial materials and balanced on human ambulatory aids, personify our handicapped memory and tendency to paint in heroic strokes -- especially when the details have long-since shaken loose. Zip ties the colors of the Pan-African flag, the reconstituted remains of a Turkish temple-tomb, an obscure passage from Nietzsche: perhaps these details were never for you to understand. Matherly's sculptures are monuments to lost details, necessary mis-readings of ambiguous evidence. Consider the sources: a black-and-white photograph of the Laocoon from the Vatican's collection; grainy documentation of the archeological site of Mount Nemrud; a popular expression in Jamaican dancehall music. Were these objects, places and phrases ever, in any single instance, easily accessible? Consider the magician-ship of translation: a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional sculpture guides the creation of a three-dimensional replication of the never-witnessed and age-obscured original. The languages in use are fundamentally incompatible: flat to topological, Eastern to Western, marble to treegator and concrete. All of which is to say that incomprehensibility is no barrier to desire -- we may never know what we want let alone want to know. Limbless and faceless, gesturing indistinctly, Matherly's pieces communicate the promiscuousness of narrative and the lushness of gaps. What is missing is filled in, and preferably so -- by new materials, fresh historic feats of more graspable proportions. This time around, shaking hands with the gods may be hollow and left-handed. One's soul, in this incarnation, weighs 1200 pounds. And restrictions of form -- human or otherwise -- simply tighten the aperture for surveillance.

This capsule was written for but ultimately  unpublished by Secret Behavior magazine, Spring 2013.

On Carrie Levy's "Domestic Stages" (2013)


Carrie Levy


"It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked," wrote Susan Sontag in her small 2003 volume Regarding the Pain of Others.  Carrie Levy's photographic series Domestic Stages, created a year after Sontag's book, plays on the viewer's knowledge of just that: our desultory desire to witness pain as well as nakedness, and how we imagine ourselves understanding the symbology of both. Capturing friends and acquaintances in their home-settings, stripped of clothing and expressive eye contact or facial expression, Levy's large-scale photographs leave the viewer with little more than their intuitive capacity. And what do we intuit? We sense that these are everyday figures, marked by age and un-primped physicality; we know that their environments are modestly furnished nearly to the point of vacancy. And their assorted bodily contortions are something else we hurriedly read: these are not figures at ease, or captured at moments of particular confidence; they are twisted, hunched, lurching or heavily piled. The series' title gives us an additional cue: this is both a theatrical realm and a glimpse into time's progressive human ravages -- the stages we set for our intimately lived lives, as well as the stages we move through as we mature. That these spartan home-spaces are devoid of marks of living -- cups and saucers, keepsakes, decoration -- and focus more on paint-saturated walls, un-patterned window curtains and dull-worn couches -- make them more akin to backdrops, dramatic sets. That is, they engender authenticity and pantomime equally -- and beg that we consider the two as less opposed than we may assume. St. Sebastian nude, twisted, and riddled with arrows: this we know. Wrinkled flesh, unvarnished floors, the averted glance: we know this, too. To what extent, then, the script is already written -- and our moment of catharsis timed -- disrupts these illusions of consensus, and agitate the expectations of even the most experienced voyeur.

This capsule was published in Secret Behavior magazine, 2013.