Tory Wright gets it just right at Good Citizen this month, getting at what commercial fashion and photography share – a duality of strength and vulnerability. Both media capture our culture’s momentary and lasting pre-occupations with the world around us, reminding us that image recognition and meaning fade over time and eventually become documents of, in Roland Barthes words, a that-has-been.
Employing her experience as a visual merchandiser for a department store, where she has created tantalizing displays of clothes and objects that draw us in for more, Wright knows what makes our commercially minded mouths water – texture, contrast, and celebrity. And she delivers.
Crimson & Clover – Interior dominates the left gallery wall. The large, rectangular piece is extremely appealing, but not for any sort of high-shine factors, so typical of much of contemporary photography. That feature has been purposefully stripped away by Wright, who used a photocopier and scissors to blunt and manipulate the press photo’s original gloss and composition. Instead, the attraction is in the simultaneous beauty and deterioration present in the image of a female head, printed in black and white and repeated numerous times, overlaid, shrunken and blown-up. On the far left are two, repeated autonomous images, but then, moving across the work to the right, the image repeats again and again, angled, bunched, and grouped. Wrights copying, cutting, and pasting of the face of Kate Moss is much more than just a commentary on celebrity force and cultural power, on the pressuring persistence for women to be a certain kind of beauty, on the fame that can come for simply being a face in an ad. Rather, the repetition creates a haunting effect and we forget that it is Moss; with her darkened eyes, her face becomes comparable to a rotting corpse, reminiscent of Sally Mann’s “What Remains” series of close-up, long exposures of the faces of her now grown children that have an eerie effect of a death mask. Wright’s image, too, pieced together with the photocopied images, speaks of masks: the masks we put on, the masks we acquire as we age, the masks we boast of and hide behind. The bird-like nose and spiked hair recall flight and freedom, but the image is clearly rooted in earthly, time-dictated decay. It reminds us of a photography’s, and beauty’s, immediate reproduction and exposure, but ultimate fading.
Burberry, Keira and Aqua, three smaller pieces made of cut duratran are lithe, rectangular works where an ad of some sort, related to the title, has been made nearly unrecognizable. Wright has cut out most of the actual object that is meant to be sold and we are left with eye-shaped holes and glimpses of (again) what-has-been. Even if viewers are not apt to pay attention to fashion brands or celebrities, most people will recognize, just by minimal clues, the original ad, or at least the person or purpose of it, emphasizing advertising’s overwhelmingly successful and seductive mission of brand recognition.
Kate, Back in Black #4, #5 and #6, cut inkjet prints are strong compliments to Crimson & Clover – Interior and to the other cut advertisements. Kate, Back in Black #4, #5 and #6 are, again, three heavily cut-out prints, but the presence of the same person, Kate Moss, cut over and over again in these works, creates an almost violent, yet poetic attempt to deconstruct the famous model into various parts yet to leave her famous face, and rock-star image in-tact. Reminding us again of photography, Wright uses the concept of the negative and applies it to fashion photographs, which are, in the gallery space, relayed back to the realm of fine art. These three works literally float, and they point to the show’s larger theme of both beauty’s fleeting nature and image’s enduring power. For proof, and a bit of fun look up, on top of the gallery, at Wright’s temporary billboard.
“Tory Wright: Crimson & Clover” continues at Good Citizen Gallery at 2247 Gravois, St. Louis until 20 August 2011. See www.goodcitizenstl.com for more information.