I’m Sorry I Never Told You That You’re Beautiful
Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles
through August 17
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
In the engaging photography, collage, assemblage, and sculptural installation work of Genevieve Gaignard, anything and everything can be a self-portrait. This frequently includes actual self-portraiture but also expands to appropriate and transform arrayed objects of domestic and cultural spaces and images culled from popular media into reflections and embodiments of something both intimate and universal in the life of the artist. Empathetic vignettes for wall, nook, and floor space, in presenting heightened-reality versions of ordinary environments, convincingly evoke what could be read as not only archetypal but also as believably the artist’s own memories.
At the intersection of race, gender, politics, pop culture, beauty, sexuality, heritage, injustice, power, homesickness, and radical self-awareness, the works in I’m Sorry I Never Told You That You’re Beautiful — the artist’s first solo exhibition with Susanne Vielmetter — are alternately and often simultaneously, melancholy, confrontational, funny, poignant, mysterious, and didactic.
In the double-sided freestanding installation, “Remember This House,” in which a pair of interiors are presented back to back against a wall in the center of the space, thus always together and always apart, objects and images are deployed roughly according to their use — furniture, photo-collage wallpaper, and other slightly tweaked elements of decor evoke the ordinary but subvert their own normalcy and reward a closer inspection of the details. Like all of Gaignard’s works, linear historic timelines are collapsed, as both vintage and modern-day images and objects mingle in a non-specific yet slightly retro and thus dreamlike motif. This is one way of explaining how, to paraphrase Faulkner, that the past is not only alive, but it’s not even really the past — especially when it comes to ideas about race and gender in our society.
In the deceptively simple wall installation “People Make the World Go Round,” Gaignard arranges a series of ornate hand-mirrors in the lozenge shape of one big meta-mirror, in which viewers are invited to catch glimpses of themselves and their fellow viewers in the context of the show and their own image. With shades of Frida’s Kahlo’s use of mirrors alongside her own self-portrait paintings in works like “Frida and Me,” the aesthetic effect is charming, but the implications for involving each viewer in the exercise of contemplation, complicity, and both literal and figurative self-reflection are salient.
And about those self-portraits. They both are and are not, or are not only, self-portraits. Gaignard does, in a post-Cindy Sherman modality, use herself as the model but only partly as the subject in her in-character, styled, costumed, and make-up touched renditions of her own person. In them, she portrays herself, one nuanced, potential or actual aspect at a time. Her dual strategy of fiction and documentation examines both historical tropes and lived experience from the distinct point of view of a woman of color in America.
In the new photography works, all from a series called “Ladybirds” and each qualified with a songbird name (Canary, Raven, Dove) Gaignard does her faux-pro hair and makeup thing, this time in the service of a look referencing mid-century singers, in a kind of subverted Supremes glamour mode and against wallpaper backgrounds that reference the sculptural vignettes in a way that suggests these women might have inhabited them. Her deadpan expressions forestall the rise of jocularity, though as always it’s clear fun was had in their creation.
As they openly ponder the various ways in which identity is a dual formulation of self-expression and culturally-imposed norms and ideals, as a parallel for the narrative insight offered up by the look of where folks live, come from, and aspire to, Gaignard’s works demonstrate just how profound the surface of things can be.
There will be an artist walk through Saturday, August 10, 3-4pm.