Notes from the Arts + Crafts Research Studio of Andrew Cornell Robinson
Artist Alex Da Corte’s current body of photographs and sculptural installation examines the evidence of power dynamics in human relationships. His work deals with appearances and intimacy and the potency of what lies beneath appearances, the soul rather than the surface of the work, the person, the subject.
Through a series of what Da Corte calls “activities”, he cruises straight men in public parks, and engages them in collaborative art experiments. Each participant is asked to repeatedly perform an activity over a 1-3 day period, until Da Corte feels he has caught his subject in a moment of “letting go;” the social mask of masculine bravado giving way to a more vulnerable self-expression.
According to the artist, the activity project began with Da Corte as the model performing different self-appointed tasks as a cure for loneliness. Da Corte, a 27 year old gay man describes these situations in his own words:
“If I’m asking people to do things they normally wouldn’t do, I feel some obligation to get out of my comfort zone. These people have very real lives. All these people that I see in the park; they know that I’m gay. I seek out men who I assume are straight hoping to engage them in a relationship that brings about feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, embarrassment, excitement, lust, etc.”
Da Corte’s activities explore those awkward personal interactions and while they result in compelling photographs and curious, near comic installations of paper party streamers that spell out phrases such as “I love you so much it makes me sick” and flags comprised of weathered burlesque fringed garments; there is an insidious undercurrent in the work that captures an unspoken tension within the evidence of these activities.
According to Da Corte, “It’s totally awkward. It’s not fantasy, it’s NOT about the prelude to a wild and sexy time. It’s the exact opposite.” Da Corte creates these activities as a safe and non-threatening platform for which a person can act as freely as they please knowing that like many a MySpace photo or Google image – all the world may one day see- but in the moment that is the Activity, they are the star and creator of whatever personae they choose to present. By removing the opportunity for sex the artist and the willing participate in the activity meet as equals. It’s much more of an exploration of what a real human interaction is about. These activities celebrate something as basic as a conversation and the comedy of a human interaction. The evidence of these activities range from rich color photographs depicting young men captured in transgressive moments, as they roll around half naked in glitter, or lay prone on their back while the artist shoves berries into their face and mouth. The work is all at once comedic, charming, aggressive and seductive.
Da Corte’s work departs in a significant way, from the cannon of queer gaze. Consider how other artists such as Paul Cadmus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jack Pierson, Nayland Blake and many others utilize the queer gaze, often using the male figure as an object of beauty, lust, and taboo desire. This approach can be contextualized, to some degree, by seeing queer artists responding to the oppressive weight of social, religious, political and public policies which directly admonish and attempt to erase the queer eye from the world. And in response to that threat, a common conceptual theme is to transgress the boundaries of civil society and celebrate what is perceived by the straight world, to be abject and forbidden. Da Corte continues in this tradition, but I think he brings something new to the visual vocabulary of the queer gaze; recognition that the power dynamics of the queer eye and the object of desire are in fact equal participants, accessible and vulnerable. According to Da Corte “These experiences break down ideas of fantasy, stereotypes, power roles and develop the idea of the other as someone not very different from the self.” The artist attempts to return some humanity to the interaction between his and indirectly our gaze and the objectified corpus of the model and that is a radical reaction to the context of contemporary conversations which are all too often mediated by a digital cacophony of acronyms devoid of emotion that supplant real human interaction today.
Alex Da Corte
I Attach Myself to You
611 Broadway, Suite 405, NY NY 10012
December 11, 2007 – February 12, 2008
Hours Mon-Fri 12-6pm and by appointment
Alex Da Corte’s website www.alexdacorte.com
Image caption: Activity # 31 (Black Eye) 2007
Archival pigment print mounted on Sintra, 35×47″ Edition 1/3