Taylor-Wood takes threefold, theatrical views of transience

Lawrence Fishburne by Sam Taylor-Wood
Lawrence Fishburne by Sam Taylor-Wood

Exhibit: ‘Sorrow, Suspension, Ascension’ by Sam Taylor-Wood atMatthew Marks Gallery, 523 W. 24th St., New York — through 30 Oct. 2004

By BRUNO J. NAVARRO | Editor

'Hayden Christensen' (2003) by Sam Taylor-Wood, Courtsey of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

NEW YORK (Fotophile.com) — “Sorrow, Suspension, Ascension,” Sam Taylor-Wood‘s third solo show at Matthew Marks Gallery, brings her evolved sense of theatrics to the forefront with striking imagery that makes passing allusions to the transience of life, mourning and, ultimately, hope.

Among the first set of images the viewer encounters, from her “Crying Men” series of 28 Hollywood portraits, a few stand out.

Most notably, the photograph of Laurence Fishburne depicts the actor, tears streaming down his cheeks, wearing a wooly overcoat and blurry bathroom fixtures in the earth-toned background. A circular window behind his head provides hagiographic illumination.

Robert Downey Jr. appears in classic, Christlike repose, nude except for a sheet providing a modicum of modesty. He gazes heavenward and tears fall.

The perfectly coiffed and hyper-stylish Jude Law withdraws into a corner, nearly into a fetal position, suffering, one imagines, from an ethereal injury. Robin Williams sits on a stoop, on the verge of a tearful burst; Ben Stiller attempts to cover his face while seated in a car.

Benicio del ToroMichael Madsen and Woody Harrelson are among the others who weep for Taylor-Wood, and the result is ultimately aesthetically pleasing.

Yes, there’s a staged quality to it all, and none of it is quite convincing. But this isn’t journalism and yet it’s perhaps no less artificial than any of the manipulated images we’re accustomed to seeing. They are undoubtedly theatrical portraits of actors in front of cameras — in other words, plying their trade. But there’s something humanizing and empathetic, slightly unsettling and universal about it all.

“Suspension,” the second part, involves self-portraits of the London-born artist suspended mid-air in an industrial, white space. The logistics were carried out by bondage expert Master Rope Knot, the ropes later removed digitally, giving the images a mysterious quality. In eight large-scale photographs, Taylor-Wood twists, arches, reaches and succumbs to an unseen force, as if in the midst of rapture, a vague ecstasy — dark blonde hair, dirty feet and all.

Sam Taylor-Wood
Sam Taylor-Wood

The images are decidedly less decadent and baroque than some of her previous work, suggesting a more straightforward approach by Taylor-Wood, who survived a bout with cancer.

Lastly, her new film, “Ascension,” comprises a man with a white dove on his head, bobbing up and down as the man tap dances over the supine body of another man, who is perhaps dead, all against a black backdrop. Each man is oblivious of the other. The effect suggests a vague joy, a triumph of spirit and mordant absurdity that eases, or perhaps cleanses, the viewer’s visual field: The unknown lies beyond that which one sees. Do we care?

The largely successful collaboration of the three works represents maturity in Taylor-Wood’s work, while still incorporating it with the penchant for theatrics she indulges. A departure from her more elaborate, directorially obvious and prop-laden work of the past, “Sorrow, Suspension, Ascension” only appears more simple on its surface while flirting with unspoken questions we may all be more comfortable not asking.