Continuing through May 19, 2012
Given the elements of risk and danger that trickle through it, the group show “Performing for the Camera” can be positively exhilarating to view. It boasts an international assemblage of photographers who embrace staged poses, manipulation and theatricality in pursuit of an image.
Because they go against the grain of mainstream photography, with its imperative of capturing a moment naturally, the works in this show run the risk of not being taken seriously. But seeing what artists like Spencer Tunick, Liu Bolin and Yasumasa Morimura are capable of pulling off by combining photography with performance art instead engenders awe. Viewers have to respect not only the derring-do but also the mastery of narrative images.
Tunick’s site-specific photographs-slash-installations are arguably the show-stoppers, and he definitely took risks in staging, for instance, “The Dead Sea (Israel),” in 2011. Atop a platform and with bullhorn in hand, Tunick, like an impresario, assembled 1,200 people - all nude, multiethnic and in various poses - in and near the famed body of saltwater. One of the signature images from the shoot made it to the ASU show, an ethereal piece in which floating human bodies become less and less discernible as they stretch back on the sea toward the sunrise, almost turning into distant landforms poking through the water. The risk of offending certain viewers with such mass nudity pays off in this image as well as in the beautifully multi-toned “Flanders 1.1 (Gaasbeek Castle, Belgium),” in which dozens of “actors” recline in the nude on a lawn, all facing the castle. The nudity, in fact, becomes beside the point.
Another crowd-pleaser is the intrepid and chameleon-like Liu Bolin, whose “Hiding in the City #51, Roadblock” shows the Chinese artist becoming one with a striped yellow-and-black cement roadblock on a busy street. Bolin reportedly stood still for two days as others painted his body to blend with the scene. The resulting image records both performance art and a silent protest.
Also taking pushing the envelope in self-portraiture is Yasumasa Morimura of Japan, whose penchant for recreating scenes featuring famous beautiful women compels him to dress in drag and meticulously arrange props around himself. Viewers do a pleasant double-take when approaching “Self-Portrait / After Brigitte Bardot 1,” a hot tub scene, and “Self-Portrait / After Catherine Deneuve 3,” set in a Japanese garden.
Also addressing self-portraiture is Arno Minkkinen of Finland, who contorts his nude body into an arch over a river, or clings precariously to a tree high above the ground. The resulting black-and-white photos present the artist as an almost (but tellingly not quite) natural part of landscape.
This wide-ranging show also includes Sandy Skoglund’s “Walking on Eggshells,” staged with two female bathers and 16,000 eggshells; Zhang Huan’s “Foam Series,” nine photos of a soapy face with mouth wide open to reveal family photos, or “oral history”; and Charlie White’s amusing “Sherri’s Living Room,” in which the nude Sherri comforts an alien. One of the pioneers in performing for the camera, Cindy Sherman, is represented by “Untitled #169,” unveiling the head of a corpse amid shattered glasses.
Although the 50 works in the show challenge ideas about photography as documentation, they nevertheless are a testament to the still-relevant coalescing of imagination, performance and photography.