Extras aka "Look at me, don't you look at me"
This is William Brovelli’s first solo exhibition with Kim Foster Gallery and what does the conceptually driven artist think up…appropriated photographs…what? My initial reaction was instant recoil as I have had it up to my eyeballs with borrowed things but combine this with photography, forget about it! Now seeing as I was turned on to an earlier “anti-commodity” project that Brovelli successfully pulled off in Miami a little over a year ago I decided to give his new endeavor a peek; I was curious to see how far this guy could fall. After all, Kim Foster is not a cerebral gallery by any stretch of the imagination. That might explain why this split solo with “borrowed” Stux artist Margaret Evangeline finds Brovelli riding shotgun by way of the gallery’s project space…the poetics of this arrangement is comically tragic.
Extras aka “Look at me, don’t you look at me.” Is a portrait series of movie extras culled from selected film stills produced between 1925 through 2010. I guess I should lead off here by establishing the well known fact that artists working with pre existing film is nothing new, I am reminded of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills from 1977-80 or David Reed’s “Vertigo Project” 2005 or even more recently Christian Marclay’s 2010 “The Clock”… but don’t let my cross referencing turn you off; Brovelli has managed to reinforce this film based trajectory with a series of work that is both original and thoughtful.
Brovelli’s approach to the appropriated image is pretty straight forward even minimalist in some respects, at least in light of the aforementioned artists. His process involves the solitary act of first watching a selected film in its entirety and then revisiting the film to find the right moment from which to digitally capture the extra. I should also add that the artist takes one extra per film and no movie is repeated. Each image, most of them color some black and white, is converted to a unique single edition archival print framed at 16”x16” with the image area at a bite size seven inches square. The artist insists on keeping the overall picture size equivalent to that of his studio computer monitor, the very monitor on which he spends the many hours “hunting and gathering”. Brovelli makes no claims to being a photographer; in fact, securing the image is done not with the click of a camera but with a click of the keypad.
Some of the movies in this series had been seen by the artist prior to the project but even if the film had already been viewed, it is viewed again. This real time step is a bonding element by which the artist spends time with the film first as a traditional spectator before acting as an aesthetic procurer. There is a certain amount of patience and discipline required here. I can imagine the anxiety of catching a glimpse of a potential “keeper” only to have to wait for the end of the movie to get to work or even the frustration over a sense of time wasted if the extra could not be found after all. The thing to consider with this process is that the artist seems to have painstakingly combed scenes in order to find and crystallize the right moment in time in which the stopped image becomes radically disconnected from the moving image and this yields some surprising results.
What I came to appreciate through spending quality time in the gallery with these wall flowers is how the faces carry the hazy background atmosphere with them to the center stage; this makes for a photograph that reads more like a watercolor or gouache.
Many of the portraits transcend the context of the films as well, for example: “The Onion Field” 1979/2011 looks as if the subject was lifted from a medieval court scene even though the setting was a contemporary funeral and “Pulp Fiction” 1994/2011 looks like a resurrection scene or an electrified shroud of Turin, even though the portrait is of a woman sitting in a diner; one would never guess that this came from a Tarantino flick. Brovelli is able to pull rabbits out of hats in this regard. “The Phantom of the Opera” 1925/2011 is another good example; this is a portrait taken from an eighty-seven year old film that winds up looking strikingly similar to the 1970’s T.V version of Wonder Woman. My favorite of the bunch though is “Santa Sangre” 1989/2011, this piece really stands out. It gives us a zombie-like headshot of a young man who because of a heavy crimson shadow under his chin appears to have had his throat cut. Brovelli ensures me that this is not the case…I’ll have to watch the film again to be sure.
For the most part the chosen films run the gamut from artsy to cheesy, classic to obscure and a few foreign as well. The extras also have variety; there is a mix of men, women, old, young, bald, hairy, blondes, brunettes, redheads, and a nice selection of races. …the whole “everybody in” thing is deliberately cosmopolite; nevertheless it works perfectly well in this context. The portrait that best exemplifies this inclusive format is taken from Werner Herzog’s 1972 film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” in which the artist chooses to use a monkey as an extra; This choice is timely in light of a recent NY Times article sighting restrictions on federally financed experiments involving chimpanzees as being attributed to sciences recognition of chimps as relatives. This fun twist hints to the notion of relations between others by way of "spooky action at a distance". The historical ties to each film are a connecting factor yet the nameless players retain an underlying sense of mystery; it gives us the sensation of flipping through a stranger’s old high school yearbook.
Speaking of old school, Remember those Spaghetti Westerns when the cowboy says “There ain’t enough room in this town for the both of us” Well, that stance just doesn’t hold weight today. Over the past three decades the Western mindset has been conditioned to receive input from a wide array of voices. With formats like YouTube, Face book, blogs and reality T.V giving a central voice to the “common man” it is no great wonder that the idea of hero, genius or the chosen few has been left far behind. Brovelli seizes on this contemporary phenomenon with Extras. Everyone is now larger than life, the telescope has been widened and the stars don’t seem to burn as bright anymore…but I think if one is intent on catching the splendor, it might simply be a matter of readjusting the focus.
Above image: (Extra) from Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song , 1971/2012