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Art review: Daniela Comani at Charlie James Gallery

April 21, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Comani_10-hi

In her first solo exhibition in the U.S., Berlin artist Daniela Comani presents three projects at Charlie James Gallery that exploit the malleability of digital imagery to reveal shifting definitions of gender and history.

The most facile is a series of 52 book covers that Comani has altered, substituting feminine subjects for male ones. Some are relatively subtle—“Mr. Dalloway,” “L’étrangère” (the feminine of Camus’ “The Stranger”) — while others are heavy-handed: “Queen Kong” ... and you can imagine what "Moby Dick" became. The works hint at entrenched assumptions about what is properly “masculine” and “feminine,” but they do little more than skim the surface, coming across as merely cute.

More successful is the series “Happy Marriage,” a sequence of black-and-white photographs depicting a married couple cooking together, brushing their teeth, holding hands on the beach. Despite the popular notion that couples, over time, begin to resemble each other, these two look uncomfortably alike. Even a cursory inspection reveals that both roles are played by Comani, differentiated only by dress and a five o’clock shadow. This quiet dissonance doesn’t blow gender roles out of the water, but it does create playful ripples.

The show's standout, however, is "It Was Me -- Diary. 1900 - 1999," a running list, printed on a mural-size banner, of historic moments recounted in the first person. Beginning on Jan. 1 ("I founded the Communist Party of Germany in Berlin."), there is an entry for every day until Dec. 31 ("During a New Year's party I flee Cuba. Thus ends my regime."). The list eschews conventional chronology, imposing the days of the year as an ordering device on moments plucked from throughout the 20th century. By listing them as if they all happened in the course of one year and recounting them in the first person, Comani not only gives history the intimacy of a diary, but reminds us how it continually re-surfaces in the present.

-- Sharon Mizota

Charlie James Gallery, 975 Chung King Road, L.A., (213) 687-0844. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. Through June 4. www.cjamesgallery.com

Photo: Daniela Comani, "Happy Marriage #10," 2008. Credit: Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery


 
Comments () | Archives (4)

I think the bookcover pieces haven't been examined as closely as they could be here. They do considerably more than "hint at entrenched assumptions about masculine and feminine," and I think perhaps their objectives have been misinterpreted. This series seeks to deconstruct a representative swath of the Western literary canon, showing us where women are not throughout Western literary history. At an individual level the gender-swapping can have quite provocative results, as we re-imagine Chekhov and Steinbeck with their new protagonists. To have these kind of synaptic firings happening across fifty-two titles in five languages is a potent experience I think, and it serves to help us experience an alternate literary history. I see this work as analogous to Kerry James Marshall's recent paintings where black figures were inserted into pastoral painting scenes in which they had previously been absent (Koplin del Rio 2008). While the operation that Comani employs to subvert these titles is simple and consistent, it doesn't mean the outcome is such as well. I worry the point may have been missed.

This kind of work can can have all kinds of resonant meanings. Unfortunately, it just smacks of the silliness and mundanity and yuppiness art is as a whole is. These aren't grand ideas no one thinks of - unless with grinding self-perjoratives as one's own facility or lack thereof, attempting entry into that part of awareness. If we want to render this all with an intellectual eye, fine; it really speaks more of how boring life has become, that we need silly feminist "clarity" to set the record straight. Or, maybe it's art for the younger generations who haven't yet been privy to these basics. But I doubt that, too. The younger generations are pretty savvy. I think it's more folks who think others don't get it, already, which reverses their analysis, toward them instead. Just more blah, blah, blah, like the republicans, and christians.

ps ... Sherrie Levine just made these kinds of social commentaries, so much better - and with better makeup than charcoal stubble.

I too completely misread the objective of the bookcover pieces. I assumed they were attempting to critique how conceptual art relies on mid-20th century post-structuralist terminology to inflate visual gag's and one-liners with meaning. Here, I wrongly assumed by rehashing 1960's 2nd wave feminist theory, the artist sought to point out how such hackneyed work rings hollow once the joke wears off.

Of course, since the work is being discussed in terms of mid-20th century post-structuralist theory, the intended meanings are ultimately irrelevant. The work alone speaks for itself. So how would changing the gender of the whale Ahab pursues alter Melville's creation in any way whatsoever? I wouldn't even know where to begin determining the gender of a real whale, let alone a fictional one.


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