MIRROR JUNE 15 - JUNE 22 1995
Bugs and stars both somehow missed by the vacuum cleaner
by HENRY LEHMANN
Animal purists will be outraged by Xavier Nuez's latest series of photos, which depict some of the lower rungs on the chain-of-being. Disney can't hold a candle to these incandescent cibachromes now on view at Galerie Stowaway and sarcastically entitled Burial Grounds. Nuez recruits the dead, disintegrating husks of insects of the most humble, least lovable variety—house flies, wasps, small beetles, etc. These Nuez apparently finds in ample supply on floors and window sills. He transforms these unremarkable leavings into divas and dandies, now tragically fallen on the dance floor of love, war and brinkmanship. The hilarious thing about Nuez's portraits of death is the vast distance between the reality of the subjects and the glamourous pretensions of the pictures. The impossible stretch between fact and fiction is made even more improbable by the names inscribed in fancy script, as if on some solemn memorial to greatness. Each photo depicts a single insect-star, and each of these stars has the kind of syntho-erotic name normally associated with lurid ads for telephone sex. For instance, meet Charmaine, resplendent in her glitzy, cluttered lounge glowing orange and yellow. And, behold, there is Fabian—no relation to the great Fabio, we hope. Wearing his long chic cape of transparent wings and in no condition to kiss pretty fans, he seems permanently stalled in a patch of autumnal, russet decor. And, look, over there is one of Fabian's buddies on the fame-circuit, also in deep trouble. To judge from this sorry sight, with the words "Giorgio in Silk" lovingly written on a plaque, this soul was already on the skids well before that big moment of truth. Now, lying there in a panoply of gorgeous silk, Giorgio can finally rest in peace. But we're never really told the cause of this rash of deaths. Maybe—to borrow terminology from another corner of society—shit just happens. Or possibly, Nuez's demimonde simply burned out from unspontaneous combustion. The important thing is that all died beautiful deaths. Aside from the odd misplaced wing, or cracked abdomen, there is nothing here you couldn't display in a slick kiosk. It's about time we got over our prejudices and started using the dead-in major ads, say for clothes or perfume. The irony of these pictures is that, aside from the dramatic backlighting, Nuez hasn't much altered the insects, which are in quite natural poses. By refraining from dressing up his subjects, he increases the overall amusement value of his pantheon of corpses, shimmering metaphors poking malicious fun at the inflated world of commercial glitz. For a moment we reverentially pause, as the head of another fly is gently placed in a cushioned coffin.
Speaking of pillows: they—along with piles of mattresses—are the unlikely ready-mades used by Victoria-based artist Mowry Baden to build his towers of dreams. But the "stars" in Baden's assemblages are more likely to be the kind Used to decorate a blanket or those you see when you close your eyes.. Baden's most imposing posturepedic piece is an interesting king-sized monstrosity, a shelter resembling a gothic arch. The walls consist of vertical mattresses, some of which bend in toward each other. The key-stone is made of loose pillows. And this make-shift structure, with its allusions to religion, sex, moving day and homeless-ness, looms protectively over a bed, in fact two more mattresses. These behemoths hover just above mirrors placed on the floor. Though in the wrong place for lovers who like to see themselves in action, these mirrors seem vaguely lewd, windows into the floor that promise to reveal the bogey-man hiding under the bed. The final message has to do with public and private and how these states can affect the sense of self. Get up the courage to actually jump onto the mattresses, and we suddenly find ourselves removed from society and in new relationship with the space around us.