Faux Real

Daniel Gordon's photographs at Angstrom Gallery are more real than real itself

Dallas is a city that thrives on the artificial. That bellwether of 1970s and 1980s greed and flaccid angst--and oh, yes, drama--the television show Dallas, long ago put the city's affaire d'amour with artifice on the map. Dallas proudly told the world that it loved the artificial and did so by looking at its own reflection--in a show about the love of competition, greed and self. But why trouble your mind with the map of television lore when you can look to the city's real space for contemporary proof of its ongoing affection for fakery? Evidence lies in the area's newfound formula for "instacity"--an urban alchemy of box structures and facades, the architecture sheathed in ye-olde-town patterns. Look to West Village and Southlake's Civic Place and State Street for examples of instacity: Clearly, Dallas' love of artifice has become a well-aged practice, one of its more potent urban mores.

Despite the city's cocky self-assurance, members of the art cognoscenti often bemoan this condition, claiming that it has given Dallas its peculiar quality of being a city of great art without great thinking, a city with a panoply of progressive collections but no intellectual discourse to match. Should we be worried that local art collectors and gallery-goers might be attending openings for sheer appearance, to see and be seen? Such worries miss the point that artifice is the stuff of art and has been since antiquity. Artificiality is in the very fabric of our collective artistic being, coming down to us from Plato and Aristotle's early decrees that art is wholly a matter of "mimesis," or the reproduction of nature. As mimesis later gave way to imitation, an idea perhaps closer to Dallas' own sense of artifice, we find ourselves with an instance in which the goal of mimesis is not just to mimic or copy nature but to improve upon it--to create a sense of nature more beautiful, perfect and like "nature" than nature itself. Dallas' love affair with artifice does not make the city illegitimate or its art scene unreal but real on its own terms--a real so pink, so plastic, so placid and so peculiar to this city. And like the city itself, Dallas' art scene is faux real--more real than the real itself.

Daniel Gordon's photographs at Angstrom Gallery--both their appearance and success--bring home Dallas' quality as faux real. (It's also fo' real; gallery gossip has it that lots of these wack images have been sold.) Gordon's work plays on Jean-Luc Godard's claim that "photography is truth." Turning the words of the French filmmaker on their head, Gordon tells us that instead of revealing reality, the camera makes reality. In fabricating truth, photography tells us that truth is but artifice. Yet Gordon is no innocent bystander, allowing the machine to automatically work its magic. He is altogether guilty, complicit in this artistry of the real. His images bear the marks of a fabricated reality--that sense of artifice so dear and near the hearts of Dallasites. Gordon performs his sleight of hand according to two canonic gestures, still life and landscape.

Daniel Gordon's "Pile of Leaves": Look closely, and the images reveal themselves to be photographs of photographs.
Daniel Gordon's "Pile of Leaves": Look closely, and the images reveal themselves to be photographs of photographs.

The images in the first room, the still-life room, seem upon first blush to be various and mundane images of equally various and mundane objects, such as plants on tables, Walkmans, pingpong equipment, a pile of leaves on a sidewalk and a view of the photographer's desk replete with a classical artistic gesture--the artist's own hand. But when scrutinized, the images reveal themselves to be photographs of photographs. Gordon has grafted together objects by way of photographs, constructed rooms and scenes and then photographed them. Instead of an actual cardboard box sitting in a room, one sees a box made from photographs sitting in a room constructed of photographs. A cardboard box becomes an open five-sided cube fashioned from images of the original cardboard box, and the room becomes a construction of photographs of wood paneling, chair rails and crown molding. The photographic image becomes architectural in nature while the images remain seamless, flat and within the realm of formalist painting.

This seamless quality is carried over to the work in the adjacent room where one finds several landscapes, or rather, landscapes-with-young-man-flying. Here Gordon has orchestrated shots of himself flying through the air in an array of landscapes. Similar to his defiance of a simplistic reality in the still-life images, Gordon has defied the law of gravity, playing an Icarus whose invisible wings are set aflutter by way of the flicker and instant of the camera's charge. Like Icarus, whose waxen wings melt before the power of the sun, causing him to flail downward to earth, Gordon's flying leaps likely end in bruising tumbles, crashes and thuds, a messiness from which we are carefully and seamlessly protected by Gordon, the image charmer. While indeed lyrical and smooth, these images are less powerful. Their prettiness makes them intellectually sober in comparison to the plundering of the real performed by Gordon in his subtle but radical still lifes.

Oddly, Gordon does not enhance any of his images with digital technology. The brilliance of those amethyst landscapes is no hoax and, at least momentarily, Gordon truly seems to fly. This might strike some as counterintuitive. Shouldn't a young avant-gardist claiming to deconstruct the real use the most cutting-edge technology? But Gordon doesn't do things intuitively. The mark of his trade, in fact, is the unexpected within the realm of the so-called real. And this is why you should head over to Angstrom to see the pieces. The idealism and complexity of Gordon's work will make you pause and question not only the essentially plural nature of reality, but also the manner in which such multiplicity can feel good to the eyes and the mind. With Gordon, it feels all right to be lost in the manifold layers of the real.

 
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