Roy Arden: Monte Clark

By Adler, Dan | Artforum International, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Roy Arden: Monte Clark


Adler, Dan, Artforum International


The pleasures of viewing Roy Arden's recent photographs and videos often lies in speculating about how such simple, even banal, images manage to resonate so intensely. Take Overpass, 2005, for example, a shot of an empty makeshift home--located beneath the highway of the title--constructed from flattened cardboard boxes and a concoction of refuse that includes, one somehow can't help noticing, a pizza box, fecal brown splatters, shredded clothes, and some decomposing bread rolls.

The temptation to itemize persists with a pair of street-scene photographs from 2005. The title of one, Versace, refers to the remnants of a magazine ad showing a feminine arm juxtaposed with a boldly stitched dress. The ad lies neglected in a gutter, accompanied by battered ketchup packets, cigarette butts, and bottle tops--accoutrements that recur in the pendant work Sock. The careful cropping, bird's-eye perspective, meticulous attention to texture, and intimate scale of both images suggest both a public, expansive, topographical context--an impression enhanced by grooves in the dirt, made by rivulets of rain and sewage, that resemble dry riverbeds--and the preciousness and privacy of still life, in which our attention is directed toward the smallest bits of, say, decomposing fruit. However, in contrast to still life's interior focus and clarity of purpose, Arden's visions of degraded urban exteriors are more ambiguous in their iconography and intent. The trope of degradation continues unabated in Arden's twenty-minute video Eureka, 2005. Here the camera wanders slowly down a back alley in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside after a typically rainy morning. The pavement is strewn with junkie debris, used condoms, and pools of sludge--all elements of an intensive study of textures and surfaces that both repulse onlookers and arouse a morbid curiosity.

In addition to urban imagery, Arden's repertoire includes somewhat larger pictures of suburban yards and gardens, which are saved from sentimental prettiness by a restricted color scheme and an emphasis on relations between the private landscaping, the public space of the street, and the borderline between those two realms.

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