Magazine article Artforum International

Sam Taylor-Wood: Centre National De la Photographie, Paris

Magazine article Artforum International

Sam Taylor-Wood: Centre National De la Photographie, Paris

Article excerpt

Sam Taylor-Wood makes big photographs. I like photographs that are small, made to be viewed in books or, ideally, held in one's hands, destined to be turned, caressed, and scrutinized up close. In such experiences lies something like the essence of photography, for me. And thus I do not like Sam Taylor-Wood's photographs.

Of course, Taylor-Wood's images were never intended to be exceedingly photographic. They flirt with cinema (the panoramic horizontal expanse, "sound tracks," and temporal dilation of the "Five Revolutionary Seconds" series, 1995-98). They daily with theater (the play with miseen-scene and costume, not to mention the very title of the "Soliloquy" series, 1998-99). They have much too much truck with painting (the monumental scale, the precious wooden frames, the pretentious pas-tidies of Velazquez or da Vinci in the YBA icon Wrecked, 1996). A generation ago, artists like Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall were constructing photographic images at the crossroads of a variety of media, and in so doing initiating new, hybrid genres (the film still, for example, which inhabits a space between cinema and photography); today that legacy has been extended in at least two directions: toward an increasing mannerism of the hybrid photographic image as its own form (Taylor-Wood and Gregory Crewdson are exemplary here) and toward analogous experiments at the limits of other media such as film and projected-image work, where cinema meets sculpture or video (and here, too, Taylor-Wood is representative).

Unfortunately, the photographic mission of this retrospective's venue got in the way of the fact that Taylor-Wood's work in film and video far surpasses the rest of her oeuvre. Taylor-Wood has called this split in her work "schizophrenic," but I think its rationale is less pathological than banal, even objective. Unlike, say, the work of Sherman--which effectively insinuates a mode of reflexivity into an intermedia space--Taylor-Wood's photographic works simply do not articulate the terms of their hybridized medium, no matter how internally contradictory it is; her pared-down films and videos, on the other hand, almost cannot help doing so. The title "Five Revolutionary Seconds"--a moniker that registers both the exposure time of each image and the use of a revolving camera derived from military surveillance technology--does share the self-reflexive imperative suggested by the titles of so many of her non-photographic works. But her photos turn this internal self-critical energy into proclamations of sudden a ccess to the hidden depths of subjectivity, as we see in the panoramic predellas of the "Soliloquy" series and their staging of inner thoughts, fantasies, and dreams. Nothing could be further from such a proclamation than Taylor-Wood's deadpan 1994 video Killing Time. Here we gaze at a multichannel projection of isolated and vacant actors, each waiting in twitching boredom for his or her turn to lip-synch the lines of a different character from Richard Strauss's Elektra, which serves as the piece's sound track. No recent work has deflated a high-art form as efficiently as this video, which is a far cry from the obsequious pastiches from the past in the artist's photographs. No video projection has so thoroughly figured the medium's potential for infinite temporal expansion, its collapse of the difference between viewer and object, and its intense dispersal of the ordering procedures of and separations between traditional artistic forms. …

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