Hunt, Ian, Art Monthly
David Wojnarowicz Between Bridges London April 20 to June 4 Cabinet London April 21 to May 20
David Wojnarowicz made his escape from an abusive father and what he called the Universe of the Neatly Clipped Lawn not, first of all, by running away to the city, but to a nearby forest where he made figures out of mud and sticks. Comics didn't satisfy his sexual curiosity, so he cut them up and reassembled the heroes and monsters to make them kiss and fuck. 'When I was a kid, I discovered that making an object, whether it was a drawing or a story, meant making something that spoke even if I was silent. As an adult, I realise if I make something and leave it in public for any length of time, I can create an environment where that object or writing acts as a magnet and draws others with a similar frame of reference out of silence or invisibility.' Biography is unavoidable in thinking about his diverse works and labours--numerous solo shows and writings, films, music and collaborations through the 80s to his death from Aids in 1992--but it is not uncomfortable that this is so. His own story did not function weakly, as the prop to the established market appeal of outsiderdom, but strongly, as form and historical material to be known and generalised. The attempt to make a shift in the governing environment of what was sayable was self-conscious and politicised from the start, but nevertheless he managed to conserve within it an authentic visionary aspect, most apparent in the writings and films. It is addressed most frequently to the interaction of feeling and environment, and Wojnarowicz's reports from that boundary are still resonant.
These two exhibitions both foreground the voice. At Cabinet it is absent, but suggested by the presence of loose copied pages from Sounds in the Distance: Thirty-Five Monologues from the Road, written during the same period as the exhibited works, photographs from the portfolio Rimbaud in New York, 1978-79/2004. A friend, or perhaps the artist, dressed in a mask from the iconic photo of Rimbaud at 17, was photographed in locations associated with Wojnarowicz's teenage years as a prostitute: the meatpacking district, Coney Island, porn cinemas and luncheonettes. He lies on a bare mattress or in the available light of decaying apartments. As in Buster Keaton films, the mask face often functions as a central still point to illuminate the contrasting environment, and the series was described in a letter at the time as 'really a loose street journal biographical piece as far as locations (not sensibilities--I have no delusions)'. The monologues are in an established vein of Beat and hoboing reportage, which Wojnarowicz was rapidly to move beyond, and their freewheeling talk--characters desperate to narrate their lives--emphasises the silence at the heart of the photographs. In contrast to Rimbaud, however, these early works did announce the artist's concern for art world approval, if also a bid to contest its terms. …