T. J. Wilcox: Metro Pictures

By Frankel, David | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

T. J. Wilcox: Metro Pictures


Frankel, David, Artforum International


The films in T. J. Wilcox's recent show proposed an unlikely trio of heroines: Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, assassinated in 1898; Jackie O, widow of both John F. Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis; and Jerry Hall, supermodel and ex of Mick Jagger. The three may meet in glamour, but their respective sorts of glamour vary wildly, and my shorthand ID's above--"assassinated," "widow," "ex of Mick Jagger"--suggest the women suffered differently too. Yet Wilcox manages to find in the biography of each of them some sympathetic strain that makes them parallel. A man who loves women, he has invented a cinematic way of treating them that instantly endears itself to the viewer, while at the same time neatly critiquing both the social constructions that might oppress them and the visual media through which those constructions are so often supported and enforced.

Wilcox's films, which he has been showing in New York for about ten years now, are made using a collage technique involving 16-mm footage that he sometimes shoots himself as he travels around and sometimes takes off the television screen from movies and other programs. He may also train his camera on book and magazine spreads, turning printed reproductions into still images to be inserted among the moving ones. Built into the method is a degree of visual degradation: Focus falters, color fades, black-and-white breaks in. In the work on Elisabeth of Austria (one chapter in a three-part film titled A Fair Tale [Extended Remix], 2006-2007), a shot of a troupe of Lippizaner stallions is so overexposed that the white horses glow like incandescent flares. Meanwhile, subtitles guide our reading of the narrative. The films look old and imperfect, like home movies made a long time ago--which suits Wilcox, who seems fascinated with memory and the past, and with rehabilitating stories so familiar and often told as to imprison their protagonists in stale morals. Staleness--the familiar, the known, the cliched--provides the syntax of Wilcox's vocabulary; what he shows us we've already seen. …

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