Steve Lafreniere on Christian Holstad. (First Take)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Steve Lafreniere on Christian Holstad. (First Take)


HANGING ON THE WALL OF CHRISTIAN HOLSTAD'S Brooklyn studio is a string of shiny cardboard letters that reads INFECT OTHERS. Just a suggestion, really, but one that couldn't be plainer about the artist's intentions. There's a slyly evangelical tone to Holstad's work; it aims to repudiate bad faith in a time seemingly piled high with it.

Holstad is interested in cognition, in particular the shifty relationships between touch, neurology, and sublimer states. Investigating these, he's developed a unique art practice, one that emphasizes its own meditative processes. If that sounds reductive, the work couldn't be less so--drawings, collages, sculptures, installations, costumes, performances, and videos that cleverly question our ability to fathom our own feelings.

The "eraserhead drawings" are black-and-white newspaper photos Holstad alters with both ends of a pencil. They have the irrational force of a nightmare. He turns the original figures into ghostly membranes but leaves their heads, hands, and fingers untouched, grasping at empty air. Some figures seem to have melted together entirely, their eyes registering only stoic sorrow. It's a world in the terminal stages of some soul-eating malady. Yet the more we look, the less solid that take seems. A slight jog in perception, and what was horrific slips dreamily into that refuge from horror, the spiritual. The figures are now clearly in poses of assistance and compassion, their mouths serene. Holstad so deftly balances the pathos in these drawings with something considerably more beatific that we find ourselves in a kind of Rorschachian stutter.

For the viewer to become suddenly unsure of an image's "obvious" intent is key to Holstad's method. A new series of collages sets an idyllic if detached male sexuality against a background of smart '80s bathrooms. Men are engaged in myriad sex acts, their lust tempered only by, oops, a lack of genitalia. Patterned fabric has replaced much of their skin, too, and Holstad tunes each room's color scheme to it. …

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