Guys and Dolls

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Image: Annika Larsson, Dolls, 2008 (Stills)

Swedish artist Annika Larsson has a way of keeping her subjects in check. The slow, close, eroticized way in which she hovers around the male characters in her videos susses out innuendo, narrative, and meaning from a space absent of dialogue. She'll often stage and shoot a very simple gesture or group activity and wring every drop of suggestion out of it as she can. Her use of the camera--and very frequently her positioning of her viewers before a large-scale, almost cinematic screen--instigates a reflection on the power relationships inherent in looking, showing, camera-wielding, and screen-gazing. The dom/sub shifts revolving around the photographic lens may by now be the stuff of art school mythologies, but Larsson always finds new ways to turn the tables on one's presuppositions about such things; adding to the conversation a discourse on form and perspectivalism--another old-fashioned notion worth reconsidering. Her new 47-minute video, Dolls, on view now at Paris' Cosmic Galerie, takes her signature style to an even more self-reflexive level by once again exploring men in their supposed territory and calling on the viewer to examine the layers of mediation at play in both the male actor's performance of his masculinity and their own deciphering of the scene. Taking place in a white cube-cum-sports court, the action revolves around men interpreting the futurist symbols painted on the walls and floor, which are meant to evoke not only a Fortunato Depero-inspired Peter Saville New Order cover (a pop art relic of paternal inheritance, the Freudians might say), but also the basic visual designs used to teach humanoid robots how to serve their masters. In this case, the five men in Dolls become servants to their master's whims, be it the serving of coffee, the brandishing of a construction sledgehammer, or the fetishistic ski boot-stomping of objects. Here, "mastery" is clearly a double entrendre that refers to a control-related subject position as well as the deftness with which the man in question has picked up the enculturated skills needed to play male. Larsson's positioning of all of this as a game highlights not only the highly systematized nature of these scenarios, but also the triviality implied by one's perpetual inability to win at this game. Of course, it doesn't mean one can't have fun playing. - Marisa Olson

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