Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review of Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea at the Telfair Museum's Jepson Center, Savannah

The Uncanny and the Homosexualized Male Gaze in Works by Anthony Goicolea

An uneasy feeling pervades the rooms housing more than thirty works by Anthony Goicolea, (b.1971).  Comprised of a mid-career survey of the Cuban-American artist, the rooms give the impression of closets or private chambers which upon entering, one is immediately aware of the imposing feeling of witnessing the unveiling of a stranger’s secrets.  Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea is the title of the exhibition at the Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center in Savannah, Georgia on display from September 2, 2011 through January 8, 2012.  
Artist Anthony Goicolea
The exhibit was organized with the aid of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh from which several of the works of art are borrowed.  Many of Goicolea’s works reveal adolescent boys acting within the awkwardness of puberty.  However, upon further investigation it becomes evident that these staged figures are not adolescent boys at all; in fact, they are adult-Goicolea himself masquerading with the assistance of costumes, wigs, and make-up.  Using sophisticated computer tools, Goicolea is able to create multiples of himself interacting with the other Goicolea’s in an interplay often evoking a discomfort in the viewer.  Goicolea’s images are compellingly cinematic and exude a certain power, illustrating his mastery of mis-en-scène techniques.[1] 
It is the uncanniness of the images which most incites feelings of uneasiness from the viewer.  The uncanny is a term developed by psychoanalysis pioneer, Sigmund Freud in his essay The Uncanny (1919).  Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize.[2]  In the case of Goicolea’s work, the viewer is compelled to look more closely despite the feeling of unease caused by the uncanny subject matter.
Goicolea’s work comes after that of Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), a self-portrait photographer who also used masquerade to create alter-egos of herself in staged scenes.  Sherman’s later works, which are contemporary with Goicolea’s early works, are uncanny because of the realness of her masquerade; her posture, make-up, and attire all lead the viewer to wonder why this image is relevant as it appears to be capturing an everyday figure, (see Figure 1). 
Figure 1. Cindy Sherman. Untitled (MP355), 2000. Photograph, 36”x 24”.

Figure 2. Cindy Sherman as herself in 2000.
However, upon further review Sherman’s irony and critique is evident, especially when one compares her photographs to those of the artist as herself, (see Figure 2).  Reflecting on Freud’s definition of uncanny, the strangeness yet familiarity of the images leaves viewers feeling somewhat repulsed but intrigued by Sherman’s works. 
Goicolea’s images are uncanny in a different way than those of Sherman.  In Poolpushers of 2001, Goicolea utilizes uncanny effects that, according to Freud, result from instances of "repetition of the same thing."[3]  The scene depicts a group of teenage boys in swim caps and briefs around an indoor swimming pool, (see Figure 3). 
Figure 3. Anthony Goicolea, Poolpushers, 2001. Chromogenic print, 71” x 100”.
In the background the boys are sitting cross-legged, fidgeting, and waiting for those in the foreground to finish their task.  Four boys in the foreground use hand-held pool skimmers to push and clear away the bodies of drowned teenaged swimmers.  Aside from the flippantness of this morose task, this image is repulsive because of the multiplicity of Goicolea’s face and body.  The viewer soon recognizes this multiplicity and subsequently realizes that the downward floating bodies in the pool must be Goicoleas as well and are being pushed around by the live Goicoleas.  The same uncanniness is evident in Class Picture, 1999, (see Figure 4). 
Figure 4. Anthony Goicolea, Class Picture, 1999. Chromogenic print, 40" x 42".
Here, twelve Goicoleas sit on the front steps to their school, they are all dressed in typical school uniforms and all have the same blond, boyish haircut.  Karen Irvine, Associate Curator of Goicolea’s 2002 show at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Photography, finds that his work deals not only with the awkwardness of puberty but also with the experimental phases of adolescence in which teenagers grapple with identifying themselves as sexual beings.
In Goicolea’s world of clones, when boys love each other, they love themselves, and as they chart their newfound sexuality, they experiment. They wear make-up, touch tongues, urinate, spit, lick, and hold hands, testing the limits of gender identification and displaying an obsession with bodily functions and fluids.[4]
Irvine touches on another psychoanalytic element in Goicolea’s work, one that was derived from the Lacanian school of thought by scholar, Laura Mulvey.  Mulvey studied the influence of the male gaze in film, especially in that of Hichcock.  She believed that the lingering camera shots on the curves of female actors were playing to the male gaze and thus, women were reacting, knowing the male gaze was upon them.  Mulvey maintains that “as the spectator [of a film] identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look.”[5]  Sherman commented on the power of eroticism and critiqued the male gaze in her early Film Stills.  In Film Still #14 Sherman portrays a Hichcock-like actress, poised and suggestively displaying her curves although seemingly frightened by something behind the camera lens, (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Cindy Sherman. Film Still #14, 1978. Photograph, 10"x 8".
Mulvey emphasizes the body as object within a heterosexual context when she states, “Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium.”[6]  The subjects in Goicolea’s photographs function within this idea when they simultaneously elicit the male gaze and respond to it.
Mulvey’s theory can be transformed to represent the homosexualized male gaze, an element contained within many of Goicolea’s works.  Author, Jennifer Dalton points out that in his photographs “[Goicolea] exploits his own body as a possible turn-on to others.”[7]  Like Sherman, Goicolea positions himself as a sexual object and photographically captures the recipient responding to the homosexualized male gaze. 
Looking again at Goicolea’s Poolpushers it is evident that the teenaged boys convey a homoeroticism in their positioning and activities.  Some stand with hips thrust forward, others have open mouths with their heads tilted back, suggestively pulling at the poles of the pool skimmers.  In Class Picture the same homoeroticism is present.  Here Goicolea plays with the boyish, innocence prized in gay culture.  Two boys hungrily eat popsicles, stuffing their mouths with phallic objects, drooling and alluding to fallacio.  Other boys stare suggestively at the viewer perhaps referencing the secret signals used by gay men to let their sexual preferences be known and to elicit sex. 
The fine art photography of Anthony Goicolea borrows much from that of Cindy Sherman.  Both artists have a satirical tone emanating from their works as they critique the trends of popular culture.  With the aid of psychoanalytic terminology it can be established that both comment on the uncanny and the male gaze in their carefully arranged, fabricated photographs.  However, Goicolea uses the uncanny differently than Sherman.  He relies on the multiplicity of his own image to lend a confusion and repulsion to his work whereas Sherman uses a single image of herself to represent eerily realistic portrayals of women.  Goicolea also departs from Sherman in his construction of the male gaze.  Sherman’s male gaze in her early works was originating from the second wave of feminism and critiqued the lifestyle of the 1950s women, enforced by phallocentric ideology.  Goicolea, on the other hand, is working in an age when gay rights have been established and the multitudes of sexual identities are no longer hidden but somewhat accepted.  He uses the male gaze in a homosexualized sense as opposed to Sherman’s heterosexualized.  Thus, Goicolea has propelled forward from where Sherman left off, bringing a new critique to the male gaze.  In doing so, he has brought a current relevance to this idea.  Art, like Goicolea’s, that comments on modern issues, uses new technology, and is historically and artistically grounded is worth viewing and as such can be justly categorized as high art along with the revolutionary works of Sherman.  A visit into the rooms of the Jepson Center may incite feelings of unease or pedophilia, however, an exploration of Goicolea’s alter egos leaves viewers feeling aware, informed, and eager to see where innovative artists will take self-portrait photography next.

Works Cited

Dalton, Jennifer. “Look at Me: Self-Portrait Photography after Cindy Sherman.” A
Journal of Performance and Art 22, no. 3 (2000): 47-56. Accessed October 29, 2011. doi: 3247840.

Franklin, P.B. A. Goicolea. "Boyology". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books, Ltd., 2003.

Irvine, Karen. “Anthony Goicolea.”

Leighten, Patricia. “Critical Attitudes toward Overtly Manipulated Photography in the
20th Century.” Art Journal 37, no. 4 (1978): 313-321. Accessed October 29, 2011. doi: 776042.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no.3 (1975): 6-18.

Rucas, Derek. P. "The Male Gaze, Homosexualization, and James Bond Films." Film
Articles and Critiques 26 (Feb. 2003). Accessed November 1, 2011. <>.

[1] Jennifer Dalton, “Look at Me: Self-portrait Photography after Cindy Sherman,” A
Journal of Performance and Art 22, no. 3 (2000): 50, Accessed October 29, 2011. doi: 3247840.
[2] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (New York: Penguin Books, Ltd., 2003), 102.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Karen Irvine, “Anthony Goicolea,”
[5] Laura Mulvey, ““Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no.3 (1975): 6-18.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Dalton, “Look at Me,” 53.

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