Alexandro Segade, courtesy Artist Curated Projects
O BrotherArtist Curated Projects
September 13 through October 4, 2008
Three men ride horses, their rhythms mesmerizing but distinct. They seem to ride at different paces and for different cause. One clearly gallops; another lopes; the third canters prettily. They are actors, and very different actors, at that. One seems destined for television. Another seems as though he would be most comfortable on a stage. The third might be someone who forever auditions but never quite finds his role.
The men are actors in Alexandro Segade’s O Brother
, a five channel video installation at a Hollywood bungalow with plastered arches in the gallery and French doors through to a narrow bedroom. Each actor occupies the space of one small television – the bulky sort of 13 inch set I grew up with, nothing flat or fancy here – and the sets are strewn about like so much furniture, one on the floor, one on a stool, another on a coffee table. A fourth man occupies a television that faces the front door and takes some of the glare of the late summer day. A fifth sits comfortably on a side table, encasing a man who roars faux Elizabethan speeches from the right of the mid-century couch.
This Hollywood bungalow houses Artist Curated Projects, Eve Fowler and Lucas Michael’s permissive experiment in artist-run exhibitions. Generally, Fowler and Michael – artists themselves – have conceived of ACP as a site for group curatorial efforts: they want the experience of art making and installing to be something people experience together, an alternative situation to the frequency with which art careers leave artists thinking only of themselves. In Segade’s case, however, they made an exception. Segade has worked in the collective My Barbarian for eight years, and ACP provided the reverse opportunity for him: to work alone.
The artist spent a year conducting research, writing, shooting, editing, casting, costuming, rehearsing and directing O Brother
. His hired actors give voice to the villains of Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Artur
(1485). They wear the sorts of green tights and chainmail one would expect of the knights of Orkney, but are bathed in colored lights and perform their soliloquies in front of a black velvet curtain.
Interesting here is the very fact of the soliloquies: that five men are performing monologues alone, and that their solo efforts only (almost) cohere once installed. Even more interesting: that these five men must interpret – alone – what it means to be a knight, that sort of soldier whose very mission is to support and cohere with a body of men. Without other knights – other actors, other men – around whom and off of whom to bounce one’s sense of self as a knight, as a man, from where does that sense of self derive?
Segade is interested in the notion of the construction of masculinity, of masculinity as a masquerade, a concept that in psychoanalytic theory is associated with the feminine position. For Segade, “the masculine is as much a disguise as the fem… and in this case, it is made with colored lights and tights and some facial hair.”
Surely the costumes and the minor set supported the fantasy into which each actor had to enter, and they help to support a sense of the piece as a unit, but the territory of O Brother
throws even the theatrical into question. Artifice and audience are only sort of courted here: it feels the strong project of each actor to be entirely absorbed in himself, and it feels the strong project of the artist to give each actor the space to figure out what that looks like. This suggests rather an open question to five individual men as to how they can convey the masculine; the diversity of their response is a major subject of the piece.