The Photographed Word

Some artists dont know when to shut the hell up

Grand Central Art Center—Cal State Fullerton's Artists Village satellite—is drenched in spooky blooood. But—shockingly!—there's not a found-art tampon sculpture in sight!

Dismayingly, Maria Pulera and Michele Iverson decline to provide profoundly clich├ęd examinations of vulvic power and womenstruation. How could that be? Don't they know they're chicks?

Chickness is about all the two have in common—aside from their inclusion in "The Human Condition," of course. Iverson shot her Bandaged Bodies series outside hospitals and anywhere else she saw maimed and injured folks. At first, she was afraid to approach them, but eventually, about one in 10 of those she asked posed for her camera. Her large prints are restrained and aloof; you can sense her politeness, and her concern for their privacy as they pause just long enough for her shot. You can even sense how brief the moment is: the air seems to still swirl around them, midstride, and they'll be on their way again as soon as the shutter has clicked.

The politeness works both ways. Iverson's subjects smile shyly because convention demands it. One smiles for a camera, even after one has just broken a finger or one's nose. Sometimes, one even smiles for the camera that is taking one's mug shot. Nothing here seems life-threatening, and while all the injuries look painful, we're not dealing with death here. Most of the injuries, like splinted fingers, could probably be ascribed to nothing more hazardous than a slight clumsiness. They're not harrowing; they're just formalized photos in black and white of people of all shapes and sizes with bandages of all shapes and sizes. In fact, Iverson never asked any of her subjects what caused their injuries. Her documentation doesn't cover cause, just effect. What did happen to the hip, freckled Asian girl in the Greek fisherman's cap, the one with the oval adhesive over her right eye?

Iverson's lens skitters away from her subjects as soon as the moment's over, practically begging them get on with their lives and out of her range, but her Surveillance Series, which isn't shown here and which I haven't seen, apparently took the opposite tack: she shot unwitting folks through their windows. In her statement, she seems to feel slightly guilty about it, talking about how it was crossing a line. I think the forced voyeurism probably did her some good—stretching her (and her ethics and the law)—but at the same time, one has to appreciate a polite shutterbug, one who doesn't delight in the misery of humanity.

Pulera's huge glossies linger like the paparazzi who stuck around to shoot Princess Di's accordioned Mercedes before calling for help. It's the most invasive lingering at the most intimate time one could imagine: one's death. But not to fear! It's not real death!

Overdose shows a girl vomiting luridly into a toilet, every inch of porcelain (and her mouth) spattered and dripping with vulgar, syrupy crimson. Birthday Treat shows a woman who has just shot her mohawked lover in the head (shades of Jean-Paul Marat) in the bathtub. His gore splattered on the tile behind him, he sinks into the water as she sits on the edge and blithely eats a piece of cake. Baseball Game shows daytime on (shades of Laura Palmer) the shore of a polluted lake. A beefy bald guy clocks a woman in the head with a wooden bat and, in Aftermath, prepares to chop that ol' head off with a (shades of The Sopranos, Norman Bates, and those two Riverside boys who allegedly killed their mom and dumped her body on Ortega Highway) butcher knife. Pulera's photos are hilarious. The only thing missing was the scene from Eating Raoul when all the swingers are electrocuted . . . midhot-tub-party.

But we hit a snag when we peruse her artist's statement. (This is why I never interview artists about their intent; interesting meaning can't save a bad visual, and stupidity—or pretension—can badly mar something one thought was terrific.) Pulera's statement doesn't exhibit much of a sense of humor—and these photos are truly funny as hell; punk rockers in Zoolander eye makeup do bad, bad things while looking very, very good. Instead, her statement seems to, well, take itself very, very seriously. To wit: "A Catholic upbringing on a Wisconsin farm, combined with a formal background in film, art and photography, contributes dramatic connotations of both nature and religious influences with a melodramatic flair. Real human issues are often explored in an imposing style as I entice viewers—at least those brave enough to enter into the shadows—on an unfamiliar excursion to the dark side."

You mean we're not supposed to laugh at Overdose—we're supposed to contemplate the tragedy of how tragic addiction is and the tragedy of tragically throwing away a young (and no doubt artistic) life in what's probably a (tragic) sixth-story Lower East Side walk-up? Tragically, addicts and artists can no longer afford Lower East Side walk-ups these days. They all moved to Brooklyn in the '90s. Did I mention the tragedy of the cleaning woman who's gonna have to hose down this nasty mess?

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