Sulking by the side of the railway bridge in Belgium is the Wiels, a center promoting the spread for contemporary visual Art in Brussels. And the Wiels makes avant-garde obsolete.
A huge flipping rectangle of cement on stilts the Wiels gallery is the most indulgent tribute to industrial architecture. In fact, this ex-brewery got promoted a classified building in 2007 preserving the four steam boilers brass drooping from the ceiling and blobbing innocuously onto the checkered floor of its gigantic hall. Working on fostering economic and cultural revival in the neighborhood, The Wiels hosts the most modern shows in Brussels, if not Belgium…
One dark afternoon of late December 2012 when the world is grey and the crows are singing, I am boarding this gigantic coleopteran that is the Wiels for a tour so heavily dosed in carbo-controversy that it will take me until today to digest it.
(I must point out that whenever I go to an exhibition, I tend to rarely check on the artist’s previous work and references – something I understand to be arguable however. I do do it now. One: for writing purpose but principally to avoid the kind of “grossed-out moment” I felt during Jake and Dinos Chapman at the Hoxton White Cube gallery, London a while ago.)
So here I am facing Alma, 2012 (below). A 3×2 feet photo of a naked woman legs spread on a floral bed sheet circa 1990 we remark that sex, face and part of her legs have been scribbled over by oil pencils.
What strikes first as recreational naive, an intimate study of the pamphlet explains that the scribbling was done by Alma…
A three year old child.
Chosen because too young to understand the sexual imagery of the picture which (yes) is Ledare’s naked mother (I know).
Okay. hmmm. stands in the front of the picture. silent. tits. fanny. Mummy. Alma…
Where am I?…
Too late. Alma’s innocent obliteration and Ledare’s mother inner bits are printed on the back of my mind.
Ledare (left) is a 37 years old American who used to hang with professional skateboarders. Master classed in Fine Arts from Columbia University, Ledare has shown in New York, Berlin, Prague, Moscow – and Belgium, obviously – pinning his controversy across the art globe under chief photo documentarist Larry Clark, also known for his crossing of boundaries.
And so goes “Leigh Ledare et al”. Using softcore imagery to explore the depths of social relationship and identity, this exhibition feels like a strenuous stroll through quite a radical family album involving different character types.
First hand, we discover Ledare’s mother (Tina Peterson) ex-ballerina turned stripper whom we will see does enjoy the company of much younger characters. As we follow Peterson through her slow erotic decay, she turns from posing object to human being. However, she remains herself and in control.
Then we meet the photographer (Leigh Ledare) playing himself, who appears and disappears on some of the picture’s background throughout the exhibition and lastly naked guests (anon) often shot during intercourse with Tina Peterson. And so goes the memorabilia, prints of motherly nakedness offered to Ledare’s eyes…
It is ostensibly for Ledare’s camera that Peterson spreads her leg and this is where the concept takes roots. Based on a modern documentary process dear to photo artists such as Nan Goldin or Cyprien Gaillard or Juergen Teller, Ledare and Peterson’s relationship is one of collaboration as recalled in an interview with curator Elena Filipovic:
“In the case of the photographs with my mother, I came to visit her after being gone for a year and she presented herself to me at the front door entirely naked, a young boyfriend on her arm. […] While I was making work that was, at least partially, a response to a situation imposed on me, through representing our relationship I inevitably became complicit in what she was doing. For me, this is actually where it starts to get interesting. She was using the camera towards creating posterity while undermining that posterity through how she sexualized herself. At the same moment, she was a mother, a pornographic actress, a model being photographed by her son in ways that often deal with impropriety, a prodigy ballerina, a daughter, a woman using her sexuality to shield herself from her aging. ”
….But. Why not using someone else?
In fact, the process would have been the same: Mummy’s genitalia would have made it to posterity anyhow; yet the pictures would have been completely different; through Ledare’s lens, the viewer can understand the full womaness of Peterson’s identity. So instead of being perceived as some kind of incestuous voyeuristic enterprise we start to understand that we’re all together witnessing a form of route through the life of a young and frivolous woman, a strong mother but first and foremost: a human being. Seen this way, it is a revelation if not the closest one has come to exploring identity. However, this kind of epiphany kicks in when understood the second part of the exhibition: Double Bind, 2010.
Plot: Just after Adam Fedderly married Ledare’s ex-wife Mehgan Ledare-Fedderly (left), the artist hatches a cunning plan. Retiring in a small cabin in the woods with Mehgan, the ex-couple get involved in an erotic photo-shoot as they used to in the past. Sex aside, he then sends the newly-wed Mehgan and Adam Fedderly to the exact same cabin for the same photo-shoot.
A 1000 pictures later, closed comparison shown traces of the subject changing physical expression depending on who (Ledare or Fedderly) was behind the camera. Another breakthrough into some conceptual representation of human emotions, we float in the void that composes Mehgan’s changing mood; we are in fact the third eye behind the camera; behind the shoulder of the photographer like a voyeur3.
A grand display of the existing synergy between subject and subjected, Ledare’s approach propels the archiving process of photography to its most conceptual height: materializing his influence over Meghan’s behavior and displaying the full-on authenticity of Peterson’s life enables the viewer to experience another layer of social interaction, documentary style. Now call it Art?
(All images courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Office Baroque, Antwerp.)