The photographs currently on exhibit at A\V in the Public Market remind us of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still series or the documentary photographs in Nan Goldin's book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. In their own ways, both of these photographers deal with the complexities of gender, identity politics, and sexuality.
Goldin portrays the people that are close to her and includes herself in the exploration of drugs, sex, love, and friendship. The work is gritty, at times erotic and sensual and at times violent, petty, and downright scary. Sherman's work explores woman-as-stereotype within film. She uses herself as an ever-changing character that defines her as woman and, at the same time, makes her the object of male desire.
Both of these bodies of work present us with the complex and ambiguous world of relationships, and the photographs by Scott Laird at A\V hint at yet another layer to be added to the problematics of human relationships. The exhibition, two please... , plays on these complexities by attempting to address both the act of dating in general and the desire to please one's date in particular.
According to the press release, Laird's photographs "examine the dating process" --- a process reduced to the dinner date within which is the "'expectation' of sex". The photographs, which predominantly depict a young woman and her intimate surroundings (i.e., the bedroom, the bathroom), are meant to reveal a narrative that takes her from pre-date clothing choices (she puts on her shoe in "too tight," while in "to thong or not to thong," the woman has to decide which panties to wear) to après the sexual encounter where --- again, through the use of narrative titles --- the viewer is taken from the "afterglow" to the woman sitting in the bathroom wearing a man's shirt looking off melancholically somewhere beyond the frame in an image called "was it worth it... "
Laird uses the ellipses in the exhibition title and in some of the photographs' titles to imply that something follows, that there is more to it. But that "more" is exactly what is lacking in the work. While Laird has given us some complex work in the past, in this instance, a subject that could be quite rich has been reduced to surface or superficial images. Yes, dating can be all about appearances but it is also fraught with all the baggage that comes with it. What is interesting about Goldin's The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is that it was not really about sex but about all the other things that make us human. We do want to please ourselves and the ones we love, but that is easier said than done.
That said, there are some nice photographs included, particularly the ones of the young woman. The images that try to represent relationships through restaurant chairs fall short, however --- especially since the latter are digital prints while the former are traditional color photographs. Joe Tunis's sound installation, which consists of recorded sounds from restaurants, bars, and other date locations, does add another layer. But Laird's examination needs more. How can the dating process be reduced to the point where a girl/model/object contemplates dressing up, to have or not to have sex, and then regrets it within the span of a few pithy titles?
You should go if the dating scene has been less than "productive" lately.
two please... | photographs by Scott Laird and sound by Joe Tunis | A\V, 8 Rochester Public Market, 2nd floor, through September 10. Closing reception: Saturday, September 10, 7 to 9 p.m. | Hours: Thursday 7 to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 423-0320, www.avspace.org