In Oblivion Begins with the Eyes, Rebecca Walz presents a group of 21″ x 21″ inkjet archival prints of photographs taken of Polaroids from her extensive archive, assembled over the course of the past seven years. The archive comprises Polaroids taken from art history books, television, film, the Internet and life. Walz’s diverse subjects reflect our daily consumption of information on the world wide web: Abu Ghraib, the cave paintings at Lascaux, Hitchcock’s heroines, pornography and the Pennsylvanian countryside in which the artist grew up. As with artists of the Pictures Generation, such as Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine, these Polaroids are sometimes two or three times removed from their source, and question notions of authorship and authenticity. Even the images taken directly from life have the quality of being already represented, as much the product of the cultural imaginary as the artist’s sensibility. These new photographic works add another level of distance from the original, being photographs of the artist’s own appropriations. This distance is visible in the painterly blur, grain and distorted color of the resulting prints. Unlike artists of the 80s, however, Walz emphasizes our romantic rather than alienated relationship to contemporary visual culture.
For this exhibition, the artist has selected a small group of Polaroids to re-photograph and stage as autonomous images, much like the historical paintings and museum experiences that have served as inspiration for her. Key to her selection of images is a narrative reflection on gender and spectatorship in our post-Feminist times. The title of the exhibition is a rephrased quote of French author Marguerite Duras, in an interview with cultural theorist Kaja Silverman about her book, Flesh of My Flesh. In the original filmic context, a female nurse and a male soldier reflect on the destructions of war, the woman saying in interior monologue, “oblivion begins with your eyes.” Her need to bear witness confronts his desire to bury history. As re-quoted by the interviewer from Silverman’s book, “oblivion begins with the eyes,” the onus is shifted from masculine indifference to
the universal consumer of post-industrial visual culture.
The images selected for the exhibition stage gender polarities only to subvert them. A phallic image of a man holding a rifle, appropriated from Terrence Malick’s Badlands, faces a limp tulip. A dead doe sprawls on the roadside, and yet Grace Kelly’s feminine visage and sublime vistas of nature preside over the installation as a whole. At stake are issues of masculinity and femininity as they overlap with our visual appetite for both violence and idealized nature. The image of a rain-drenched window perhaps most succinctly directs us how to best approach these images: to look at the window pane as much as the vista glimpsed through its frame.