Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dia Art Foundation

Drawing from an extensive collection of figurines, knickknacks and toys, Liliana Porter works in photography, painting, video, and sculpture, creating humorous scenes with her inanimate protagonists. For her first web-based project, Porter presents a cast of toy chicks singing "La donna è mobile" (Woman is fickle) from Giuseppe Verdi's 1851 opera Rigoletto. The chicks begin in chorus, but viewers can cut to "solos" by clicking any of the individual chicks, and then return to the chorus where they left off. Each chick's audio track of the song is a unique interpretation, ranging from Tango to a panhellenic guitar version to a 1907 rendition by Enrico Caruso. The soundtrack is by Sylvia Meyer, with whom Porter has collaborated on her video projects.

Rigoletto, "La donna è mobile" is sung by the Duke of Mantua, a coldhearted playboy. In the last act when the Duke is singing its reprise, Rigoletto realizes his attempt to have the Duke assassinated had been foiled, and that his daughter, instead, was the one killed. In the context of violence and betrayal in the opera, the song's lyrics of distrust and deceit stand in contrast to its comical melody. Added to this disconnect is the inherent irony that it is the Duke singing of females being flighty, when he is the one most guilty of this accusation. Woman may be fickle, man even more so, but Porter's fluffy yellow chicks, a gender-neutral metaphor of innocence, sing as if to comfort and calm.

Long interested in issues of representation, Porter's practice frequently addresses conventions related to portraiture and the gaze. Her figures, typically shot against white backdrops or placed on a painted white canvas or shelf, are presented with a simple, direct quality, inviting the viewer to ponder their existential plight. Whether it is a line-drawn rabbit looking at us from a piece of paper with a rock glued on, its path leading straight to the rabbit's head, or a man pulling a strand from a rope, coiled beyond his vision to the size of a mountain, relative to his size, we can feel momentarily omniscient and amused, but also unsettled when we recognize ourselves, similarly unaware of our fate. Though they are kitch objects, the artist portrays the chicks in Rehearsal in a way that imbues them with humanity, legitimizing our desire to anthropomorphize them.

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