Front Room Gallery April 11 – May 4, 2008
Every culture has its voyeurs, but somehow it is more horribly acute to see members of our own society peering in at another; sexual tourism in Thailand seems more interesting than sexual tourism in Las Vegas. We either naively idealize this other land and its people, or use them to fill our own low or impenetrable needs. Our longings reflect what we’re not finding at home more than anything real about the object of our hungry gaze.
Decades after the whole Beatles soap opera, the subculture of Westerners seeking enlightenment in India might seem ripe for lampooning, but in their pellucid photos of temples and meditation centers, Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher create images that feel almost uninflected by subjectivity, as much as we know that that’s impossible. Beautifully executed from large-format negatives, the photos draw the viewer in both to examine their highly detailed images and to offer up a resistance to real knowledge or interpretation. Often Bezzubov and Sucher choose a view from outside a door or at its threshold, looking at scenes that seem somewhere in the middle of a story, neither an exposition nor a concluding statement. The radiantly beautiful Osho No Dimensions Meditation shows people in robes on a floor in a bare room, utterly prostrate in a way that could be interpreted as exhaustion, supplication, or even joy. Shrine focuses on a large placard with a photo of the guru Osho; the luxurious and empty meditation room behind it looks more like a spa than a shrine. The odd elusiveness of images that are otherwise full of information echoes the insatiable nature of the tourist’s desire, built upon distance and incomprehension. If Nirvana is located in Bodh Gaya or Bangkok, to Bodh Gaya or Bangkok we must return and return.
Bezzubov and Sucher’s take is refreshing in that, being already one layer removed—in depicting a world that is, as it were, facing away from the camera to look at another world—the clear-eyed quality of the photos seems less a smug critical distancing than a simple statement of what was observed: I came, I saw, I made art. They deviate from this method in their large images of some of the Western searchers, who are blanketed in a misty aura, like photos of the gurus at whose feet they kneel. Even so, the portraits don’t feel satirical, and the faces, shadowed by days or weeks of fasting and meditation, really look eerie and invested with magical potency, like ancient blue-eyed gods. The portraits are more satisfying on some level than the other works; there is a sense of relief at seeing something we can size up and judge (because we instinctively know how to read faces), which only shows the difficulty of looking without the easy out of satire, especially when it comes to some aspect of ourselves that we find disturbing—that has, in some sense, deserted us.