Disjoint realities: Ryan Trecartin and Leigh Ledare (continued)

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Leigh Ledare, contemporary photography

Leigh Ledare's record of his mother's life pulls no such punches.

A rapidly emerging US photographer whose practice has been compared to artists such as Nan Goldin and Larry Clark (both of whom have supported his work), Ledare uses photography, video, text and archival materials to map the complex arena of photographer and subject.

His best-known - and most troubling - project to date focuses on his mother, Tina Peterson.

Consisting of the artist's own photographs alongside texts, interviews and family memorabilia, Ledare explores her life through emphasis on various relationships: with himself; with a succession of lovers; with fleeting fame and, most importantly, her own sense of identity.

Our earliest glimpse of Tina is as a teenage model in a girls' magazine. Training at the time to be a ballerina, she eventually danced with both the Joffrey corps and New York City Ballet.

Having briefly established the nature of her early life and career, the archive starts to take on a very different tone with the inclusion of clipped-out classified ads: "EXOTIC DANCERóNot kidding! Beautiful, glamorous, sexy, intelligent & talented former ballerina & serious artist ... who excels at fantasy and reality... ".

Leigh Ledare

Henceforth, Tina appears in a succession of Playboy-style poses; legs splayed to reveal a depilated crotch, cavorting with young lovers, or even caressing her son in a way that seems to fall on the dubious side of maternal.

Tina's wording in her ads is almost eerily on the mark, her unorthodox combination of fantasy and reality fuelling an unexpected, disconcerting portrait.

While Ledare's project clearly occupies very different territory to that of Trecartin, a surprising number of thematic echoes and overlaps unite the work of both artists.

Most obviously, each explores a subversion of generally accepted realities, a refusal to comply with established norms ranging from linear temporality and logic to expectation surrounding familial relationships.

While opting for almost entirely antithetical narrative formats, each artist leads the viewer on a similar journey: Trecartin by fragmenting meaning within a kind of absurdist universe, and Ledare by closely documenting a reality so unfamiliar, so potentially disturbing, that it also appears improbable, unnatural.

Leigh Ledare

Trecartin's sexless freaks are, ostensibly, inversely paralleled by the highly sexualised persona of Ledare's "beautiful, glamorous" mother, but there's no doubt that Tina herself runs the risk of being judged similarly grotesque: a misfit inhabiting an ambiguous world of her own making.

In both bodies of work, too, the issue of self remains curiously slippery. Trecartin's cast of characters resemble undifferentiated clones, while Tina, despite her continual presence, is strangely difficult to assess. Happily revealing her most intimate moments, her motivations for doing so appear obscure.

But perhaps the most salient connection of all lies in the complex issue of exposure; a theme which, through the work of both artists, is mined for its various semantic implications and growing relevance to contemporary society.

The disjoint narratives of Trecartin's movies are designed, of course, to reflect the erratic movements of our interaction with new media. And as the artist has consistently claimed, the key to understanding - or, at least, vicariously partaking of - his work's incoherent coherence is dependent upon our degree of exposure to a life lived online.

But it's the issue of personal exposure - the private made intentionally public - that fundamentally unites Ledare and Trecartin.

A willingness, even desire, to lay oneself open to mass scrutiny is a marked contemporary phenomenon fuelled, in no small part, by the inexorable rise of new media itself. And one of the least obvious, but nonetheless fundamental, aspects of both artists' practice is a commentary on our ever-increasing alacrity to face the lens; to be exposed to the public eye; to become media.

 

Disjoint realities, continued >

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