Review|William Boling and Corinne Vionnet: Complete Desire
Opal Gallery; February 12—April 4, 2009; ArtVoices, May 2009
Laughter, forgetting, globalization, alienation — I see many things in Complete Desire, the photographic collaboration by William Boling and Corinne Vionnet. But at first I had difficulty seeing anything that resembled “completion” or “desire.”
The series is organized into triptychs of seemingly unrelated images from geographically distinct locales. The left-hand photo of Panel No. 18, for instance, captures a moment in Vionnet’s home in Vevey, Switzerland, while the right-hand side is a patch of green space near Atlanta’s East Lake transit station. Snapshots taken by Vionnet include Villefontaine, France, Kew Garden in London, and even a “train for Geneva.” By contrast, Boling’s photos were taken within the United States during various daytrips throughout Georgia. Boling and Vionnet met over the internet and, until the exhibition opening, “spoke” almost exclusively though images instead of words.
The “completion/desire” puzzle only deepens when one considers the two-year process used to create Complete Desire: One artist emailed the first image to the other who — without “peeking” — responded with a second image. The images were then revealed, and the second artist completed the triptych by choosing the final image. Each work, then, is not only the product of two creative minds but also a significant degree of chance.
So, desire is metaphorically “completed” through a kind of modified Hegelian dialectic, a fact that makes works such as Panel No. 16 all the more interesting. In the first image, we see a vehicle interior centered on a pair of female legs in stockings. A thumb enters the picture from below; the subtle contrast — between her pale skin and dark nylons (covered v. uncovered flesh) — evokes a sense of vulnerability. The femininity, in turn, contrasts with the genderless icons in the photo on our right, a closeup of a car dashboard. Isolated out of context, each icon “represents” a generic, almost hieroglyphic human being, shown in profile without arms (or even a neck). The air conditioner dial directs our eyes to the little arrow pointing to the passenger’s knees, an almost knowing gesture towards the female knees at left, as well as the man kneeling in the scene at center: a long exterior shot that looks down on an all but deserted neighborhood street.
Is this man locked out of the car? By the same woman who, embarrassed to look him in the eye, is staring at her lap (or at random dials on the dashboard)? Perhaps the central photo — viewed through a building window (evidenced by tell-tale reflections and glares of sunlight) — was taken by a private detective? Of course, domestic betrayal is merely one of many possible interpretations.
The visual themes mentioned above recur throughout the series: human figures visible only in profile, or in partial anatomy; obscured vision, often blurred by motorized travel; or scenes visible only through glass or reflections in a rear view mirror. Complete Desire follows an aesthetic of modern estrangement that, by willfully engaging in alienation, exorcises it by way of catharsis.