GUILTY! by Gilbert Vicario

Sep 7, 2012

Marcelo Grosman

September 7 – October 27, 2012

A composite sketch is an eyewitness’s description of a criminal’s face that relies on testimony based on subjective memory rather than on factual objectivity. This forensic science can serve multiple purposes: identifying the suspect, additional evidence against a suspect, assisting investigation in checking leads, and warning vulnerable populations against serial offenders. The facial composite system used by police investigators, for example, are comprised of a methodology of construction whereby singular facial characteristics such as eyes, noses, mouths, and eyebrows are available from an extensive database that enables them to construct a likeness. Police typically use these in the identification of someone suspected of a serious crime as their only clue.

The subjects of Marcelo Grosman’s ongoing photographic series entitled GUILTY! seem to elicit this association. Unlike the system used by police departments though, Grosman constructs his images through a digital process that creates a dense overlay of pixilated residue to create its dark, chalky mood. A feeling of social aberration, even if you didn’t know the title of the series, seems to dominate the work. Perhaps it is the individuality of the subjects with their subtle yet highly coded physical and emotional attributes - tattoos, scars, fetish clothing, running mascara - that hint at the desperate situation to which these individuals seem to have succumbed. The colored backgrounds of the photos, on the other hand, provide the single, ironic counterpoint to their otherwise colorless selves.

Despite the emotional tenor that these images achieve, Grosman’s approach maintains enough distance to establish a detached ambiguity necessary to approach the heterogeneity of their source. It is through this heterogeneity of subject matter, a composition built of typologies that counter intuitively imbues these images with meaning and which enables them to assert their power onto the viewer. Not unlike the rigid, straightforward and seemingly neutral compositions of Thomas Ruff’s portraits of the 1980s, which were inspired by German police observation methods and the passport photo, Grosman is invested in the power of the gaze. But who’s gaze are we talking about?

GUILTY! is a project about interrogation. An interrogation of the criminal mind, of society’s attitudes and prejudices towards the other, and of our own attraction and repulsion to that which we know to be socially unacceptable behavior. But does the immediate assumption of guilt preclude our ability to rightfully identify them as victims too? While the seductive nature of these images establishes a basis for understanding this conundrum one must also conclude that they are in no way self-contained assessments. Images, moreover, are morally neutral and incapable of self-determination. The argument is located not in the images themselves, but rather in the collision of meaning that occurs in the contentious space between the artist’s eye, the constructed images, and the viewer who gazes upon them. To quote Michael Fried’s oft-repeated epigraph, “Each answer remains in force as an answer only as long as it is rooted in questioning.”(Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”). It is only through this conceptual negotiation that judgments, assumptions, and the potential for redemption can be possible. GUILTY! becomes an assertion of power, not just remorse.

—Gilbert Vicario

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