Jill Casid & Maria DeGuzman
SPIR: Conceptual Photography - Artists' Statement
|As SPIR, we have been working collaboratively since 1991 to produce narrative photo-text sequences. These sequences, multiple constructed scenes, or what we call "chromo-crypto-dramas," attempt to transform socially legislating myths, stereotypes, and icons and to visualize theoretical ideas in a seductive form. The chromo-crypto-dramas take on and "queer" well-known figures from cinema, pop culture, and literature; major narratives such as boy meets girl, confrontations with death, and tales of supposedly "doomed" homosexuals; canonical images from the Renaissance to the present; various genres of photography (documentary, fashion, glamour, ethnographic); and social formations such as the bourgeois nuclear family or the corporate structure. For us, queering as an art practice involves the destabilization of the representational norms regulating the self in society by unsettling the photo-representation of self as a site of self-evident legibility. "Queering" also entails the transformation of signs and sites of authority through impersonation. Through trans-vestment and photographic re-telling, these scenes usurp while they draw on the function of the photograph as evidence or social document.
The use of photo-based media may be consumed as evidence of ways of being. However, to frustrate a taxonomic use of the images we produce is a vital goal for us. By strategies of self-in-evidence we play on the grounding words of the U.S. Constitution We hold these truths to be self-evident. While persons in democracy must be represented for inclusion in the imagined national community, a particular burden is placed on those who deviate from social conventions to articulate and account for themselves. Our photo-practice of queering may seem remote from a recognizable politics. Yet its aim is to destabilize representational norms regulating the self and manipulating subjectivity in society. This multi-faceted project is at once a feminist, a queer, and a postcolonial endeavor interrogating colonization by patriarchal capitalisms regulation and commodification of identity. Our photo-text work is an extension of our scholarship on issues such as the codedness of identity construction; the performance and performativity of gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity; the connection of the image to the cliche; the icon or figure as trope or container of narrative; tableau as the allegorization of history; and the intimate relation between aesthetics and ideology.
Despite our respective disciplines, we share a basic tenet from semiotics that the image is a visual text and that photography, like writing, is a kind of encoding or cryptography. The conjunction of photography and writing is not so much a pairing or question of composite media as of transposition, of media that while not the same are not complementary either. Furthermore, both of us take pictures and write. Each of us produces signs in more than one register
Our photo-text practice turns upon the playful and serious production of anxiety in our viewers through the manipulation and inter-splicing of codes or representational norms, a strategy of feminist queer(y)ing with an uncanny twist. We seek to lead viewers not to some comfort zone harking back to the mediating and reconciling role that women have been assigned under patriarchy, but beyond to the unheimlich (the unhomely), the uncanny that lies both within the individual and collective unconscious. Hence, rather than stay in the domesticating, containing house that defines and confines woman, we work with the estrangement of the alien, what Kristeva calls the work of the foreigners the outsider on the inside. Our present show is entitled Camera Conspirata, referencing the name for the early imaging device the camera obscura the basic structure of which took the form of a room or box with an aperture. We play on the title of Roland Barthes's book on photography Camera Lucida to encode our corporate name SPIR as well as the work of our partnership-conspiring meaning to breathe together or in harmony but also to plot, poach, and steal together. Through its installations "Go Figure," "Theft in the Dolls' House," "Flaming," "Rescue Fantasies," and "In familiar pursuit of the woman who follows me not-home," Camera Conspirata pirates a bit of "breathing room" from already "occupied" spaces.