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Fictions is a surprisingly coherent and impressive collection of Anthony Goicolea's art. The surprise comes from the facts that his previous work is a little gimmicky and that the pictures here are very consistent with his previous work. Yet somehow the whole is greater than the parts, and one gets a sense of, if not a unified vision, then at least a very distinctive and provocative set of images. Goicolea uses a wide variety of different media: drawings, paintings, photography, and photography with heavy use of computer manipulation. You can find many examples of his art, including videos, on his website.
Many of the images, both drawings and photographs, feature adolescent boys in red hooded coats. In some they hold hands or kiss. They are outside in the open, in fields, woods, or in some inhospitable terrain. We rarely see their faces, and when we do, there is nothing very distinctive about them: in photographs, they could all be the same person, photo-shopped in. Although there's no text in the book explaining the pictures, they have a very strong narrative feel -- and they seem to tell of a fantastic adventure. The first picture in the book is of a wood, with toadstools in the front, hinting of a hallucinogenic trip. The following pages show the sun rising in the sky over the trees, and then a clearing which the trees have been loosely wrapped in toilet paper, and some deer and a couple of stag look on, gazing at the photographer. Next is a picture, some combination of drawing and photograph, of two boys hugging the branches of a tree surrounded by birds. At the bottom of the picture are a couple of hands holding onto one of the boy's foot. They sky is red and the feeling is gloomy. After this is a series of photographs of the boys in red coats in the wood, waking up around a fire that had burned itself out overnight, then maybe a flashback to the night before with the boys surrounding the fire, and then to earlier, before the fire was lit in front of the stacked wood, two boys kissing demurely, lit by the moon and the headlights of two cars. This sets the themes for much of the book, with more images of the boys in the cars, a car overturned and a raincloud raining on 3 boys, and boys lying around in bed together amid videotapes, audiocassettes and a bottle of wine. There are a couple of quite garish and strange drawn pictures of green-skinned boys; in one they are wearing bright red lipstick, and in the next a boy stands looking out as if posing, while sparkling blood flows out of his left nostril. On a following page, a pink skinned boy poses in front of green wallpaper, with the right side of his face bruised or possibly it is a skin disease.
And so it goes. Fictions is a large-format book with about 180 pages, full of bizarre and disquieting pictures. The story moves to more populated areas, with pylons, a helicopter, and a hot air balloon, and then the industrial city and cable cars going up mountains. The book ends with two photographs of burned out houses. So it is dark, mysterious, whimsical and a little transgressive. Goicolea's work will be familiar to many, but probably only in small samples. Here we see the extended project, with its common themes and different variations, and we see Goicolea trying out different ideas, different media, and different subject matter, and he manages to keep it interesting throughout. Fictions is an impressive achievement: the work may seem more playful than serious, but it addresses topics of genre, youth, sexuality, violence, alienation and war, so even if his style seems deliberately arch, it is far from being fluffy. Further, his more recent work is moving away from the glibness that marked some of his earlier images, becoming more somber. His style has some instantly recognizable motifs, and the sense of a lurking danger is omnipresent.
Maybe we should ask whether this is good work, or how it compares with other fine art photographers. Goicolea is not alone in his preoccupations; his work is similar to that of Simen Johan in Room to Play, also published by Twin Palms, and a host of other photographers have been using young people in their images to eerie effect: Julie Blackmon, Rineke Dijkstra, Bill Henson, and the collective AES&F all come to mind quickly. These artists do not form a unified group, but it can be helpful to compare them, and when we do, Goicolea at least has as distinctive a vision as any of the others, and his work remains lodged in one's consciousness just as theirs does. So Fictions is worth careful scrutiny -- it is a book that one will return to with pleasure.
· Book review of Drawings
· Book review of Anthony Goicolea
© 2010 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.