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Anthony Goicolea's collection of
photographs for Twin Palms is bizarrely sexual and fetishistic while never
being explicit. It features younger teenage boys in uniform, acting
perversely. The very first picture of the book, "Last Supper," shows
boys outside in a wood, wearing striking blue jackets with red trimming,
crowded around a couple of loaves of sliced white bread scattered on some
rocks, cramming the food into their mouths as if they were starving. A closer
look reveals that the boys are in fact all the same boy, and some trick of
photography has multiplied him. More amazing still, one commentary on Goicolea
says that all the boys in these photographs are in fact the photographer
himself. There are no overt references to sex in the picture, and in fact it
is on one level a gross-out image, with his mouth wide open and pieces of break
poking out. Nevertheless, there's the whiff of fevered self-indulgence here
and sensory overload of a boy that brings masturbation to mind.
"Spit or Swallow" from
1999 leaves even less room for doubt about the sexualized content. In a wood
cabin, one boy looks on holding a bowl to this chest and feeding himself some
kind of dripping soup, stew or porridge while another boy kneels over a third,
holding down his arms, and dribbles spit over the boy's face. The boy's face
is covered, and he closes his eyes tight. The close-up of the boy covered in
spit looks like a standard facial shot from pornography. Yet there is no
nudity here. Once again, it looks like the three boys are in fact the same
boy. In the black and white "Whet," also from 1999, two boys are in
a large swimming pool, fully clothed, sticking out their tongues at each other,
just touching. But one boy looks up and from their body language, it seems
they are fighting or engaged in some kind of dare rather than kissing. On the
side of them is another boy, wearing a towel, peering back over his shoulder at
the camera. His tanned bare back shows the strap marks women often get when
they have been sitting in the sun wearing bras or bikinis.
One of the most blatantly sexual
images is "Premature" from 1999. Here boys sit or stand around a
classroom with their pants and underwear pulled down, their hands clutching at
their genitals. One boy looks like his is masturbating into a book. Another
has white liquid over his hand, and another stands in front of a chair on which
small quantities of milky liquid have been spilled. They boys look at each
other's crotches anxiously. In "I'll Show You Yours, If You Show Me
Mine," (2000), boys line up in front of a topless woman. Those nearer the
front of the line have started taking their clothes off. It's not clear what
the ultimate reward is for boys at the front of the line, but they seem to be
eager to get there.
The style of the photographs is
highly artificial. The stuffed animals in the background add a strong sense of
kitsch and both the trick photography and the highly posed nature of the scenes
heighten the sense that this is not meant to be naturalistic or insightful.
The self-conscious perversity brings to mind the art of the notorious Jeff Koons.
This style raises the question whether there is meant to be some underlying
meaning or message, possibly related to psychoanalysis, or whether this is
purely a postmodern game, a celebration of the impossibility of true representation
of life and a playful toying with the viewer's assumptions about photography.
If there is a message here, it is
unlikely to be about youthful sexuality per se. These pictures don't reveal
anything powerful about the eroticism of boys, either straight or gay. Goicolea's
work seems more about the medium and the representation of young male sexuality
rather than the thing itself. There do seem to be some references to other
works that are heavy with the erotics of youth: most obviously, William Golding's
Lord of the Flies, and at least one image, "Before Dawn,"
brings to mind the angelic naked girls with penises that feature in many of the
pictures of Henri Darger. It's hard to say exactly what those references are
attempting to accomplish. But it's a reasonable guess that Goicolea is
flirting with images of young male innocence and violence, and Darger and Golding
have created prime examples of those qualities. Goicolea also revels in comic
book schoolboy exuberance and naughtiness, as in "Feastings" from
2000 where boys in a fancy dining room create havoc and throw food at each
other. This is followed by a series of images of schoolboys with barely
suppressed erotic qualities: in the picture used for the cover, "Morning
After," three stand in a row in white shirts and purple ties looking
disheveled. One has lipstick marks on his collar, and another has hickeys on
his neck. As with most of the book's pictures, it is both funny and weird.
Despite the overt heterosexual references, it's also homoerotic.
The book comes with a CD-ROM with
short films related to the pictures that emphasize the weirdness and creepiness
of the style. One of the several movies featured shows a boy biting his nails
obsessively and creating a pile of bitten nails. It's more disturbing than the
photographs, and so, more effective.
The emotional tone of these
photographs and films is powerfully constructed; repellant and self-consciously
clever. They are memorable images that for all their postmodern play with
iconography manage to provoke strong feelings. While Goicolea does not make himself
likeable, he does show that he has considerable talent.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.