“Honeymoon Phase,” is the first West Coast outing for New York based, critically praised photographer, Kelsey Bennett. Up now through June 1st at DRKRM Los Angeles, is a presentation that function’s as part survey/part preview of future exploratory narratives. Many (“Vanity Fair”, being one of those many) have noted her specific styling as “surreal,” indeed it is. But, this is one of the many complexities tackled within her body of work. Each of Bennett’s series’ is a particular investigation into culture and identity. A command of tone and color envelops the frame of these hyper-suburbia slightly asunder settings. However, the emotive command (and common thread throughout this presentation) is clearly that of the cinematic characters, who punctuate each frame with lively conviction.
Upon entering “Honeymoon Phase,” “Hypnagogia,” a series initially debuted at the Christopher Henry Gallery in 2010, is the first dynamic set that jumps off of the wall and at the viewer. Each frame is a glimpse into differing story arcs. These characters’ embody a “John Water’s” cinematic spirit of depravity; yet, each individual is equally shrouded in a seriousness that urges the viewer to engage within the single frame saga. In one shot you see a boy whose world-weary eyes connect with the lens and seer into the viewer. The boy, his mother just out of view, and the cuts of shadow and light seem more accredited to a mid twentieth century “Life” magazine spread. But, look again and see the boys’ breakfast is eyes floating in a thick soup of milk. Scroll a few frames over and encounter a beauty from a bygone era. Flanked by Victorian memento mori antiques and a dummy crow, this woman sits front and center. Enraptured by her casted off gaze, you notice on secondary glance that she is in fact in a child’s crib ala Edith Massey’s Egg Lady in “Female Trouble.” Here, the safe and mundane is fractured, but why?
Convincingly, Bennett weaves a narrative of off kilter existence- a balance of present yet detached (this is furthered through the use of “Hypnagogia” as the series’ title-meaning transitional states in and out of sleep). Sitting in direct conversation with “Hypnagogia,” is the preview into an ongoing series (slated for completion in Spring 2014), entitled “H.A.G.S.” The artist notes, “H.A.G.S, which stands for Have a Good Summer is a common sentiment in a yearbook.” In H.A.G.S., Bennett brings her cast of characters into the studio replete with a dewy senior portrait haze. These portraits of fellow artists are a representation of, what Bennett calls, “kids from my dream high school.” Here, the function of portraiture is skewed; a narrative is created through attaching the fantasy of a “dream high school.” Stereotypical representations of what one imagines being the high school elite are demolished. The preconceived picturesque is modified to fit what Bennett considers to be an idealized state.
Next, is a re-visitation of “Black Velvet,” chronicling the eponymously named, Brooklyn based James Brown impersonator Charles Bradley. The Godfather of Soul is resurrected within these frames. Watch the transformation as Bradley curls his hair into that signature ‘do, as synonymous with the late singer as his energetic dance moves. Next, see Bradley (an extremely talented singer in his own right), mid emotion head cocked back- raw, agonized and vulnerable. “Black Velvet,” shows that Bradley as Brown is a pure force. Bennett captures a transformation from the earthly Bradley into the transformative, almost séance state, of “Black Velvet.”
Rounding out “Honeymoon Phase,” is a brief look into a progressive aesthetic departure for Bennett, entitled “Boregasm.” Pairing with visual artist B. Thom Stevenson, an exploration into collaged framework is at play. Textures and colors fold and collapse into one another, preposterous pairings intersect in and out. Bennett and Stevenson’s collaboration erupts into an interesting manifestation of fragmented memories. “Boregasm,” is a brief yet well-articulated preview. As a concluding addition to “Honeymoon Phase,” it leaves the spectator with much to ponder; within the mash up of cultural insignia and textures is a cathartic, pleasurable experience.
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-Contributed by Bianca Guillen