“…Personality as something with fixed attributes is an illusion – but a necessary illusion if we are to love!” -from Balthazar, by Lawrence Durrell.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya‘s ALEXANDRIA, a photographic installation currently on view at The Envoy Gallery on the Lower East Side, references the literature of expatriate British novelist, poet and dramatist Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990). Specifically, the installation is titled after the Alexandria Quartet (1957 – 1961), a work of literature set in pre-WWII Alexandria, Egypt, which tells the tale of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea, and their romantic relationships with Durrell’s tragic artist, Darley. Each book in the Quartet presents one of four takes on a single love story, essentially the same tale told from different relativistic perspectives.
On view at Envoy, interspersed among crisply enlarged photographs of pages from the 1961 Penguin Edition of Durrell’s Quartet, are abstracted photographs collectively titled Portrait that refused to be taken (2007), an intimate grouping which hints at the transient nature of the photographic portrait. The predominantly white photographs reveal furtive glimpses of limbs and faces, blurred streaks across the surface of the photos that are reminiscent of Serrano’s spectral Ejaculate in Trajectory series (1989). In referencing such an esoteric piece of literature by Durrell, whose own discontent with the inherent narrative function of the novel is paramount, Sepuya’s artistic admixture is certainly fitting.
While in the past, Sepuya has been cast as an “uber-contemporary” seeker of love, lost within the cold confines of various internet hook-up sites (think manhunt.net) and a bare and white-walled urban apartment, here he makes a broad and informed leap toward a point of poetic equilibrium; an understanding of the subject-object synergy, partnered with the mature realization that certain universal truths are never to be revealed. In so doing, he reminds us that our own personal narratives, as well as our own continual search for love, are never as they seem and can never truly be known.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography and imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Sepuya has participated in group exhibitions at Envoy Gallery, Daniel Reich Gallery, Daniel Cooney Fine Art, STUX Gallery, Artists Space and the Powerhouse Arena in New York City; the Australian Center of Photography, Sydney, Australia, and Art Metropole, Toronto. His first solo exhibition, Beloved Object and Amorous Subject, was presented at Envoy Gallery in the Spring of 2007. Features of Sepuya’s work can be found in BUTT, EYEMAZING, TSHDT?, Capricious, and I.D., and The New York Times. He is the publisher of the well-known zine project, SHOOT.