Encapsulating topics as grand as performativity and vulnerability in visual art often leaves the viewer unsatisfied. So often, concepts such as these are over-thought and over-articulated, but in Tammy Rae Carland‘s Funny Face, I Love You, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In her latest exhibition at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, Carland takes on the role of the comedian, one could argue the most vulnerable of all creatives, as a vehicle to explore fragility and personal exposure.
In her most recent photographic series, I’m Dying Up Here, Carland’s isolated figures live in an unsettled state, seemingly caught mid-act. The figures rest between being obscured and exposed by the heavy dark cloaking of the background. Each background is both visible and invisible, with subtle texture only coming into focus as one approaches the photograph. Even when there is no figure present, the environments in each image lie in waiting for something, giving one the sensation of anticipation, fear and self-doubt that accompany the act of performing.
For an exhibition revolving around comedians, humor takes a surprising, and unexpected, backseat role. In so many ways, humor can be one of the best ways to protect one’s self, but in Tammy Rae Carland’s case, humor only presents itself alongside humiliation and exposure, acting as a tool to show how one is both hidden and revealed, guarded and defenseless.
In some of the most uniquely satisfying work in the gallery, a series of ink and paper text works, entitled Punch Line, mask transcripts of famous comedians’ acts, only leaving the punch line revealed. This disguise leads the viewer to search, to postulate, and to wonder about that which is missing, only providing the feeling of being utterly incomplete, and unfulfilled. What results is a context that is lost or mistranslated, mirroring the vulnerability embedded in the I’m Dying Up Here series.
And, as a perfect way to complete this well articulated thought, the fragility and subtle habitation of the ceramic sculpture, Funny Face, I Love You, reveals the balance of presence and absence in all of the work in the show. As it sits in the window space of the gallery storefront, the sculpture lives both inside and outside of the space. The ethereal nature of the white ceramic simultaneously exists as the omission of a figure and as the immaterial quality of the prop to the act of performing. All of these elements combined in Carland’s well choreographed narrative leaves a place for the viewer to explore vulnerability and fear in relation to the body and mind united in the performative act.
Funny Face, I Love You will be on view at Silverman Gallery through October 23rd, 2010.