L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
Driving home on March 28, the last day of the SCOTUS affordable health care hearings, I had the radio on and heard interviews with two or three female picketers who had set up outside the Supreme Court. I haven’t been able to find the transcript of what I heard, but I remember it as one of those “can you tell who’s on what side” stories — like the one NPR did months ago, comparing the fiscally-obsessed language of a Tea Partier with that of a Wall Street Occupier. The similarity that struck me most between these SCOTUS picketers was the use of “I” and “my”: “my Constitutional right,” “my health,” “I have the freedom.” In an Associated Press piece I read later, a woman said of the health care act, “It is the epitome of being in my face and telling me what I can and can’t do for the rest of my life.”
The “I” and the “my” feel embarrassing: people speaking about what they want, and what they feel they deserve, but doing so in language that aligns them to “a side.” On both sides, the “I” and “my” seem in service to bigger red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal interests, and, at least in sound bites, the speakers don’t seem aware of how unspecific their “I” sounds.
Leigh Ledare, who became notorious on a very small scale (he’s only had a few solo shows, some of them outside of the U.S., none in L.A. until now) for using his over-intimate relationship with his exceptionally uninhibited mother as his subject, has work at The Box gallery in L.A. right now. And though everything in his fairly extensive exhibition is in some way or another “confessional,” all you understand about the artist’s wants or likes has to do with his voracious interest in other people — he wants, or likes, to know about those who are or have been close to him.
The Gift, fragments of a softcore film Ledare’s former-dancer mother made with friends, plays in a side room at The Box. Ledare’s mother sent him this footage, apparently “as a gift,” and Ledare pared it down so that no story, only strange encounters between actors and director are left. In the main gallery space, a room-inside-a-room has been built to hold Double Bind, a wide-ranging series of photographs of Meghan Ledare Fedderly, formerly married to Ledare, interspersed with imagery from vintage magazines, postcards, and other such sources. According to an explanation hung near the entrance to the room that holds Double Bind, Ledare invited his ex-wife on a weekend in upstate New York, intending to photograph her. She agreed, but had remarried by the scheduled vacation came around. Ledare and she took the trip, but she and her new husband took the same trip, at Ledare’s request, soon after. Both ex-husband and new husband took the photos that Ledare assembled to make his “artwork,” and the images aren’t that different.
Around the periphery of the makeshift room for Double Bind there are color photographs from Ledare’s Personal Commission series. In each, Ledare poses in costumes, often on or near beds. Women the artist found via personal ads, who had interests and desires that reminded him of his mother’s, have posed him and taken the pictures. Again, he asserts only his appetite for closeness to desires of others. Somehow, this makes him, an artist always putting himself in situations others would run from, seem cautious. Self-assertion, the kind those picketers outside the court plunged into, can make you look naive and exposed, and Ledare sidesteps that potential. It’s why his work fascinates and resonates, but also frustrates.