“Tranquilly I traced in my heart the forking paths of the endless inner adventure: the order to follow, the inner debate (resist? submit?), underlings rolling their eyeballs, words of moderation, calm, swift march, the hidden defile, the encampment, the gray-beard chieftain, the curious throng, words of greeting, firm tones, Peace! Tobacco! demonstration of firearms, murmurs of awe…the contest of magic, the celestial almanac, darkness at noon, victory….” -J.M. Coetzee, Dusklands(65)
Marc Handelman’s previous exhibitions have examined the visual and rhetorical legacy of mid-19th century American Landscape painting, and how operative features such as the organization and conquest of space, the seduction of and identification with power, and the various naturalizations of ideology are marshaled and manifested in contemporary pathologies. Traditional painting methods are used to locate image production back into objects that lay bare their construction and the subjective field of their origin. Drawing also from fascist aesthetics, kitsch, advertising, and modernist painting, Handelman’s work explores how power is sublimated or obfuscated in the consumption and making of images.
Handelman’s paintings explore a critical re-deployment of structures of power registering a psychological space alternately seductive, discomforting, pleasurable and repellent. The often highly charged subjects are themselves already subsumed within aestheticizing processes that beautify, dramatize and mask to redeploy their functioning machinations. W.T.J. Mitchell refers to a similar function in landscape as the “dreamwork” of imperialism and ideology.1 In this way, Handelman’s paintings seek not to reify but to externalize and re-animate the fetishizations of power and possibly “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, [and] to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
In Empire of the Eye, a new series of paintings continues to examine similar questions of power and representation, and to explore the agency of pictures and their viewers. Formal, optical, and psychological correlations refract between these paintings, contaminating different subjects, and re-contextualizing them to reflect potentially latent content. This body of work frames a particular and historical American pictorial fascination with intimations, voids, presences, concealments, masks, and the momentarily visible. Monumental and telescoping scale, abstraction, ephemeral visions, light, and an array of destabilizing optical phenomena address such subjects as an imaginary Fox News billboard, meteorological displays, Albert Speer’s “Lichtdom” (or “Cathedral of Light”) from the Nuremberg party rallies, “The Tribute in Light” from Ground Zero, and a “staged” landscape photograph by Leni Riefenstahl.