Installed in a dark, intimate gallery on the second floor of the California Museum of Photography at UCR ARTSblock, "The Further Disbanding of Michelle duBois" presents photographs by Los Angeles-based artist Zoe Crosher. The exhibition is comprised of a selection of pictures from "The Michelle duBois Project," an extensive body of work in which the artist re-photographs, re-frames, and re-contextualizes the seemingly endless personal archive of a woman--the pseudonymous "duBois"--who obsessively photographed herself in various costumes and settings throughout the 1970s and '80s.
Joanna Szupinska-Myers: Who is Michelle duBois, and how did you come to hold her personal archive?
Zoe Crosher: This project is more about my fantasy of duBois (one of her five aliases) and not so much a biopic, so I have tended not to divulge her full back-story. A big part of this work is about the impossibility of knowing her (or oneself), even after an endless accumulation of images over a twenty-year span, and I play this out in varying ways through the work itself.
The duBois work is an archive of her, and it's also her archive, but with all these different iterations and exhibitions accumulating over the course of the project and everything gradually collapsing together, it also becomes an archive of my ever-shifting relationship to the work. This cumulative layering of material and history, playing out through the "Kodak Promise" of every single film type, size and print, added to the impossibility of seeing the archive as a totality of "her," or whatever various fantasies there are of "who she is." The fiction of the totality of "her" mirrors the fiction of totality that the actuality of the archive can never achieve.
JSM: There's an interesting phenomenon that relates to the work and its reception: when visitors walk into your studio, they often think that Michelle duBois is your own alter ego, that you've posed yourself to make these pictures. You're both blonde women, and duBois is about your age in the pictures you use. On some level, do you consider your "The Michelle duBois Project" as self-portraiture?
ZC: Yes, it's funny, people think it's me all the time! And to be honest, it still surprises me. It's not me in the pictures, and furthermore, this is not a biopic of anyone. Even though it all comes from the archive of a real person, this is about fantasy -- both her fantasies, and the fantasy of photography itself.
People think it's me -- people who haven't even met me think it's me -- and I certainly revel in the confusion and how extensive it has become, especially since maybe there is a resemblance, but not much more.
JSM: It's like viewers want to see you in the pictures.
ZC: It reminds me that the work and my part in the work exist beyond myself. The best way to think about it is not how much of her is in me, or if it is self-portraiture, or if it's my own alter ego, but how far can I push her fantasy and realize it for her, both her amateur Kodak fantasy and the feminist fantasy of liberation, which is rooted in a very specific historical moment. What I most admire about duBois is her relationship to her own sense of freedom and agency, and what she wishes for the world: to be free from constraints in order to attain happiness. Her decisions are not ones I wish to make secretly, but it is her gumption and drive to make those decisions--regardless of any taboos, regardless of the stakes, regardless of the outcomes -- that I admire. And she clearly had a lot of fun doing it...
JSM: In the pictures that you use, Michelle duBois embodies many personae. You in turn appropriate her imagery, which places your practice in conversation with those of artists like Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince. Do you feel your work grows out of those practices from the 1980s? What does it mean to take up these issues now?
ZC: Indeed, the Pictures Generation clearly informs the way I've thought about photographs and images and how they circulate in the world, including ideas about authorship, re-photography, identity, and confusing what is "real" and what isn't. Those artists often drew on certain strategies they set up to create deliberate ambiguity. "The Michelle duBois Project" is about the relationship of fiction and the archive, and the impossibility of knowing oneself even after the accumulation of thousands of images. My interest in the ambiguity of truth extends beyond the object; it exists in the ether, in the conversations about the work, in the seemingly ever-evolving iterations, in which the viewer is denied full access to any sort of certainty of idea or story, complicating the possibility of truth through image. An obfuscation of the overall narrative -- which includes the work as well as the processes used to make and read the work -- is central to my practice, and I think this concerted obfuscation goes beyond the groundwork that the Pictures Generation artists laid before me.
Both Sherman and Prince have been incredibly inspirational to me at different points in my artistic growth. In my reading of their work, however, there is always a static-ness, maybe because so much of the work is now iconic and recognizable and singular. As I have moved through the project, my investigations have resulted in increasingly pronounced interventions and multiple iterations, leading to the near-disappearance and even total obfuscation of the original source material. Look for instance at our most recent "jumbotron" adventure! I'm extremely excited about this work, The Re-duBois Project (2013), as the next version of the vision. My overall hope is to build a body of work that liberates itself from all sorts of photographic, literary, identity, and historic constraints.
JSM: The Culver Screens offer an additional layer of visual manipulation to the source material. The jumbo scale and high level of pixilation is captivating; the project is visible 24 hours a day from the public pedestrian mall in downtown Riverside, and I'm always noticing passersby engaging with the images, turning their heads in double-takes.
Aside from the Pictures Generation artists, what are other important influences for you?
ZC: Artistic lineages that are important to me include the Duchampian Readymade (and by extension the amateur snapshot) and the uses of photography in conceptual art in the 1960s and '70s. Lucy Soutter just published a book called Why Art Photography? (Routledge, 2013) in which she situates my work in exactly this triad. I agree; I use photography as a starting point to explore and examine the fiction of documentary and the materiality of the archive, pursuing a practice that is conceptual in orientation yet rooted in vernacular representation.
I'm also quite obsessed with thinking about our current moment which is seeing the end of analog photography. I -- as are other artists -- am working through unpacking the materiality of analog photography that has been taken for granted for so long.
"Zoe Crosher: The Further Disbanding of Michelle duBois" is on view at the California Museum of Photography, part of UCR ARTSblock, through November 9. "The Re-duBois Show" (2013) is presented on a continuous loop on the Culver Screens at UCR ARTSblock, visible from the public pedestrian mall in downtown Riverside, through October 5.
Top Image: Zoe Crosher, "Mae Wested no. 10 (Crumpled) from the series 21 Ways to Mae Wested," 2012. | Courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. © Zoe Crosher
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