Anthony Goicolea (b. 1971) lives and works in Brooklyn, USA and has for many years been known internationally for his powerful and sinister staged photographic and video works as well as his complex layered drawings on Mylar.
In a series of photographs shot between 1999 and 2002, Goicolea stages scenes depicting groups of pre-pubescent boys; the images often complex self-portrait montages of the artist himself, enacting situations which call social norms and traditions into question. Creating tableaux of revelry and misbehaviour could be seen as an extension of some of his earlier drawings in which forests (typically associated in fairytales with lawlessness, the forbidden and the amoral) provide the setting for miscreant acts of ghoulishness, desecration and perversion, carried out by children. These photographs seem to be a performance of the ideas and adventures charted by his illustrated children of the forest. Manipulating his face, stance, poise and gesture, he encourages the viewer into believing that what they see is a pack, room or woodland copse crowded with individuals. His studied portraits of gormlessness, vanity or arrogance conjure the dismissive pose of adolescence in a convincingly diverse array of figures. Furthermore, their relationship with the camera allows us to feel we have interrupted a scenario in full gaiety. He captures something of the deranged in his teenage boys, signified in their slack mouths and gaping eyes so representative of the liminal stage between extroverted childhood and self-aware adulthood. Some photos, such as ‘Morning After’, give the sense that these boys are used to regarding themselves in the mirror where others, such as ‘Warriors’ and ‘Pile’ have a feral identity, lacking in vanity and conceit. We see the difference between those distracted by their activity and those compelled by the presence of a viewer, or the camera.
Following the production of his self-portrait work, Goicolea began working on a group of staged landscapes which led to the ‘Sheltered’ series. No longer using himself as a subject, Goicolea digitally constructed photographs that depict fairytale-like, timeless landscapes which seem to swallow or dwarf the characters that inhabit them. The figures act out a secondary supporting role to their environment and are often masked, hooded, or seen from the back in order to preserve their identity. Operating as a single unit, they live in situations that simultaneously reference backyard play dates and hippie communes, as well as detainment camps and disaster relief areas. Their living arrangements and concealed identities cement their status as outcasts or refugees from society. They inhabit tree houses, lean-tos, caves, cardboard forts and dilapidated barns. The playfulness of these makeshift habitats, according to Goicolea, ‘undermines the sort of desperate haphazard construction and deeper desire to migrate or live on the outside of communities.’ As in other series, the sense of foreboding is present, and mimicked in a suite of complex figurative drawings on Mylar. Androgynous figures of indeterminate age float on top of and through each other in a layered composition separated by planes of semi-opaque vellum paper, so as to appear as ghost-like, transitional spectres. Goicolea’s glut of repetitious motifs, most especially centred in and around ideas of the foraging of youth, demonstrates a fascination with ambiguity and the unknown.
‘Almost Safe’ (2007) marks another departure in the artist’s work. No longer concerned with issues of adolescence, Goicolea focuses his lens on a largely urbanised, industrial world. In these large-scale black and white photographs, the artist digitally composites elements culled from different locations and combines them into new topographies. Seemingly familiar elements such as telephone wires, power lines, and factories are juxtaposed in a way that torques reality and compresses space and time, creating subtly off-kilter and barely inhabitable worlds. Goicolea elegantly portrays a future that simultaneously bears the repercussions of a capitalist present and the residue of a cold war and industrial past. The dense woodland environments of his earlier works are replaced with desolate urban and industrial wastelands that, like its few inhabitants, appear to be atrophying. Goicolea de-emphasizes the human figure in favour of the landscape, alluding to an alienation or disconnection of humanity from its surroundings.
‘Related’ is the latest in an ongoing series in which he uses drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and installation to explore his family history and identity as well as larger themes of ritual, assimilation and alienation. Like many first generation immigrants, Goicolea experiences a sense of cultural dislocation and is aware of the disjunction between a supposed mythical homeland and his estrangement from it. Confronting this is a series of portraits based on old photographs of family who have lived or remained in Cuba. Drawing these portraits in negative onto layered Mylar and glass, Goicolea reinterprets his family likeness in the form of re-imagined daguerreotypes. He then inverts these homemade negatives to create a positive photographic mirror image of the drawings. Further removing the portraits from their original source, he then mounts the photographs in rural areas of the South where he was raised and in New York where he now lives. Nailed to trees, telephone poles, and the sides of buildings the photos take on the appearance of missing persons notices, ‘Wanted’ ads, or propaganda posters while referencing and memorializing past relatives. The portraits are then re-photographed in their newly contextualized environments, creating a third generation reproduction that furthers the notion of regeneration and self-referential representation while emphasizing their estrangement from the original source.
While his earlier work exuded a playful narcissism, this new body of work is marked by an earnest, almost wistful search for roots or connections to his past, reflected in the photographs’ symbolic settings. Here, as in his multiple self-portraits, Goicolea is exploring his identity; only this time he approaches it from an acute awareness of the cultural ingredients and familial history that make up an individual’s uniqueness.
Goicolea’s work is held in public collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York. He has exhibited widely in Europe and Asia, notably at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain.