PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 24.3 (2002) 97-100
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The Poetics of "Removable Presence"
Damian Loeb, Mary Boone Gallery, New York.
In the virtual office space of today quickly becoming tomorrow and both quickly becoming yesterday, we are all removable. The staff, the employed cadre of individuals presently before our eyes, is removable. Though their presence has at some point been requested or solicited or made possible by their own devices (if they are the party in need), they are in any context the human contents of such space and are each replaceable by their attainable commensurate. Furthermore, so too removable in all probability is the company they are in as this firm may only be fulfilling a momentary need in a temporary economy (or only a perceived need at that). Both the actors and the location are replaceable and are easily removed. The painter Damian Loeb in his young career has taken these occupational precepts and played an aesthetic variation of the vocational conditions, thereby rendering him the poet/painter laureate of a world in which both everyone and everywhere is but a key stroke or a mouse click from being photoshopped away.
This simulated type of human environ (taken to its comic extreme in Peter Weir's 1998 film The Truman Show) far from being a new phenomenon had its origins in the socio-economic landscape created by an arbitrary; invisible, and omnipresent creative force (the creation known as Utopia by its architect Sir Thomas More). The simulated quality of our lives is so pronounced that it seems that people vanish like browsed web pages. When people step off of the stage of existence the human mind in this era of epic replication may be only able to register them as if they were in an ongoing movie. This may lead people to begin to question whether other people ever even existed in the material world at all. Is it all just film, the predominant metaphor of our age?
In Loeb's first exhibition at the uptown space of dealer Mary Boone in 2000, the then twenty-something painter offered a series of canvases whose environs were settings mostly lifted from other's photos and populated by actors of the painter's choosing. Subsequently, in his second exhibition (again at Mary Boone's [End Page 97] [Begin Page 99] Fifth Avenue space) he offered a narrative featuring a young Asian woman on-the-run traveling across a series of canvases whose scenery was of prefabricated origin. (These and all other Damian Loeb paintings may be seen on the web site www. damianloeb.com.) At his most recent exhibition, "Public Domain" at Mary Boone's new Chelsea gallery, Loeb left behind photographs as source material (after being sued by several lensmen, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, who had captured some of the original pictures which the painter appropriated) and literally went to the movies. That is, he has now removed all identifiable characters in the painting of scenes from Hollywood films like Boogie Nights and Fight Club; all that remains in the figurative guise are chance players material to movies but extraneous to the main pictorial purpose of the setting: a woman in lingerie on the bed derived from a still from Carnal Knowledge. (When he has his next exhibition, will his work again be created from major motion picture freeze frames? Perhaps following due course in his syntactical development will the painter then move in his own narrative or characters?)
In the painting I Hear the Word of the Lord (Public Domain), there is a motel court with an open quadrant with the revealed cabin rooms facing a parking lot, in the center of which is a swimming pool. Beside each chamber the car slot passes, and hanging above each is a pink light fluorescent against darkness. There is no character central to this canvas, no object as the focus of attention. It is a constant to this sort of picture—as it is to the random motels...