Dangerous Curves: Politics and Poetry in the Work of Blaise Tobia
by Joseph F. Gregory © 2003


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. . . But further inspection of the series quickly dispels such a misconception. For in another work, the Italian scene is further paired with an image of Italian cosmetic products that includes an advertisement of an anti-cellulite cream displaying a strongly eroticized image of a woman's buttocks. . .

. . . The commodification of female flesh is thus transported across cultural boundaries and the image might therefore remind the viewer of the global pervasiveness of patriarchal power. But how is one to reconcile this apparently exploitative image with the prominence of Christian values and principles implied by the street crucifix? Is the Roman Church a fellow traveler of patriarchy? Is there a middle road in this Mediterranean culture between the dogmatic views of the Church and the life of the senses that might provide this juxtaposition with its own legitimacy in the eyes of the people? Is it a matter of looking the other way? Is this evidence, at bottom, of an irresolvable clash between capitalistic materialism and religious, otherworldly values? To make meaning out of this pair of photographs is to make meaning out of the culturally loaded objects and scenes that they show us; but since there is no tradition which links this specific combination of objects to a specific set of meanings, there is no unique and necessary interpretation of the work possible. The viewer must take on the responsibility of creative agency by first thinking through the cultural relations of each object and then forging relations of similarity and difference between them.

__In the "Dangerous Curves" group, however, as already pointed out, the complex relations that pertain to each pair of images are compounded by the work's membership in the encompassing, round robin series. The American scene containing the "Dangerous Curves" sign, for instance, is also paired with a snapshot of enraptured spectators aboard a glassbottom boat . . .

. . . The thematic relevance of these two images to one another is easily uncovered by analysis: one reveals people immersed in a state of intense spectatorial absorption, while the other represents a social site dedicated to the same activity. This thematic parallel is realized by placing each image within the perspective of the other and thereby discovering a common ground of higher generality between them: the broader cultural practice of obsessive visual consumption. But this theme is not the "content" of the work, not its semantic boundary. It is, rather, an opening through which the work first reaches out into the depths of American culture. What radical Western (Cartesian) disinheritance of nature is implied by this subaqueous "theatre" experience by the transformation of nature into an object of voyeuristic entertainment, its mutation into a "theme park"? And what about the "landscape" of the female body, the objectified and commodified target of the male gaze? Has not the absorption of the female body into the realm of nature provided patriarchy since time immemorial with a justification for socially and politically marginalizing women, for denying them a significant role in the creation of nature's opposite, culture? The reciprocal analysis of the two images can liberate a wealth of hidden cultural relations that can be used to deconstruct and destabilize not only the seemingly unproblematic phenomenon of spectatorial enthusiasm, but some of the bedrock categories that house our culturally determined sense of reality such as the "feminine" and the "natural."


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