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


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__ But in the same way that the Italian cultural scene involving the innocent "dangerous curves" road-sign was complicated by its further pairing with the "dangerous curves" of the female backside, and the American strip-club sign was complicated by being related to the spectators in the glassbottom boat, so both of these images are joined in turn to one other: an Italian fish market. The strange juxtaposition of the cellulite cream poster with the fish market might strike one at first as an exercise in Surrealism: a scene of messy butchery wedded to an image of a seductively illuminated female torso. . .

. . . But the punctum of the image (to borrow Barthes's term), the detail which catches and holds the eye of the observer - the fixed and lifeless eye of the fish whose severed head rests in the immediate foreground - quickly establishes a key relation between the two images which has nothing to do with the artist's own subconscious fantasy (Surrealism): spectatorial absorption and the female form. That it should be the numb eye of a fish no longer quickened by consciousness that signifies such absorption, however, caricatures, with an uneasy sort of humor, the power and character of the male visual compulsionæa seemingly helpless fixation that is, like the fish's willess eye that can neither close nor look away, at once pathetic and monstrous. By mirroring the very gaze that the neighboring advertisement solicits, then, it foregrounds the spectatorial act as a subject for psychological and cultural analysis. But it is not only the mock (and mocking) consciousness of the fish's eye that relates to the commercial poster through the theme of spectatorial obsessionæthe mutilated body of the fish echoes in an amusingly derisive, heavy-handed way the truncated female torso which has been completely depersonalized and commodified by being sliced up and offered as bait for the spectator's visual consumption. Even the cleft of the fish's mouth seems related to the neighboring image, not only through the idea of consumption, but through its subtle formal resonance with the cleft of the woman's buttocks. And, reaching beyond its immediate companion, the fish market also relates to the other images of spectatorial obsession and consumption in the series; even the hot red light which showers down on the fish suggests the warm, artificial lights of the typical strip-club.

__ The final component of the round robin series pairs the fish market scene with the glassbottom boat. In the latter image, passengers stare out at ocean fauna left unharmed in their own habitat, while in the former, fish are butchered and offered up as comestibles. At a level of vague generality, then, the innocence of spectatorship might be seen as under indictment here insofar as the objects of visual absorption are also shown to be its victims. Insofar, however, as this juxtaposition is experienced, not in isolation, but in relation to all of the other members of the group to which it belongs, it fully resonates with all of their relational involvements: the spectatorial passion of the undersea visitors (who are by analogical transfer identifiable with the unseen patrons of the American strip-club and the Italian passersby who gaze at the anti-cellulite poster) objectifies and commodifies the fish in the same way that the performers in the strip-club and the woman in the advertisement are objectified and commodified.


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