Through October 19, 2013
By Kerry Bickford
Marlo Pascual works with found photographs, taking vintage portraits from previous decades and adding neon tubes or lit candles, hanging them beside lamps, and layering them on rocks. In her recent exhibition at Moore, however, Pascual limits herself to a single headshot: a photograph of a blond woman in a 70’s blouse, giving the show a powerful undercurrent of productive restraint. In the majority of the works, Pascual takes the portrait and digitally superimposes another image, so that the blond woman is seen through something else—a vast spider web, a coffee table, or the silhouette of a bunch of celery. It’s a deceptively simple formula, one she uses to potent effect through her exacting compositions. In one photograph, Pascual effortlessly transforms the superimposed image into an abstraction by turning it sideways, delaying our recognition of a mother duck and her brace of ducklings. In another, she dramatically matches the lighting of the woman’s face with the light cast by the white orb of a setting sun in the superimposed image. Pascual uses a wide range of tone in her greyscale photographs, and the diverse shades of charcoals and whites, both pearly and matte, give each altered photograph its own look when they could have easily become repetitive.
Marlo Pascual is perhaps best known for her combinations of photography and sculpture, and her few sculptural components are strengthened by their juxtaposition with pure photography. In one of these more sculptural pieces, a closely-cropped view of the blond woman is covered with two stools, their legs mounted against the photograph so that they extend out horizontally into space, while a third stool stands on the floor just below them, a reminder of the existence of gravity. In a room full of hazy, largely translucent imagery, an opaque obstruction becomes surprising again, blocking a new facet of the woman’s face from every angle, reacting to our position in the gallery space.
Pascual’s juxtapositions are not only visually captivating, but convey a sense of menace both subtle and explicit. In one photograph, the woman’s face is eclipsed by an opalescent, open palm, in another by a pair of legs in plaid pants and pointed loafers. Pascual’s visual acuity occasionally delays this effect, ultimately making it more potent; in one photograph, an image of two swans on the water is turned sideways over the woman’s face, turning them into an abstraction and delaying the viewer’s recognition. To realize that the superimposed image is two swans is to note that one’s beak is bluntly piercing the woman’s eye.
Installation is an important component of Pascual’s work, and here the show might have benefited from a smaller space. Some of her floor pieces do have more room to breathe, in particular two vertical photographs in thick plexiglass boxes that occupy the gallery space like miniature monoliths. But the best moments in the show come when pieces create a dialogue with each other, a point only emphasized by Pascual’s choice to arrange her photographs in groups of two and three. Her stool piece, where actual wooden objects cover the woman’s face, is hung just around a corner from the same face seen through a translucent, photographic coffee table. In both works, the wooden furniture hangs precariously in space, but the digital table is the more disorienting—seen from a higher angle than the woman’s face, it defies perspective and physics, its legs casting shadows onto a floor that has vanished into her torso. The photograph looks more impossible than the surrealistic manipulation of real objects just beside it.
This is Marlo Pascual’s true strength in this exhibition—making vintage photography disorienting and lyric in the most subtle ways possible, taking innocuous imagery and giving it potency through juxtaposition and layering. She has played with the photograph as an object in the past, and does so again with this show, using sculpture to bring it more immediately into our space, and to encourage us to view it from new angles. Pascual has demonstrated, though, that not only are our expectations of photography challenged by bringing it off the wall, but also by altering images in ways that warp our perspective by simple, easily identifiable means. For Pascual, photography is fascinating as a medium, but also as a technique with cultural and visual baggage, much of which is remarkably easy to expose.
Kerry Bickford holds a BA in Art History and English from Northwestern University. She currently works as a curatorial assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.