Chad Attie’s Ulysses’ Gaze
Mary Anna Pomonis is an artist and a writer based in Los Angeles. In the series Viewfinder, Pomonis explores in depth one work of art in collaboration with the maker. Pulling directly from quotes by the artist, Pomonis interprets both the artists’ words and the product of their creative process.
Chad Attie’s most recent body of work is a combination of nostalgia and a New Sincerity approach to irony. His recent show, Contempt, at Klowden Mann in Culver City, highlights his meandering practice. Attie has progressed toward sequence and seriality, and away from the calculated, conceptual posturing for which he is mostly known. Ulysses’ Gaze is a snapshot of the artist immersed in the painful emotional distancing of romantic separation. Attie’s work is as sincere as it is frustrated and full of the anxiety of sexual feeling.
Ulysses’ Gaze consists of a massive vintage light box, collaged photo, and found imagery. Attie depicts a young boy playing with a boat by the sea, gazing longingly at his imagined female object of desire. She appears to be Penelope, from Homer’s massive epic, The Odyssey. The bare breasted woman floats, armless and suspended, in an oval cutout illustration. She is a vintage calendar girl from the early sixties, reminiscent of Brigitte Bardot.
The woman here is clearly a sexual object; she has no real identity. The reference to the female character Bardot plays in the Godard film, Contempt, is apparent, as is to the title of the film, from which Attie pulls the name of his show. In Attie’s work, however, the woman has no voice or agency. She is not the one proclaiming, “I have only contempt for you.” Instead, she is a muted ideal: a frustratingly distant object for the boy to consider.
The distance between the sexual and maternal is mysterious and frightening to the boy. It is precisely at this transition towards sexual objectification that Attie points to the vast gap in contemporary culture between the idealized mate and the reality of a partner with arms, legs, and ability to walk away. Attie’s young boy seems to yearn for a perfect object that hovers, ever elusive in the distance, fixed and waiting over a decaying plastic horizon. It is a childhood fantasy, made real through ephemeral collage strategies and found objects, such as the light box. Although indebted to the eighties postmodern collage practices of Alexis Smith, Richard Prince, and Carole Caroompas, Attie’s work is not in any way ironic. His work seems closer in keeping with the New Sincerity movement. Attie explains,
“Ulysses’ Gaze is based on the moment that Ulysses sees Ithaca in the distance for the first time in ten years. It is a powerful and loaded moment, and it calls into question what Ulysses’ state of mind was. Is he overwhelmed with joy of returning home to his wife, Penelope, or is he not ready to return from his adventures at sea? Was the desire and longing for Penelope more potent than the actual person? This desire is what drove Ulysses for ten years, and at last it was within reach. The journey had come to an end. For me, this is a very powerful moment and it raises a very interesting question. The collaged light box uses both vintage imagery and imagery from the present time to further illustrate that this compulsion or conflict has existed from Grecian times to the present.”
Attie’s work is a reminder that certain parts of Feminism never really penetrated mass culture and the romantic ideal of womanhood rooted in Western Civilization. When real women shatter the glass case of cultural expectation and idealization, the male observer either gets angry or nostalgic. Attie takes the nostalgia up a notch, fusing it with his own self-exploration, creating a palpable contempt all his own[.]
This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis.