IMN #28 — Brooke DiDonato
It's Monday Night #28
Tonight, let’s share thoughts about @brokedidonato’s staged photographs: a pastel-colored phenomenology of everyday life that questions the design of the world in a way that is both puzzling and playful.
@brokedidonato's photographs are a plunge into the smallest ramifications of everyday life. It usually features a single subject - often herself - interacting with their environment or remaining passive, waiting for an event that does not happen.
Each time, the situation is clear, even if the ins and outs are esoteric: the unfolding action - the drama - is constructed in a minimalist and precise way, even if it is based on an arrangement of absurd elements.
In a sense, @brokedidonato has learned the lesson of surrealism: to create an image, two more or less distant realities must be brought together, provided that there is a true relationship between them - for example, a flower in a shoe or in a telephone.
An image is a connection, and the emotional power of the image comes from the perception of the accuracy of this association. But here the poetic force is both summoned and diverted: it has, so to speak, something clownish.
In the history of Western theatre, the clown is that character or figure that is so sensitive that the slightest jolt in the world sets them in motion and transforms their presence.
Like the art of the clown, @brokedidonato's photographs conjure up a state of childhood that, in adult life, would be described as pathological: a disordered, unbalanced behavior that makes us open astonished and worried eyes on the world.
In each of her photographs, one senses how easy it'd be to move from laughter to tears, from comedy to tragedy & how foolish it'd be to separate these two dimensions of human life. She shows our inability to grasp the movement of life & the failure that is our repressed truth.
They are clownish photographs because they can express a lot with few words. They confront us with the perplexing evidence of our own existence. The most singular and incongruous situation is at the same time the most shared and common.
Photography becomes the medium through which this incongruity can be shared.
But clowning is a living art and one the original features of @brokedidonato's work is, in my opinion, to give us the feeling that the scenario in her photographs reacts to our gaze - as if something was still undecided or indeterminate in each scene.
They illustrate a behavioral disorder, a discrepancy that is embodied in an aberrant trade with the world's furniture: like this clown who, by dint of wanting to speak, winds up and strangles themself with the wire of the microphone.
Thus, it brings us back to the most philosophical feeling: astonishment, which gives us access to the uncanny that is hidden within the familiar - the anomaly that makes us discover the norm where it is missing.
Several patterns can be identified. Some examples are: reversal - turning objects or bodies upside down; stacking or reiteration - adding objects together to structure a form; distortion of bodies - to embed them or to include them in an inert element.
The result is a way of blurring all boundaries, mixing all qualities between self and non-self, outside and inside, organic and inert, flexible and rigid, and so on.
In @brokedidonato's world, all identities are queer: nothing is assigned to a stable and specific essence or place, all things are as if in suspense, between two incompatible positions, between two ways of being.
One constant: there is no face. In my opinion, it is this erasure of the face that gives her self-portraits a universal significance, without detracting from the deeply singular character of each scene.
There is a combination of mastery in her work - a meticulous concern for the staging (light, colours, positioning of elements, framing), even to the point of artificiality - and a great casualness, as if everything had been decided on the spot.
For some works, I'd be unable to say whether they required hours of painstaking work or just a few very inspired seconds.
But what they have in common is to represent the real - the real, i.e: that which is impracticable, non-negotiable, & which breaks through unexpectedly.
If @brokedidonato's photos are narrative, the story they tell is not easily translated into a narrative: it's a tragic twist, the punchline of a joke, a revealing slip of the tongue, witticism or the enigmatic resolution of a detective story that doesn't point to a culprit.
She documents a crossing into the real of life - some will see it as a break-up, a moment of depressive loneliness, an embarrassing misstep or anything else. Actually, @brokedidonato asks this simple question: where is home? And she is careful not to answer it.
Home is, in her work, the site of an enigma, which combines homeliness and homesickness. Home is my shelter and my refuge - this place where I can let myself be myself - that I discover myself as a stranger to myself, that I am projected far from the idea I have of myself.
Each photograph is both an exile and a return home.
She favors domestic interiors, but sometimes chooses stereotypical locations that evoke a postcard, a magazine cover or a movie set.
@brokedidonato recycles all those images that we look at without seeing, that we swallow and that then rest in the more or less deep layers of our unconscious.
This is why her photographs evoke a sense of déjà vu in the viewer - as if they were a re-enactment of a past scene/a scene from a previous life. They have an anachronistic or explicitly old-fashioned dimension - as if each photo were a reminder of our grandparents' visual world.
One could call her work surrealism or magic realism - those are big labels. I think I prefer the category of surreal weirdism, coined by @ben_zank about his own work.
I feel that she proposes a phenomenology of everyday life that explores its ambivalences and oddities. It is a gesture of photographic description that chooses not to evacuate - or rather to put in the centre - that which, in general, remains off-screen.
@brokedidonato shows how the most familiar world is uninhabitable, badly arranged. Why is this so? Because the human subject appears necessarily out of place, they seek harmony around them and discover that they themselves are the intruder or the troublemaker.
She stages a mutilated life, which does not fit into the decor gathered around it. Like Bartleby, we have a subject mired in a situation - who would prefer not to but does not enter into a frontal revolt against what constrains or alienates them.
@brokedidonato questions our forms of life - their environment, accessories, clothing, etc. - with great lucidity, but without giving in to the temptation of a dogmatic critique or an overhanging position.
Without metaphysical grandiloquence, @brookedidonato deals with the aporias of existence by bringing them down to the level of everyday life, and one cannot approach it without feeling a deep nostalgia.