A joyless modernity can be found in Margeaux Walter’s large-scale photographs of domestic scenes in Sign Language, her fourth exhibition at Winston Wachter Gallery. Walter’s choice to shoot from a top down perspective that eliminates depth of field, alongside the presentation of her prints with a slick glossy plexiglass finish, reveals a pre-meditated intentionality to the work.
These formal qualities, perspective and materials frame Walter’s commentary on home life in contemporary culture in an emotionless palette, despite the works’ graphic use of vibrant color. Common scenes ranging from living room lounging or eating, to the morning rush of families on the go, set the scene in each image, while symbols of modern life add detail: dogs, shopping bags, iPhones, cake, flowers, donuts, rolling suitcases, cookies, laptops, headphones, and coffee.
The domestic stories presented in the work are made universal by the obfuscation of the faces of Walter’s subjects. Much of what viewers can deduce is limited to race and class, a middle to upper class atmosphere populated by light skinned lovers’ of home décor. In actuality, Walter performs all of the characters in her photographs, other than the children.
Compositionally, Walter employs geometric, patterned, and color-coded sets that appear to symbolize a quest for perfection through the organization of aesthetic pleasures, such as color, furniture, and gadgets. All of the images feature mass-produced home furnishings (think Ikea), another technique used to universalize Walter’s social commentary.
By flattening the perspective of her images and offering the absence of depth, a metaphor for modern emotional aspirations often seen in advertising is invoked; the penchant to replace human contact, in-depth engagement, and the grime of real life, with surface visual stimulation. An interesting link is made between modern life’s focus on visual imagery (no image includes a book) and consumer culture. An open-ended question seems to ask: what does all this looking have to do with the success of capitalism, financial systems and class aspirations?
Walking through the exhibition, one may feel a subconscious search for a happy visceral reaction to images of a colorful floral-themed tea party, a pillow fight, or an attempt at a relaxed living room scene. It takes some time to realize that Walter, the photographic director of her images, withholds lighthearted emotion from the work and instead forces viewers to feel the emptiness of a life focused on material goods.
At first glance, one could treat this exhibition with a cursory glance, however, upon further speculation, the deeper implications of Walter’s project are revealed. One image, Borderline, presented at the entryway of the exhibition, perhaps states Walter’s rejection of modern life. The image features her performance of a young woman in black-and-white geometric color play. The character, wearing sunglasses and a hat, looks up at the camera above her in what appears to be a fit of resistance, simultaneously flinging items from her purse and a cup of coffee in the air.
Margeaux Walter’s Sign Language at Winston Wachter Gallery is on view until May 13th, 2017.