Stephen Frailey on Alex Prager
Alex Prager instructions ardent enthusiasm for her Technicolor photographic tableaux, incessantly of city crowds stage-managed for max visibility. A younger blonde lady all the time appears to seem in these scenes. Her glances to the digicam, or the way in which she’s theatrically lit, often elevate her above the hurly-burly. All through, this character—variously anxious, distraught, claustrophobic—radiates an inside disaster that’s by no means fairly named. Prager’s work typically resembles the beloved Twilight Zone dramatugy in that it too embodies the disruption of the anodyne and standard by surprising occult forces, rendered as if all of it happened in a generic previous. Her artwork candidly recycles a litany of acquainted tropes from visible tradition: Right here, a Joel Sternfeld pastiche; there, a nod to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). The work additionally options the requisite David Lynch reenactment, and extra Hitchcock than one can shake a stick at. Prager’s artwork appeals in its shared cultural vocabulary and stylized simplification.
But, in contrast to the work of different artists who fabricate photos exploring cinematic language, similar to Holly Andres or Stan Douglas, Prager’s output doesn’t maneuver within the provocative arc between photographic reality and fiction (an more and more alarming binary in our worrisome political life) however stays resolutely made up, a diorama of mannerisms.
A brief movie was the centerpiece of Prager’s solo exhibition at Lehmann Maupin. Run, 2022, begins in a healthful beige Mayberry-type place recognizable to all from our lifetime of TV. A big mirrored ball is rolled onto a sidewalk by a quartet (referred to as “ominous figures” within the movie’s credit) that we all know is nefarious by their darkish sun shades. Because the digicam zooms in on the insertion of a coin right into a merchandising machine, the sphere is launched, inflicting mayhem and pratfalls (an older lady will get hurled right into a rubbish can because it rolls). In the perfect custom of animated cartoons, the ball comically runs individuals over and knocks down a fireplace hydrant, inevitably inflicting an arc of spewed water postcollision. In the meantime, the movie’s heroine, Cecily, is distracted from her job of mailing a letter. After working out of the trail of the malevolent orb, she discovers an intersection affected by inclined, unconscious individuals, whom she revives. They come up in choreographed unison, every one brushing themselves off as an alternative of bursting into tune.
It’s unclear whether or not Run is a farce, as its screwball moments are satiric gestures that distinction with the rhetoric of heroic therapeutic on the movie’s finish. Parody is, nevertheless, reserved for the solid of supporting citizenry: Whatever the pleasure of their lucid presence, they’re a refrain of central-casting caricatures, just like the cowboy clutching a pack of Marlboros—clichés from a yesteryear when “individuality” was a theatrical assemble, a leftover from the times of Gilligan’s Island. Maybe this technique is getting used to advertise the aim of the work’s most important determine, however she, too, stays extra stereotype than archetype. Excluding Face within the Crowd, 2013, a movie by Prager that supplied intriguing voice-overs and inside monologues for a few of its characters, her motion pictures are silent. One was reminded of the significance of writing and dialogue in offering narrative movie with depth and complexity.
Prager’s work is dazzling in its ambition, spectacle, and dedication—certainly, she is a skillful stylist. This pantomime, nevertheless, in its seeming embrace of narrative ambiguity, feels extra uninformed or obscure than anything. Pictures can protect the previous, extracting an on the spot from the density of reminiscence that may have a profound impact on the viewer. But in Prager’s exhibition right here, the previous is usually nothing greater than a show of hyperbolic and shallow manufacturing values, filled with visible formulation which might be constructed to seduce. In keeping with Oscar Wilde, “Most individuals are different individuals. Their ideas are another person’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a citation.” Sadly, this outstanding commentary gives an all-too-succinct coda to the work on this present.