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Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman: Look Up and Stay in Touch

Dec 9, 2011-Feb 5, 2012

Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman’s Look Up and Stay in Touch presents the final body of work in artist Slater Bradley's long-term doppelgänger project. Since 1999, Bradley has been collaborating with Benjamin Brock, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the artist, in a series of works that explore the psychologically charged space between the self and one's double, or doppelgänger. Traditionally, the doppelgänger becomes a striking reminder of one's mortality, often taken as a sign of impending death. In all of his doppelgänger work, Bradley has explored the way cultural artifacts and icons become imbued with myth and how the doppelgänger represents an intermediary, or as Bradley puts it, a “ghost broker of time and space.” Early works in the series include faked, fan-made tribute videos in which Brock performs as late musicians that Bradley idolized, including Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, and Michael Jackson. The final series of works on view at the AAM focus on another of Bradley's formative interests: the actor River Phoenix.

The works featured in Look Up and Stay in Touch were produced in collaboration with Academy Award–nominated cinematographer and filmmaker Ed Lachman, the director of photography for the film Dark Blood, an unreleased 1993 film starring River Phoenix that was in production when Phoenix died. In Dark Blood, Phoenix plays a young, disturbed, half-Navajo widower who lives in seclusion near a nuclear testing site in the Nevada desert, waiting for the apocalypse and making kachina dolls that he believes have magic powers. A married couple becomes stranded when their car breaks down in the desert and they are rescued by the widower, who falls in love with the woman. The film progresses to a dramatic ending in which the young man dies, but because of Phoenix's own untimely death, the final scenes were never filmed.

Shadow (2010) is based on Lachman's memories of working on the original film some seventeen years prior. It is conceived as a prologue that imagines the widower's life just before meeting the stranded couple. The work mixes references to the original film with references to the film's production—Shadow is filmed in the same location, near the Capitol Reef in Utah, and utilizes sets and artifacts from Dark Blood, like the bar Phoenix frequented during production and snapshots of Phoenix and Lachman working on the film that the artist happened upon inside the bar. This mixing of fiction and reality, restaging and reimagining, becomes a simultaneous portrait of Phoenix, Bradley, and Lachman, all channeled through the doppelgänger.

Along with Shadow (2010), the exhibition included Dead Ringer (2011), a three-channel video installation that simultaneously presents three different takes of the same shot. The work progresses in the order the shots were made, and not according to the linear narrative of the film, and minor variations in the movement and speech between each version create a beautifully unsettling rhythm. The serendipity of the takes working together hints at the fortuitous moments that run throughout all of Bradley's works, and the sequencing further upsets the grounding of time and narrative that Shadow creates. Additionally, the work marks the first time in the series that Bradley appears as himself, effectively “killing” the doppelgänger. In addition to the two film works, the exhibition included a number of Bradley's photographs of the Viper Room, the club on the Sunset Strip where Phoenix died of a drug overdose, and other landscape photographs produced during the project.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that features essays by Whitney Museum of American Art curator Chrissie Iles, who investigated the history of the series from its inception, and ArtReview editor Mark Rappolt, who examined the new work in light of Bradley's complex investigation of myth and fan culture. The publication also includes an interview with Bradley and Lachman by Heidi Zuckerman. The catalogue was designed by Bradley collaborator John Weir, in consultation with legendary graphic designer Peter Saville.

This exhibition was funded in part by the AAM National Council. General exhibition support was provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Exhibition lectures are presented as part of the Questrom Lecture Series.