Deborah Roan: The Greenbacked Tip
Von Lintel Gallery
555 W.25th Street
New York NY 10001
January 12 – February 11, 2006
The cryptic phrase SURYA TECHNO presides over the scene as two dolls raise their perfect eyebrows and scream ghostly laughter through the blue and orange architecture of a Paris storefront. Signage to the left urges ACHAT (buy); signage to the right whispers VENTE (sell). So begins Deborah Roan’s latest encounter with the urban unconscious, a witty and haunting exhibition of wide format photographs now on view at Von Lintel Gallery.
Each static image is similar to a film dissolve panning over the cityscape. Some passages also convey the traditional photographic rendering of deep space. One can venture into these shifting perspectives with a lively sense of pedestrian mobility. Roan, a former filmmaker based in New York, brings to life a fascinating synthesis of intuition, fantasy, and intellect in “The Greenbacked Tip.” The show’s title in itself is replete with suggestive mystery. The titles of individual works are drawn from text that appears somewhere in the image’s flux.
The bluish imagery of “Die Ying Wu Jian” features Hong Kong movie posters and shattered glass from the streets of New York’s Chinatown. Cross-cultural complexities reverberate between the poster and its real-time urban setting. A cracked windshield within the image crystallizes the language of violence in collision with the violence of language. “Die Ying Wu Jian” is also a sophisticated pun on the view through the lens as a faulty vehicle of mimesis for either reality or fiction.
Roan’s technical process is worth a quick detour. She shoots mostly at random, somewhat by plan, winding a roll of film through the camera several times. Planning creates bold formal rhythms such as the twinned doll faces in “Surya Techno.” Randomness insures that there will be jarring changes in scale and color.
Being an expert, Roan uses a slow color positive film, knowing that the black film base is sensitive to both hue and density. It will release unpredictable combinatory layers of cyan, magenta, yellow, and so on—white being the most opaque—during the multiple exposure process. The artist then begins a post-production process, editing uncut rolls of developed film in order to select sequences of varying lengths. Finally, these cuts are scanned and printed digitally in a scroll-like format, with all the high definition that digital technology offers. Altogether, Roan makes inventive use of film—digital hybridism weaving through photographic technologies these days.
Roan’s pretty surfaces traffic in the obscenity of the public sphere—its mercenary nakedness, its blatant seduction and betrayal, its gigantism—with a sense of humor. “How Do You Defeat An Opponent Who Knows Your Every Move” features a hunky actor. His left bicep is accented by the word “Chops” floating by on a distant restaurant marquee. Close viewing of the image further reveals the tiny heads of people moving about in the city, unaware of the camera as they’re cast, like human mayflies, into the urban magma.
The liberal sprinkling of film posters in “The Greenbacked Tip” may bring Walker Evans to mind, and Roan has been fruitfully compared to James Rosenquist. Another interesting comparison might be Mimmo Rotella’s famous 1960s series of “de-collaged” posters torn from the walls of Rome. Rotella, who recently died, was awed from an early age by Italian fascist propaganda signs hung on building facades in Rome. Like Rotella, Roan is able to take happenstance from the giddy onslaught of visual culture and redirect it towards playful, perhaps profound meanings. She works with chance, and “chance favors the prepared mind,” as Louis Pasteur taught us. Having the imagination to spar and play with the phantoms of urban commerce, Roan empowers us to do the same.