Sunday, April 15, 2012

Traces of Desire

The stills at left and below from Karl Lakolak's videos.

I’m haunted lately by the videos of French artist, choreographer, and performer Karl Lakolak. Among some twenty clips of his work posted to Vimeo, you can access the ethereal and intensely carnal Poème de Ténèbres at (I have my friend Tantrika au Naturale to thank for this new obsession.)

Lakolak paints the human body as a canvas and then sets his subjects moving in space. Colors run, smear, and blend, spreading across the body’s surface a record of its gestures and its contact with others. Patterns that begin like the markings of some unknown rite in an unfamiliar culture turn into abstract-expressionist arcs, disrupting the integrity of the naked skin that intermittently shows through. I watch these very beautiful men walk slowly across a tarp laid down on the floor, lose themselves in moving pigment across their own bodies, wrestle and/or make love with one another, and my desire is both intensified and dislocated. The camera panning in close-up across expanses of hue and texture queers any ordinary experience of looking at the body as an objectified whole. Then gradually, or in a sudden flash, a leg, a forearm, a cock, an ear caressed by a hand emerges as something I recognize and can name. Eyes gaze out at the viewer from an enveloping swirl of white and blue.

Flesh becomes an unfamilar country, seen once again as for the first time. And yet Lakolak’s camera often follows the conventions of gay porn: the fetishizing close-ups, the duplicated slow-motion sequences of skin touching skin, the direct gaze of performers into the camera, the obvious disruptions of linear sequence in the editing. His credits mostly acknowledge his performer/dancers by first name only, evoking the commodified false familiarity of sex films.

Then once again the camera moves on, or the shot is cut. Flickering superimposed images fold the experience of time over itself. As the clip cuts back and forth between later and earlier stages of the process, a smear of rich, complex grey left across a man’s back when his lover rolls away turns in the next shot back into a clean tattooed flank still untouched by paint. I find the erotic charge of my fascination both thwarted and teased on by spatial ambiguity and temporal confusion.

In Décembre, as a man stands absorbed in the diffuse autoeroticism of moving paint across his own body, then of removing it with a cloth, there hovers swaying to his left a figure with a papier-maché horse’s head. The apparition is draped in black fabric painted in white with a looping cursive script, an incantation only fragments of which are intelligible. Such fabric, worn by masked figures, hung at the back of the stage, or laid across the floor, appears as a motif throughout the series. Lakolak assumes the role of a latter-day shaman, dismantling and transmuting ordinary identities, inviting us both to relinquish what we think we understand of the flesh and to lose ourselves more deeply in it.

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