With his film Sodom in 1989, the filmmaker and performance artist Luther Price (b. 1962) became known for addressing transgressive subject matter. A semi-Structural assemblage of found 8mm gay pornography, Sodom evokes themes including sadomasochism, pagan ritual and the spread of AIDS. Over the past decade, Price has increasingly employed unconventional materials and techniques, manipulating found film and slide film, at times pushing these formats toward pure abstract shape and pattern. Shortly after participating in the 2012 Whitney Biennial—where his work, particularly the handmade, collagelike slides he projected, which had never before been shown in public, garnered much attention-the Revere, Mass.-based artist mounted a solo exhibition at Callicoon in New York.
The show’s main attraction was undoubtedly Number 9 (2012), comprising 80 projected slides. For this work, the artist overlaid a variety of materials-insects, hair, ink—primarily on pieces of clear film leader (mounted as individual slides), though a few frames feature imagery, such as a sub-Saharan mother and child. Additionally, prior to the collaging process, the artist buried much of the film in the ground for three months or more, allowing it to develop mold and rot, which imbue the frames with an array of colors and intricate filigree patterns. Divided between two projectors at Callicoon, the Number 9 slides were displayed in brief pairs on the gallery wall, advancing automatically.
Also included in the show were four framed wax-paper works (“Waxpaper Inkblots,” 2011), measuring from 12 to 19 inches per side. The compositions, which suggest abstract paintings by Joan Mitchell or Gerhard Richter, feature bright violet, red and green smears as well as tears and scratches. They are the by-products of Price’s process in creating his recent “Inkblot” films (not shown here, but screened as part of the Biennial), for which he had placed the wax paper underneath filmstrips that he then painted, scraped or otherwise manipulated.
Shown in the gallery’s storefront window was Fibroids (Window), 2005-12, a grid of hand-crumpled, letter-size pieces of drafting vellum bearing photocopied pictures of fibroids and cancerous tumors; two additional Fibroid grids were exhibited on the gallery walls. The theme of the violated body—by bullet, malign growth or surgeon’s hand—has been a constant in Price’s work, inspired in part by an accidental gunshot wound he received in 1985. His commitment to this theme is demonstrated in past performances and films that, at their most extreme, besiege the viewer with rapid-fire imagery of rancid and maggot-ridden animal tissue. Beyond offering a far less assaultive viewing experience, Price’s exhibition at Callicoon showed his abstract slides to be a well-developed counterweight to his work exploring the abject or traumatized body.
Photo: Luther Price: Number 9 II (detail), 2012, 80 handmade slides and carousel projections; at Callicoon.