by Rachel Heidenry
You can read it in her face – the curiosity, the sexiness, the intrigue. But you also read the adolescence – the inexperience, the uncertainty, the exploration. Rineke Dijkestra‘s The Krazyhorse, on view at Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art through June 15th, is phenomenal. It begins with simple questions about youth culture and adulthood and ends up producing subtle revelations about trust, society and vulnerability.
The revelatory element? Dancing.
Created in 2009, the four channel video installation begins with photographic portraits of Dijkstra’s subjects: young club-goers from Liverpool. Dressed in their club attire, they are photographed against a minimal grey background – directly emphasizing that this portrait is about the person, not the place. Hairstyles, clothing and makeup take center stage as we see these young women as they choose to be seen. Raw beauty is unintentional – it is all about the performance.
Nevertheless, Dijkstra beautifully captures the inherent – smirks, glances, posture, emotion. Each portrait exudes vulnerability, the subject’s eyes connecting in fear or shyness or nerves. While some are more at ease than others, most don’t seem to match the confidence of their outfits. Photographing them alone, without the crowds and darkness of the club, the artist captures a private moment intended for a public space. It is precisely this dichotomy between the private and public that is on display.
Moving to the video installation, Dijkstra films five people dancing – Megan, Simon, Nikky, Philip and Dee. Each was invited to select a song and perform it in a studio built in the back room of a popular Liverpool dance club. The installation is monumental; the huge room darkened with projectors switching from wall to wall for each new performance. Though markedly alone on screen, the chosen youth actually do have a live audience – the artist herself, a DJ and their friends. This isn’t someone dancing alone in their bedroom, but rather a young person placed on a stage – in front of a camera.
Each begins differently – some painfully shy, others overtly confident. Over the course of the dancing there are moments of elation, complete engrossment, lip singing and head-bashing. But there is also insecurity, mundaneness, embarrassment and fatigue. We catch the moments when the girl pulls down her skirt, or adverts her eyes, or when the guy stops to catch his breath or seek out approval. Aside from the emotions, we again notice the wardrobes and the personas inevitably created. A young girl, her hips yet to appear, has a face full of makeup, her hair teased high, and her pink bra peeping out from her white tank-top. Another boy wears baggy jeans and a black t-shirt, his hair falling over his acne spotted face. They all seem to fit some character, some unknown norm that perhaps corresponds to an age or genre or scene or time.
All of this goes back to portraiture’s concept – capturing a person’s likeness. Rineke Dijkstra has that remarkable ability to get past the personified and capture the person – without losing what is performed. She shows you the natural and the affected simultaneously, allowing the two dichotomies to narrate together. This conceptual approach produces portraits that are confrontational but also vulnerable – in your face but so very delicate. How Dijkstra manages this subtlety is markedly her own.