Feb 7, 2013

Aesthetic Thursday: Bradley Rubenstein

Bradley Rubenstein, Unititled (Girl with Puppy Dog Eyes), 1996
At first I see this image as a brash conceit. All art is a conceit - right? - but this image forces me to see the conceit, to see that it's a mash-up. Maybe I am troubled because I have this ontological conviction that a photograph tells me something about reality. Maybe so. But maybe the reality that I am seeing is not so conceitful as I first think. What is going on here? Through the use of digital manipulation puppy dog eyes are inserted into a girl's eyes. I like images that ask me to question the image, to make me consider its mode of production. How did the artist do this? What was his method? I suppose this is Rubenstein's point. By making me aware of how this particular image was produced I am struck by another possibility - the genetic manipulation that would be required to produce a real girl born with puppy dog eyes. Rubenstein is playing with conceit to alert us to the biogenetic possibility that what we see as conceit could become a reality. What if someone decided that little girls and little puppies are a desirable combination? Is what we see in the art an image of a possible future? On the placard, a museum curator has written this, "Merging two paragons of cuteness—kids and puppies—into unsettling hybrids, the artist offers an eerie forewarning of the transgressive potential of genetic manipulation." Where is the transgression? In imagining such mutations? Is the point that the degrees that separate the photoshop touch-up from the biogenetic not that far apart? Perhaps. Maybe the most unsettling aspect of Rubenstein's photographs is that he is telling us we have already arrived at this stage - we are just waiting for the biotechnology to catch up. I think I need to go watch Bladerunner and re-read Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans.

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