An NSFW Masterpiece
These images are from a new four-screen installation by Omer Fast, one of the world's best video artists, premiering at the Frieze art fair in London in a couple of weeks. There's more about Fast and his new piece in my profile of him in this weekend's New York Times.
Fast takes documentary (and also mockumentary) footage shot on a real hard-core porn set and remixes it, with typical bravura, to incorporate fictional storylines.
One reading of the work that didn't make it into my profile, and which Fast has mixed feelings about, is to see the porn and Fast's own piece and practice as having something in common. After all, there's not that huge a gulf separating art and porn as cultural commodities offered for sale, and any number of artists have been accused of bumping and grinding to appeal to an audience.
Fast told me that the reality of porn stars “is totally parallel to ours in the art world” – there’s the same daily, banal labor coupled to an aura of mystery, of exclusivity, of superstars and also-rans – “except theirs is taboo.” Given the vast circulation of porn in our world, Fast sees breaking down that hypocritical censure as part of the work his installation can do, simply by presenting pornography as a routine subject for art.
Fast says that his work really compares best to classic portraiture, where there's a seamless blending of truth and fiction – the reality of the sitter and the artist’s vision of it – in order to present a state of affairs. “My portrait is very often of people at work, or people talking about their work, whether it's a drone-sensor operator or someone in the adult film industry,” he said. In fact, however, this means that the proper Old Master comparison may be less to portraiture than to genre painting: Vermeer's servants at work, or Chardin’s bubble-blowers or even a Norman Rockwell barber.
Thinking of Fast's piece in terms of genre painting also helps make sense of its peculiar balance of truth and fiction. Like Fast, other genre artists have often inserted cryptic details that surpass pure documentation, and that invite "deeper" readings of their subjects.
Porn as Vermeer; Rockwell as porn – I love how Fast recalibrates our standard equations.
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