The ‘Lost Boys’ made their first appearance in J. M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (1904): children who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way, they are sent to Never-Land if they are not claimed in seven days. There are no ‘Lost Girls’. As Peter Pan says, ‘Girls are much too clever to fall out of their prams.’ The phrase ‘territories of youth’ brings to mind the claim of Deleuze and Guattari that gender is territory, and indeed Lost Boys is an exhibition that examines the places, and ways, in which male identity – and thus masculinity – is formed.
The exhibition is spread over two floors. In Gallery 1 much of the work plays with the conventions of documentary: the most notable is Seamus Harahan’s large-scale video installation. Harahan specialises in ‘found activity’. Using a telephoto lens, he shoots hand-held, seemingly amateur footage of working-class boys and young men hanging out in urban public spaces. If the trade that organises patriarchal societies takes place exclusively among men, the only trade we see these young men engage in is verbal and physical abuse and attempted robbery. The work’s CCTV-like character raises ethical questions about surveillance and privacy; but this may be Harahan’s point.
Alex DuBois’s approach is different but the results are much the same. A photographer known for his interest in domestic life and the everyday, his large-format photographs blur the boundaries between staged collaboration and the documentary record. He spent four summers photographing a group of ‘working class, Irish and Catholic’ young people from a ‘notorious’ housing estate in Cobh, arranging them in the frame to mimic images he’d seen in previous visual work, both photographic and film.
Gillian Wearing – another artist interested in the everyday – also stages her subjects in her video piece, Boytime. A group of teenage boys are directed to hold their poses for a group portrait. Gradually, self-consciousness and boredom mounts and there are a series of sighs, gestures of irritation and muttered complaints as the rigid pose begins to disintegrate. The boys give the impression that they would like to flee the authority of adult supervision.
The boys in Richard Hughes’s narrative sculptures are invisible. If socks aren’t pulled up heads will roll is a disused lamp-post topped with a deflated, skull-like football and I’ll be having a word with someone at the council about this is a series of front doors, one of which bears the graffiti: ‘No Pirates.’ In Peter Pan, the pirates, led by Captain Hook, attack the Lost Boys; they are the bullies of Never-Land. There is an atmosphere of desolation and fear in this work, as though boys in a park have had their football punctured by a nasty bully and have gone into hiding.
Another dark corner of British suburbia is found in the work of David Haines. Two large-scale drawings depict a young man in a wasteland surrounded by branded trainers and fast-food wrappings, a paper bag from Kentucky Fried Chicken covering his head. In one drawing, he stares into a pool of water and in another he appears to be screaming at the universe. Haines references myths in his depictions of Northern youth; here we have Narcissus, but instead of his own beauty, all this youth beholds on the surface of the water is a reflection of Colonel Sanders.
Collier Schorr photographs wrestlers in a classic documentary style which she attempts to move beyond in her smaller collages. Schorr says, ‘There never seems to be a wide range of emotional definitions of men. And I think in wrestling, you really see so many different emotions… I want to [document] every facet of the experience: victory, defeat, blood, battered egos, humiliation.’ Roland Barthes in his essay ‘The World of Wrestling’ calls the sport a ‘performance of suffering’. This is a good description of the video projection by Douglas Gordon. 10ms-1 uses footage of a medical demonstration from World War 1 that documents a shell-shocked veteran repeatedly trying, but failing, to stand. The title refers to the actual speed at which an object falls according to the laws of gravity. Gordon’s slow-motion loop traps the soldier in an unsettling cycle of struggle.
If there are no explicit references in Gallery 1 to what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘State apparatuses of identity’ (there is no identity without fabric of subjection or without law – the legislator and the subject) or the ‘regime of subjectification’, they are sufficiently signalled by the way in which the subjects are secretly surveilled, staged for aesthetic purposes, ordered to sit still, forced to hide/be invisible, depicted as thwarted narcissists, documented for their emotional response to suffering, and treated as medical experiments.
Upstairs in the Sisk Galleries, Eleanor Antin, in her series of black and white photographs from the 1970s, The King of Solano Beach, plays with the idea of the drag-king. In this work (which has become de-politicised by being de-contextualised here: there were also live performances, drawings and meditations in a personal journal), she becomes the self-appointed ruler of Solana Beach in Southern California. The photographs on display document some of the king’s daily adventures. Antin’s male self looks like a parody of a South American drug baron in a Dracula cape. Because she is not trying to pass as a ‘real’ man, this is an instance when the artifice of the performance can be read as artifice; what Judith Butler calls ‘an appropriation and then a subversion.’
Alex Rose also appropriates and subverts – this time found objects and images. The macabre display, vitrine, contains sketchbooks, found photographs, old teeth, an oval brooch depicting two rings, and two phials of what appears to be urine. This is the visual equivalent of an Edgar Allan Poe mystery. His photographic prints are equally dark, gothic, liquescent. One of the most discomfiting works in the exhibition is his black crate containing two candles decorated with photographs of missing young boys – the antithesis of a Moses basket.
Reminiscent of the work of Larry Clark and Richard Prince, Steven Shearer’s inkjet print Choices and Associations is a quasi-anthropological collection of pop cultural representations of beautiful boys, undermined by the central image of Kurt Cobain holding a gun to his mouth. His drawings and photographs of long-haired heavy metal fans are unambiguously celebratory.
Julien Nguyen, a student at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, is a visceral artist who creates almost anti-form sculptures and watery acrylic paintings incorporating pseudo-heraldic symbolism and text taken from tragic ballads. Nguyen is bang on the zeitgeist. He would have fitted right in at the Venice Biennale this year, in the central exhibition, the Encyclopedic Palace, that housed outsider artists, occultists, and visionary creators of astral paintings.
Taking its name from Peter Pan, The Lost Boys is a 1987 horror film about two brothers who move to California and end up fighting a gang of teenage vampires. In Lost Boys: The Territories of Youth, the overall impression in Gallery 1 is that the lens of the camera is the vampire, and that the territories of youth are places where boredom, poverty, violence and suffering are endemic. In the Sisk Galleries, where many of the works have the shrine-like quality of fan-art whose natural abode is the teenager’s bedroom, the Lost Boys are, at least, allowed to speak for themselves.
Lost Boys: The Territories of Youth ran from 29 March – 7 July 2013.