Susan Bozic: Fabrication or fact?
July 24, 2009
ASPEN – In The Dating Portfolio, a series of photographs currently showing at Joel Soroka Gallery, it is perfectly evident who Carl is. Carl is muscular and easy to please; you’d call him the archetype of the strong-but-silent man, except that his face is a little too pretty to be manly. It is also quite clear that Carl is not a man, but a mannequin.
The tougher question posed by The Dating Portfolio, a series of 15 color images, is, Who is the woman constantly accompanied by Carl, the one looking in his eyes, wrapped in his embrace, enjoying the beach and the movies with him? She is, apart from the wig, the exact resemblance of Susan Bozic, the artist who created the images. But is she meant to represent Susan Bozic, or some fantasy version of the artist?
From Bozic’s perspective, the answer is simple: Susan Bozic is the artist, and only the artist. The fact that the woman in the images looks exactly like her can be explained by noting that Bozic the model was always available when Bozic the photographer needed her, and that this model didn’t need to be told what the photographer was going for, didn’t argue with artistic choices, didn’t complain about long shoots, and didn’t insist on being paid. (In these respects, Bozic was exactly like Carl.)
Bozic doesn’t refer to the woman in the photographs in the first person; her name is merely “Carl’s girlfriend.” The narrative being played out in the series is not one that parallels (or inverts) Bozic’s own romantic story. It is so evident that Bozic the artist and Carl’s girlfriend are separate identities that when the term “self-portraits” slipped from my tongue, I immediately tried to suck the words back in.
The Dating Portfolio, which shows through July, continues Bozic’s interest in questioning the lines that divide fabrication from fact, reality from artifice. She has explored these concerns in other works that do not feature herself as the model.
In The Dating Portfolio, reality seems to have taken a back seat to fantasy. Not only is Carl a mannequin, but Carl’s girlfriend, possessor of an eternally fixed grin, is not quite real either. The 15 photos, mounted in a straight sequence across the gallery walls, are intended to create a narrative, and this one is ripped more from a fairy tale than from life as we know it. The series begins with the optimistic “He let me pick the movie” – the couple, lovey-dovey, at the cinema – and it only ascends from there, ending with “He said I love you, please move in with me.” The moments in between (the sophisticated “Carl takes me to the nicest places,”; the sexy “Finally, some time to ourselves”) are just as upbeat. There are no disagreements, no failure to connect.
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If that upends our notion of how the series should end – in tears, or with Carl alone inside the frame – it is meant to. Bozic is not telling a true story, but one that lives inside Carl’s girlfriend’s head.
“There’s no doom, because she doesn’t want doom,” said Bozic, a 36-year-old unmarried resident of Vancouver. “She wants to be romantically involved with her partner. Her fantasy is becoming her reality. People said there should be an image of them arguing. Because in real life, people argue. But this is her fantasy. She doesn’t want to argue.”
Bozic doesn’t care to tell viewers exactly how they should take The Dating Portfolio – as subversive commentary or fairy tale. But she does want them to take a closer look at the images, and what surrounds them.
“You ease into them, and you start to ask questions. She seems so happy; their life is so terrific,” said Bozic, who is showing in Aspen for the first time. “Then you realize Carl isn’t real. There’s something more to this.”
One thing that Bozic hopes viewers would consider are the forces that have shaped Carl’s girlfriend’s fantasy. There is certainly an aspirational quality to The Dating Portfolio that has come directly from Madison Avenue. There are sleek dresses, postcard skies, fashionable clothes, a private jet. Carl’s girlfriend may not be aware of her own idealism, but Bozic expects the audience to be.
“Being the viewer, we’re more objective than she is,” said Bozic. “We say, ‘Wait a second; something in this is not as perfect as it seems. Maybe she’s seen too many movies and magazines and commercials.”
The Dating Portfolio was created in 2005-’06, and Bozic has followed with a subsequent series, The Dating Portfolio: Playing House. The narrative carries on with its improbable tableau of happiness, even if Carl’s girlfriend is removed from the picture in two of the pieces. (One of those, “He still makes time for his friends,” depicting Carl playing cards with his buddies, is also on exhibit at the Soroka Gallery.)
While Bozic doesn’t identify with her Carl’s girlfriend, she has had fun slipping into her shoes. Bozic has no aspirations to be an actor – she knew at the age of 9 that she wanted to do photographic art – but she enjoyed trying out some acting techniques.
“If I sort of pretended [Carl] was real, odd as that sounds, I became more natural,” she said. “I looked more natural, because I felt more comfortable. When I started, he was imaginary, unemotional. But if I pretended he was real, it felt more real.”