S.K. Josefsberg Studio, 241-9912
Through May 24
Minneapolis-based photographer and filmmaker Bruce Charlesworth lures viewers into his constructed realities; sets flourished with Technicolor shades and strong, simple shapes. He adds just a hint of narrative, often abstract slivers of the human condition. Various series illuminate this impulse, such as his work in Trouble (1983), Fate (1985), and Man and Nature (1987).
The vivid color prints are intriguing bits of a surreal epic. Charlesworth plays a game of Mad-Libs with the audience, leaving a lot of fill-in-the-blank work for the viewer. While this task does feel laborious at some points, as a whole Charlesworth's images are provocative. He injects bits of dry wit and flavors of the macabre to draw viewers into a disjointed world. In #14 from the Trouble series (above), Charlesworth casts himself as the lead actor in the scene. In "still waters," (a moat perhaps) he struggles to keep his head above water. He appears to be fleeing a formidable set of foes: Close in the distance is a large, grey, prison-like building and a storm filled sky. With only a few elements Charlesworth seduces the viewer with a strong bout of tension.
In his more recent work he clears the scene of humans and concentrates more on the setting itself. In two large works he uses the triptych format to produce pans of two, distinct rooms. "Hospital," from 1995, explores the corners of a hospital room. In the first two frames Charlesworth reveals expected elements: The room is a clinical mix of clean, black and white objects--a medicine cabinet, a non-descript chair and table, and wash basin. The final frame of the triptych is where Charlesworth injects the narrative pull. Behind a curtained hospital bed, an unusual silhouette forms. An arm-shaped object is suspended from a traction device, yet there seems to be no body attached to the limb. The floor below the bed is lit in blood red. Certainly, nothing is spelled out, though the foundation for a fiction is set. Charlesworth relies on the creativity and energy of the viewer to add lines to the script.
In the triptych Gift (1996) Charlesworth scans a quaint urban apartment, seemingly from another time period. Peach colored walls and turquoise trim and doors offer a color infusion. In each frame of Charlesworth's story, he places an innocuous gift in the scene. In the first, a bright yellow package with pink ribbon sits on top of a mint-colored davenport. All of the furniture is reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s. In the second frame the gift has moved to a an olive colored chair and is wrapped in purple with yellow ribbon.
Again, it is the final frame where Charlesworth injects the most clues and creates the climax for his curious tale. In this image the corner of the room is cluttered. There is an old organ complete with an assortment of sheet music. A desk is littered with old, hard-bound books, an aged typewriter and various office knick-knacks. On a chair next to the desk is a large stack of newspapers, and on the wall a calendar marks the date as Friday, March 11. Charlesworth adds another curious detail.
In a scene that seems to point to times of yesteryear, Charlesworth places a cordless telephone on the desk. This mismatch is curious and the meaning unclear. Charlesworth seems to tease us a bit--he knows we want at least another frame's worth of imagery to make sense of it all, yet he leaves us high and dry. Is this compelling or merely frustrating? Perhaps a little bit of both. For while Charlesworth's narratives contain many holes, it is these gaps that draw the viewer in for better or worse.