Review by Jody Zellen
Artpapers September/October 2003

John Divola
Patricia Faure Gallery
May 10 - June 14, 2003

John Divola is a thoughtful photographer whose work investigates different manifestations of desire. Past bodies of work have included photographs of isolated desert houses where Divola was interested in the desire to be outside or beyond culture, and panoramic images depicting unpopulated streets of Los Angeles that focused on generic buildings housing churches, adult book stores, and bars. According to Divola, "these buildings are places that people go to looking for physical or mental change or an intensity of experience. There is some sort of resonance between the depth of these desires and the mundane and generic look of the buildings that promise to fulfill them."

His recent exhibition, "X-Files," contains two bodies of work. One, large-scale, color photographs taken by Divola on the set of the TV show The X-Files during its final season; the other, 8x10, B+W found movie stills from the 1930’s - 60’s depicting faux nature. Here we see stage sets of mountains and snow, realistic trees with painted backdrops, against which actors might play their dramatic roles. These photographs point to another time when we were not accustomed to high tech special effects, we were able to suspend disbelief.

The TV phenomenon The X-Files was about desire. The show was motivated by the slogan "the Truth is out there." But what truth? Television programs, even so-called ‘reality’ shows, are not truths. They are fabrications, staged events. So was The X-Files, and so is photography. In Divola’s "X-Files," there are no images of Moulder and Scully. The stars are not there. The images are unpopulated. The sets are bare. In fact, the sets are in disarray, fragments built for the camera, not even finished in many instances. These sets are not glamorous or pretty. In contrast to the nostalgic and romantized found photographs, Divola’s X-Files images are purposefully dry and awkwardly framed.

Divola’s photographs depict the remains of an office, long hallways, empty rooms. Included in Divola’s images are photographs of a TV show looking back at a TV show, sets from an X-Files episode that was filmed in a re-make of ‘The Brady Bunch’ house. In this episode there was an investigation of a man who appeared to have telekinetic powers and was obsessed with ‘The Brady Bunch.’ ‘The Brady Bunch’ was recognizable to all X-Files viewers as an icon of a specific time and attitude in television viewing. Divola’s images undermine our expectations. All that is left of the set are the green chairs and orange dinning room table. This modernist décor is complete with shag carpet and a Van Gogh-esque painting. Divola presents numerous views of this setting, each shot from a different perspective. These different views should give us more information but they do not. Yet we try to remember. We want to know both what the original house looked like as well as what happened in the X-Files episode. We project our desire and our memory onto these images, unsuccessfully.

The X-Files was a place to watch our fears and desires unfold. We root for the heroes. We want the answers. We believe in the conspiracy. We are sure the truth is out there. But the truth was a fabrication. What truth is out there? Divola is looking for ‘evidence of existential desire’ that exists in both the real and the fabricated world and his images map our desire by presenting objective documentation of the sites of our projections. What lies beyond the frame? Does it exist? That which exists beyond the frame, that which Divola has no control over – memory, desire, and fantasy - is subject of his quest.

Jody Zellen