Are you rea

Matthew Rana

Matthew Rana, artist and writer

Seduction belongs to artifice. It's a play of surfaces and transformation, disappearance and gestural veils. In other words, seduction is fleeting and mysterious, it takes what's visible and licks it with falsity. On a different register, pornography might be pure allegory: forced over-signification verging on the baroque. With its graphic disclosures, pornography points to an external logic, an invisible power that determines what can be seen. More simply put, it leaves nothing to the imagination. 
Unlike his more libidinally charged works that actually make use of pornographic imagery, Robert Heinecken's series Are You Rea (1964-68) seems to negotiate the tension between these two poles. In the 25 photograms, magazine pages featuring advertisements for products such as cosmetics, cigarettes, lingerie and spaghetti, are juxtaposed with images of police violence, protests and photo essays on reproductive rights. Layering image on top of image, recto and verso are flattened, so to speak, onto a single surface. The compositions are chancy and ironic; everything is inverted and continuity and scale are confused

Often full of sex appeal, the images in Are You Rea also indicate a loss of coherence, a figuration that is ghostly and at times grotesque. But despite all their violence, fragmentation and internal dissonance, they seem less about critique or defamiliarization than they do correspondences. Because if archives create the illusion of totality by making gestures of equivalence between things archived (i.e., between an ordered multiplicity of things, indexed and gathered together to be read as a single entity), Heinecken's series is archival in that it suggests a deep and dark unity. 
I think this might be part of why his work still looks so fresh to me, especially the photograms. It's their insistence on materiality and distribution. What I find across the multiple surfaces, in the patterned utterances and the vulgar repetitions, is not the reality that's hidden behind appearances. Rather, it's the spatialization of circulatory and temporal relationships, of reading and discourse. If speech takes place at the intersection of material and social forces, then this is how the archive surfaces – a shifting assemblage of contradictory and inconclusive statements – iterative, synthetic, hardcore.