Max de Esteban, “Abstract Nature Of The Real” (Detail), 2013.
“Max de Esteban: Heads Will Roll” is the fourth and final installment of the artist Max de Esteban‘s “Propositions” series, a long-term investigation of society’s enthusiastic embrace of technology. For these works, de Esteban has mined the mass media stream that sends a constant influx of imagery of war, disaster, and violence into the public and private corners of our lives. By merging and juxtaposing images, texts, and found objects, de Esteban produces cacophonous photo-montages that quietly compel our gaze.
Rich and luxuriously dense like a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, de Esteban’s works are fraught with a delicious sense of anxiety and a lurid appreciation of tension and unease. Now on view at Klompching Gallery, Brooklyn, through October 30, “Max de Esteban: Heads Will Roll” features eight large-scale lush colored photographs carefully curated from the larger body of work, consisting of twenty-four photographs.
Here, gallery owner Darren Ching speaks with Crave about the work of Max de Esteban:
Miss Rosen: I love the work selected for “Heads Will Roll”. The title is so evocative, and creates an ominous undertone. Can you speak about the concept for the series?
Darren Ching: Max de Esteban is an intellectually rigorous artist, with a strong viewpoint about society and the state of contemporary photography. He believes that we exist in a world completely and utterly mediated by technology. An incessant stream of information is channelled into our everyday lives—surveillance, social media, advertising, entertainment. A cacophony in which fact/fiction, real/unreal merges and is difficult to distinguish. In this context, he is saying it’s possible, that for the first time in the history of Western society, people are not relating to each other in person, are not having primary experiences and do not ‘know‘ their world first-hand. Where this will lead society in the future is an unknown, because it has never been experienced before. There is the possibility of things going catastrophically wrong, and potentially—Heads Will Roll.
Can you speak about the way in which the works in “Heads Will Roll” uses the collage to create a layered understanding of the underlying forces affecting humanity?
With de Esteban’s photographs, I think of Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle,’ where he says: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” This aligns with de Esteban’s proposition that media and technology, define our lives, rather than our lives being defined by ourselves and our direct relationships and actions with each other.
In the photographs of Heads Will Roll, you see a good deal of the familiar. They are at once knowable and yet unknown. We often can’t recall where we ‘know something’ from. It’s a little akin to visiting New York City the first time. You step onto the street and everything seems so familiar, not because you’ve been there previously, but due to the repetition of images witnessed in the media. You think you know it, but really you don’t.
Can you speak about the sources of imagery for the works in this show? I am intrigued by the idea of layers in the work, the way in which diverse and unrelated sources are re-conceptualized to be parts of a greater whole. How do sources inform the process of creating the individual works?
Max de Esteban excavated imagery from the gamut of popular culture, along with historical documents and his own images. This ‘everything from everywhere’ in itself is a visualization of the ‘noise’ or cacophony of information. Assemblage is appropriate as a visual tool. It enables the viewer to see a lot of different imagery, but only portions. This inability to see the whole picture, refers to the artist’s thesis that we no longer really know our world. Titles are significant to understanding his work. In the photograph ‘Defined By The Accident,’ we see a man and woman engaged in the middle of some kind of event. A flirtation, a goodbye—the relationship is defined by this encounter. What they take away, is defined by this sliver of time. Although each photograph is complex, the titles pave the way to understanding them.
The image sources are not so important. Except for the fact that they point to different knowledges in times of history. For example, when we thought the world was flat, this was not questioned. Esteban, however, forces the viewer to question his photographs by disorientating us in different ways—composition, color, use of negative images, scale and so forth. A visual motif throughout, is imagery referencing the 1940’s and 1950’s. This injects a level of nostalgia that counter-balances the ominous undertone.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.