Psycho Nacirema – James Franco

James Franco: Psycho Nacirema

It is within the recesses of a gallery-cum-movie studio that the exhibition is staged; a theatrical installation, performance art post performer. Blood stains every wall, slogans are slurred in crimson across the mirrors, and body prints must be stepped over. The gallery walls are painted like a set, and in one particular room, the wall acts as a silver screen for video footage, in which the masked artist defaces and deflowers a soft toy with a strap on phallus, as dildos are strewn on the bed and gallery floor.

James Franco has recreated the infamous Bates Motel, from Hitchcock’s version of the Robert Bloch book, offering an arresting and provocative immersive experience. Owing to the multimedia nature of the installation, I believe the receiver of this art to be an audience, rather than a viewer. There are not individual pieces, more a twisting collection of ideas, aligned in abstract narrative dedicated to a classic movie; a visual poem.

James Franco: Psycho Nacirema

Upon entry, there is an immediate theatricality, as if a performer has previously inhabited the space, and left behind a haunting residue. However, characters are present in wall projections, which gasp in horror. Franco takes on the role of heroine Marion Crane in short shot-for-shot recreations of seminal scenes. The artist cross-dresses for the role, which he claims makes a ‘performance’ explicit, adding another skewing layer to the themes of the story. The clear performance of drag brings an exciting element to this setting: here we see a lauded Hollywood actor presenting a taboo that is in keeping with the culture of the movie, but also the surroundings of the Soho gallery itself.

To his art, Franco brings an aura that drenches the work in drama; blood is a vivid red, glamorous monochrome photographs that evoke Duchamp’s Rrose Sélavy are scattered on top of the dresser. Franco accurately recreates the bathroom where the shower stabbing takes place, white porcelain is tarnished with hand prints beneath the shower curtain adorned with his face that would sell swiftly at a gift shop, were there one.

James Franco: Psycho Nacirema

The pull of the artist’s star power is strong. The short scene projections are filmed on Stage 18-A at Universal Studios, the exact same lot where the original film was shot, giving the exhibition gravitas and an air of authenticity; simultaneously proving Franco’s status in the industry, and cementing his unique point of view as actor/artist. With precise hair and make-up, Franco reimagines himself in the classic shower scene as the focal point of one nightmarish projection – the artist’s presence is not subtle. The value of this exhibition lies in its invitation to be explored, for the audience to decipher what it will from the mise-en-scéne.

Voyeurism is a primary theme that has been extracted from the book and Alfred Hitchcock’s film.  Here, it is presented through the eyes of an actor and filmmaker, who seemingly adores the attention of being watched and whose profession demands it. Visitors are encouraged to write in the guestbook, open drawers and peek through spy holes with which a wandering eye is rewarded with more Franco/Psycho footage. It is evident in the “Feel free to sit on the bed” sign that the artist has fashioned a space with which to interact; the participant takes on the role of murderer or victim, mother or son, performer or audience.

James Franco: Psycho Nacirema

Elsewhere, along the exit and entrance to the gallery are neon signs that read ’BATES MOTEL’ alongside their painted anagram counterparts such as ‘LET ME STAB’. The title of the exhibition suits the mysterious and puzzling content, where every sign is begging to be interpreted. ‘Nacirema’ is to step away from a situation in order to evaluate, and interestingly, also a backwards spelling of American.

Ultimately, I felt the exhibition conveyed an uneasy atmosphere and appeared as an extension or appendix to the source material. The dialogue between art and audience is conjured using bold symbols and a lucid eloquence within a conceptual environment. Psycho Nacirema toes the line between reality and fiction, blending Hollywood legend with a newer school of thought, twisting that which we take as a truth; we are presented with a slanted version of a classic movie through an unmistakable Franco filter.

- Guest-blogger, Tom Ivin

[Psycho Nacirema exhibited at the Pace Gallery from 6 June – 27 July 2013]

[Video Source: James Franco: Psycho Nacirema on Nowness.com]

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