Shortly after entering the MFA program at Hunter College in 2006, recent graduate Bryan Zanisnik began examining his family to fascinating effect. Many of the artist’s photographs, videos and performances feature his parents. They have gamely donned lampshades and plastic firefighter hats, and have sat motionless before a plate of spaghetti for two hours at a stretch, holding forks as if in mid-bite. In this recent exhibition, Zanisnik continued to explore the relationship between identity and immediate family with an impressive group of C-prints (all 2008) and a video.
Collectively titled “Dry Bones Can Harm No Man,”Zanisnik’s photographs (ranging from 20 by 27 to 35 by 83 inches) depict tableaux that variously evoke domestic spaces and flea market booths. In all but one of the images, wallpaper covers the walls, patterned with motifs from schooners to flowers. Shelves hold pulp cowboy novels and milk-glass flower vases. On two occasions a hand-knit afghan appears, and, elsewhere, we see a child’s miniature football and a snapshot of an infant—presumably the artist—being held by his proud father.
In The Waning Song,the top of a small striped cardboard dresser reveals a collection of hotel bath soaps and several Magnum Trojan brand condoms. To their right, a lit candle stands in a cherrywood holder. Behind these items and leaning against the fruit-bedecked wallpaper, a framed advertisement features an image of some obscure phallic hardware—perhaps a mounting arm for a satellite dish. Tucked into the frame is a photo of a crab with the artist’s face superimposed on its back. Although not exactly self-portraits, works like The Waning Song offer visions of a somewhat conflicted self, embracing both the masculine and the feminine.
Other images broach identity by invoking familial artifacts and memory, as does the video Preserve (2009). Here, the artist’s father assumes the role of an eloquent docent, leading the viewer on a simulta-neous tour (using crosscuts) through a dusty taxidermy museum and the family’s suburban home. The video’s pacing is quick, with no shot lasting for more than a few seconds, and Zanisnik’s father maintains the same persona—think of a slim Alfred Hitchcock—throughout. As a result, the two sites dissolve into one, as the elder Zanisnik drolly enumerates the contents of his garage (umbrellas, a tent, tennis rackets) and recounts tall tales about skunks in Gracie Mansion and the like. In conjunction with the exhibition’s photographs, Preserve’s comical impartation of dubious history and catalogue of trivial possessions sidestep sentimentality while conveying a fascination with the type of inherited narrative that gets passed down in close-knit families.
Photo: Bryan Zanisnik: Preserve, 2009, video, 51⁄4 minutes; at Sunday L.E.S.