“The Disappearing of Michelle duBois,” Zoe Crosher’s show at Perry Rubenstein, marks the end of a seven-year project consisting of four books and a series of exhibitions that did two things at once. On one level, the artist presented a real, very impressive archive of analog photographs taken by someone named Michelle duBois, which Crosher inherited in 2004. Employing different thematic perspectives from show to show, Crosher (b. 1975) variously curated these photos by duBois, who traveled throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim under a variety of aliases in the 1970s and ’80s. DuBois worked as a flight attendant and call girl, but also—and more to the point—became an amateur artist (of sorts) whose panoply of impish self-portraits calls to mind the work of Cindy Sherman, her contemporary. On another level, Crosher physically intervened in duBois’s photographs, using an array of formal gestures and techniques. Drawing our attention to the residual condition of analog photography, Crosher documented its habits and accidents and exaggerated its physical qualities. In this show, she focused particularly on the propensity of the photographic print to fade away.
In the back room at Rubenstein’s capacious new quarters in Los Angeles, Crosher presented a selection of works from her “Mae Wested” series—10 glamorous studio portraits of duBois dressed up as one of her ego ideals, Mae West, plus one photograph depicting the back of an old photograph bearing a lascivious handwritten note in smudged blue ink: “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime, ‘big boy.’ Love.”
There’s no signature attached to this misquotation of West—a nice touch on the part of duBois, who was evidently prepared to take on any role. Giving us photography from behind, in a sense, Crosher here asserts the photo as a unique object through the presence of that personal inscription. Moreover, this particular piece was enlarged to 4 feet square and was leaning against the wall like a sculpture. Accompanying it were the images of duBois-as-West, photographs that had been subjected by Crosher to a process of crumpling and rephotographing, stress ing their objecthood. For the viewer, there was a constant oscillation of perception between the image and the surface, duBois and Crosher, past and present, the original and its afterlife.
In the east gallery, “The Additive Dust Series (Guam 1979)” indicated Crosher’s overarching objective in this exhibition: to conceptually obscure a straight path to the image by pushing it, and duBois, to the point of disappearance. Here Crosher presented 46 black-and-white photographs as a grid on two adjacent walls. The images depict duBois in a variety of costumes and come-hither poses, but as the title suggests, the project is less about the image than the material accumulations that the photographs support. Starting with a photograph by duBois that had been infiltrated by a few white specks of dust during the development process, Crosher doubled the density of those marks from one image to the next, across the sequence, so that the photographs’ intelligibility, in the end, is diminished almost entirely. Dust, one of photography’s enemies, here becomes its subject—and the engine of its disappearance.
This fading out, echoed by means of exposure levels in many of the remaining works, was a properly cinematic conclusion for duBois, who fashioned herself as a star. Beyond that, Crosher demonstrates how photography’s past lives and unknown practitioners can be revivified as the basis of the medium’s new beginnings.
Photo: Zoe Crosher: No. 9, 2012, from “The Additive Dust Series (Guam 1979),” part of the project “The Disappearing of Michelle duBois,” pigment print, 13 by 19 inches; at Perry Rubenstein.