War Games

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St. Louis Artist, Elizabeth Desrosiers' assemblages and photographs of imagined environments remind the viewer of the playfulness of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and staged photography. In particular, Desrosiers is interested in the process of memory-making and the role of memorabilia in American culture. Similarly, Duchamp appropriated the early 20th-century term “readymade” to describe something that was mass-produced and commercially ubiquitous to the point that it was known to the majority of the population.  In both Desrosiers’ and Duchamp’s work, these familiar objects obtain new meaning through titling and conceptual choice.

By using her assemblages to create scenes, almost like a stage director designing sets and backdrops, Desrosiers diverges from Duchamp. These imaginary worlds bring her work into the realm of contemporary photographers like Natalia Arias who design elaborate sets to create photography that has a feeling of magic realism. Both artists are skilled at using naturalistic characters blended with a dreamlike sensibility to craft allegorical observations of the real world.  Specifically, both Arias and Desrosiers share in the idea of the doll as an embodiment of the stereotypes that consumer culture propagates. In the doll’s homogenous identity both artists see a kind of blank slate that children's imaginations are uniquely capable of individualizing to push back against mass-production.

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These photographs often depict second hand dolls or cacti transformed into doll-sized characters. The idea of the cacti dolls first appeared in Desrosiers installation titled “War Games,” where a doll couple is playing carnival games with deadly consequences. In later works these photographs evolve to contain backdrops made from Desrosiers landscape photography. In "Journey," the viewer can see both a second-hand doll and cactus embracing as they look out into a magical looking sunset.

In many ways, these works riff on the classic idea of the tableau as characters are arranged for dramatic effect while simultaneously appearing self-absorbed and unaware of their existence as a work of art. This detachment creates a dialogue in her images of both enjoyment and disturbance. Initially one wants to participate in the scene with its fantastical imagery but upon further review finds the created world to be somehow threatening and unwelcoming.  The cacti, in particular, engage the viewer with their pleasing visual aesthetics but leave a feeling of danger in their built-in needle defenses.

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These motifs seem to link up with the feelings of our digital age, where self-absorption is a social media survival skill and sharp prickly skin is needed to ward off the over-saturation of information. By also including themes of perpetual war Desrosiers engages with the pressing issues of our times. To Desrosiers who grew up during the Vietnam War era, it seems that people today treat war like a game with few concrete consequences. Ultimately, Desrosiers distills the present-day into neatly packed metaphors that like Duchamp’s readymades obtain new meaning through their titles and the conceptual choice of the artist.  

Elizabeth’s work was included in our recent exhibition Clearly Human III. To learn more about Elizabeth visit her website at: https://elizabethdesrosiers.com/

Bryan Robertson