POP POP POP is an apt name for Anne-Sophie Landou’s series, which modifies popular imagery and forms to challenge the status and effects of those symbols. If you’ll allow it: she pops pop with pop. Landou’s technique reimagines previously captured images by manipulating them to different effects. Changes to the colour palette are common, often affecting how the viewer perceives the health and knowability of the subject matter and its correctness within the new context.
Landou’s work questions the commercialization of imagery and “the madness of image obsession.” If every image can, through various modifications, be a thousand, the value of any given image is diluted. Subjects are often associated with delicacy, making it impossible to nullify the patriarchy of the male gaze when viewing Landou’s art. Simultaneously with its critique of the commercialization of images, Landou makes a poignant comment on that collectivity of subjects so often imaged, coveted, and commercialized, to the paradoxical detriment of their treatment and position. It is not a point against Landou that it is hard not to be obsessed with her commentary on image obsession.
This image immediately feels like a still-life painting, if made unreal with its vibrant colours. The unstraight wall, wobbling like the long stroke of a brush, tinted shadows, low fidelity, and proto-typical subject matter puncture distinctions between forms. It is impossible to know what this image once held for us: the presumably white wall and wooden steps have been so molested as to make us wonder how those flat green leafs and shadowy, blobby blooms once looked. This bait-and-switch puts the viewer on edge, wondering what other tricks to expect. Is the bouquet in its final resting place, bringing some small liveliness to the turn of a staircase, or is it waiting to be grabbed up and whisked away by some unseen person?
No contemporary artistic form is so obsessed about as the selfie. Where once the self-portrait was a unique form of expressing how one views their internality externalized, it is now more like a product dealing in proxy conformity. Landou seems to understand the selfie marketplace as a system for perpetuating and distracting from a still-unequal society. She deftly turns to this form to communicate the individually- and academically-unresolved conflict in feminism between embracing the freedom of self-expression and challenging toxic structures. However, Landou does not deign to condescend to the image-obsessed: “the bizarre self-portraits [she] included are meant to point to the fact that when you take a selfie, people think you’re narcissistic sometimes, but it can have a purpose, it can be healing, it can be art.” She co-opts the selfie with a composition that seems to have been taken by another. Though the subject is beautiful and vulnerable in sleep, her pallor and sheen suggest a woman bedridden by internal violence.
The leisurely scene drafts on the commonplace cultural form of a wholesome pastime in a rich American coastal town. One can imagine a red-headed, all-American man coming out of the water, stage left, while his best friend in a paper crown eats hamburgers from the seaside stand. Landou’s decision to frame the ocean out of the shot hints more at an imminent animatronic shark attack. Burning the image to turn the vegetation into an opaque, encroaching poison adds to the feeling of tension and concern for the unknown future, which shatters the passive hope and contentment that retro beach scenes typically promise. Darkness and burning lurk at the edges of our collective enjoyment. The imperfect captures make us question how we look upon the past, for if this present is that past’s future, then where in those nostalgic scenes did we go wrong? The epitome of leisure is haunted by some other unknown; do we ever experience true leisure? Have we the right?
The delicate features of the subject/author are freckled and blushed as if she had been reclining on that coastal beach. The palette again hearkens back to the cinematographic tendencies of the post-mid Century. Landou’s subject has not been manipulated to betray the optimism of that period, but instead herself shows fear and disconcert. Flowers are again represented in Landou’s work. These are not in full bloom, and neither must they be. Acting as a bouquet to the virgin beauty tinged with fear, one is inexorably drawn back to the final revelation in The Graduate, which retroactively flushes the entire piece with regret. Once again, her work surpasses artistic formulae.
Here is the logical extension of Landou’s work. Before, her camera caressed natural beauty, and her hands affected an opposing meaning by molesting the image. The author is directly possessing the subject, which stands out vibrantly from its wild environment. Lurking shadows are made only worse by the author’s intrusion. Alternatively, the subject has been empowered by the author’s camera. It has grown an arm and frozen itself as it is in that moment, yet unmarred. It has captured the moment of that most powerful modern method of self-defined self-conception.
Where before such alterations were made on the subject’s context, here we see a manipulation of the subject itself, again taken to the extreme. The woman whose image infects the frame looks divided, even before her recreation. She poses in a non-sensical combination of garb, with shadows separating bust from bust. The background is obscured by this woman, who may again be Landou, but so multifaceted that it is difficult to tell. She is plasticity incarnate; she can be anyone, anywhere, constituting an entire crowd or lost in a sea of masks. Although we see her image countless times, our rationality is frustrated by the subject’s recreation making it so difficult to make sense of her true features, her true face, her true thoughts. The cloned face is in this way a simulacrum; certainly, a true image, but unsatisfying, rebuffing attempts at reconciliation with our interpretive faculties. If it is indeed Landou, this treatment may act as a source of healing and meaning, for her and for us; if not, then the treatment rebukes the desire of the male gaze to own and understand. Despite the face being repeated endlessly underneath and over itself, struggling for witness, no person can claim narcissism.